Are you brave enough to truly look at your culture?

Last night I took part in a great discussion on Leaders Hour* part of which was around inclusiveness, climate and messaging. I think there’s often a mismatch between what’s said formally:

“we value challenge here”

“we’re a progressive organisation

… and what’s felt:

“Ok…so now I’m being left out of that discussion? It seems it’s definitely not a good idea to challenge here”

“let your colleague speak first and pave the way for you, they know how it works around here”

Leading a team or an organisation isn’t just about saying the right thing, or having a policy or a poster that demonstrates your commitment to it. It’s about big and small choices each day, week and month.

It’s about what happens in the canteen as much as the boardroom. It’s about what happens when the business is under immense pressure and when everything is going brilliantly.

It’s about how you respond to challenge, or differences of opinion. It’s the assumptions and judgements your business, leaders and people hold – sometimes without even realising.

That’s when you see the culture or climate of an organisation. That’s what tells you how well or not you’re doing.

Will you be brave enough to truly look today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts & experiences

*Leaders Hour is a weekly twitter chat.

Putting the soul back into meetings

‘How can we have meetings that are productive and uplifting, where we speak from our hearts and not from our egos?’

I love this quote from Frederik Laloux (Reinventing Organisations) – it reminds me what it’s like to be in a really bad meeting; and what is possible when you’re in a superb one.

Meetings are often the only time a team has protected time together – a time to come together to discuss, debate and decide on important issues. Yet too often they don’t feel like that, they feel soulless, dull, scary, intimidating or just a waste of time.

Instead of conversation, there are statements. Instead of collaboration, there’s competition. Where encouragement could be offered, there’s challenge. Where challenge needs to happen, there’s passive agreement or silence.

So what goes wrong? The first thing thing is to look at whether your meetings are input or output driven.

Input driven meetings

These focus primarily on process, agenda and information sharing. I call them state and inform meetings – where to a greater or lesser degree, people run through a list of what they’ve done. One by one. In turn. Then the meeting ends.

At their worst, meetings like this are a competitive battle, a place for team members to present themselves in the best light in front of colleagues or stakeholders. Listening only to find opportunities to reassert strength, disagree or demonstrate greater knowledge.

At their best, meetings like this are places where people say their bit, then stay quiet and hide for the rest of it. No eye contact, doodling as if their life depends on it and wishing it was over so they can get on with real work.

Input driven meetings tend to occur because relationships aren’t fully formed and trust is low. The overriding tone is likely to be one of fear, apathy or exhaustion.

Output driven meetings

These focus primarily on what the meeting delivers for you as a team/organisation, they’re about providing you with – clarity to make good decisions, confidence, chance to debate difficult issues and challenge each other constructively, encouragement, strength.

Meetings like this give teams and organisations the capability to strengthen and accelerate their performance. They’re spaces where trust can be built, ideas and ambitions can grow, cross-org relationships can develop, points of commonality (and difference) can be found, where failures and successes can be discussed and learned from.

Output driven meetings tend to occur where relationships are strong and trust is high. The overriding tone is often one of energy, collaboration and purposefulness.

So how can you move towards an output driven meeting? It’s about small steps which will help you to build relationships, develop trust and encourage listening. Here are 3 things to get you started:

1. Think listen, learn and discuss instead of state and inform

This approach shifts the emphasis away from speaking as a means to defend, challenge or block; and towards asking questions, learning and discussing. Something as simple as moving from ‘this is what I’m going to tell you’ to asking the team ‘what would you like to know’ makes an enormous difference.

2. Share information beforehand

Meetings are about discussing, exploring and deciding; they’re not about reading. Share critical information beforehand and keep it brief and succinct, so that your meeting is about what you do with that information rather than just sharing it with each other.

3. Debrief a success

This can be a great way to move you away from state and inform and to encourage free flowing discussion. Use the first half of a meeting to debrief something that went brilliantly (product, service, team collaboration etc.). Have a cuppa, stand up rather than sitting at tables if you would do normally, and ask yourselves…

• what was integral to our success?

• what was surprising?

• what was noticeable about how we worked together?

• what could we learn from this?

Notice what happens when you have conversations like this, and think about how you can encourage more purposeful discussion in future meetings.

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Thanks for reading,

If you’d like to bring some soul, energy and focus back into your meetings, get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.

You can reach me through LinkedIn, Twitter @kirstenlholder or through my website – http://www.kickstartdevelopment.co.uk

Photo by Ricardo Resende on Unsplash

#meetings #teams #leadership #business #communication #collaboration #motivation

Leadership lessons from Bletchley Park

On Sunday I visited Bletchley Park for the first time. An inspiring, moving and humbling place filled with exceptional stories of determination and commitment.

In the main house rooms are laid out as they would have been originally, including Commander Denniston’s office who was the Head of Bletchley Park. Aside from the historical atmosphere created, what really struck me was this poster (and in particular the section I’ve highlighted) which talked about Commander Denniston’s style of leadership and management.

In the most stressful, intense and critically important situations imaginable he managed the codebreakers with patience and fairness. He recognised the value and need for motivation and encouragement to get the best out of the people who worked for him; and realised the importance of relaxation & recreation in difficult and demanding jobs.

80 years later I think we still have a lot to learn.

The greater the pressure the lighter the touch

It’s tempting to equate increased demands, expectations, workload or pressure with the need for more control:

‘I’ll just check’

‘Could I just have a look before you send it’

‘Have you made sure the report contains…’

‘Remember this client is really important…’

It may be a well intentioned need to reassure ourselves that things are on track, but inevitably it interrupts and disrupts the normal flow of decision making and action.

If we find ourselves wanting to step in to encourage and push for greater speed and efficiency, that’s often the very moment we need to step back and let people get on with their jobs.

Creating an environment where people have space and are trusted to do their best work isn’t a luxury for a quieter time when things are going well, its essential now.

It’s the pauses between activity that creates great performance

Dennington recognised that intense cerebral work needed to be offset with relaxation and recreation; that the best work, ideas and insights came when brains had space to breathe.

This was a balance; there were crucial times when there was no option but to work through the night and sleep on the floor, but when all your work is critical (and at Bletchley each day required them to break or decode a new cypher) there has to be some light and shade.

Although we’re in a very different place in 2018, it got me thinking about how often our brains and bodies have space to breathe in the workplace today?

How many opportunities there are for people to come together (from the same or different functions) and talk, share, laugh, rest their brains and restore their energy?

Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a significant reduction in these opportunities and I think we’re worse for it.

This isn’t about days out, big events or initiatives that cost lots of money, it’s about informal ways to relax and restore – for 10, 20, 30 minutes or longer; alone or with others; quietly or actively – and the recognition that this is important; vital to us doing our best work in the short and long term.

And as leaders this starts with us.

Dennington was fundamental in helping to make relaxation and recreation an important part of what they did at Bletchley. It’s not necessarily about explicit permission but implicit action and role modelling.

Its holding your nerve during a busy and stressful time and encouraging your team to take a leisurely lunch together. It’s helping a tired team to feel it’s ok to go and have a cuppa together outside in the sun. It’s finding out what helps your team relax and laugh and building those things in through the weeks and months. It’s leaving on time; more than once.

We’re human beings not assets or resources. We need light and shade, sustenance, space, time to rest, relax and re-energise – and sometimes, I think we forget that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this,

Kirsten

Photos taken during Bletchley Park visit and from Bletchley Park website.

When thoughts and values converge

Light_Painting_1_-_Booyeembara_Park

Steps towards something

It’s fascinating how chance meetings and conversations can develop into creative partnerships. Some potentially promising opportunities don’t blossom, while others germinate through conversations to the point of saying “Why not? Let’s give it a go.” That’s what we, Kirsten and Anne Marie, have decided to do.

Although we are united in what we believe in and what drives us (in essence, that everyone deserves to work in organisations and environments where they can thrive and contribute), we think and see things differently. It is what is emerging from this difference that is exciting us.

A moment of optimum hum

Right from our initial Skype conversations we found ourselves talking about and coming back to our experiences of great leaders and companies we had worked with.

  • What was so inspiring about them?
  • What was it about the structures, the people, the values, the atmosphere and how things had got done that had been so invigorating?
  • What was it that had instilled a feeling of belief, confidence and inclusiveness?

These weren’t companies that had massive budgets, smart offices, all the latest kit or free gym membership. In fact they didn’t have any of these. What they did have were managers and leaders who expected you to do well, and who invited and enabled you to contribute wholeheartedly.

“You’ve got a good idea for how something might be improved or done differently? Do it!”

There was never any sense of hierarchy – even when some of these workplaces were, in fact, traditional and hierarchical. These remarkable colleagues and organisations supported you when you failed,  and provided a safety net that encouraged you to go further than you thought was possible.

When you’re in a team or organisation that’s working like the one above you can almost feel it humming. There’s an energy, a buzz, an excitement, a purposefulness – to us it became ‘optimum hum’.

Leaders matter. The expectations that they set matters. The performance cultures that they influence matter. The way they create, shape and mould their organisation matters. All this creates possibilities and permission for people to be bold, to be courageous.

Where we’re heading next

We’re fascinated by what creates and sustains optimum hum – what defines it, what it feels like, how we know we’ve got it?

We want to help leaders shine a light on the inner workings of their organisation – help them understand what optimum hum looks like, for them. What encourages and enables it? What causes imbalance in their organisation and what impact does this have? How can balance be restored and optimum hum returned?

We’re excited to be starting this journey together  – to begin sharing our thoughts with you over the coming months, so look out for our twitter chats and blogs.

We’d also love to hear about your own experiences of optimum hum, and what has made some organisations exceptional places to work for you.

Anne Marie and Kirsten

Anne Marie Rattray is the founder of The Smart Work Company Ltd which helps people – independently or on behalf of an organisation – to assess and develop future-focused work skills. For more information go to http://www.thesmartworkcompany.com

Kirsten Holder is the founder of Kickstart Development which helps leaders, teams and organisations to feel clear, purposeful and energised so that they can deliver results more swiftly, more easily and more sustainably. For more information go to http://www.kickstartdevelopment.co.uk

Photograph by JJ Harrison (jjharrison89@facebook.com) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons