Leading Organizational Change through large group interventions

I like to watch people dancing. In some cities during the summer there are some places where you can find a DJ or people drumming while everyone manages to integrate in the larger group. People may be dancing with different steps, but everyone is contributing to the sense of harmony with their own movements.  I see strength, coordination, passion.  However, in more structured environments, like in a wedding, when you see couples dancing at the same time every couple or person is following their own direction. Everyone is achieving their personal goal, but they don’t feel like a group with a bigger goal.

Something similar happens during meetings. If the meeting doesn’t call for everyone’s collaboration, the more people you have in the meeting, the less gets done. There is no sense of harmony and everyone is trying to achieve their own goals. Unless of course you organize a large group meeting with the large group in mind. The way of organizing and facilitating critical mass meetings is radically different than a regular business meeting, as it needs to allow people’s creativity and energy be explored and used effectively.

If you haven’t been into a Search Conference, a Participative Work Redesign,  a World Cafe, an Open Space or similar interventions, it’s time for you to check it out. Large group interventions, also called  Critical mass events, are the kind of events that can really generate Change with a capital C in an organization. They’re based on the Socio-Technical Systems Theory, that approaches OD analyzing the organization in three levels, allowing people to have a whole systems view:

  • Outside forces – customers, market forces, community, competitors, and change
  • Technical systems – the processes used to create and deliver products and services
  • Human side of the organization – rewards, motivation, talent development  and the relationship among people

This has created a “new” (although it has been around for several years) way of leading change in organizations. Instead of having a committee that would collect data about the organization, which is a slower and biased way of promoting change, that requires the committee being able to sell the change initiatives to the organization, now we can bring the entire system in a room and work intensively in designing initiatives that consider everyone’s point of view. In this way, the changes will be sustained as people that participate (and whose voices are heard) will be already committed to new ways of working. Everyone who can make a decision is in the room, so there is no need to wait weeks for an answer.

Working this way also has the benefit of improving teamwork, increasing employee engagement and working more efficiently, because the system can re-design the way it works and get rid of the processes that no longer support the organization’s goals.

If your organization needs a real change, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about a large group intervention.

How to cultivate a Learning Network

After you finish school your learning opportunities come from three sources: events, reading material, and people. The events that happen to you are pretty much related to the kind of job you have and activities you do. If you work in a company and follow the same routine, it will take a lot of luck to move out of your “comfort zone”, which incidentally is your “learning zone”. If you go out, your learning will follow a pattern that will limit you, as you won’t be exposed to radically new ideas.

Let me explain: if you work, as I did, as a manager of a team, your reading material and experiences will be related to your field and the few topics that interest you. But also, if you are the “expert” in a topic, you might disregard information that you don’t agree with, as we tend to consider ourselves too good to learn from them.   If you still read the newspaper, it will bring you perhaps a little bit more of information, although probably outdated (as we know that with social media we have access to more and more information every second).

I’ll give you an example: ten years ago most of my reading material was on Organizational development, personal development and literature. The chances of reading a good book on, let’s say medicine, were really slim. However, one day I went to a conference where the speaker was Juan Enriquez, and this event opened the door to a whole new world: genomics, technology, science, innovation, etc. During this conference, Enriquez talked about the BRCA test and how this small piece of information should be more important for women than any other thing related to her breasts. Angelina Jolie just brought it to the attention of the general public 10 years later.

The type of books/articles you read, will likely come from the people that you talk to or the events that influence you. So, when we hear Humberto Maturana saying that “the quality of our conversations  determines the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our work”  all this makes sense. Your learning and your work depends on the reflections you have on the events and conversations that you have.

In 2008 I read that my colleague Abiel Guerra had attended a seminar in Cape Cod with Edgar Schein.  Although I was closer to Cape Cod than him (he’s in Mexico), I hadn’t heard of this institute before.  Attending Schein’s seminar next year changed the way I perceived several things and introduced me to more awesome people, such as my friend Ralf Lippold in Germany. This event had a strong influence too, in the type of projects I designed during my master’s degree, such as a virtual stammtisch on Change, with people from all over the world, as Ralf introduced me to an Austrian guy who is in Brazil, and I invited a couple of friends from Colombia, Chile and Mexico that I met through a World Cafe workshop in Brazil. That broadened my network and their networks, too. changing conversations logo

So, if you want to increase the quality of the conversations you have, you need to be exposed to different experiences, different people, different ways of thinking. The best way to do it is to have a diverse network.  To increase the diversity of your network you can start changing your patterns in the following ways:

-Meet new people: don’t be shy, talk to people, ask questions. You have to show up, engage in situations where you can meet new people who can introduce you to different ways of thinking. Be open to discuss and learn about other people too, and to answer questions about your own ideas.

-Attend professional gatherings from industries that are not related to your field: this will give you the great opportunity of meeting new amazing people, and listen to great ideas.  Also, people love to talk to someone who is genuinely interested.

-Get out of your comfort zone: that’s a given. If you don’t speak the same industry language, you’ll likely ask more questions, be more interested and learn more (as you won’t judge and discard easily a topic).

-Follow people on Twitter: search for keywords that are interesting, check users’ bios and followers. Then, follow more people!

-Suscribe to TED: a lot of my inspiration for my work I got it from a TED talk, if you find other similar resources, let me know. I’ll be happy to share more information.

-Join Goodreads and search for trending books: check out what are your friends and some other people reading, you may find interesting stuff.

-Connect the dots between fields or topics: my friend Ralf is passionate about opera and ballet and loves to see how arts connect with management and productivity, for example. Find the common elements, the things that work in a field and how they can be applied into another field.  There is no limit!

So, in a nutshell, opening up to new opportunities and new people will help you generate new ideas. Some days ago, for example, I went to an HR breakfast, a Sustainability 5@7 and a Growing Community event at the Planetarium, all these events in less than 48 hours.  I cannot begin to say how I feel now, excited and recharged, and now my mind is exploding with new ideas, leads and articles to follow up with, and the best, all of this for free!

Please, share your ideas and let’s see what we can build together.

Art of Hosting Montreal

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Last month, I attended to the first Art of Hosting event in Montreal. It was an amazing opportunity to discover this practice, along with about 200 people. Lupuna, Percolab, and other organizations brought Toke Moeller, Chris Corrigan and Tuesday Ryan-Hart and a big group of practitioners. The event used different methodologies such as World Cafe, Open Space, Storytelling, Mind-maps, Graphic recording, etc, but also allowed us to connect with each other through play, music, aikido and more.

It’s amazing how a lot of things can be done in so little time when you surrender to the emergence of the collective intelligence.

We had the chance to see how the principles of a good conversation apply:

* live now what future you want to create

* be in the present

* do not host it alone – be a good team of hosts

* focus on questions that matters

* go into conversation about what really matters by listening deeply to each other – beyond the words

* allow all voices to be heard so the collective intelligence can surface

* co host a good process that allows everyone to learn about themselves – each other and the purpose

* harvest good essences

* do not act before clarity and wisdom have come

* do not fear chaos – it is creative space where the new order can be born

* go through your fear however it manifests

Of course, having a good time in the company of great people is not difficult. The challenge is, what happens next?  A month later, I still feel I’m part of this amazing community. I’ve been participating in the Virtual Collaboration group, our purpose is to experience and share on-line practices that help us to co-create with virtual communities. Today was the second meeting and we defined already three projects we want to accomplish, being one of them my proposal of creating a Virtual Collaboration Handbook. Additionally, there are more projects planned for this year, that are being supported in the AoH community. If you want to join us, look for the Art of Hosting Montreal group in Facebook or visit this page: http://www.aohmontreal.org

Picture taken by: Renaud BERTRAND