Listen into this podcast to find out more about our Director James Traeger, what Mayvin does and what inspired James to get into Organisation Development.
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Transcript for James Traeger's interview on the Unfinished Business Podcast
Suria Lonsdale 0:07
Hello and welcome to the Mayvin Podcast. Today we bring you a special one off episode that our dear friends Rob and Paul recorded for their podcast Unfinished Business a few weeks back. In this episode, they interviewed our very own James Traeger.
And as with all their episodes, it was an energetic educational and feel good listen and explored the need for empathy and love, amongst other things. Thank you both for allowing us to share this episode with our community. And on that note, here's the episode. Enjoy.
He's a good friend of the show. Yeah. He's James Traeger.
Should we just James? Oh, James
Calling James Traeger
James Traeger 0:53
He's changed the spelling of my surname. That's brilliant. I'm very happy
We aim to please James we aim to please
How are you James?
James Traeger 1:03
I'm good. I'm good and happy Succot by the way, Chag Sameach as we say
Received. That's said with love I'm sure thank you James.
James Traeger 1:15
Happy festival this is the harvest festival as you know I'm not wanting to hide my Jewishness. I want to wish you the the first night of Sukkot is tonight and
James Traeger 1:25
So we should be out under the stars and toasting the harvest and the story of the story of the tabernacles in the desert in in if you know your Old Testament, so
How many nights have we got Succot?
James Traeger 1:41
Succot is for oh gosh, that's it's about a week actually Succot. The holy bit is the beginning and the end.
Game on James at the start of it. Thank you so much for coming along.
James Traeger 1:53
That's right. Good. Delighted to be here.
He's he's looking handsome tonight.
James Traeger 2:02
I have to say I can hardly see you because I just had an eye exam and they put these drops in your eyes dilate, dilate your pupils and I had to kind of come home on my on my Vesper with my dilated eyeballs. And I can hardly see my way
interested in this commitment beyond beyond the call of duty here
James Traeger 2:27
It was you or the the Vesper. How about that? You know, you thought it never happened, but it does.
Was the examination sheduled James is it part of a routine
James Traeger 2:36
It wasn't routine. I've got I got floaters, not that kind of floater. A different kind of floater
Where are we going with this James.
Tonight is a different show. Listeners.
James, tell our listeners who you are what you do, just by company as well, please.
James Traeger 3:01
Yeah, well, my name is James Traeger. I am one of the founder directors of a business called Mayvin which is a kind of a business with a bit of an activist mission to humanise workforces, and workplaces and people and get people front and centre in the whole kind of work discussion, because they're usually not. And I'd call myself a kind of amateur fatherhood activist.
So what do I mean by that? I suppose one of the things I've been committed to all through my working life has been work around gender and masculinity, which is what my research was for my doctoral studies. And part of that is about the process of being a father, which I think is really important and under, under discussed, bit of activism, really, in my own community and the Jewish community, in my local community and in my family.
James, when did you start this journey of deciding that this is what you wanted to do? I mean, it's this is sort of something is equal, you're calling for one of a better work? Well,
James Traeger 4:18
Yeah, there's a good question. I've always sort of had an activist kind of strand to my work and started off in the in the local environmental movement in my area of southwest London, just outside southwest London, in Kingston upon Thames and organise the local environmental group and actually got interested in how political movements and political activism kind of ignored relationships and ignored the experience of people became very focused on act action and activism and didn't really think about how people were with each other.
And that struck me as an issue of relationships which lead me into interest in men and masculinities and all of that stuff. I've been reading a good book about that actually a book called The Invisible Man. I don't know if you heard about that. It's a book that started the civil rights movement in the US really in the 1950s by a guy called Ralph Ellison. It's not the Invisible Man by HG Wells, it's book called Invisible Man. And it's basically about how people are ignored people's experience, particularly in minorities is is ignored by political movements in the mainstream. It's their experiences ignored. So anyway
you can just start just the beginning of my library's just behind Paul's head and Ralph Ellison's book is there. James is one that I've dived into. Have you read The Descent of Man?
James Traeger 5:55
Yeah, there's that the Baranowski one or Grayson Perry? Now I haven't read the verse.
It's hilarious. Similar territory, but with a real dollar or two of humour. Yeah. And deals with some of the gravitational pull around sexual exploits. It's very, very funny. Very funny. And well worth checking out. I've got I've got them both on my shelf. It's funny. Okay. So where are you? Where are you calling us are dialling in from James, where are you? Geographically? You? Well.
James Traeger 6:33
I'm in my shed, which is my my man cave. Yeah, my man cave, which is at the end of my garden, in a place called East Molsey in Surrey. So just outside London, and I've been we've been here for? Well, I've sort of been here all my life, really. But we moved to this house in the end of the well 99.
So I know a bit about that journey just a bit. And you've been you've been located in different parts of London, haven't you? Because we do lay claim to West London a bit. Don't you. West London
James Traeger 7:09
And Northwest London. I was born in Neasdon. I was born on Dollis Hill. Yeah, in the Catholic hospital, which no longer exists. And so I always say my home ground is Wembley Stadium, because as my nearest ground, and my dad was from Shepherds Bush and my mum was from out of London. She's the posh one. And I grew up in Ealing. So we slipped around the North Circular to Ealing where I grew up. And then I ended up here so so I imagine I'll retire I'll drop off and land in Brighton.
And for for all the wonderful decisions that you made and the correct choices, you ended up picking the wrong football team. How do you manage to do that you miss Queens Park Rangers and went and went for Chelsea,
James Traeger 8:00
You know my dad grew up within Loftus road. They were never into football. Now the problem is my mum, my mum was a Chelsea fan and that's because her dad was. That was because they all reacted against their dad, who was a West Ham fan, because they were from the Jewish East End.
And when they moved west, they moved to Acton in the early 20th century in the 19's. They all decided to support Chelsea to rebel against him because of course, 1905 that's when the best football club in the world was founded, as we know, and it's proved because they just won the Champions League. So what can I say?
James Traeger 8:41
Oh, yes he could tell you that the top of his mountain. Great mile is wonderful.
James. I'm really interested to to explore a bit more about Mayvin. We talked about I think it's it's sort of a mission is to humanise the workforce in companies. What does that practically mean, for people that are listening tonight. What does that mean and what does in your head what does good look like? What's a humanised organisation and workplace? What what does that look like?
James Traeger 9:17
Really good question. I don't think there's a an easy answer. Because I've been like families, every family is different. So every group of people, every team is different. So there is no one way but what there is, is a process which I suppose enables those people, the people that we're talking about be it a team or a group or, you know, group of people to get to get on well as the primary purpose of their work.
And there's lots of good reasons, good business reasons for that, you know, that groups of people get on well produced better stuff. But I mean, a lot of our work is in quite what I would call quite distressed workplaces. So we do a lot of our work in public sector. Yeah, a lot of our work, for example, in the NHS, where people are exhausted and tired and fed up.
And when people are tired and exhausted and fed up, they tend to not be brilliant at running their relationships, leading their teams well at organising themselves, and thinking about difference. Because, you know, what happens in organisations is certain rules tend to apply, and they tend to be rules of certain dominant groups.
So, you know, the more stressed organisations are, the more that difference in the diversity of the world disappears, it becomes the kind of the, just the place of the white, white middle aged man. And then I should know, because I am one. And, you know, so people lose themselves, and I suppose what we do is help teams find themselves. So, for example, sorry, yeah, well,
oh, no carry on
James Traeger 10:58
Oh, for example of, you know, working with a team of surgeons and nurses who were all falling out, and then NHS Trust in London. And we just gotten to work that through to a point where they get on better, and if they get on better, then the patients are looked after better, and things are safer.
And these things matter, and we know that matter. But actually, most companies don't put them at the heart of the issue. They put, you know, structures in teams, you know, are in trouble. They reorganise things and they manage people out and they, you know, fiddle around at the edges. And actually, what we do is move straight towards difficulties. And
I mean, that's fantastic stuff, James, just to help me think and develop my thoughts around this. How long have you been doing this work as Mayvin? And would you say that things have improved in terms of organisations understanding of this work and therefore being more receptive? Or would you say that actually, we're no better than we were? When you started your work whenever that was?
James Traeger 12:06
Well, it's, we don't claim I mean, we're not claiming to kind of save the world.
I'm not suggesting you are James, I'm just interested about your take on whether we're in a better place, from an organisational perspective, around discussions around these issues than perhaps we may have been 10, 20 years ago.
James Traeger 12:30
I think it goes in cycles. You know, we wrote a book about this, of course, inevitably, and one of the things that I think one of the principles that we talked about in the book is, is to stay undisappointed. You know, it's a bit like any activist work, you're always gonna go through kind of cycles where people take your work seriously, and they listen, and they engage, and then things change, and people move on.
And, you know, the world, the world of work is in constant flux, right, the world of the world is in constant flux. So things change and shift and and people always move on. So I wouldn't claim that, that were, you know, transforming the world of work, because I think it's human. And it's, it's a bit like, doing therapy for work, workforces, you know, they, they, sometimes it has a really big profound difference on people.
What I would say is, I think we have an incredible network of community, we see ourselves as a business as the core of a community of practitioners doing this type of work all across government, across the NHS, across private businesses, and we have a fantastic network of people now, who seem to feel like we've made a difference to them, and they're making a difference to the people they're working with. And I suppose that's how I would measure my success. But that's either hygiene by the kind of throughout the healthiness of our community.
And in terms of, you know, inspirations, James, what was what were the inspirations that made you choose this path and decide to do this work? What, what, what inspired you to do this?
James Traeger 14:13
Well, I think I've had some great mentors in my life. I've had some great figures who have influenced me, and they're, they're part of the mix. I would say that there has been some great visionaries in the world. You know that one of the phrases that Mahatma Gandhi would use is "Be the change you want to see in the world".
And I think that's relational change in organisations and businesses and teams is, is about people not just talking about change, but but you talk about listening to the change, and that's an active thing. It's about doing something active, which makes a difference.
And you know, that the people who work you know, there are lots of activists out there who do stuff so to make your day difference, don't just talk about it. And it's it's small scale, but it's big impact. So we have a view about change that I mean, a friend of mine who I really admire, she talks about change, like birds in a tree, you know, that idea of a big bang. So you've got all these birds in a tree, right? Clap your hands, and they will fly away.
This is the organisational restructure. And you know, within 10 minutes, all the birds come back, and they might be in a different place on the tree, but they're all back in slightly different places, but the same birds of the century. And that's big bang change. Yeah, that's a model.
And what we're saying is actually, that isn't real change, what real changes are the small relational differences, the difference that we made to each other on a day to day basis, when we do everything from make a cup of tea to say, I'm sorry, to sort out a problem between us to move towards the difficulty. That's real change. And it's, you know, because we're macho, we like big stuff, you know, we'd love to have been hypnotised by the big stuff. We think that's changed. And actually, that is less impactful than, than the small stuff.
That's fantastic, it's absolutely fantastic. James, I think that resonates so much with myself and Rob, and with Unfinished Business. Yeah.
Yeah. Lovely. Thank you for that I couldn't resist tickling on around the football earlier.
James Traeger 16:30
The only time I've ever been to Chelsea and we've lost is when I told you. So.
I want to I want to stick with some of what Paul rescued the interview with and got us really thinking deeply about getting under the skin of some of this stuff that we all work so hard at. And I wanted to ask you about what what room is there in all the work that we attempt to do for things like love and compassion, empathy and, and belonging? How much? How much interest? Is there in those things in the work that you do at Mayvin?
James Traeger 17:11
It's at the core of the work we do, at Mayvin. And, yeah, I mean, it should be at the core of what everybody is about. I don't know how else to say it really, that's, in a way, I wouldn't say necessarily what's missing, because I think there is an awful lot there. But it's not emphasised, it's disappeared. In the process of, of work.
You know, when a when a manager works with someone carefully, helps them do a job, gives them support when they're feeling low, gives them a bit of time to go and see a you know, pick up a child from school who might be ill, that's love, you know, that's love in action. And that's what, that's what teams run on. But it's not talked about because we've got this, you know, we're hypnotised by the big and the macho and
Yeah, and the alpha male. Paul and I we, as you may recall, James, we met 37 years ago, in our very first office together part then of the Lord Chancellor's department. And we, we established a bit of a litmus around some of this stuff, with the photocopier in the centre of the, of the of the office floor.
And we, we we could tell those people who were able to exhibit love and compassion and care, because they were the ones that that went to the photocopier, and then walked away from it when it didn't do its job. Were the ones that didn't care and didn't tell any intelligence.
Or they just didn't even tell anyone, but the ones that stuck around and either tried to fix it, or try to get it fixed or tried to what signs along the way, James and I know you're only partway through your journey, but What signs do Mayvin look for what are the signs that what are the indicators? is present that you sound like an optimistic kind of person, what are the signs that demonstrate love is present?
James Traeger 19:23
I am I am an optimistic person, generally speaking. And we I think we look for a particular type of person really. And I think what I would emphasise here is it's not a naive approach. It's a politically very astute approach. You know, the people who are really good at doing it are also good at playing both games, if you like, they know how to put stuff into traditional what we would call instrumental language, you know about measures of success and performance indicators and all of that, but they do that in order to be able to make what needs to happen happen, which is, you know, what? What's unsympathetically called the soft stuff or culture, which is actually the, you know, culture eats strategy for breakfast.
That's what we say, yeah, the way people are with each other is what counts. So we call those people the marginals in the mainstream, you know, what they're very good at is they understand they have the mindset of the marginal or they have the mindset of the edge.
But they're able to play the game of the mainstream, in order to make a difference in order to, to open up just enough space for there to be some real life and contact between people. And they tend to be our clients. And it's not set to specific they can be in, in NGOs, they can be charities that can be in the civil service, they can be in NHS Trust, they can be in private businesses, but they're the people who will be. There are the signs we'll look for, because there'll be our clients, and we'll be there to support them to do what they want to do, which is make a difference. Yeah.
Would you liken them to tempered radicals?
James Traeger 21:08
Yeah, I mean, that's another expression of them, isn't it? Yeah. But you know, it's about being politically astute. I think activism in the 21st century, is, has to be politically very switched on. Has to be able to work within the system has to be able to just you know, there's the idea of the perceived weirdness index, you have to be just weird enough to be able to ruffle the feathers or disrupt things a little bit, but not too weird that you get kicked out.
And, and that you can look after yourself. Yeah. Pour from an empty an empty cup. It's been fascinating, I could talk and listen to you all evening. I'm going to hand back to Paul, because there is one final task, we ask all our guests, but I think you'll enjoy this next one.
So James, you know, we love thank you so much. It's been really illuminating. We could have had you on for hours. But we ask all our guests to choose a piece of music and track something that's moved them something that's important to them. You've chosen something, I think to finish the interview. Tell us what it is you've chosen and why. And it is. It's a beautiful piece of music. And this is from a man, I don't I don't really do classical music. But there we go over to you.
James Traeger 22:28
So yeah, I want to read a short bit of a poem actually by by Tottenham's favourite performance poet guy called Abraham Gibson. He wrote, he wrote a poem, which it has one stanza in it, one verse in it, which defined for me, the whole thing about being a father, which is different, you know, fathering is an activity rather than an act, if I can put it in those terms.
And it's this line and this piece of music is significant because I used to hold my son who is now 23, and just graduated from university, in my arms, in my, thank you, and in my arms and he and get him to fall asleep when he was a baby to this track of music, which is Clair De Lune by Debussy. And that and the stanza, that verse I'll read from Abraham Gibson tells you all about what why that is and what that's about. Okay, so I'll just read you that and then you can play the track,
Of course. Thank you James.
James Traeger 23:34
It's from his poem called Mookie, Boogaloo, Shalamar (my children) and the stanza is: and the feel of your tiny hands, wrapped around one of my fingers has made more a man of me than I could ever make of myself. And the feel of your tiny hands wrapped around one of my fingers has made more a man of me than I could ever make of myself.
Thank you, James. Thank you so much for joining us. Stay safe. Stay well, I have the family stay safe and well. Thank you, yourself.
James Traeger 24:13
Yeah. Happy Succot thank you both.
Suria Lonsdale 28:33
What an episode. Thank you to Rob, Paul and James for this captivating listen. We hope you all enjoyed tuning in. For more information on Rob and Paul's podcast or details on how to listen, visit the Unfinished Business website. Finally, don't forget to subscribe to our channel wherever you get your podcasts to ensure you catch all our future episodes. And if you'd like to get in touch regarding any of the points raised during this episode or otherwise, our contact details are on our website www.mayvin.co.uk