At one of our Conversation Series client gatherings in 2019, we heard from Dr. Martin Fellenz, of Trinity College Dublin who noted, “Agility is about responding in ways that open possibilities”, and that what holds us back from responding with true agility is often more about “our own inner ‘rules’ and habits than anything else.”
Coming into 2020, like many others, my colleagues and I worked very hard to survive in the new context we found ourselves in. We were uncertain and living a VUCA reality unlike any we had experienced before. We had no certainty, so all we had were our wits and our assumptions. And yet as we progressed through the year and began to see some success in our work with our clients – I realised that many of those old assumptions weren’t serving me well. I had to, in fact, as Dr Fellenz suggests, bust a few myths and ditch a few unhelpful beliefs that were holding me back. I even broke a few of my own rules!
That doesn’t sound like much but to someone like me, to whom the idea of non-compliance used to bring me out in a cold sweat, it is quite a turnaround. Whilst my rule breaking didn’t extend beyond what was required of us to stay within Covid safety guidelines (I am still not that kind of rebel!) I started to question my own beliefs about how things work and started to experiment with trying to ‘do’ and ‘be’ different in a few of my interactions.. As I did that I got a lot of things wrong, of course, but there were a few things that have really impacted on how I work, and how we run our business…. here are just 3 - and a short animation to whet your appetite!
Myth busted – being human in your environment isn’t professional
I’ve always preferred the more authentic human approach to the ‘booted and suited’ polish of my previous corporate life, but it has felt even more important over the last 10 months to be even more ‘human’. I started to pursue ‘integration’ over ‘separation’. So, it was OK to have Zoom calls interrupted by the cat, my lovely husband bringing me a cup of tea, or needing to dash off to answer the door to Amazon. I let go of the need to feel like I had to show that I had a separate work and home life. Similarly, I saw my clients respond much more warmly when all of us were unguarded and in real contact, rather than fettered and constrained. I have taken many a screenshot of large group meetings where real smiles and laughter break out when something wonderfully human and unexpected happens and you can genuinely feel the energy shift – even virtually. That’s not to say, of course, that you sacrifice your intellect, cognitive ability and professional opinions but that you integrate them into your most natural way of being. Clients I have been working closely with this past year, seem to have adopted this shift as well, embracing the realness of their teams, and giving people permission to be human, and I believe this will enable stronger more aligned teams going forward.
Myth busted - Having the right answers yield best results with clients.
I don’t have a strong ‘Be Perfect’ driver, but I do have high standards when it comes to my client work. Also, as consultants, being ‘Expert’ in our field has been a key part of our brand offer which you don’t waver from, because any mistakes could result in reputational damage. But I realised throughout 2020 that we could (and must!) also experiment with our customers. We were in unprecedented times and none of us had the answers. So, my clients were as up for experimenting and learning from mistakes as I was. We contracted clearly for the ‘fail fast and learn’ approach, underpinned by honest reviews and ‘is this working?’ conversations. I realised that sometimes ‘inaction’ or doing nothing, had more of a negative impact than simply ‘trying something’ to see what happens. At the very least, mistakes will generate data that you can use. The big surprise to me was that I made far fewer errors than I thought I would simply by being braver and trying stuff.
Myth Busted – only by being with people in a room, can I have the relational impact needed for a meaningful learning or team-building experience.
Even as recently as March last year I still held onto the belief that our work requires us to be in a room to build the deep authentic connection that enables real catharsis, catalytic experiences and warm relationship building. It felt inextricably tied up in our brand and our differential. I couldn’t see how I could work at psychological depth unless we were sitting together in a room, sharing the same experience. But that belief simply wasn’t true. And whilst I will always enjoy working in that way – it does not mean that those goals are not achievable when working virtually. I have been absolutely staggered to see that all aspects of my work; from one-on-one coaching to large scale Culture Change events, involving hundreds of people; are all enormously effective when conducted virtually. You simply have to do what we would do naturally face to face and invest in building the conditions for success. Deeply listen; invest in building rapport; take care of the environment and physical context; build real contact and emotional intimacy through deliberate conversations and activities. There will, of course, come a time when we will gather again in hotels, on planes and in offices. And I shall look forward to that – but only because it is different, both myself and my clients have learned, not because it is better.
And it wasn’t just me that was learning the attraction of busting assumptions and unhelpful beliefs. At our recent All Staff Retreat, when we took stock of our learning from 2020, we realised we had all experienced letting go of old habits of thinking. Fundamentally, we have re-learned that being humans together, in all that messy imperfection, is a beautiful thing! It is ultimately how we can best learn from one another and create the best environment for sustainable impact and personal growth.
Given that it is fast looking like 2020 was just a dress rehearsal for what it is going to play out in 2021, some of these new rules will undoubtedly serve me very well indeed. I would love to hear what you have learned from breaking rules last year…. we know many clients, through necessity, spectacularly busted the antiquated myth that people can’t be productive when working from home. This myth has lingered for many years and it took the pandemic to force us to reverse that view. So what other myths did you and your organization bust? As leaders, what myths did your teams bust?’