Making patterns productive is about sharing them, creating a commonly held and mutual narrative, and being vulnerable and open as we learn together. In the first in a new series of blogs for 2019, Mayvin Director Dr James Traeger shares the productive patterns that help us walk our talk in the world of people change.
We like to talk to our clients about productive patterns. The idea is that in an era of unprecedented complexity, partly driven by the web, there is a need to spot what is working and build upon it rather than to constantly problem-solve. Doing this creates a narrative, a more inspiring story to live by. Better still if that story is witnessed by others, because it gives them something to ask about. They can say: ‘how are you getting along with ...?’ That is one of the ways practice-based learning works; witnesses in the world of our practice can hold us to account. There is nowhere to hide. It gives us a chance to be usefully challenged, so that we keep working on those productive patterns.
At Mayvin, the question we’ve been asking ourselves as the year turns is: what have we done this last year that has worked, keeping us sane and thriving as the world of our clients and our wider community continues to do its unpredictable thing? I asked my colleagues this question, and I am recording here what they said, because I wanted our practice to be open to the world. Firstly, it may inspire you to do the same with your open circle and secondly because I encourage you to ask us, where and when you meet any of us face to face, or indeed online, ‘how are you doing with that productive pattern stuff?’. My hope is that this will keep us honest.
A bit of context to this: in 2018, the core group of Mayvin people grew to nine members. In the last year, we added another three people into our team, plus welcomed back a fourth from maternity leave. We have also widened our circle to include more associates. We continued to develop our practice, refining our OD & D for Real offer, developing practice-based learning as well as undertaking some necessary and complex projects, including preparing for the unpreparable Brexit as well as the distinctly challenging GDPR, the scary cyber security and more. We face considerable challenges, as a small and growing business, keen to walk our talk in the world of organisation development and change with a human face. So, what did people say when we asked ourselves, what did we do that worked? It came down to these productive patterns:
Staying (well) connected
The first thing people said was ‘staying connected’. It may sound obvious but one of the things we really tried to do last year was both keep in contact with each other and keep in mind the way we did this - the quality of the connection. So for example, we ran a piece of action research about how we work together the focus of which became looking at the quality of our connection. We use Slack as an internal communication platform and whilst this is an excellent and flexible tool it can drive a way of working: one that inevitably speeds up an incessant focus on the next task. So, we have also sought ways to take time out from that, to spend some of that time face to face where possible, and to make sure that we stay in contact with each other’s state of self. This meant that in the rush and fuss of life, we made sure we created regular windows of time out in order to have proper conversations, about how we were as well as what we were doing. Mindful that we tell our clients they generally should be doing more of this, we tried to do the same.
We are a virtual-working based business. We have no permanent premises and so we meet most regularly in our online office space. We pride ourselves on continuing to provide an excellent service to clients and colleagues from a virtual platform. (And taking pride in what we do well is another productive pattern, of course). One of these regular meetings is on a Friday morning. We start by ‘checking in’ (more of that later) and after conducting the required business, we end by a weekly ritual of looking carefully at the next two weeks ahead. We consider what is going on that we need to be mindful of. And we regularly look further ahead as well. We don’t pretend to predict the future but we can start to discern patterns and bottlenecks which may need careful handling. This is especially necessary when people work part-time, and when holidays are upon us. It is in those boundaries and handovers that breakdowns can happen. And further ahead, when we make decisions together, we make them with a view to building a platform as far in the future as we can envisage. So, when we build a new part of our platform, we question, what would it be like to add another 10 people or 10 clients to this conversation? How would that work?
Clarify roles on an ongoing basis
We find that as we grow, not just in size but capability, this can lead to a development of peoples’ roles. As roles change, there is a chance that misunderstandings and friction may creep in. So, an ongoing attention and discussion as to how our roles are changing and evolving feels important.
One productive pattern that may seem obvious is having the space to practise. One of the things that really struck us is that people said we provide an opportunity for employees to really develop and learn, and that this made people less scared of making mistakes. They said that they had heard that being said in other businesses but in reality, it isn’t often practised.
Checking in and quality dialogue
Although it sounds like some OD jargon, the ritual of ‘checking in’ is important enough to warrant being singled out as a particularly productive pattern. It is also worth mentioning it because we have recognised that there is a fine line between doing this to develop a more genuine and heartfelt (and therefore useful) dialogue between us and going through the motions of just ‘talking about our weekend’.
So, what is a check in and what is it for? We tend to start most meetings (virtual and otherwise) with a chance for everyone to say how they are and how the world has been for them recently. The theory here is that if you know my state of mind, it helps you to work with me and it also helps me because I know you know how I am. This should lead to a better quality of dialogue and therefore better quality discussions and decisions. It is for the sake of the task ahead, rather than an avoidance of it for the sake of self-indulgence. We have had to remind ourselves from time to time that this is what a check in is for. Otherwise it can become a bit of a ritual, and whilst not a bad thing, (and it could be argued that simple human contact, quality dialogue and empathy are purpose enough) the danger is it misses the wider point, which is in the service of better understanding of each other’s state of mind and having our own learning edges witnessed. So, we have had to sharpen the saw of this practice regularly.
Being vulnerable and open
We are back to the narrative with which we started. We suggest that making patterns productive is as much about sharing them and creating a commonly held and mutual narrative as anything else. This is true in the check-in process but also in the wider service of practice-based learning. Being vulnerable in and open about our patterns of learning may be critical to learning at depth. Incidentally, this is a tentative finding of the practice-based learning we have been doing. If you are interested in more about this see this blog: mayvin.co.uk/community . So, we offer these productive patterns not as anything definitive or even that earth-shattering, but so that you can see what we have been up to, and you can ask us: how it is going?
Read the next blog in this series about productive patterns: Mayvin Operations Manager Rachael Geddes' blog on practising a different approach to finding purpose.