These are examples of real clients, real situations and real responses.
Before we met most wouldn’t have described their situation as clearly as this. Few people come to us with a clearly defined problem.
Usually they bring a set of circumstances.
Often they’re inspired by living systems ideas and want to work together differently.
Sometimes they’re facing a tricky situation and they’re wondering if what we do might help.
We didn’t set out with a clear path forward, either. We don’t have a template or a formula.
Instead, in our exploratory conversations we helped them crystallise what they needed. Working together, we figured out what might work. And a response emerged.
This sample of projects – from single interventions to long term relationships – will give you a flavour of our approach to people, organisation, culture and change.
We’ve got to change our structures and the way we operate.
We’re not getting the best from our resources. Our clients’ needs have changed and we must change to respond to them. But people are working in silos and attached to the way things are. And poor relationships don’t help. They’ve been declining for a long time and it’s hard to know how to unblock the situation. If we try, we’re afraid we’ll have a strike!
We used our Seeing Systems workshop to introduce the principles of living systems to the entire staff to help them see their organisation in a new way.
Using World Café conversations we helped them explore their messy reality through this lens and secured support for a participative process to look at the way the agency operated.
We designed an Appreciative Inquiry process that sought the views of every staff member. Through this process, people bridged silos, built relationships and engaged in their own learning.
In a large scale planning summit staff unpacked their research and learning, worked collaboratively to develop a new vision and designed a series of initiatives to bring greater integration to how the agency operates.
Looking around us we see fragmentation. People’s sense of being part of something bigger, has died.
We’re at the beginning of a leadership journey. We’ve just been elected. We don’t have a grand plan or a big agenda. We’re going to keep the show on the road and get our administrative house in order. But we really want everyone to participate in what’s happening. We want them to feel that this is their organisation. Our big cultural goal is to invite people to participate in what’s happening.
We worked with this client in an ongoing and collaborative way for many years drawing from our repertoire of processes to engage people in multiple ways around multiple issues.
We used our Seeing Systems workshop to introduce the principles of living systems to the entire organisation to frame the participative, collaborative intention behind the work that would follow.
We regularly convened large-scale conversations to explore specific issues, using conversational methods like World Café and Open Space.
We used the Learning History process to put tricky relationship issues on the table and open up discussion.
We worked with them to design a creative marketplace showcasing the work and insights of different groups.
We designed a large-scale Appreciative Inquiry involving everyone inside the organisation (and outside) to think together about the future.
… and so on. Within a couple of years, the cultural shift was palpable. There was a real sense of belonging; people felt part of something bigger.
We’re been running our programme really successfully for two decades. Now a big change is coming down the tracks.
Government is changing the rules and that will impact what we do, in a big way. Before the hammer falls, we need to strengthen ourselves to withstand the shocks that lie ahead.
We designed a process as part of the organisation’s Continuing Professional Development agenda.
We used our Seeing Systems workshop to introduce the principles of living systems to a thousand network members at multiple large scale events to help them see the subtle systemic nature of their work even in the teeth of top-down bureaucracy.
We used Storytelling and World Café to help people reconnect with their deeper purpose and the principles underlying their practice.
By helping them reframe their work and voice its value, we helped them strengthen their professional identity as they prepared for the deep changes that lay ahead.
We’re a new group. We trying something different. A new way of being and working together. It’s an experiment in organising. But we’re stuck.
Things have faltered and we don’t know why. We just know that the idea of living systems makes sense to us. Can these ideas help us get out of our rut?
We used our Seeing Systems workshop to introduce them to the principles of living systems and helped them develop a shared picture of their work as an experiment in new ways of leading and organising.
We designed a Learning History to invite reflection (inside and outside the group) on the experience of becoming a new group. This helped unblock the emotional stuckness, surfaced deeper dynamics underlying what had happened, and created an agenda for discussion and exploration.
We used our Focus and Direction process to help them identify their core purpose and the values that would underpin their work together.
Using Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems model, we created a new template for how they would self-organise and address their work.
We introduced Action Learning as an ongoing learning process to allow their experience to shape their evolving ideas of how to organise and respond to the outside world.
Something is blocking our leadership team from fulfilling its potential – and I think it might be me.
I want to be the kind of leader that people can open up to. But for some reason, it’s not happening. I want us to have honest conversations.
We worked with the CEO at a personal level, creating space for him to explore his own convictions and come to his own senses about the reasons for the relational difficulties on the team.
We used our Culture Mapping process to help him reflect on his own experience on the team.
We invited the top team to engage with our Culture Mapping values assessment to ‘put numbers on feelings’, develop a shared picture of the team experience, and create an agenda for a deeper, more honest conversation, as a group.
Then we used the results of the values assessment as a context for a facilitated workshop in which people explored the stories behind the data and spoke openly about difficult issues.
We need to have a conversation about the future. And we want everyone to be part of it.
People are tired. They’ve lost faith in our processes. We don’t want to be top-down leaders. We want people to believe that the future depends on them. We want to generate a sense of personal responsibility for what happens.
This is a global organisation represented in Europe, Africa and the USA.
We worked with the leadership group over several months to help them clarify their shared focus and a theme to ground the work that would follow.
We convened a diverse host group from across the world and worked with them to design a process that would engage the global community. We used this design process to give the host group an experience of collaboration-at-work and cultivate the shared ownership necessary to sustain the process in partnership with us over the following year.
With the host group we convened World Café conversations with fifteen hundred people. We introduced people to the principles of living systems and invited them to create an agenda for the organisation.
We harvested the outcome and distilled five thousand pieces of data into five core themes. We created harvest documents and process guidance to support people around the world to work in-depth on these themes and issues in their own jurisdiction, in a self-organised way.
We conducted qualitative research with leaders from across the world and created a Learning History that explored the realities of leadership and created an agenda for ongoing leadership development.
We want to reimagine how we organise as an international organisation.
We have just been elected to leadership. We want to be participative practitioners, leading with and alongside others. We’d like you to work with us. (The initial invitation was as general as that.)
Our work with this global organisation has spanned many years and more than one leadership team and is a great example of what we do: cultivate shared leadership and respond to unfolding needs in creative ways using the principles of participation, collaboration and learning.
We have used multiple participative processes to engage people around many issues, over many years. For example:
We supported the leadership team’s global learning journey. Having seen first hand what’s happening and what’s needed, we helped them work collaboratively to transform the fruits of their learning into a strategic framework and agenda.
We design and host an annual Strategic Planning Retreat with the leadership team, using maximum participation and reflective learning to review, reflect and identify priorities and creative ways to address them.
We designed an Appreciative Inquiry process to cultivate relationships between leaders on five continents. We engaged them in learning conversations with counterparts in outside organisations to support their development and build leadership capacity in the organisation.
We convened a large scale planning summit in which the global leadership team unpacked their learning, developed a shared vision for a more integrated global organisation and designed a series of initiatives to help them work in a more integrated way.
We design and facilitate ongoing leadership forums to deepen relationships across the world and evolve their shared agenda.
And so on….
In advance of the IPCC Climate talks in Paris, a cross-sector alliance of political, business, science, cultural and non-governmental organisations convened the Irish Climate Change Conversations – a series of large-scale public events, each exploring a different dimension of our systemic dilemma.
The final conversation was to be staged in Ireland’s national theatre. The question was, where had the convening group arrived by the end of the process? And what would they say?
My task was to creatively synthesise the many-headed reality represented on both the convening team and in the public conversations, and to present it at The Abbey theatre.
I used a combination of Storytelling and Learning History in a way that I hoped would do justice to the conversational process … and reveal the messiness of our predicament.
In other words, I tried to tell the truth.
The event was recorded and you can see my twenty minute presentation here:
Want to change the story? Let’s talk.