If you have just driven for two days through some of the most delightful scenery in the world, then a Monday morning back at work can be a depressing thing.  I was luck however as I started a two day workshop for Henley Management School, now part of the University of Reading and pictured.  Its located on the banks of the Thames and I arrived at dusk yesterday.  A sideline here, by trip through Wales had resulted in a need to tidy and clean the car, an act completed in a car wash just before arriving at the College.  It’s the first time in over five years I have done anything other than drive it, so was odd to discover the original colour!  Some form of ritual act I think, but I won’t dwell on it.

I have had an off on relationship with Henley over the years.  I’ve spoken at their Knowledge Forum twice, but I get a sense that I don’t really fit the culture of that event.  This was a new contract, working with an old friend Pam who recently moved there.  The task was to work with a developing leadership group of a facilities management group.  I knew that the session had originally been planned as a personal development course, focusing on the individual.  However a new CEO had asked for something more project focused, hence my arrival.   I decided to move with caution and hold some of the theory until later.  A decision confirmed when two members of the course were delayed on arrival to the afternoon due to a meeting in Birmingham.

So I started them off with the Basketball video, just to shake things up again and given me a language to use around weak signal detection, not ignoring outliers and the need for safe-to-fail experiments later in the programme.  After than I had three tables running The Future Backwards which must be one of the most popular methods I have ever created.  That worked well and, as it does in practice, I had an idea or two to improve the method.  I ran one, but I’ll  explain both below.  Future Backwards should normally end with each table leaving a spokesperson in place and you then rotate the other tables around each spokesperson with an instruction to look for what is in common, what is different and what would most surprise you.  I never do plenary feedback to avoid pattern entrainment, but table by table is good.  The turning points which are in common indicate possible collective filters through which the world will be viewed.  Differences and surprises indicate different histories and the possibility of an inability to agree on a future direction.  Thats a very brief summary by the way.  So the two variations were:

  • Each table to prepare a brief presentation to the Board of the organisation to explain and elaborate in the common turning points, their consequences for pattern entrainment and the dangers along with action plans to prevent same. In addition identify interesting conclusions from the different and surprising ones and speculate as to their implications.
  • For Heaven and Hell, identify possible warning signs, linked to turning points, of possible progression down either path and develop plans to prevent/encourage as appropriate.  Prevention needs to be a judo move not a blocking one by the way; change the trajectory.

I did the first, followed by two rounds of Ritual Dissent and it worked well.  They were engaged, it took time and I needed to move on so I didn’t run the second but I will at some stage in the future.

Later than afternoon we ran through complexity and Cynefin but I estimate I only spoke for around an hour all day, most of it was the participants working, and working hard.  The two late comers were integrated quickly and I rather regretted my need to make the ROH that evening as I missed what would have been interesting conversations over dinner.

Below, you see the panorama from the door of our meeting room.  As I say there are a lot worse places to work!

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