Should we ban meetings ?

Jo thinks we should …. well, meetings as we all too often experience them that is!

Read her latest contribution to the Herald’s Business Magazine Big Idea discussion below.

In 25 years of working as an organisational development consultant, I have never heard anyone say that they enjoy meetings, or that they want more meetings. Quite the contrary, almost every week I hear people tell me that they go too many meetings, that meetings don’t achieve anything and that they can’t get anything done for the amount of meetings they have. The worst thing is that a lot of people I come across, particularly those working in the statutory sector, have just got used to it and don’t expect any better.

Occasionally someone surprises me and says: ‘That was a really good meeting’, and it makes me curious enough to ask why. These are the kind of answers I get:

  • I came out knowing what I was supposed to do next
  • We came up with a plan for the way forward
  • I learned something I didn’t know already
  • I changed my mind as a result of something someone else said
  • I was able to say what I thought
  • I felt heard
  • I had time to think

So no one is saying that getting together isn’t important. And when I delve a bit further I find a few things that help.

One is coming into the room as human beings, and taking the time to connect with what is going on with each other before launching straight into the business.

Another is being really clear about why we are getting together, sharing what each person hopes to achieve by the end of our time together and checking that we have the right people in the room to achieve it.

A final one is having a good leader or facili- tator who: helps make sure that everyone has a chance to speak; encourages people to stick to the point; ensures that discussions are concluded and summarises actions.

There are all kind of other fun things we can do to liven up meetings which normally involve music, drawing or walking and talking – all designed to shake people out of their comfort zones and get them thinking differently – but nothing works unless we get the basic essentials right. It is hardly rocket science – but monitor your meetings for a week and you will see that very few of them follow those three simple rules.

Click on the link for the full discussion –  The Big Idea – Should we ban meetings?

Does the Scottish Government’s Bill on creating a 50/50 gender balance on public boards go far enough?

See our latest contribution to the Herald’s Business Magazine Big Idea discussion ….

In this moment in the early 21st century, this moment of #metoo, #oxfamsexscandal, Harvey Weinstein and a host of other issues which have put women’s lack of equality in the workplace and public life on the front page, it is refreshing to see the Scottish Government mandating that women are equally represented on Scotland’s public boards. I am, however, left with a question about what difference this change is intended to make … other than getting onto a front page?

In Animate we always begin with a question of purpose. If individuals and organisations are clear about the purpose of their intended innovation, re-structuring or service development, they are much more likely to achieve their intended outcomes. Very often they are clear about the big-picture change they intend to make, but we find in facilitating more in-depth exploration of the why, we surface a range of beliefs, intentions and ways of thinking about what this change will really mean.

On the big-picture level, this change signifies the Scottish Government’s intention to create a more equal Scotland (remembering that women are estimated to be 51% of Scotland’s population), and its commitment to creating opportunities for under-represented groups to influence both the present and the future; to hold positions of relative power.

While this is honourable, if past-due, I am left curious about what they are planning to do to ensure that women’s voices are not only heard, but are active agents in shaping the culture of public boards, and thus Scotland itself. Not just what they do, but how they do it.

I wonder what sort of discussions have been had in relation to the impact the government believes this change will have to the functioning and achievements of public boards?

When I think about the Christie Commission’s work on the Future Delivery of Public Services (2011), and the legislation that came into place on the back of its recommendations, it is all very good ‘big picture’ stuff – co-production with individuals and communities, integrated public services, preventative work with children and young people, etc. However, Animate’s experience of working in public services leaves us with the impression that there wasn’t a great deal of thinking done in relation to what will enable these aspirations to translate from the big picture to the front line. How will communities be involved as ‘co-producers’? What will integrated health and social care services look and behave like? How will we hear from children and young people about the differences they experience from professionals using a preventative approach?

I don’t mean to imply, in any way, that good things aren’t happening as a direct result of this legislation. Our experience, however, is that these good things seem to be a result of the inspiration, motivation, commitment and leadership of individuals – implemented in different ways, with varying degrees of success, across the country.

While it isn’t government’s job to do our thinking for us, if Animate were consulting to them on the implementation of this new legislation, we would be encouraging them to be bold with their vision about what this significant change is intended to achieve; for public bodies, for Scotland, as well as for 51% of our population.

All change at Animate!

Richard’s is stepping back from being a partner in Animate but will remain an Animate Associate.  A focus on larger, longer-term projects, improving organisational systems and processes will be absorbing much of his time but he’ll continue to work with us, on current and future pieces of work.

Be curious – about leadership, diversity and inclusion

How can we help leaders to work more inclusively and to develop more diverse workplaces? That was the question Jo from Animate and Oonagh from Down to Earth explored on a snowy day in February. What were the three things they identified? Read on to find out…

In our work we aspire to be better than the sum of our parts. We talk about how important it is to have different perspectives, and how we have to fight the temptation just to employ people ‘like us’.

The best teams are the ones where people with radically different views can – in a spirit of true collaboration – constructively challenge and build on one another’s ideas. We believe this, and also know how hard it is to make it real in our teams and in our own lives.

We all know that when people can bring more of who they are to their work, they are more satisfied and more fulfilled. Their organisations are also more innovative, more flexible and ultimately more productive. Are you curious about what might be possible in your organisation?

Our discussion started with the gender pay gap and where we saw that in our work, across all sectors. Will our daughters be more confident in their abilities and more willing to put themselves forward than we, our sisters and our mothers have been?

We also spoke about how energising we find all the bright, young people we know. How hard will it be for them to get their voices heard in the organisations they join?

Oonagh spoke about her experience in organisations traditionally dominated by middle class white men. Many of these are embracing younger men and women from a far wider range of backgrounds: BAME, LGBT+, and other cultures of origin. They’re doing this not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they won’t survive unless they do it.

Jo told of a friend who was lectured by her male boss on how well he listened to women. She talked of a female dominated organisation in which a man in a senior leadership role was effectively silenced by the strength of the female dominated relational culture.

We began to wonder how we, in our work with leaders in organisations, can help co-create environments that encourage, engage and value difference in all its forms. How can we help encourage people to come, give their best, and stay? How can we create a vibrancy and engagement that becomes the pulse of an organisation?

We got quite excited at the possibilities.  We also realised from our conversation that we see diversity and inclusion as an organisational culture challenge and as such a leadership challenge.

However, conversations about changing organisational culture can feel overwhelming and difficult. It can be hard to know where to begin.

So, what might leaders find valuable who want to work more inclusively, and who want to create more diverse workplaces?

We came down to three things:

  1. 1. An enhanced personal capability to explore unconscious bias. In what ways do I exclude some people and privilege others? When we recognise that we are part of something ourselves we can start to make different choices
  2. 2. An ability to get genuine feedback. We need to start the kind of conversations that prompt people around leaders and their organisations to help leaders “see ourselves as others see us.”
  3. 3. The skills that encourage honesty and contribution. Leaders need skills in running meetings in ways which encourage people to be honest about what they think. They need to listen to others, surfacing the assumptions which are often never spoken about.

It sounds simple, but lots of organisations are getting stuck because none of the above is happening.  So maybe simple – but not necessarily easy – is the best place to start.

We started putting together a leadership programme to promote inclusion and diversity – and then we stopped ourselves. Because, if we are practising what we preach, we should be doing that together with the people who want it.

Still curious? Then get in touch…

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The Big Idea … the Office is dead – or is it?

See our latest contribution to the Herald’s Business Magazine Big Idea discussion ….

The Big Idea … the Office is dead – or is it?                                     

As consultants, my partners and I are used to seeing teams clocking in for the 9-5 at the organisations we visit. We however, work virtually. We have no office; no firm base to be located and locatable in, no daily routine of coffee and chat with colleagues.

Do I miss it? No. My role means I meet a kaleidoscope of people, both those I’m working with and those who I see whilst I travel between offices and coffee shops. I feel part of what’s happening in my community, and around the UK and overseas, through my travel with work.

Being based at home means I see the local community coming and going; I know my postie and DPD delivery man. My children can pop their heads round the door on their return from school, before they delve into homework and social media. Do I get distracted by the TV and washing that needs doing? No; I’m working.

Best of all is being able to work, to really dive into and immerse myself in a project, with no interruptions. It can be incredibly efficient, which works for me and my clients. I can respond quickly, rather than someone waiting for me to be out of a routine meeting. A half-day monthly meeting with my partners is all that’s scheduled in my diary; the rest can wrap around clients’ needs.

We sometimes choose to pair up and have ‘desk days’ together: to reflect, think and write, and to pay attention to the emergent. We share a cloud computing system and the ‘bubble’ that tells you who else is working evokes a strong sense of connection and appreciation, especially at odd hours.

But recently I’ve had a fascinating glimpse back into office life. Spending two days a week, for an extended period, in a large office has highlighted some of its attractions.

I’ve realised that, when I’m in an office, I choose to walk over to people and ask them questions. I don’t email or call them, as many do, even though it’s a large open plan spread over two floors. Why? Because face to face allows so much more communication; misunderstandings can be rectified immediately, frowning or smiling noted and responded to. I’m part of a clan, a community of interest. We share snippets of our private lives, get to understand each other’s fascinations and frustrations.

Why does this matter? Because it means our work can be more productive together. I understand why someone may be withdrawn, if a family member is unwell. I can walk over to the next person in the process if my original contact doesn’t deal with that issue. I don’t have to email, or call, or make a calendar appointment, to speak to someone about something urgent.

Given this, should we focus on sustaining the daily 9-5 office life? No, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t choose it; it’s still not as efficient for me, and it’s not as diverse a life as I’m used to. Does the big office have a role in Scottish business? Yes. At least until we can teleport at will…

Read more here …  the end of office working?