Insights from the Listening Post

Listening Post?

I spent Monday at the Listening Post. There were about 35 professional psychodynamic consultants sharing what is going on in the world, right now. The same thing happens globally at dozens of countries and the consolidated report is published by OPUS.

We start with 1.5 hours of associative work, “Insight”. I really love this technique. All sitting in a spiral and freely sharing experiences, dreams, encounters, emotions. Next we were searching for emerging themes in smaller groups, one group talking and other groups listening. Finally trying to find a crystallized hypothesis.

It is always a wonderful to experience true dialogue in this size of a group. And to meet so many wise people.

A very common theme throughout years has been how the small individual will survive in the changing world. Very natural. Sometimes I hear a flavor of whining, but this is the right place for it.

Groups are no more

The main insight for me was, what it means for individuals, that there are less and less real groups to belong to.

It seems that people nowadays belong to networks rather than groups. Companies base their organization on virtual teams, virtual networks or multi-dimensional matrices. Professional global networks at work, Facebook at private life. These networks are vast, because of the modern communication, web 2.0. So globalization is personally true for most of us. At the same time organizations as well as these networks have become turbulent.

How do individuals react?

The membership of the network is very different from the membership of a group.

The group instincts are not satisfied in networks.

A group gives a lot of feedback to you. A limited number of people meet face to face and there is the non-verbal communication. You can track not only your relation to others, but other relations in the group. You get a lot of feedback about yourself and your position in the group, thus your social survival. You have a bi-directional relation to “the group”.

But networks are very different. You don’t get feedback from “the network”, or it is indirect and delayed. The network is truly open, you don’t know with whom you are competing for the status in the network. This concerns especially virtual networks, but also happens in real life virtual organizations.

You become uncertain about your survival. Fear and worry appear.

This competition is not only a game in Facebook or other virtual environments. It is real in labor market. Monster compares you with anyone on the globe. Companies dream about the “resource database”.

Competing by your personal identity

When you belong to a group, the group contributes to your identity. You are “a member of the Team”. When you belong to a network, especially a large and open, your position is based on your personal identity. In networks your compete by polishing your identity according to the norms of the network. Identity may include for example number of connections.

The uncertainty and the changed meaning of identity are both promoting a nowadays typical behavior. You are putting a lot of effort in refining your identity, even stretching the limits of realism. At work you are available 14/7. You never know what is enough.

Individual coping by looking for stable ground

During the Listening Post there were comments about downsizing, retreating to solitude or focusing to philanthropy. The connection to nature was brought up. Several referred to meditation or similar approaches to get the connection to one’s true self.

These may be means to get in connection to something that is felt greater than the unstable, faceless and unfair business world. This may be very empowering by reducing anxiety, giving more energy and freedom of choice.

Then what?

Since the very common virtual organizations are unsatisfactory and cause waste of energy, there must be a great potential in skillful use of groups in organizations.

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Zen at work

I have done zen about 15 years, not monastic nor full-time, but rather serious lay practice. This is how i translate zen to the working life.

In principle there are two ways to do zen-meditation:

Intensive concentration is essential in breath practices and shikantaza (pure sitting). Just come back to the here and now, whenever your attention is lost. Gradually you are able keep your attention in the one thing you choose. Every now and then you enter samadhi, a state of pure concentration. The practice deepens, you learn, the samadhi happens more often. The quality of life improves.

The Great Question, Koan, is the second kind. Along the practice, or already earlier, a burning question arises. What is this, really? Who am I? What is real? What I do, really? You go on questioning, day and night. In meditation more intensively, otherwise as situation allows. Continuous “I don’t know.” Gradually you get insight to the question, even radical.

Facing fear, anxiety and loss – suffering

When you have strengthened the mind during good times, facing difficulties is easier.

The meditation returns the balance of the mind. A trained mind is more stable. Seeing the true nature of things helps to accept whatever happens. You make better choices.

The zen tradition supports in other ways too. The rituals, habits and mental images create safety for the subconscious. Likewise do the community, the meditation room and the presence of other practitioners. Sense making and the teacher’s advice is helpful.

Zen at work

When you return to the principal task, again and again, the concentration builds and the work proceeds. Gradually the skills and routines improve, there will be flow, more often. The work goes well.

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Empowerment and reflection – keys for success in a large cultural change program

Finally I got the energy to publish this project. Quite impressive even after 10 years: 1000 people, 4 years, 100+ coaches. Unfortunately we did not know Agile back then, adding the technology and process perspectives would have made it a revolution. I hope you find this as an encouraging example.

Reflection, Kaizen, Continuous learning, Retrospectives, Work Development, whatever.

Our approach:

  • Long term
  • Intensive co-work of the internal owner and the external consultant
  • Own your own change – tailor the approach in a core team
  • Work with individual, group and organizational levels
  • Empowerment – reflection and freedom of choice. And coahcing support.
  • A tailored training program for change agents
  • Experiential learning sticks
  • Adapt – work in the speed of the organization

Following is the abstract, 9 pages is downloadable at aritikka.com.

This report describes a large successful case of a goal oriented managed change, based on empowerment and reflection. The organizational culture and emergent nature of the change were respected by a continuously adaptive approach.

Significant improvement was reported in the atmosphere and work of teams, departments and leadership teams, and from personal perspectives.

Lately retrospectives have become popular as the reflective learning practice along the Agile SW development movement. I hope this report encourages to invest in a learning culture, let it be called Kaizen, learning organization or retrospectives.

The organization in question was Switching Platforms, Nokia Networks,about 1000 people in matrix organization, developing a distributed operating system for telecom switches. The change program was initiated bottom-up and sponsored by the strong management team of the SWP.

The program continuously adapted to the real conditions and capability. It was continuing to add value from 1998 to 2002 until ended with a radical organizational change. The following was achieved:

  • An adaptive organization-wide development process lasting for 4 years
  • A tailored approach, fit to the organization and situation, including tools, communication
  • material, coach pool and the structure to lead and develop the change.
  • A tailored training program for change agents/coaches. It was based on experiential learning, and eventually became a leadership training.
    • 11 groups of 12 participants in the basic training of 1+2+2+1 days. Value for oneself 5.6/6, value for own development project 5/6.
    • 3 groups of 8 people in the advanced training program of 1+2+1+2+1 days
  • 3 internal coaches of coaches consulted the managers, facilitated workshops and supported the team level local development projects
  • 150 recorded local projects, covering about 75% or the organization
  • Coach network with meetings, reading circle, peer consultation
  • Clear change in the culture, knowledge, personal growth, change resilience

CONTRIBUTORS:
Kati Vilkki main organizer and coach, Soile Aho consultant, Ari Tikka coach, Antti Heimonen, Seppo Taanila, Aila Laisi, Lauri Närhi, Leea afHeurlin, Kirsi Lagus, Jyrki Innanen, Sami Lilja, Raija Tamminen and dozens of other activists. Please notify me when you wish to have your name here.