Personal Leadership 2: What can you achieve with pipe cleaners?

Dear Leadership Diary: I haven’t written for a while and many adventures have occurred. For a start, I was allowed to run a strategy workshop with 6 newcomers to our team (the so-called “Fresh Eyes” group, which I guess means the rest of us are tired of looking at the same old stuff?). With carte blanche from the boss, I used techniques garnered from various places: building 3D models as observed at CISL; walks in nature as suggested by Collaborative Intelligence (we got the key to the London park square opposite the office- not exactly wild but so much better than a conference room!); small group work and democratic prioritisation exercises as taught to me by a wonderful manager at the start of my career. She’d been trained in the probation service to deal with real people. And naturally there was plenty to eat and drink throughout the day, and the room had huge windows.

The walk relaxed us (we wanted to stay in the park), but the highlight was the 3D modelling. Strategic challenges for the team were transformed from the the same old dry words (“insufficient communication” – a handy phrase that can mean anything and is nearly impossible to refute) to eloquent collages with unmistakeable meaning. Woolen spider diagrams invoked the tangle of intra-team responsibilities. And this happened in 20 minutes flat. So in terms of productivity and enjoyability, the experiment was successful. This is the experience of translating complex information into a standard board report:

We emerged from the day with material that I then wrote up into a set of priorities from the group’s perspective. But what has happened since then? Very little. The output did form part of the wider team strategy, but very little has been implemented. Why? Everyone has a day job and none of us are accountable to each other in the traditional sense of reporting lines. So the informal ‘fresh’ group was great for idea generation, but something else would be needed for implementation. This matches dispiritingly well with comments from CISL colleagues about sustainability professionals: there’s plenty of thought leadership, but a shortage of action. Input needed: What can we do to ‘humanise’ follow-up?

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