It’s the time of year when we do the pruning and notice the bare structures that are left when the leaves have fallen and the flowers have long since faded.
It’s the time when we can take a step back and notice what is there without the busyness of the garden’s life taking over. And now, without the illusion of transient growth, it’s the time when we can know whether the garden’s architecture is strong enough to function as a thing of beauty in it’s own right; when we can really understand what is adding value to the beauty of the garden, what is overgrown and where the bare patches are.
So what if you took a moment to think about your life and your work; the team you lead and the organsiation or business you work in? When you strip back the hustle and bustle, the busy-ness that we occupy our selves with, what is left? What does the structure look like? What is supporting the architecture of your growth? Where are the bare patches and what is overgrown?
A beautiful garden is a mixture of architecture (the structures) and transient planting, that brings seasonal interest. Often, it is easy to get distracted and obsessed by the riot of colours brought by the other seasons; the cheerful spring flowers, the acid brights of summer and the warmth of autumn, but when winter comes and the garden is dormant, we realise that there is nothing there to carry it through. If we are not careful and plan for when the blooms are gone we may find that there is nothing left and the intoxicating, heady scents of summer are but a memory.
It is easy to get possessed by sheer speed of life, spending so much time planting more and more until it is full to the brim, and the garden becomes so choked with life, that ironically our prize specimens cease to grow at all. Sometimes take a step back and think about how the structures we have support us both in life and your work, asking the questions:
- What is supporting your growth?
- What has become overgrown and has now had its time?
- What is the seasonal interest that needs nurturing?
- And when the season’s over, what is left?
A garden that stands the test of time is just as beautiful (and sometimes more so) when the blooms are not disguising what is inherently there.
The structures that we hold are where our authenticity lives. It’s our values and beliefs. It’s in how we nurture the relationship with our staff as well as the customers who pay our bills. It’s in what underpins how we do what we do and it’s in what others see of us. We can sometimes fool ourselves with the gloss of high summer and it can sometimes be seductive to others, but we know it is just a moment in the season. The most beautiful flowers sometimes only lasting a day. And when the moment has passed the time will come to stand back and ask ourselves, what are the jobs to be done?
What needs pruning and cutting back?
What has had it’s day and needs digging out?
What needs sheltering from the winds, feeding and protecting until the weather is more favourable?
and most of all
How will the structures that I am laying out now stand the test of time and be a thing of beauty in their own right?
I have always admired the laid back. The laissez faire approach to life and the devil may care attitude. However, I have recently been rethinking this, after noting that sometimes this is subterfuge. An act put on to hide that being laid back is sometimes really a conflict avoidance strategy.
Many of us do it, my clients, colleagues, children and Ok, I admit it even me occasionally…. I even find, sometimes with my children, it is one I promote.
“So and so says I can’t run as fast as them” says no 1 child. “Oh, don’t worry”, I reply, “it’s not such a big deal, just let it wash over you”. Knowing that this is the umpteemth comment that this child has made about how my child isn’t as good as them. I then jump straight into understanding the other child’s point of view and why they might have the need to feel better than other people, whilst unconsciously setting up no 1 child for a lifetime of conflict avoidance. (It’s ok I am putting aside money for their therapy.)
The laid back promote the view that is important not to sweat the small stuff and wear their label of being laid back with pride, whilst then saying in their next breath that the reason they haven’t dealt with a particular sticking point is because they are avoiding a difficult conversation with X. “I am so laid back” they say, closely followed by “X is so irritating and if only they weren’t so defensive.” . “Have you talked to them about it” I ask? “Oh no”, they reply, “I really don’t like conflict”.
So could it be that we are fooling ourselves? Could ‘laid back’ be a positive spin on opting out of the awkward and difficult? Is it a behaviour that has tipped over the edge. Being so good at being laid back that you loose the art of recognising how you are feeling and then using that feeling as the basis of real conversations that move things forward. Noticing, for instance, that you are irritated and confused and then using this to understand what you need to not feel this. A formula a bit like this – Irritation and confusion = lack of clarity – therefore I need clarity. How hard would that be to say I don’t understand and want some clarity?
We fool ourselves into thinking that conflict means we don’t like the other person, when really it’s an indication of a conflicted feeling within us. We are feeling a negative emotion that indicates that we have a need that isn’t being met. We make it all about them rather then it being all about us. Could it just be that we can find out what we need and just ask for it. How difficult would that be……
Volkswagen came up with the theory that making things ‘fun’ was the simplest way to change behaviour. This got me thinking to why this was so and what effect this might have on the world of work…..
This video got me thinking about the converstions I have had with clients about what their work was like (very few of them tell me how fun it is, in fact many use war type metaphors, e.g. going into battle, winners and losers etc.) and consequently how ‘fun’ I found my work…..
Fun at work sounds a bit like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Fun work. Surely work shouldn’t be fun……… Yet we know that when we are having fun we engage different parts of our brains and as a consequence are more creative and come up with better solutions. When we find work fun, we are also often more able to tackle the tough sticky issues that feel impossible. So how come we don’t make work more fun, more of the time?
Did you know that our brains are plastic? Hence the term neuro-plasticity. They are capable of change and growth with the potential to generate 7000 – 9000 new cells every day. Our left pre-frontal lobe is associated with happiness and well-being and conversely our right pre-frontal lobe is associated with depression. This is a growing area of research in neuro-science and it is being proved that people who actively take measures to develop their left pre-frontal lobe have higher reported degrees of well being and are able to manage the stresses and strains of life. Some of the ways to develop this area of your brain is through mindfulness practices such as meditation(1). and another way is to have fun. For instance, going to see a comedian has been proven to stimulate this part of our brain. And therefore, if we know this to be true, why not create the neural pathways that are likely to make us both happier and more effective? Who wouldn’t want to have a happier workforces with less stress related illness and therefore greater productivity. So why don’t we actively make work more fun?
The world of work and indeed the word itself has a whole number of beliefs associated with it and these beliefs drive what we do, our behaviour. Some of those beliefs could include: ‘meetings are meant to be business like’ , ‘It’s supposed to take effort, isn’t it?’ or ‘It’s all about difficult decisions’. May’be we believe – ‘If it comes to easily the achievement is lessened’. It should feel like work. Well, what if some of the time that wasn’t true? What if we created the environment were ease was the way forward and we spent more time solving the problem rather than agonizing over its details; developing and developing it so that it became overwhelming. What if we knew that giving people permission to have fun, at least some of the time, increased their overall productivity? And I have purposefully used the word permission as we somehow seem to need permission to make work fun. If we were having fun, what might people think? And if we were having too much fun – well god forbid. What if we started to laugh at how seriously we took things, after al,l when we put it into perspective, it’s only work.
Fun is an odd word and will mean different things to different people and you recognise it when you feel it. We recognise those teams who are able to bring some levity to their work and often those are the teams that are highly functioning and working co-operatively. They are also the teams that are able to debate and disagree, knowing that they have a strong foundation from which to do this. They are able to navigate the highs and lows with a sense of perspective.
The world is changing and we are being asked to come up with new solutions. We have to transform what we are doing to even get the same results that we were getting before. Yet, if we approach the world as a problem a our mood sinks lower and we are less able to come up with solutions.
How could you make work more fun today?
I recently ran a one day workshop on Improvisation of Leadership with my amazing friend and colleague, Steve Lockwood. (http://steve.ms/) Steve, is an harmonica player par excellence with a profound ability to get across his love of music, and the harmonica in particular.
I met Steve, when I attended one of his workshops. Some of you may know, I originally trained as a classical singer and have more than a passing acquaintance with what good music should sound and feel like and it wasn’t me on the harmonica. It got me thinking about what was stopping me. Yes, the harmonica is a harder instrument to play than you might think but on the other hand it is a self harmonising instrument so it is harder to make a bad sound. (School’s should take note: an alternative to the dreaded recorder!) But what was stopping me was all the feelings and voices going round and round saying things like: “you know music, you should be able to do this”, ‘=”come on, you should be better at this than that” etc. etc. And of course the other voice was going: “you are a coach, you should be able to sort this out”. (And those of you that think you don’t have voices in your head, you are just in denial..)
This workshop really got me thinking about how we get in our own ways when in an unfamiliar environment; when we have a little knowledge but may’be not enough and why I suggested to Steve that we might want to run an organisational workshop together….
The phrase I keep hearing around organisations at the moment is “being comfortable with not knowing” – which is true to an extent and only up to a point. There is a lot we do know and the phrase implies letting go of all of this and to focus on what you don’t know and that is where it falls apart for me. Why would you want to put yourself in the position of just focussing on what you don’t know.
There is, for me, an analogy to learning to improvise ( in music and probably in other genres). When I first came across improvisation as a first year uni student, it was with a background of at least 10 years musical knowledge, of knowing what I know. Yet, somehow when learning something new I was somehow flummoxed and thought I knew nothing. I thought I didn’t know anything about jazz and was lost in a sea of unfamiliar sounds and different terminology, apparently being asked to let go of what I was familiar with and just make it up as I went along. What I now know and was reminded of when working with Steve, is that improvisation is a process of responding in the moment and finding your way with what you already know, drawing on your toolkit of experience and knowledge, to lead yourself and your fellow improvisers through. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So how come some people are great at improvising and other’s just thrash about, panic and eventually drown? Stopping swimming and stopping moving forward.
In this new world, there are no hard and fast rules of how things are to be done. Many of the old rules don’t apply and we are feeling our way forward; improvising as we go along. We can learn a lot from the mind set of musical (or other) improvisers about how they keep their cool and keep a clear head. This is what I discovered when rediscovering my joy in improvising:
Know what you know
To be comfortable not knowing you need to also be comfortable knowing what you know. People who improvise may look like they are making it up as they go along and it is actually a result of practice, thought and reflection, knowing that if I do this it gets a certain result most times. Most improvising musicians have well thought out licks and melodies that they know work individually and they can combine in different ways to get different results. It may feel like that they are making it up as they go along but it is actually as a result of working at an unconscious competence level, developed from hours of practice, rehearsal and performance. If you ask them how they did that, they will probably respond that they don’t know and that the muse inspired them. The reality is that they have created a safety net of knowledge that enabled the muse to emerge.
Great Jazz musicians don’t fear or shy away from mistakes and view it as either an opportunity for creation or learning. They often repeat the mistake over and over until they have got the juice out of it and to the listener, it looks like they meant to do it. If the mistake does not bear repeating, they will regroup and move on. The mistake is just part of the process.
Now I’m not saying that in organisations we want to repeat and repeat the mistake (although sometimes that is how great things are invented), it is just that mistakes are an opportunity to be exploited and one that is often ignored. When we create the culture that mistakes are for learning and making us better at what we do, then we learn how to think in the moment and avoid unrecoverable catastrophes.
Make your own boundaries
Improvisation may feel like an un-boundaried free for all. In reality, it has mini signposts along the way, which musicians hang onto, listening out for where they are, in any given moment. This can be the cord progression of the song or a certain signature lick of a player or the order of play, bringing everyone together. We need boundaries to make us feel safe and unless we feel safe we don’t perform well. Boundaries provide the edges and give us a sense of surety.
Prepare for the unexpected
In their practice musicians prepare for things going off track and have plans for what they do when this happens. One of the ways that they do this is through exploring errors and another way is having back up plans in place. What if certain musicians are sick? Can anyone else step up to the plate. If the drummer isn’t there who else can keep the rhythm going and provide the momentum?
Be aware of others and play to their strengths
First and foremost musicians have to be great individual players and be part of a team. They have to be able to do both. They have to spend time getting their own skill level at peak and then time getting the groups performance to flow. They have to have both the ego to be an amazing performer and let go of their ego enough to celebrate and nurture the egos of others. They truly understand the concept of ‘it’s not about me except when it is’ providing the space for all to excel.
Lead and then Follow
There always a leader of band and that person has overall responsibility of how the band works and flows together. Then within a great performance leadership can shift between the players depending on what is needed right now, for instance, to capture the essence of the piece or change the energy of the audience. The individuals within the band need enough confidence in each other to let different people take the lead at the right time, in other words they need to allow them to lead and then follow whole heartedly. It develops that person as a performer in their own right and also gives the leader a break from holding it all together, allowing them to really get to know each other and how each of them improvises and responds to the flow of the music. It also has the added benefit of strengthening their back up plan and letting them prepare for the unexpected. If the overall Leader insists on leading all the time (and sometimes doing all the jobs) then the band falls apart as they would be exhausted!
Know your limitations and develop your strengths.
To know your strengths is also to understand your limitations. Great musician’s know what they can and can’t do and their areas of development. They also know the strengths of the rest of the band and all know their main role (but are able to pick up others if necessary). A singer normally carries the melody but could actually do the rhythm if called to.
Great musicians are also honest enough with themselves to know what their limitations (rather than deny them) and concentrate on further developing strength areas to mitigate for this. After all how many people actually noticed that Billie Holliday had a very limited vocal range when she performed with such emotional conviction and musicality?
and most of all manage your state…. and.…Don’t stop
And key to all of this, being all to improvise and respond to any given situation, is the ability to keep a clear ahead and keep going. Great Improvisers don’t stop, they keep responding and making decisions in the moment, because after all when you stop the performance is over.
To find out more about this workshop contact Lucy at email@example.com
Time is an interesting thing. We often describe it as an object, a real thing that we could literally pick up, yet it is just a construct of our minds. In the Western world, we have made it mathematically quantifiable, something that can be measured, sometimes in quantities of sand running through an egg timer yet we also know it is all a matter of perception. If you ask a child about their summer holidays it can feel like time stretches out luxuriously ahead of them; the days go on forever. Yet if you ask an adult in the midst of their working career they will tell you that time literally flies or seems to slip through their fingers.
So time feels different according to who you are and what is happening in that moment. it isn’t really real; just a construction that we have made to make sense of our days, yet we often presume that everyone thinks about time in the same way. Our five minutes is the same as anyone else’s five minutes. Yet even if we are aware of this truth, it is something that we pay little attention to in terms of our customers and is a often the source of tension and sometimes the trigger for complaints.
Imagine the following scenarios -
- A patient lying in bed waiting for the busy nurse to come
- A customer waiting to get through the call waiting to talk to their bank
- Customer Ordering online
Having just finished reading and been inspired by ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett about the detrimental effects of unequal societies I got to thinking about what happens if you apply this kind of thinking to organisations. However we frame it the majority of large organisations work within some kind of hierarchy and therefore implicit within this is some kind of inequality. Now we know that hierarchy does have an impact and in terms of organisations and this can be both positive and negative. Positively it enables staff working with an organisation to be very clear about the chain of command and therefore the chain of decision making. However, the impact of a well defined hierarchy is that if decision making is always passed up the chain, staff become dis-empowered and potentially have less flexibility in their working and tend to stick only in their job roles and responsibilities – laying the pathway to succession planning problems. Worst of all, it sets up the potential for issues not to be shared and problem solving to happen from afar and imposed on those delivering services or producing the end product. When I have experienced this in some of the organisations that I work with, the psychological distance between staff and managers is palpable, noticeable in the body language, the words that people use, speaking in generalisations about ‘The Management’ and within the culture – feeling as if you would be blamed for unidentified (or even because of the blame culture – hidden) problems that inevitably (given the structure) only become apparent when they become painful issues
Now the answer to this is not easy and yet the organisations that I work with who have an ability to let go of the hierarchy and realise that it is merely a construct, an illusion gain the benefit of being able to focus on the outcome and are clear about what it takes to achieve. They seem to have the ability to hold the paradox of having both clarity of role and be able to work beyond role definition. This gives staff who work in these organisations the permission to innovate, something which role freedom often brings yet still be clear about the outcome expectations of the role. The defining characteristics of these organisations is, more than anything, the confidence to let go of hierarchy and hold the belief that ‘we are in this together to deliver this outcome’. It is a move beyond performance targets and towards deliverable benefits. As opposed to putting in place processes that serve to maintain the status quo.
So how do you move towards a ‘we are all in this together’ culture? I believe that the first step towards this is the ability to let go of status as a definition of power and success and a move to a deep understanding of what the role is there to deliver. Now many organisations may talk this talk yet few actually walk the walk – and if they did the hierarchy would be turned upside down and the first indication of this might be in organisation charts, with those that are actually delivering being at the top of the tree, with other roles explicitly set out to support those delivering. Changing the organisational chart may be just changing a piece of paper, yet this can send a powerful psychological message and if followed through may change power relationships within organisations and set the conditions for real conversations to take place…..
We are required to make judgements of one kind or another much of the time, whether this is in our roles as Leaders, Managers, members of a team or even in our everyday lives. It is a vital part of our decision-making process. It enables us to weigh up the pros and cons and decide the best action to take to move onto the next step. It ensures that choices are made at the right time to keep the organisation on the right path. So making judgements is a good thing to do, right? And yes it is, except when the process of making a judgement turns into being judgemental, judging ourselves or others.
Being judgemental can be divisive organisational behaviour, that leads to poor management. It is a behaviour that can quickly become viral and can prevent forward movement and in some cases lead to failure. Being judgemental is an act of judging others and assigning a label; such as ‘they are poor performers’ or ‘that organisation is rubbish’. When we label in this way, we seek out and filter for instances that confirm our assumptions and ignore or don’t even notice exceptions to the rule we have set. And by doing this we close down the possibilities of something different being true, because those who are on the receiving end of this kind of judgement start to believe it is true themselves – that they are just not good enough and never will be. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy where morale drops and the corresponding behaviours become the norm; lack of care and lack of pride in the job to be done and eventually those who hold the possibility of raising performance exit the organisation leaving those who are left to flounder. After all, when it comes down to it, it is all about reputation and it’s hard to change reputation isn’t it?
So how possible is it to change this? The act of being judgemental is usually based on a feeling or an emotion (decision based judgements are based on fact), so what needs to happen is to change what is felt. Set realistic expectations and celebrate success when they are met. Notice and appreciate what works and start to create a new story. It won’t be easy as human being seem to prefer the drama of failure, spending time gossping rather than taking responsibility. And slowly, bit by bit that new story will start to become true as people’s beliefs shift, behaviours change and a new era of possibility is ushered in….