Creating ‘Kinship’ in a Corporate Environment: What happens when the meeting agenda is blank?
Latent to active leadership
For the last three years, Acorn Coaching and Development has hosted an annual gathering of senior leaders from the UK division of an international corporate. There was a need for the company to leverage the expertise and latent leadership within its leadership team to increase the rate and impact of change to keep ahead of external changes and emerging markets.
These gatherings had no pre-ordained outcomes, no agenda, no slideshow presentations, and no keynote speakers. Instead the delegates joined a process to get to know each other better and have fun in one another’s company. This is all part of Acorn’s designed approach to elicit change.
The golden thread tying it all together is Acorn’s guiding role to lead and facilitate high quality dialogue and evoke learning within the delegates themselves and for the wider leadership team. Hierarchy was suspended, speaking one’s mind and deep listening were encouraged. The listeners were tasked to probe the thinking of the speaker for greater clarity and understanding.
Mutual coaching conversations occurred and individuals had break-through learning about themselves and each other. The delegates spoke candidly and with passion about the things in business and life that mattered to them.
This created the space to talk freely with each other about unifying issues without the needs of the day job impinging on the free flow of conversation. Common business concerns and challenges quickly emerged and became the agenda for discussion.
These developed into action points and small working groups signed up to implement the actions.
Alongside this, and almost without realising, the delegates were reaching beyond their project silo’s and making new and more diverse links. As listening and understanding grew so did their care and trust for each other. This created a more comfortable and psychologically safe space in which diverse thinking and alternate ideas could be heard and thrive.
Three years in, and with some new members, the group describes what has emerged as “Kinship” such is the strength of the relationships built up through Acorn’s development process. The familial term indicates a bond which is much more than colleagues or work-friends. There exists an identity, a sense of purpose, of pride and also responsibility.
This is highly energising and empowering and has become embedded.
Several notable characteristics exemplify, energise and sustain the kinship:
1. Mutual Strength – they recognised that they don’t have to face their challenges alone, but have colleagues (Kin) who care for them. In the face of business challenges that are often complex and unwieldy these delegates have turned to each other and exerted their massed energy, expertise and experience to bring many of those challenges into workable solutions.
2. A Uniting Purpose underpinned by strong values and ethos arising both from common issues but also from the common belief that their company brings something special to both their customers and the wider public good. They are strongly motivated to safeguard and enhance this defining purpose for the future. It’s about more than just the money.
3. Trust that each individual’s action to leverage change is made with the overarching goal of a better business and with genuine consideration for everyone’s interests and concerns. This empowers individuals to act without needing to go through the time consuming process of eliciting top down permission. They are able to call together expertise, form small fast acting groups and implement innovative change.
4. Disruptive Freedom to challenge both the way things are done, and each other. The forum encourages bold expansive thinking. Together they bounce ideas off each other that generates new insights, deeper understanding and systemic solutions.
The impact on the business
Through taking ownership and implementing solutions, and the permissive support of the executive leaders, delegates have sustained the feelings of kinship and the active leadership between the annual gatherings.
As a result, they actively work beyond their projects and alongside central functions. There is more innovation, change and development being driven at this level.
From latent to active leadership the process has been transformative.
The challenges to this kinship
It’s not perfect, there are a few members who appear to participate only because of what’s in it for them. But, there are different roles to play in value creation. These members hold legacy knowledge or deep specialisms and an excellent track record of getting projects completed. This makes them valued contributors and the tensions are accommodated.
The pipeline shows considerable growth, so there is a challenge of how to bring in new people without diluting the special identity, ethos and culture that is the core to the companies USP. The pipeline will also require alignment of two distinct divisions that currently operate as silos.
And finally, where there is an “us” (this group) there must also be a “them” and there is certainly a cadre of people not in the selected “us” who feel they should be. The challenges are to include people rather than exclude them and evoke kinship and the value this creates in the wider population so that it becomes an organisation wide cultural shift.
Clearly there are challenges still to be met, but breakthrough progress has been made. For this group there is a new way of thinking about and working on the business to produce above and beyond results.
The benefits are recognised at this and higher levels and the process has been widened to include the next level of emerging leaders and is about to start with the higher level European team.
Acorn’s development process is a great way to implement John Kotter’s answer to the question posed by Vikas Shas in his leadership article for Thought Economics: “How can leaders effectively change behaviours?”
“We are in a world that is changing faster than ever, and if the rate of change inside your business is slower than the rate of change outside your business, you’re in trouble.
Organisations have to change, the most fundamentally complicated aspect of that is the behaviour of their employees. People get into jobs, habits and cultures which in general are borne out of the tendency for organisations to reach equilibrium. Organisations tend to have a lot of hierarchy, policy and procedures- the aim being ‘to get the trains running on time.’ Against that backdrop, it’s difficult to figure out how to accommodate changes- from the mundane, to the disruptive… from changing train schedules, to someone like Uber changing everything.
Leadership is the need to change things for the better, and that starts with people. It’s about figuring out how to get a group of people, in particular circumstances, to keep moving forward… it’s about that grand vision for the future, and getting people to move in a single, unified, direction…. It’s about creating conditions that engage, empower and energise so you can keep pace with the world outside you…”
That our development approach works to unleash empowered and energised leaders, is no surprise to the Acorn team and their key contact in the business, it is testament to the power of our well planned and facilitated development process and clearly demonstrates how kinship can be created, and its benefits realised, in a corporate environment.