Participatory leadership is a constructive response to complexity. Our organizations and their challenges have become more complex and are increasingly stressful to manage. How can we relate to this complexity in a meaningful way and truly seize the opportunities it brings? What kind of leadership is required to lead in complexity and while maintaining our own balance?
Herlaar Business Coaching held its latest participatory leadership training program – The Business Case for Participatory Leadership – at Hilversum, a remote, beautiful retreat in the heart of The Netherlands, in early March. Early feedback suggests the program has had a powerful impact on at least some attendees and their organizations.
The three-day training was designed to offer strategic conversation as a way of bringing difficult, complex and sometimes painful topics to the table and start collaborating towards a different way of being in relationship with one’s work. There is a difference between a discussion and a conversation. In discussion, individuals tend to aim toward being “right.” In strategic conversation, we build together and think together. We build a consensus organically.
We offered “an approach to leadership that scales up from the personal to the systemic using personal practice, dialogue, facilitation and the co-creation of innovation to address complex challenges” in our lives, businesses and organizations. It’s about making a leap towards the ‘next level’ in your life, business or organization. With a different approach comes a different vocabulary and new narrative.
How exactly do we go about this?
The workshop has a carefully designed three-day agenda, developed over years of collaboration with leaders in participatory leadership, and a team of hosts. Note carefully the term “hosts,” as opposed to the facilitators who conventionally conduct business-oriented development training. The Business Case for Participatory Leadership had a team of professionals who hosted a space in which attendees could engage in conversation and collaborative exercises to develop participatory leadership approaches specific for themselves in a self-organizing fashion. Contrast this with the more common format in which a facilitator administers a series of exercises intended to help the attendees absorb a predetermined, “one size fits all” curriculum.
Two days in advance, the facilitation team came together and went through a process similar to what the attendees will go through, to build coherence among the hosting team. Then we looked through the resumes of the participants, to gauge why they want to have this experience. Most of them have given us this information as part of the intake procedure, so we know what they are looking for and what they expect. Then we design the process and the tools we will use around their needs.
Participatory leadership is really about self-organizing. Nothing is set. We host the environment in which it happens. We have an agenda and we execute it with rigor, because there is a learning curve that people have to go through, but what actually happens in that hosted space is different for each group. We’re flexible in terms of what people do within the space.
We designed a threefold learning process for our participants:
- Learning the processes and how to apply them in their own organizations.
- Learning to host groups and to hold the space where these practices and methodologies can be most successful.
- Working around the common question – in this case, “How can we rethink our approach to leadership, to grow our businesses and serve all our stakeholders?”
Each of the three days in the training was focused on a distinct challenge; in sequence, they comprised a journey of collective discovery through conversation:
- Divergence – Articulation of separate, individual goals for adoption of participatory leadership, from each attendee’s experience;
- Emergence – Exploration of the possibilities that arise when individuals from different walks of life share their perspectives on each other’s problems and goals; and
- Convergence – Bringing those perspectives together to create practical solutions.
The three phases are supported by collaborative methodologies and concepts in an experiential learning context. Each of the hosting approaches is effective in a different set of circumstances – e.g., ideal for the divergent or emergent phase, whereas another technique is more appropriate for convergence.
Attendees got the opportunity to host processes, with coaching from the hosting team. The intent was that, after the training, they can host those processes themselves, and know when it is useful to do so.
An important tool of hosting is a large graphical representation of the sessions, which we call the Harvest. It looks informal, like a cartoon illustration, but as it evolves over the three-day training, it captures the content of the conversation, including an action plan to go forward, a practical set of tangible actions the most important part of the convergent phase: To produce a plan to really make the actions we arrive at work in the context of each participant’s organization.
People are sharing. One attendee found a new job; another discovered a new professional goal and has created a whole new community. Several participants have significantly redesigned projects they were working on as a result of what they learned to make those projects more participatory and therefore better accepted by colleagues.
We have begun the preparation for the next training, which will be held from 19 (16.00h) – 22 October (17.00h) 2016, again in Hilversum, The Netherlands. You can find more information and register on www.aoplbusiness.eu.