Archive for the 'collaboration' Category

Feb 11 2015

Biscuits and Being Better Together

biscuittweetAll it takes is a tweet about grating frozen butter to make better biscuits to get me to click into a web page. And when I arrive, I find this most wonderful quote that can certainly apply to far more than biscuits. (Emphasis mine)

Sitting down to a plate of towering warm biscuits, with butter, sorghum and orange-blossom honey, we get philosophical on details, like placing biscuits so they’re touching.“When you’re touching, you lift each other up and you rise higher,”

Duvick agrees. But if they rise too high and slump over, they still taste good.

via What’s the secret to really tall biscuits? | CharlotteObserver.com.

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Feb 09 2015

Continuing My Ecocycle Experimentation

GenderinAgResearchIn January I was working with the CGIAR Gender in Agricultural Research Network during their meeting. My wonderful client, Jacqui Ashby trusted me to use many of the Liberating Structures with the group. We used the Ecocycle Planning structure early on to help think about the network member’s work in a slightly different ways.

This is the third time I’ve used the Ecocycle Planning “full on,” in other words, I hung a meaningful part of an agenda on to it. I am getting more confident in how I launch the process and appreciate the value of practicing and observing others (like Keith McCandless) running the process and learning from them.

ciattweetSimone Staiger, of CIAT, wrote about the experience on her Knowledge Management blog during the meeting. The tweet was apparently provocative. A few days after Simone tweeted the blog link, she received the most retweets and links than any other post she has tweeted out. Is it the phrase “destructive process” that caught people’s eyes and imaginations?

As it turns out, the conversations around the creative destruction phase of the ecocyle were very interesting to me, and it appears that they were of interest to the participants. Here are the combined notes Simone and I wrote up:

Participants struggled a bit with “Creative destruction.” At first, there was some reluctance to place things in the “creative destruction” area, thinking that this was a negative activity. After some discussion, many groups identified this as a rich area of potential and possibility, the space of innovation and renewal. One participant gave as an example the need to deploy our listening skills to some of their diverse co-workers in order to be able to change mindsets and create and work together.  It was also mentioned that it is important that we involve a larger group of “next users” and partners in the creative destruction and renewal phase. This increases the chances for them to support the birth and implementation of ideas and activities.

Are we both excited and afraid of destruction? Is that the power of this area?

Conversations about the Poverty Traps and Rigidity Traps are always useful. It’s like we put a name on something familiar, but often unspoken. Being able to frame and discuss these issues is critical.

The other area that held some useful insights was the area of maturity. Not so surprisingly, what one categorizes as a “mature” practice can vary wildly between individuals depending on their experience, what activities they prioritize in their work and other contextual factors. What is often enlightening is the realization that there may not be a shared understanding of those mature practices and therefore a high potential for misalignment.

From a facilitation standpoint, I was worried that the groupings we created for the maps would not work. We had to group people working on different projects together, and in the past, I’d seen better results when an intact team or group maps their project. But I was surprised how much cross project relevance and resonance emerged. I’m not sure we really mined that as much as we might have.  There was more to harvest and we left it on the table!  Going forward I need to think more deeply about this opportunity.Resonance and dissonance are always rich spaces.

 

 

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Feb 06 2015

Ford Foundation, Open Access and Really Sharing Knowledge

inandoutKnowledge sharing can be enabled or blocked based on organizational policies and infrastructure. This is essential in sectors that are (or claim to be) for the public good, like non profits, donors and foundations, NGOs and educational institutions. I was happy to read that the Ford Foundation has added Creative Commons approach to all their work, joining the Open Society Foundations, the Packard Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the CGIAR and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ford Foundation Expands Creative Commons Licensing for All Grant-Funded Projects

(New York) – The Ford Foundation announced today that it is adopting an open licensing policy for all grant-funded projects and research to promote greater transparency and accessibility of materials. Effective February 1, grantees and consultants will be required to make foundation-funded materials subject to a Creative Commons license allowing others, free of charge and without requesting permission, the ability to copy, redistribute, and adapt existing materials, provided they give appropriate credit to the original author.

via Ford Foundation Expands Creative Commons Licensing for All Grant-Funded Projects / News from Ford / Newsroom / Ford Foundation.

Walking the talk is harder than publishing the policy. Some people still worry that setting their knowledge free will hurt them. So we need to look at how certain professions are rewarded (or punished) when it comes to sharing intellectual property. For example, our way of educating and validating researchers and scientists (“publish or perish”) still pushes people to withhold (particularly data sets) rather than “set free.” I’d be very interested if any of you have research/data that links the benefits of sharing knowledge to professional advancement. I think we either have some myths to bust, or we have serious infrastructure changes needed.

This is resonant with another article shared with me today, from the Stanford Review on the role of including gender perspective for research breakthroughs.  Being open allows access to thinking of others, to diverse perspectives which then inform our work, decisions and results.

Doing research wrong costs lives and money. Ten drugs were recently withdrawn from the U.S. market because of life-threatening health effects – eight of these posed greater threats for women.

Clearly, doing research right has the potential to save lives and money, and this is the goal of the Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environmentproject directed by Stanford history Professor Londa Schiebinger.

With an international team of more than 60 scientists, engineers and gender experts, Schiebinger has explored how gender analysis can open doors to discovery.

“Once you start looking, you find that taking gender into account can improve almost anything with a human endpoint – stem cell research, assistive technologies for the elderly, automobile design, transportation systems, osteoporosis research in men, and natural language processing,” Schiebinger said.

Open our databases. Open our practices. Open our minds. Open possibilities.

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Jan 08 2015

Conversations With a Wonderful Client

Sometimes you just get lucky. I get lucky quite a bit with my wonderful clients. As a wrap up to some work last year, Simone Staiger of CIAT and I decided to do a little text based conversational reflection on the work we did. This is posted at Conversations with Nancy White around the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy and reposted here for sharing!

Conversations with Nancy White around the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy

Nancy, when I contacted you at the beginning of 2014, I was looking for support, through regular conversations (monthly one hour Skype calls), to discuss, and evaluate the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy.

NancyWhat a treat! Wow, that you will a) take the time for reflective and action oriented conversations and, b) pay me for it is WONDERFUL. I love working with you, Simone. This reaffirms my belief that there is tremendous value in working with wonderful people and cultivating those relationships beyond the formality of contracted work. I know some would say this isn’t very smart, but I think friendship adds to a working relationships – as long as we can stay open and frank with each other. We do a good job of that!

SimoneThe strategy intends to increasingly create spaces for dialogue among staff, foster team work & learning in teams, and communicate consistently to create among all staff a better understanding of key developments in CIAT’s work and institutional environment. The document was the result of a series of analysis and exercises to identify the real underlying issues that need to be worked on and to lift internal communications up to a level that goes beyond improving instruments and media.

This theme of “space” and “spaces” is showing up in many places in my work. Is this something real, or am I just paying attention differently. People seem more time-pressed, hurried and stressed. The focus on getting tasks done, hitting one’s list of deliverables and “efficiency” seems to becoming a “false god.” So this idea of creating space for dialog is a good way to test if paying attention to hearing, listening, and understanding – particularly around shared goals and issues – can be of benefit. Intuitively I believe it is, but taking a more analytical stance is useful.

CIAT’s communications and knowledge management team in collaboration with Human Resources Management had identified a whole series of products and activities that could bring us closer to our objectives. What we did not do is to identify a series of indicators – qualitative or quantitative – that could help us evaluate progress, and which we are deeply missing now.

Simone, you asked me hard questions about monitoring and evaluation that help that stance. I appreciate being pushed in this direction. I am paying close attention to how these indicators can not only help us understand if we are meeting our intentions and goals, but if they can also help us identify what to “stop doing” to make space for the stuff that really matters. We talk about this, but how to we discern and validate these choices beyond a guess – or simply losing what we cannot make time for.

For one example, it was extremely easy to come up and finalize, with your help, a set of indicators that will help us in 2016 to measure progress on the effects of our new intranet, to be launched End of January. How easy it is to go through an exercise like this, when you talk about a concrete product and its usage!

Just nodding about the difference between talking about something generically, and talking about it in a specific, concrete context!

In my initial talks with you I was interested in ways to increase knowledge sharing between different stakeholder groups within CIAT: Management Team – The program and theme leaders, which represent around 12 staff – The 80 or so who I call the influential people, some being real opinion leaders – All CIAT staff. It seemed to me that we needed to create effective bridges to connect those four “populations”. How can we involve different stakeholder groups, and create incentivize for engagement? Well that is a very general and tough question, which in addition is not new but still so unresolved… In the conversations with you we explored many possibilities, and interventions at different levels – individual, groups or teams, all staff – and through different means: pilot projects, personalized team discussions, or institutional campaigns.

Reflecting back on this, I have to revisit one of my “now that I’m over 50 years old curmudgeon” opinions. I am interested in early adopters. I am VERY interested in second wave adopters. And I will not waste time on resistors. Is this an effective strategy in organizations? If we think of the “80 or so” as early adopters or leading edge second wave adopters, I don’t think we can consider everyone else as resistors. But I suspect there are informal leaders whose resistance can affect the rest of the early adopters. AND, it is important to not confound resistors from people who see the world differently and have useful dissenting views that can help us learn and grow. What differentiates these two types of people? If we could figure this out, we might be able to more generatively interact with those innovative thinkers who we might otherwise miss and misinterpret simply as resistors. Your question, Simone, about how to move past those 80 people has resonated with me since you mentioned it.

What I mostly took away from the conversations, as well as from previous explorations, is strongly related to something that Peter Senge insisted on in a leadership course I took with him in 2013: The need to go away from symptomatic solutions to fix an issue or solve a problem quickly, and to shift towards fundamental solutions that for sure take longer, and have a delay in having an impact, but produce longer-term lasting positive effects.

What I build on to your reflection, Simone, is that people are always part of fundamental solutions, so maybe we need to consider how we are or might be understanding, relating to and interacting with people?

Now: there are many, many tools and methods out there to facilitate deeper thinking in groups and organizations that help to identify the roots of a problem and design fundamental solutions. You pointed to a series of tools and emerging perspectives and possibly “Liberating Structures” is one of those emerging pools of possibilities to “include and unleash everyone”.

Learning more about and practicing Liberating Structures was a strong thread for me in 2014 and will continue this year. One fundamental lesson is that as a facilitator, I need to have a diverse range of approaches, I must understand why I choose any one at any one time, and that there is potency in how we sequence and combine ways of engaging and interacting. So LS is helping me become a more conscious facilitator. When I take this in context of the type of facilitation training and capacity development I see in organizations like the CGIAR and others, it reminds me that we must always be leveling up. Yes, we start at the mechanical stage, but if we don’t build towards better understanding of those mechanism, and towards being able to “read” a room full of people and adjust (plan and then be prepared to improvise), we are not moving the facilitation practice deeper and forward. So for 2015, I want to challenge my own ideas of how to support facilitation capacity development in myself and others, for just the kinds of challenges you face, Simone.

One thing that helped us go into that direction is to work increasingly at the team level. It is probably a useful consideration to identify when you actually have to include everyone (meaning the whole organization), which leads too often at CIAT to intensive information diffusion that convince some and are rejected by others, and when it is appropriate to do so at a team or group level, trying to have inclusive dialogues. The socialization of the CIAT strategy with 20 teams and almost 300 staff was certainly a time consuming exercise, but probably the most meaningful, trust-building and symptomatic-looking one.

This focus on teams resonates with me, and then leads to the next challenge: the fact that so many of these teams are distributed under the CRP structure of the CGIAR, and that many people have “multiple bosses.” They have their geographically situated managers. They have their distributed managers, many times people outside of their own center. I wonder how the CGIAR is paying attention to this power issue, and what they are or might do with it. Things could fracture around “loyalty lines” of many sorts. Moving towards a truly networked way of working presents many challenges for established institutions.

You and I also discussed the possibility to use the new corporate values which have been developed in a very inclusive process, as a means of achieving integration, dialogue and team cohesion. The Human Resources Management Team with whom we have regular conversations and undertake joined actions believes a lot in the “value approach” based on strong support of a united Management. My concern is the danger of getting into the lecturer mode and not to find the right tone to feel staff comfortable and available to discuss required attitude changes.

This is something else I’ve been learning about from other Liberating Structures practitioners. The values themselves are not much, in reality. It is how they are lived within the work we do. So I suspect we can’t just preach them, as you noted, Simone. Instead we need to examine our work through the lenses of our values. There was a very interesting thread on KM4Dev in late 2014 asking about this (https://dgroups.org/groups/km4dev-l/discussions/4db7bb98). Two particular Liberating Structures might be useful: Integrated-Autonomy (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/29-integrated-autonomy/) and Generative Relationships STAR (http://www.liberatingstructures.com/26-generative-relationships-st/) .

After one year of using the strategy as a guide when it comes to decide what we do and how, I take way the following: We are on the right track. We know what fundamental situations need to be improved or resolved, but we can only be successful if internal communications is aligned and – more importantly- involved with ongoing organizational changes, if we find the right solutions for the different situations / target groups and if we receive increased support that allows us to avoid symptomatic quick fixes.

I might offer a slightly different perspective, Simone. It may not always be about alignment, per se, but clarity of what alignment means (shared goals) and what it means when we are not in alignment. What we do depends on this kind of clarity. Lack of alignment is not always about “you and I need to agree.” It can also point us to something emergent that may offer us new insight. But if we aren’t aware of this misalignment, we never get to that generative conversation.

Yes, Nancy. Thanks for this important different perspective. I agree now that I read my point again, that your take on it is so important for CIAT. We must be able to make the different views, motivations, and strategies of and within our research areas more explicit and use it increasingly as an opportunity to expand, grow and learn.

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Nov 24 2014

The Fence of Fear

donkeyFear has played an interesting role in my life. Or better said, confronting my fears has given me the opportunity to do things I would have never done before. For example I was afraid to go to Brazil as a 16 year old exchange student for a year, but it was a life changing experience – for the better. I have been afraid to be “unknowing” and vulnerable when facilitating groups, but those have often been pivotal moments. (By the way, the picture is of me there, many many moons ago!)

But fear within groups and between members has never shown up  generatively. It seems to create tight fences between individuals in the group. Then I read Shawn Callahan (of Anecdote) recent post  about An indicator of group fear in organisations and a wee insight arrived.

First of all, click away and read the post AND take the time to view the video. Do the little exercise. It is worth the 30 seconds of cogitation.

Shawn’s conclusion is that fear is killing creativity. He writes:

Ed Catmull, the CEO and co-founder of Pixar made this point clear in his recent book, Creativity Inc., that this biggest killer of creativity is fear.

I’d say that fear blocks more than creativity. It blocks aspects of collaboration, cooperation, knowledge sharing, learning and even the simple pleasures we CAN have working with each other.

I’ve worked with a number of organizations where fear is palpable. Sometimes it is in the more day to day relationships between team members. Sometimes it is hierarchical, but not always. It isn’t always “the boss” we fear. It may be someone on the team who is bullying or harassing (consciously or unconsciously – most the latter in my observation.) Sometimes it is the very culture of the organization, often from the top, that permeates everywhere.

Slight side note: I want to make a clear distinction that I do not equate fear directly with dissent, diversity or critical thinking. They may show up together. But the absence of fear is not necessarily bland indifference, ok?  In fact, when fear is not present, I think we can better use our disagreements and diversity. So I don’t want to fall into the false trap of surface “niceness.” That kind of niceness can be a response to fear to cover it up and that doesn’t work well either! I’ll also state for the record that being “nice” as in using compassion and respect is something I’m all for. The word “nice” is a tricky one.

What really interests me are the people who seem to be resilient to fear. They don’t let fear of being dismissed, or not “liked” keep them from their own personal brand of excellence.

I find it hard to combat top down fear, so maybe I should pay more attention to those “positive deviants” who seem resilient. Have any clues on why they are that way? How we can nurture more of the resilience?

 

 

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