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Practice Based Learning In Times Of Continuing Disruption

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In today’s episode, Tony and Carolyn got together to talk about our alumni network. We started the community about a year ago, for anyone that has completed a Mayvin programme. And we have our first face to face event coming up on the 15th of November. So it felt like a good time to sit down and chat about why have we set up an alumni network in the first place, as well as resuming the conversation around practice based learning in times of continuing disruption. 
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Carolyn Norgate 1:28
Hello, I’m Carolyn. I’m joined by my colleague, Tony.

Tony Nicholls 1:32
Hello there, Tony Nicholls here.

Carolyn Norgate 1:33
and I’m Carolyn Norgate and we’re both principal consultants at Mayvin and today, we just wanted to talk a bit about (remind you) if you’ve not yet been to an alumni event, what the alumni is why we have it, talk a bit about some of the things we’ve been talking about in session so far. Two sessions we’ve had, and hopefully give/wet your appetite a little bit for our first face to face event in November. So yeah, that’s what we’re gonna talk about, shall we start, Tony, with maybe a little bit about why we set the alumni up, what it’s for? what we’re hoping to achieve?

Tony Nicholls 2:11
Yeah, sure. So really, there was a few things in mind when we, when we started the alumni network, it’s primarily a space for practitioners to come together and reflect on practice. That’s primarily what I think why we created the space, we hear a lot from our alumni that that’s difficult for them to create on their own in their busy work lives. So something in the diary and a space for them to come to gives them an excuse to do that. But it’s also a place for networking. It’s also a place to bring things that they’re challenged by maybe to help have some help with from their peers do some learning together. And it’s a place for us to learn to bring new thoughts, new practice to hear from practitioners themselves. Were you the practitioners, what are you doing what’s new? What are you bringing into the into the field of organisation development and design that we want to know about? And vice versa.

Carolyn Norgate 3:06
Definitely, yeah, yeah. And I think that point around the time and space, people have to do that reflection, when they’re not sort of within the container of a programme, and they’re not held by the programme, and there’s almost an accountability that that creates for you to do that can be a lot harder. So this, this creates, what we I suppose what we hope might be the, almost the, the rhythm, not quite the same as being on a programme, and particularly for those of you who have been on an accredited programme, you know, there’s that element of, you know, certain things to hand in at certain points or portfolio to write up. But equally, you might be doing a change project as part of the programme, or a particular piece of delivery. So there’s something about that accountability, and that permission that you give yourself, when you’re in a programme to come and reflect. That is, is it’s often harder to do. And I think there’s something about the context that people find themselves in that adds to that.

Tony Nicholls 4:16
Yeah, we’ve been talking quite a bit about that, in terms of what we’re what we’re experiencing our client organisation, so yeah, maybe we should talk a bit about that as well.

Carolyn Norgate 4:23
Yeah, yeah. And we’ve been, we’ve been noticing the sort of the discourse around this, that everyone used to talk about organisations being VUCA. So volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And that that was a sort of, you know a you know, kind of gave us a little bit of a reason for, you know why things maybe felt different or harder than they used to, and that’s been around for quite a long time now. It came from the US military quite a few decades ago. Oh, So we’ve noticed that some of the language is changing. So the acronym bani has been popularised by futurist Jamie Gemma’s, so I’m gonna put in his name slightly wrong here. Apologies, Cascadia. So he’s been talking about Bani and others have picked that up. So by Bani meaning standing for rather brittle, anxious, nonlinear and incomprehensible. We often call that discontinuous change, you may have heard us use that phrase, if you’ve been on some of our programmes, that feeling of being in a context of discontinuous change by that meaning that things are changing, and but the nature of change itself feels discontinuous. And you and I were talking earlier today, Tony around, is this, is this really different? Yeah. To how it’s always been, or maybe we’re noticing it more. I mean, I would definitely argue that the world has never been linear, but the word is we experienced it as not being here. So to say that we’re now brittle, a little anxious, nonlinear, incomprehensible. But what we thought about it as linear, it was more normal to think about it as linear and I think it’s becoming, you know, with the impact of complexity science in organisational thinking, I think it’s becoming more acceptable to talk about nonlinear change, for example, and to think about think emergence versus planned change. So we’re noticing it more, I think, but there’s something I think there’s something slightly more figural and anxiety provoking about the incomprehensible nature of some of what people are feeling and experiencing and therefore all the anxiety that comes with that, and that sort of sense of brittleness that’s around the context that we’re all part of and working in.

Tony Nicholls 6:56
I just don’t think we can be, we can be in denial anymore, that the world isn’t linear. I think we I think we were perhaps I when I say we, I say in general, people were pretending that it could be controlled and managed in a linear way with with traditional change management tools. And that’s just become blatantly obvious that it just can’t be given the recent events in the world, and in the UK. And so yeah, I think bani has become something that’s more figural. But it’s it does, it has always been. There was a Forbes article, actually, in 2022. That sort of pointed out, it’s suggested that, is this really new?

Carolyn Norgate 7:42
Yeah so that sort of feels like on the on the one hand, we’re saying, it’s not necessarily new, but we’re noticing it more. So what is it? What is it that that we’re doing with you, as part in programmes or in with us, as part of our alumni is helping us notice? And what do we do with that noticing? So that we don’t sort of, you know, go hiding a box because it all feels difficult. That’s not what we encourage, isn’t it? So, practice based learning is really, I guess, part of all Mayvin programmes, and depending on when you were with us and working and studying with us that may have been more or less figural, but it would have been there. You were on a an accredited programme, you would have had a practice based learning question that you would have been inquiring into that question, tweaking, changing, following it through, and using that as the basis for, for writing up your learning. So and if you were on a leadership programme, you might had something similar, you might have been called a practice based leadership question. It may or may have held it slightly differently. But we would have been talking with you about how you show up in your practice. And we’ve we’ve used those that structure a lot with people who’ve been in our civil service, OD, org development and design programmes that we’ve been running for over 10 years now. Accredited programmes so we’ve used it there in that OD space, but we’ve also been talking about it’s not, it’s not something that we only use in the OD space, we use it in the leadership space. Practice based learning is something that works, we think, in all areas of practice in work. So I wondered if you wanted to say a bit more about your thinking on this, Tony, particularly the book you wrote.

Tony Nicholls 9:46
So I think it’s worth re emphasising this. This isn’t just about programmes. This is about practice, everyday practice. So when we do team coaching and when we do individual coaching or we do strategic, strategy, work or shadow Consulting at the heart of what we do and the approach we take is what we call practice based learning. And, and to sort of bring it down to the practical space of so my world, my work, my everyday experience in organisations, when I talk about in the book is sort of four points that get us to practice being the thing that we need to focus on the first point of this is to do work is to implement change. And when we implement change, we create opportunities for conflict. So I think that is, in essence, our lived experience in in organisational life. If that’s the case, that everything we do is, is change related, and that creates opportunities for conflict, then I think it’s a very logical next step to say that good change processes need good project management or governed change processes, but they also need good relationships. So good change needs good process and good relationships, those two needs to go hand in hand. And our argument would always be that the relational aspects of organisational life are perhaps the most important thing to pay attention to when we’re when we’re looking to implement change. And often focusing on relationships brings about the change we’re looking for, without having to start to look to the org chart or the you know, the processes that the task processes that we’re looking at that we’re utilising so good relationships lie at the heart of good change. The third bullet point for as many as well, if if if you want to be good at relationships, then we suggest you start focusing on practice your practice how you show up who you are, and how you show up. And because that is in essence, how relationships are developed, is through two or more people coming together. And they start to enter into some kind of dance around effect and effect on each other. And noticing that, and being more cognizant of what’s happening in those processes, and be more deliberate about how you approach your relationships, I think is really useful. That’s the kind of develop processes we have the capabilities we develop in our programmes and also in our own work.

Carolyn Norgate 12:17
Yeah, so if I interrupt you there, Tony. Yeah. So when we talk about being good at relationships, we need to focus on our practice. I’m trying to think of a tangible example. So if I’m thinking about my practice, it might be that my client is a particularly energetic, fast paced, lots of ideas person, so that as an introvert, I might need to shift how I show up in that conversation to meet that energy. Because that’s not my preferred style, I can do it, I can be you know, I can be fast paced, I can bring energy into the conversation. And, and I’m quite used to doing it if I’m leading a session with a lot of people. So you know, if I’m, you know, up on stage in front of 50 people or leading an online session in front of 20-30 people like, that’s, you know, I’m kind of used to making myself quite, you know, bigger in those scenarios, but in a one to one, I, my preference just be a bit more in my normal style. So that would be me sort of really focusing on my practice. And on my and how I make that how I influenced that relationship, that if I meet with their energy, that might be a different way of getting in relationship.

Tony Nicholls 13:50
Yeah and I think I would take it beyond that into because you use the word influence, which is, you know, something that we’re taught is a useful capability in organisational life and it is. But the the types of relationship I distinguish are the on type relationships and the in type relationship. So on type relationships are where I’m working on our relationship. My primary goal is to influence you to my way of thinking. So I will utilise my capabilities around shape shifting as you know, you suggested there in terms of becoming less introvert, more extrovert, meet you where you are, use some good communication techniques, maybe use a PowerPoint presentation to bring some data into the room, but I will work on our relationship to the degree that it gets achieved my goal which is to influence you, based on type relationships perfectly acceptable and useful and normal approaches in organisational life. What I’m suggesting is that we might want to consider the in type relationship where I’m going into that room to influence but also open to the opportunity open to the fact that I might be influenced. So open to the fact that we could get together and come up with a third option or something completely different that neither of us brought into the room in the first place. And what that means for me is being able to remove any desire to win, to be competitive, to absolutely have my way or the highway type sort of thinking, and to be much more open to being influenced by as well as influencing others. So there’s this in type relationship. And in order to do that, I think that’s where the personal development and practice development comes in. Because in order to leave at the door, our biases, our assumptions on our million, we’re not knowing when our buttons get pushed, etc, we have to do the work on our practice, we need to understand where they are, where they lie in our practice. So practice development is essential to get to the point where you can really go into that room with vulnerability and humility. Whomever you’re meeting.

Carolyn Norgate 16:13
Yeah, yeah. So there’s, there’s some, there’s quite a subtle distinction there. I think I should, if I’m trying to draw it out a bit. If I was thinking about that scenario I used so then I could, I could almost take quite a transactional approach you’re kind of hounoring a relationship with this, which is a kind of a right, how do I need to be in this meeting? Yeah. And it’s a sort of, it’s a, you know, as you say shape shift? You know, it’s sort of, you know, I’ll access that part of myself at that meeting. But that’s maybe not a practice shift. I think what you’re saying a practice shift might be, is how, you know, my house, so we talk about the practice based learning question, how can I, you know, work on my practice with the dot, dot, dot might be that, in that scenario, it might be how can I work on being fully present in service of my client relationships. So rather than going in with a task focused, pure task, focus, there’s always going to be a task focus. We’ve got something to do together, we’re often going in with only a task focus, where I’m thinking about how do I, how do I achieve this, which you’ve asked me to do for you, I go in, fully present to what might come up. And all of that in service of doing this work together. Yes. But I’m open to whatever might happen. And so there’s a, there’s a slight more depth to that, as I’m hearing it in terms of me working each time and reflecting on was I really present was I was I going to ‘how we’re going to get this done?’ task type stuff, for example or ‘but last time, they said’ you know, and that all those voices that come into your head, as you’re, you know, as we’re in in conversations, there’s also internal conversations going on. If I was working on being fully present, I’d be doing, you know, in that inquiry mode, I’d be like, Oh, that’s interesting. Put that to one side for a moment, get back to being present. That that will be my longer term practice shift as opposed to live, moment to moment technique.

Exactly and of course, those moment to moment techniques and tensions, things, no be small cycles of experimentation, a longer term practice shift. So is it worth talking a bit about just to build on some of that? So how do we do it in the programmes and how we think about developing practice?

Tony Nicholls 18:52
So the core of that is our practice based learning, I guess, process methodology. And at the heart of that often is a practice based learning question. And what that does for us is to is to bring the real work into the room, that’s that’s critical here is the practice is about doing is not being abstracted. This isn’t a theoretical conversation, a conversation about theory that’s abstracted from real work. So we really want to bring together experimentation with practice, and to have that experiment, experimentation taking place in your real work, and within your real life. So minimum, two elements to the question, which is how can I develop x in my practice in service of why work is, is what brings those two things together. And we tend to have iterative cycles with that question of action and reflection. So be in your work. Do your work with this question at the back of your mind, experimenting with your presence, experimenting with how you’re showing up and then bringing that to a small group of peers and reflecting on that with them and inquiring into So how was it? And what did you do? And how did you find? And how do they react? And what’s the next level of experimentation you want to take it to? So that for me is the in essence that iterative cycles of action and reflection with a practice based learning question to hold, to represent the thread of your inquiry through that process.

Carolyn Norgate 20:22
Yeah, it’s being a researcher in your own life isn’t it, notice it in yourself by going back to that example. Maybe for me, it might be about am I being fully present, and noticing presence like? So one of the things I often say to participants on a programme is, notice notice notice journal, journal, and journal when you even when you didn’t do it. So you know, you came out of a meeting, you wanted to focus on developing your voice. You came out of a meeting and you hear that voice go, well, you didn’t speak up, then did you? That was a perfect example. Rather than accepting your critical, that critical voice on your shoulder, do some journaling. Notice, what were the conditions that meant you didn’t speak up in that meeting? How did you respond to them? What might you do in the same situation? Is there a safer situation where you could get your voice heard and practice, practice somewhere else where might be different to practice that before you go back to a higher stakes, well learn, you know, learn from all of it, don’t just learn from when you did it, learn from when you didn’t do it, the context that’s around you, and then add to it rather than letting the inner critic come in.

Tony Nicholls 21:42
And I think one thing to add from me, and my experience is that when meetings or conversations or relationships, you have those magic moments of that was really, really good. There was something magic happen there with that relationship with the level of influence, either both ways, or the level of creativity, or the respect that somebody then articulated about you. So that was really useful. Thank you, Tony, that was a really great meeting. That’s been fantastic. Thank you. Often I find that I’ve done very, I look back and think I’ve done very little in that process. But when I dig a bit deeper, I start to notice it’s it was the presence, I brought that mindset I brought that was able to create that great situation. So it wasn’t the tools and techniques I was bringing. It was the presence I was bringing, which was a mindset of openness to being influenced, it was a mindset of, I’m not here to drive any particular agenda, we’ve got a task to do, but I’ve got a particular agenda to derive. And I’m genuinely curious about what this person’s thinking and feeling and where they’re at. So there’s a humility and vulnerability that I think, enters the room that whilst not articulated, is sensed by others, that helps them relax, and therefore your character development of a better relationship. That’s difficult to spot. So hence, the journaling and hence the reflection. Yes, yes.

Carolyn Norgate 23:09
I was working with the people recently. And I was saying, I was helping them develop their question at the start of the programme. And I said, so when you’re when you’re doing that, and it’s going well, you know, the thing that they were working on, and it’s going well, what do you what are you? How are you being? What what are you doing? And they looked at me, I don’t know, although, that’s okay. Because you’ve developed a whole series of capacities and processes and ways of being over the many years of, of your practice. I think this person was a nurse. So you’re gonna have clinical practice, let’s say, and, but I bet if you start noticing, you just start watching yourself while you’re in it. And just see what makes a difference. So when you’re out with a group of nurses, and they’re responding well, to you and your teaching is you can see your teaching, making a difference in you know, let’s say, you know, infection figures. You know, what’s happening when it makes a difference? How are you being how are you showing up? And then it you know, you kind of need to understand your current practice and about what you want to develop on it.

Tony Nicholls 24:28
So appreciate your own practice. That’s the same thing.

Carolyn Norgate 24:31
Yeah, yeah. And it’s all inquiry based, isn’t it? It’s, it’s all about shifting. I mentioned that inner critic a few times. It’s shifting to that ‘That’s interesting’ ‘What’s that about’ type internal voice as opposed to that that voice that sort of judges advocates inside. Lovely. So okay. So those questions we talked about, you know, you can you know, when we we’ve mentioned at the top of the The top of the pod that we often use them in programmes, but we’re using it in alumni processes as well. So in the particularly in the second session, we we spent some time focusing on what might your question be now, you’ve been on a former programme at some point in the recent or distant past with us. You held a question through that? Is that still serving you? Is there now a different question for your practice, you might be in a different role. You might be working as part of a different team or leading a different team. What’s what’s going to serve you at the moment? What would be your x and y? How can I develop x in service of y. So that might be something to invite you to think about between now and the November session. And we’ll talk more about this and give you a chance to think collectively, think with others about what that might be. But, but yeah, hope this has stimulated you to start thinking and re engaging with your practice. And think about how you use the alumni to support you and to be that that space that the programme may have given you. And that from here on in, use the alumni as that space to give yourself a bit of permission for reflection, for peer learning and for that focus on practice.

Tony Nicholls 26:29
And we’d love to hear your stories. That’s always useful for us to hear what’s going on in the world, your practices, generally developing in an organisation development and design. So next session, the morning of Wednesday, the 15th of November in London, we’d love to see you we’re we’re back face to face. And I’m very excited about that. We may run a mix of face to face and virtual going forward. But the next one in November is face to face in London. We’d love to see you.

Carolyn Norgate 26:57
Yeah, see you then. Thanks, Tony.

Tony Nicholls 27:00
Thank you. Bye. Bye.

Claire Newell 27:01
Thank you so much for listening to us today and we hope to see you next time. Take care bye bye

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