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September 2018 Member Call: Connecting to Challenges and Initiatives

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 September 2018

Participating on the call:

Adrian (Merck), Clarae (Hyster Yale), Kelly (Hyster Yale), Elizabeth (JFF), Josh (Publicis-Sapient), Nicole (Deloitte), Teresa (City of Fort Collins, CO),Sarah (VISA), Daniel (LILA), Amanda (LILA), Marga(LILA).


Framing of Theme for Discussion:

Shaping the Human Systems in Organizations: How do a group of people act as a collective and in a mindful way?

As the members shared about their companies and the challenges they face, several themes arose around this year’s theme of collective mindfulness.

Constant and Rapid Pace of Change

First and foremost, we are currently in a time where the rate and pace of change is faster than it has ever been. Members discussed how everything is changing, from the way of doing things, the people being hired, how you access, develop and manage knowledge, internal organizational, to the very concept of  what “work” or “professional” means. When people or organizations are risk- or change-averse, it can cause a lot of anxiety. This rapid pace of change necessitates restructuring – both internally and externally – and organizations are seeing many changes in roles, departments, and often a decentralizing of power and hierarchical structures. It can feel like there is no “safe harbor” that is free from change these days, but we at least need an anchor. A question arose based on the work of Jim Hazy on structural attractors from his (April 2018 LILA guest) complexity research: how can we create anchors to deal with emergent systems and to ensure that our organizations are agile and adaptable to respond to the constant and rapid pace of change?

Slow Down to Speed Up

How do we pause and take time to be mindful amidst the deadlines and timelines we have? This question surfaced throughout the member call.  Sometimes a “pause” can be seen as unproductive as it brings to mind idleness.  Elizabeth offered the phrase “hurry but don’t rush” to shift the focus to one of being on-point but not acting too quickly that you get sloppy. Teresa noted that in these rapidly changing environments, we must be the ones to pause or it won’t happen. The community also discussed the heightened importance of engaging a broader audience and although the process may take longer, it can increase autonomy, engagement, and commitment, particularly in relation to organizations moving more toward the ecosystem/organism model. How can we sustain the conversation without halting the work.

Organizations as Ecosystems/Organisms

A common theme that arose from several members was the need for organizations to function more like cohesive ecosystems or organisms than a machine with separate parts. The question was asked whether we could understand collective mindfulness before understanding individual mindfulness?  As roles change and organizations deal with uncertainty, we need to shift the focus from individual roles and benefits to a more collective view of the organization or teams. How can we expand our view of the ecosystem within which we work and build something that helps us understand both the internal and external ecosystems? Increasingly, organizations need to share knowledge across business areas and to break down silos so it is important to identify points of intersection.

The need to become a sensing organization was mentioned a number of times – in other words, to collectively be sense-making organization in addition to decision-making, and to recraft the role of leadership as those who lead change through sensing and influencing others. This idea of organizations as ecosystems or organisms also means that hierarchical systems are less effective because the whole system needs autonomy to act and the decision-making must be distributed. Josh shared the metaphor: when your finger touches a hot stove, it doesn’t stop to ask your brain, “What do I do?” but it reacts on its own. Similarly, it was noted that it would be helpful if people at various levels of organization were equipped to act autonomously, perhaps by establishing a shared purpose, shared priorities, norms, and a shared language.


A shared Understanding

The rapidly changing environment affects people on all levels throughout organizations, so it is important to have clear communication both internally and externally. What would it look like to communicate mindfully, and what kind of resource(s) would it take to do that? Similarly, the need is growing to share knowledge and practices across business areas and from the pockets were it sometimes resides, so how can we mindfully create a clear internal communication system within an organization? Members discussed the importance of gaining the buy-in of people throughout the organization and noted how it can be helpful to engage as many people as possible in defining shared purpose and values; while the process may take more time, it can result in increased commitment and engagement.


Enemies of Mindfulness

Adrienne described the enemies of mindfulness as distraction and perfectionism. She asked how we can create opportunities and guardrails (technical, physical) to be collectively mindful and to guard against distraction, helping individuals focus and helping groups focus. To shift away from perfectionism, the need for agility came up again: to focus on a shared goal, let things go, and to be ready to adapt to the rapid rate of change.

One challenge that several members faced was how to break the inertia of the existing way of doing things, particularly when it has been successful. Teresa also noted how dealing with change can sometimes make people revert back to the original things that gave them trouble and asked how we can work to break this kind of tribal behavior. Nicole noted that we need to be intentional about our next steps as a collective group.

Human-Centered Design

Human-Centered Design came up as a way to help people dig into the iteration cycle in smaller chunks by allowing them to pause and address problems and test prototypes before intentionally deciding whether or not to move forward. Nicole discussed a re-focus on end-users rather than the old top-down methodology and how building capability in talent development can ultimately lead to more agility, flexibility, and ability to influence stakeholders in how they should approach development of their people and how they approach clients.


Marga closed the call building on the connection previously made to Hazy’s ideas  suggesting the image of the river that bends and adjusts to the environment – “we must be able to both sense where the river wants to go and also be able to stand in it and detour it when we need to.” Too much change can sometimes cause individuals to put their head down and continue to do what they ae doing hoping that it will go away. With the pace of change, if you do that, all of a sudden, you’re outside and unable to step back.



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