The little secrets of collaboration: Assume good intent


My former employer’s Director General used to say, almost ad nauseam:

‘always assume good intent’

At some point, it kind of became formulaic.

No one seemed to be listening to that particular message of his any more. And the gossips and rumours went on as they always do – and indeed always did.

But the point he was making was excellent and deserved more attention and more intention.

A marker of good collaboration: We have to assume good intent from our partners. Trust is a bridge made of mutual vulnerability, openness, interest and indeed good intention vis-a-vis one another.

Strong collaboration doesn’t work when you suspect something is off or fishy at every turn of the way. And if suspicion looms in, use it as a great opportunity to strengthen the collaboration by exploring these snags together.

Sometimes the motivation behind our partners’ actions, words, plays is not entirely revealed to us. Sometimes not at all, even. But when we’re serious about collaboration, we can’t draw conclusions too quickly, we can’t act rashly in the face of an ill-understood turn of events, and we certainly can’t jump the guns around.

Every time we act impulsively on the basis of our partners’ hidden motives, we risk undoing the slow, careful, tended growth of our building trust with them. Collaboration -for important and/or complex issues- is just too important to come down to petty toddler reactions. So we all need to learn to hold our breath, keep calm, assume positive intent, and have a useful conversation to clarify matters.

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The little secrets of collaboration: How you make me feel


There are people that use quotes for just about anything. It becomes a language in and of itself, and it then often feels like a dysfunctional marketing discourse, devoid of any meaning that was contained in the quotes originally.

Yet a good quote is worth a lot. It’s like a picture but in words – it’s worth 1000 other words – and if it’s a really good quote, you keep discovering different layers of meaning to it.

As I embark today on this new series – which may never go very far – about the ‘little secrets of collaboration’, here is a first post, encapsulated in one quote that I cherish:

people-will-foget-what-you

There is so much truth about this one!

Collaboration is a human-to-human phenomenon. And so it relies heavily on human emotions and connections. All the little things that contribute to develop ‘trust’.

The implications of this saying are profound both in positive and in negative ways. And somehow – perhaps the result of my recent gender bias – it’s got to do with cultivating empowerment among the people we live and work with.

In a positive light, ‘how you make me feel’ is about all the little signs and attentions that give you the impression you are seen, heard, respected, invited, embraced, honoured, appreciated – and it’s also the stuff of the great leaders that inspire you to transform yourself and your surroundings, that give make you believe that ‘the impossible is possible’ (I just watched ‘Mary Poppins returns’ and I can’t recommend it enough), and that you can play a role in it.

In a negative light, ‘how you make me feel’ is about all the little snarky comments; it’s the faces that frown and make you feel insecure about yourself because they seem so disappointed themselves watching you; it’s the consistent putting you away in a corner and doing it themselves because blatantly they just don’t trust you… and it goes all the way to the downright toxic comments that “you will never make it”, “you are stupid” and more. All these negative behaviours might still just about work for a short-term ‘contractual’ type of relationship, but certainly not for a partnership that is meant to develop over time and/or achieve great things.

In a recent assignment I realised – alas from the negative side – how true this saying is, and how I actually don’t want to work with people that make me feel disempowered. For short assignments, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much, but certainly it does matter a great deal to me for more regular contact and work with such people.

So sharpen your radar for each other’s empathy, because that’s the stuff of true collaborators, and of collaborations that bring true change about.

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What really is the value of feedback?


Happy new year everyone!Happy New Year

I hope 2019 brings you health and well-being, happiness, peace, fun, inspiration and success!

I also hope it brings you and us all lots of opportunities to get better at feedback. Both giving and receiving it. When I developed my motto ‘fun, focus and feedback, I didn’t expect that this third word would weigh so heavily not only in my life but in my practice and that of people I support.

Feedback seems like its a formality; Such a small thing and yet is can be so powerful that it is a heresy to ignore it.

Feedback (Credits: Denise Krebs / FlickR)

The power of feedback (Credits: Denise Krebs / FlickR)

This year offers a great opportunity for me to work on feedback too as I’m developing a plan with some colleagues to strengthen the culture of giving and receiving feedback in that organisation.

And on that note, let me share fragments of a rationale for feedback:

[start of segment]

Feedback is a crucial source of learning

Receiving feedback is a great way to understand both what one is doing very well (and should keep doing) and which ‘improvables’ someone has. How ‘what we do’ is received by others is not always known or apparent to us. Feedback makes those unclear or hidden effects come to the fore. It is thus a great way to get us out of ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ and to be more intentional on behaviours and activities that matter.

In the process we potentially improve in a number of ways:

  • In our technical skills and expertise (knowing what works and what doesn’t);
  • In our communication skills and understanding of each other;
  • In the way our individual role and responsibilities impacts collective performance.

Not only is this a useful source for individual development, but it is also a very welcome boost to the entire group (or organisation)’s ability to cope with fast changing conditions. A fast-paced world requires short feedback loops that help any collective of people track the direction of things in a more conscious manner.

It is all the more normal that interpersonal feedback contributes to this ability to see opportunities and risks more quickly.

Feedback thus makes business sense.

Mutual feedback is a powerful source of trust

The practice of giving and receiving feedback is not straightforward. A lot of sensitive interpersonal dynamics is involved in it. And that is beneficial for ourselves as individuals and as a whole collective:

  • Accepting and showing our vulnerability develops our humility and empathy – essential proxies for developing trust, a critical driver of high performing teams;
  • Being able to talk about problems helps us being uncompromising with the issues we really need to focus on, and can develop our sense of solidarity towards the challenges we face;
  • Acknowledging mistakes or even failures, accepting one’s share of responsibility and the consequences of ‘incidents’ we have caused fasten our learning and create an environment where progressively everyone becomes mutually accountable;

In addition, for the people giving feedback, the very act of giving feedback stimulates:

  • Using sharper language – which leads to becoming clearer on where we put our intent and efforts;
  • Not shying away from difficult conversations – even if that can take some time to build up;
  • Our own creativity to find constructive solutions to the behavioral issues we are seeing in ourselves and around us.

[end of segment]

Thanks for the feedback

Thanks for the feedback

It comes as no surprise then that the excellent ‘Thanks for the feedback…’ has become one of the cornerstone books in this effort.

The really helpful premise of this book is that it focuses not so much on how we give feedback but on how we receive it and how we can get much better at that.

Kudos and thank you to Nelli Noakes from Community At Work for sharing this book with me and for being my coach on Group Facilitation Skills, which is the track that definitely ensured feedback was going to remain an important theme of my working (and personal) life.

Now I can only encourage you to read the book, practice your giving and receiving feedback and also doing that with me on this blog and elsewhere 🙂

And my best wishes for this new year again!

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The ‘meta’ reflex, that little knowledge ‘extra’ that makes a difference


My head is still boggling about the relation that some people can have with time. Particularly about what they do with time, this fascinating uber-theme of humanity alongside with love, death and the meaning of life.

The meta reflex - Anticipation before the next 'groundhog day' wave (Credits: T Sea / FlickR)

The meta reflex – Anticipation before the next ‘groundhog day’ wave (Credits: T Sea / FlickR)

I’ll be blogging a couple of posts about time. Starting today with this: the little extra time that smart workers and seasoned KMers take to invest in ‘meta’ reflexes and the world that offers.

What is this ‘meta’ world? The world that is visible with one step back, or aside, or with a helicopter view, or with your third eye. Essentially the vision you get when you step out of your ‘here and now’ and realise there is something important you can do about it for the future – to avoid a Groundhog Day scenario. And here is how it plays out:

Imagine you’re trying to fix a problem, dealing with a crisis, or even just replying to someone, responding to a query, thinking about a possible solution. Most people deal with the issue at hand. That’s great already!

But if your KM meta reflex kicks in, all of a sudden you see another arc:

Hold on a minute! Is this a one-off? Or something likely to happen again? What can I do here and now that will not only help in the moment, but save time for me, and possibly others, in the future?

THAT is the meta reflex that gives you an edge. And it’s personal knowledge mastery at work. It is to knowledge management what meditation is to life. It’s the open secret that helps you avoid the hole in the road. Repeatedly.

Through a practice that I set up a while back with some ideas gleaned here and there (“Steal with pride”, rightfully encourages Chris Collison), I reflect everyday on what worked or didn’t, and every week I also reflect on what I did in the week that helps me get more productive and successful in the future. That weekly look back is my moment of dedication to the meta reflex. At least that. Hardly any week I haven’t e.g. set up a list about xyz, developed a template for abc, cooked up a blog post that I can point back at when people ask me about ___, thought of standard questions for a given context etc.

Sometimes it takes just 30 sec, sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes a whole hour. But the payoff is huge. It means I’m better prepared. I’m mentally sharper. And I avoid some crisis scenarios in the future and having to deal again with the same issue.

A related thought: At the moment, I’m also working on the culture of feedback in the organisation I’m part of (and realise how useful ‘fun, focus and feedback‘ is, as a motto). Just like the more you practice giving and receiving feedback, the better you get at it, so too with practicing your meta reflex. It’s a muscle. Go to the gym, and better still: use every single opportunity to use it in your life!

It’s a real time saver – a life hack factory.

And it’s scalable at the level of a team. It’s the essence of after action review and learning on the spot… so let’s go meta!

What are your thoughts, tricks, heuristics to develop meta reflexes in your life and (collective) work?

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Knowledge management – a visual guided tour of ‘KM as a mindset’


Last week I was invited to help a group unravel the mysteries of knowledge management. It was a great opportunity to intervene both as facilitator and subject matter specialist.

Triggered by the opportunity to connect with my main area of expertise I quickly realised I was hit by the ‘curse of knowledge’ ie. how could I sum up something as complex as knowledge management and something that I have worked on for the past 15 years or so in one presentation (even though we unpacked various aspects of this through the entire workshop)?

I decided not to look closely at the typical KM approaches and tools – from communities of practice to social media, from facilitated participation formats to information systems – but rather to frame everything around the motto of “Knowledge management is a mindset”. In some ways, I thereby echoed Knoco’s definition of KM as “The way we manage our organisation when we understand the value of knowledge”.

And in order to fully appreciate every slide on this presentation, mind the presentation notes that are in the outline of the presentation on Slideshare and explain every bit of information.

In the process it was really helpful to have to challenge myself going through the references and bookmarks that I have about this topic, and to find out that quite a few of my go-to references are also a bit out of date.

Many more reflections are cropping out on the basis of this workshop – I will try and process a couple on this blog over the next few days and weeks… starting with: what is the minimum you can do when you think there’s really no time for KM…

Meanwhile, while I know this presentation is far from touching upon every important aspect, let me know what you think 😉

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Do we *need* to disagree? Or rather acknowledge our different perspectives?


The thirst for new ideas is a beautiful thing!

In the process of unearthing new ideas, though, we sometimes lose the plot a bit.

One of the (relatively) recent sources of innovations is to look into failures and celebrating failures through failure fairs and the likes etc. Great idea indeed if you pitch this well – although I seem to recall from the excellent Leaders in learning podcast series some dissonant experiences on fail fairs too, along the lines of ‘you need to set them up well’ etc. or they amount to a contest of platitudes. But granted: there is something interesting about failing.

The point, however, is that: it’s not about the failing, it’s about the learning. Failing as such is not great. But the learning that comes from failing can be extremely powerful.

Ditto with disagreements.

I recently read the latest newsletter of the ever excellent David Gurteen knowledge letter. And one of the links grabbed my attention:

Episode 1, How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to Having Better Arguments – BBC Radio 4 https://buff.ly/2wfGR3a #ConversationalLeadership

I went on to check the link – and listen to all five episodes of this podcast. Over the series, the author really made her point more clearly and convincingly that disagreements (like failures) can be a rich source of insights and ideas.

But when I stumbled upon the link first, and the first episode of the series, I couldn’t help but feel awkward at the thought of disagreements.

409 - Conflict (Credits: GirlieMac)

When disagreement degenerates into conflict (Credits: GirlieMac)

Disagreements are not the end goal.

What is the end goal, for collaboration etc. to work, is for people to disclose their opinion, their true identity, their feelings, their half-baked ideas, and to struggle through the process to also understand each other and progressively emerge with shared meaning (something which, incidentally, the same David Gurteen recently covered in his blook ‘Conversational leadership’).

Disagreement is, at best, an abrasive way of bringing some good ideas to the fore. But in terms of group development it’s far from being a panacea.

  • Don’t most disagreements end up rather sharpening our arguments than our ideas?
  • Does an argument bring the best feelings to the foreground?
  • Is it the most effective technique (so, purely from a technical point of view) to help the entire group find constructive ways to collaborate, in the longer run?
  • Does disagreement help build confidence among group members, and does it contribute to a group ‘gelling’? In and of itself?

I’m not so sure.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that disagreement is a) unavoidable, b) potentially extremely useful, c) potentially really destructive too and d) best facilitated, so that it remains a disagreement only for ever so long as it needs, and it helps move towards a renewed understanding of views and positions again – a prelude to constructive group co-creation and group (collaboration) development.

Disagreement is not the goal. It’s one of the ugly ‘necessary evils’ in a group’s life, every now and then. But it’s not the holy grail, the end destination.

Don’t let your thirst for new, sexy ideas distract you from the longer game.

And don’t you dare disagreeing with me grrrrr ;p

Check the BBC series ‘How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to Having Better Arguments

Sunbeam disagreement (Credits: Jon Hritz)

Sunbeam disagreement (Credits: Jon Hritz)

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‘Scale up’ your empathy, not your ‘pilot initiative’


I always felt there was a problem with scaling up.

And this week it dawned on me much more clearly what the problem was.

For a while, I thought that while the activities of a given initiative could not easily be scaled up, perhaps the conditions in which they were taking place could be scaled up.

But this week I just went through an amazing and mind-boggling training course on Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration offered by Community At Work.

And what this has taught me is a gazillion of things. But among others, more to the point for this post:

  • Even for a pilot project, the process literacy of people involved in multi-stakeholder collaboratives is usually quite limited
  • This means their ability to think at all kinds of levels (from the ‘here and now’ all the way to the ‘big picture’) in relational terms may be quite limited
  • And it also means their ability to understand group dynamics, how long it takes to create a safe space and what it takes to build and earn trust may be limited
  • Which means their ability to plan realistically for such multi-stakeholder collaboration is also very limited – among others because they may not be able to visualise the intensity of collaboration required throughout the process (and certainly on some crucial moments)
  • And that translates into vastly unrealistic plans that want to achieve big picture goals over ridiculously short periods of time with minimal resources that are mapped on a (calendarised) timeline that fails to represent the true time investment that all of this represents
  • And at the same time these people may – at least at the onset – not be very receptive to revising these vastly unrealistic expectations towards a much more realistic (and also costly) approach that would actually mean something and ensure that whatever investment reaps some real returns
  • And not only that, but also because of typical interpersonal dynamics of conflict and mis-communication, lack of listening skills and of a learning attitude, it becomes starkly daunting to dream of a multi-stakeholder collaboration taking off nation-wide after three of four large meetings in a given area?

How can this fallacy of scaling up, over and out not be doomed even after a very successful pilot initiative?

Before I move to a more optimistic piece of this post, let me also add a distinction here: Our world is still largely dependent on world views inherited from the XXth century – the century of large scale engineering (think massive war machines, the revolution of transport, space conquest, all the way to IT engineering of the network of networks, the Internet, and much much more)…

The Cynefin Framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

The Cynefin Framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

So is our view of social initiatives too often still: we can engineer social change. Firstly I think we simply CANNOT. But in any case you also don’t go about scaling up a social initiative the way you might scale up a large engineering initiative (ie: expand production line, replicate and roll out at larger scale).

Scaling up an engineering initiative is a very complicated matter. But it can be done, with the right amount of expertise and resources (money).

But there are simply too many factors at play in the complex realm of social initiatives to readily scale them up without a serious investment in time, trust, capacity and a host of other things.

The Cynefin Framework reminds us that we in the complex realm we have to deal with emergent approaches, responding to what we sense. And that is thus one other inherent limitation to the unrealistic expectations of social initiative ‘upscalers’.

Now: despair not!!

What this week’s course also taught me, is not to despair, is not to give up. The world is indeed full of examples of successful complex social initiatives (from Gandhi’s Salt March movement to Black Lives Matter, from the advent of social security to the creation of the United Nations Organisation… there is a plethora of inspiring initiatives to follow).

Our trainers even invited us to not only not despair, but to take our destiny in our hands, without waiting for benevolent billionaires, superminds or charismatic leaders and enlightened nations to show us the way.

Donald Trump mural (Credits: Matt Brown / FlickR)

Donald Trump mural (Credits: Matt Brown / FlickR)

The social of social change starts with our immediate vicinity, with our family, with our friends, with our neighbours, with our communities, with our networks. Our everyday activism is the only thing that gives us better chances to rebuild the social fabric that is destroyed by the ugly cynicism, egoism and malintentioned stupidity of the big and small Donald Trumps of this world.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, We are the 99% (5 of 27) (Credits: Glenn Halog / FlickR)

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, We are the 99% (5 of 27) (Credits: Glenn Halog / FlickR)

So let’s rethink how we want to ‘scale up’ social change. Let’s go slowly, let’s do it thoroughly, let’s knit our networks locally, and let’s bring the fire of our intentions globally. If there is only one meaning to keep from the current doomed equation of

Pilot  >> Scaling up

…it is that intention to pilot our lives, to take control, or co-ntrol, together. And to scale up our empathy, and then our process literacy, capacity, drive and effectiveness in joining hands and working collectively on fixing some of that misery in the world.

What are we waiting for?

What is KM? Really…


I pondered this a couple of days ago: when I have to explain to someone that I don’t know what I do (at least for the knowledge management part of my work), despite previous attempts I still struggle.

Chisel, chisel, keep on chiseling (at that KM definition then!) (photo credit: Shawn Clover / FlickR)

Chisel, chisel, keep on chiseling (at that KM definition then!) (photo credit: Shawn Clover / FlickR)

Off the cuff this is what came up to me, when thinking about describing my KM work.

Essentially, what any group or organisation needs to do is to achieve its goals to the best of its abilities right now, and to be prepared to achieve the goals of tomorrow to the best of its abilities too.

What helps you get there? It’s knowledge (know what, why, who, when, where), know-how (the skills to get there) and the learning that came with it and that will continue to sharpen these knowledge fields. It’s experience, expertise and a gift for permanent reflection (and -serendipity- hereby some thoughts to institutionalise reflection in your everyday organisation life).

What KM tries to do is to manage (or more to the point facilitate) all the processes, systems and people’s interactions in a way that they contribute to this, that they facilitate this.

So my role is to work with these people (using these processes and systems) to help them maximise their experience, expertise and reflection.

And it happens through many activities: journaling (blogging), sharing knowledge, cultivating their reflection alone and in groups, gathering around smart conversations,  clarifying their communication to remove all noise that gets in the way of clear, concerted, agreed, sustainable solutions, and making these reflections and their digital traces available to others, so as to connect all the nodes of our collective brain, eventually.

I’m wondering how this connects with David Griffith’s recent questioning about ‘what makes you a knowledge manager‘ as he comes back to some of these basics too.

It’s not quite there yet, I know, but every chiseling step gets me closer to the statue I’m trying to mold.

Which angle you think I should chisel at some more right now?

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A daily dose of process literacy


Here it is – the first post back on the (other) blog, after quite an absence…

agilefacil

In my quest towards developing people’s process literacy, I had an opportunity to make another small stride a couple of weeks ago. During an event where I was MC, I used a tiny bit of the air time I was granted to share one process tip per day.

Focus means discovery, always in the hope we will explore the world around us, forward focus, celebrate urban culture, Canary Wharf, London, England, UK, Enjoy!:)From focus to discovery…

Here are the ones I shared, and some others that I had planned to use (but didn’t get round to):

“What the heck did you mean”? Write coloured cards, flipcharts and other public writings with capital letters and full sentences. That will be a business skill useful for your future conferencing, and it will help the recording of the works.

The public stage fear not, young jedi”. If you fear public speaking, get to know the room/stage where you will have to perform. And get to know the audience by meeting as many people as…

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Picking up an old thread – a confession


This is how I feel on this blog:

Walking alone on the odd and old blogging trail (photo credit: ElBidule / FlickR)

Walking alone on the odd and old blogging trail (photo credit: ElBidule / FlickR)

It’s been nearly a year that I blogged here.

It feels really strange to be here again.

You may not care at all about what follows.

You might just settle for the fact that I’ll try and resume my blogging practice.

Or perhaps you don’t care about that either, though then arguably you’re just wasting your time cruising the web, otherwise you wouldn’t be here ha ha ha.

In fact, I have started blogging already – on AgileFacil, my other blog. And I’ll reblog that post in a few.

In any case many things happened in the past 10 months or so.

I changed jobs (and set up ProcessChange my own consultancy, as well as joined KIT Royal Tropical Institute).

I just had it with the most challenging year of my life – one when one of my sons started developing a very complex case of epilepsy that has been nibbling at our life ever since.

I got tired of this blogging routine – and just couldn’t combine it with the above-mentioned home condition.

No physical energy, no mental space, no moral room for blogging.

2018 has finally chased away that nightmare of a year that last year was to us.

New progress, new home, new job, new arrangements, new ideas, new energy.

Born again with blogging…

 

There will be some differences with my past blogging practice:

No regularity. I just can’t afford that just yet.

More reflections on the broader environment that is mine and links to others’ reflections and resources.

More focus on AgileFacil as process literacy is more centrally becoming my quest and many opportunities converge to taking my facilitation work to another level.

More of myself in these posts – and hopefully more of yourselves too.

I hope this new road is worth the trip.

In any case, it’s not a bad thing to try it out.

Here’s to new beginnings!