During a client call a few weeks ago… Maybe more like a couple of months ago by now, I was part of a call that concluded a project and paused a client relationship. We had mutually reached a natural pause in what we could offer and what work they were positioned to give us. It’s not the end of the relationship by any means, however.
The client told a story during this call, very enthusiastic about the outcome of an experiment that he had held, in the SSL spirit, whose seed was planted during a workshop we ran for them.
To me, his story was a great example of the types of co-creative client relationships that are my reason for remaining with SSL.
I’d like to take this opportunity to show the evolution, from my perspective, of this idea. To me it is a demonstration of the transformative, experiential and social learning that we are making our brand.
It’s not about delivering projects, it’s about learning together, being a safe harbour from which to go forth and explore.
I also think it is a good example of what a client is buying when they work with SSL.
We delivered a workshop in the spring where the most popular activity tasked participants with creating a set of principles for social learning within their organization. The caveat was that it had to be co-created in real time in a shared document. Much laughter and tongue in cheek inputs ensued, but the outcome was a pretty serious first draft that well represented all of the groups ideas. This type of socially moderated co-creative effort had never been done in their organization and they really took to it.
Fast forward a few months later. We as SSL are running a series of meetings that pick up the same method to produce a wider understanding of specific questions related to social leadership mindset and behaviours within the organization. This time however one of the tasks is to finish a story whose first paragraph has been written. This idea came from the client and the outcome was very interesting and reflective of the organisation.
Fast forward a couple more months, the client has run their own session with senior leaders to co-write a story, with resounding success and congratulations from the organization.
The enthusiasm on the call came from the plan of bringing the activity to a wider audience within the organization.
When I work with a client, I approach the relationship with a spirit of discovery, of trying new things. Some will flop, some will not. But the client that values this type of relationship, that values experimentation and mutual learning gives me energy. It motivates me to bring my best, and learn to our mutual benefit.
When they’re an instructional designer.
Some months ago I claimed the title Learning Architect. I liked how it sounded, is was an apt description of what I was doing.
I’m still holding on to that title, however I’m currently working on a project that is testing me and building my skill set out in other ways. Unwanted, un-soughtafter ways!
My clearly stated and written rule about project work was that I could do content or I could pm, but not both. Guess what I’m doing now?
Yep, that in addition to managing a team according to a vision that is in my head but haven’t had time to articulate. A few key, recurring words I have observed come up on this project. Alignment. Learning. Clarification.
At the moment, I feel like I am holding the lifesaver, still in the water but at least not drowning. I’ve had to claw my way up a very steep learning curve, facing all kinds of adversity, unfriendly internet connections being the least of my worries. (Remedying that as of tomorrow, I’m biting the bullet and renting a desk at a local coworking space. Door code access baby!)
This project is a different animal from what I’m used to. It’s very urgent, and my budding PM skills aren’t yet wholly up to the task, I can admit that. I’m making mistakes. Things are slipping through the cracks. Maybe its exactly the project I needed to deal with my hubris!
Is this normal? How do other people in this role manage their self perception? Maintain the confidence needed to work with clients and colleagues everyday? In this Social Age, this iterative, safe space riddled age where challenge is the norm? I have one point of view from the client, however, working in a virtual office, I don’t have a watercooler that I can go to to bitch around. There’s no advice, no external, impartial perspective on hand.
No one can operate in a vacuum, and I do think it is the organization’s responsibility to support people in the roles that are asked of them. For my part, I’m making changes, adjusting my communication according to the needs of each person on my team. I can do that, we’re still a small team! I’m also taking the need for a watercooler into my own hands and going to a coworking space. I will also be manifesting a mentor, knowing that I can’t seek one out but be able toi recognize them when they come along.
In order to keep with my current resolution to reflect, but keep it constructive, I will end with another thought about leading a virtual team. Keep in touch. Daily if necessary, especially at the beginning. This goes for me, my learning about how I lead these kinds of teams, but also a reflection about how I would like to be led.
Everyone involved in this project is in a learning space. Not just related to roles, but how we work together. Learning these things take time, however, in startup land, we need to find ways to boost connections that usually form naturally over time. Because when its on, its on! And you need people around you you can rely on.
My first post in awhile, this is because a slow summer (and much appreciated pace) allowed me to choose to take time to recharge, regroup and reflect. Now that fall is here again, fresh projects and another trip to the UK and Europe are filling my inspiration banks. Here is some of what I had a chance to reflect on in London last week.
This post is by no means finished, and I think this is a topic I will certainly continue as my trip continues and I work with the Sea Salt Learning team in different ways, from co-working, to videoconferencing to coliving.
A question that was posted to the Creative Zone at Learning Live inspired this post. What do leaders need to know to effectively manage remote workers?
In the moment, my answers were a bit superficial, but the question has stayed with me, causing me to reflect and come up with these points (so far!):
Rethink productivity: Leaders who manage remote workers should rethink what their definition of productivity is. Does it mean sitting behind a desk for 7 hours, cut off from outside ‘distractions’ like Twitter or blogging? What I have found during my 10+ years of remote working is: productivity is tied to lifestyle and work ethics, rather than location. I have, through critical self reflection, discovered that I am most productive at certain times and under certain conditions. For example, I am at my most creative first thing in the morning, in a carefully curated workspace. The rest of the day I reserve for meetings and activities that require less energy, different kind of thinking. And I don’t stay behind my desk all day. My best ideas and most creative thinking happen when I am moving, walking or paddle boarding in the summer, cross country skiing and downhill skiing in the winter. These times give me space for reflection, for my subconscious to get to work and allow things to bubble to the surface. And they do! It’s not uncommon to find my furiously writing on my phone in the middle of a trail.
Rethink meetings: Online meetings are different than in person meetings. Encourage people to use ritual for these types of meetings, a ‘dance’ that everyone recognizes. For example, use video at the beginning, to say hi and see faces. Take some time for chit chat. For some remote workers, this is the most professional contact they will have all day. It’s important to foster relationships between employees, so that working together remotely is a matter of course rather than a special case. Also take time to catch up with your employees individually. I have worked on some projects where the only contact I had with my colleagues was in client meetings. There was no time allotted to get in sync with my team, to prepare and present a united front.
Take time to meet in person periodically. While technology is a beautiful thing and allows us to live and work in the locations we choose, nothing fills the trust bank like meeting in person. Mannerisms, preferences and ways of working all come to light this way, and gives a little freedom to vent. There’s something about meeting online, the online space is thought of as the professional, workspace, that inhibits venting, expressing concerns. Meeting in person is a good way to celebrate as well and meet new team members, it builds trust between teammates, something essential for remote workers.
The project I’m currently working on is a Learning Architecture that will provide our client with a framework for using Social Learning in learning design.
This particular project sits at the crossroads between three stories. The first is the person who has conceptualized Scaffolded Social Learning, the model that this Architecture is based on. The second is the client’s story, a specific agenda for this Architecture and it’s use. It is an articulation of the core strategy, how they work with others. I was fortunate to have been able to meet with the CEO in the course of deepening my understanding of the Learning Architecture’s role and how it fits into the client’s context. In my interview with her, one thing that resonated is that what they are seeking is the creation of a common narrative, negotiated between the Sea Salt Learning story and their own.
The third story is of course my own. My point of view, my experience, my lens.
Working on this project has brought to life for me the tiered narratives that Julian often talks about. The Personal, Co-Created and Organisational narratives.
The idea behind thinking of three narratives in social learning is that a co-created narrative emerges when members of a community share their personal narratives. The organization that hosts the community can then listen to that co-created narrative, creating a feedback loop that results in a more responsive, agile organization.
Through this project, I am realizing the work required for the co-created narrative to ’emerge’. The storyteller’s role is essential to this process in the context of a purpose driven community, our purpose being the creation of a Learning Architecture. A co-creative narrative might emerge organically, given enough time, however our community has a specific and time bound goal. As a result, the role that I play, standing at the crossroads, I am now realizing is that of a storyteller.
The storyteller drives the sharing of personal narratives, seeks to discover and understand each personal story an identifies the commonalities. Actually doing this is a more complex process than I had thought. It requires methodical thinking, space for reflection and permission to move the pieces around as I see them fitting together. In and of itself the method is pretty simple. I read the brief, I understood the core strategy that would inform the Architecture, I sought out additional information, to paint a more holistic picture through 10 individual interviews.
I analyzed my interview notes and identified the ideas and concepts that I saw were relevant to the project goals (that’s the feature photo for this post). Then, I classified them according to the seven sections we had determined would go into the Learning Architecture.
So far, so good. This process is helping me to form an idea of the big picture, both in terms of the client’s narrative and Julian’s. Now, I need to use my own point of view to put them together.
What I have found adds complexity to this storytelling role is that personal stories, whether Julian’s, the client’s or mine, are personal. There are people behind them that believe in those stories, they have a point of view and expectations that are different from each other’s and my own. Their story doesn’t become released into the community to become data. They are attached to it.
Defining a co-created narrative is a negotiation. It requires finding a path through the tension between all of those stories and finding a way to express the commonalities in a way that will be understood and accepted by all.
It seems like a non-question but this has been on my mind as I head into the third call for submissions of the Journal of the Social Age. This question has therefore prompted a reflective, working out loud piece that ends with an invitation to let me know your thoughts.
Is a Journal a random collection of articles? When is a journal a Journal?
I have taken the idea of a Journal and shaped it according to what I thought was right. I wanted to make it an opportunity to work together, collaborate and depend on others when writing and creating for public consumption, a daunting idea for some. I also wanted it to be a reflection of thoughts and experience around this topic, the Social Age. A place to collect and distribute knowledge about the ‘Social Age’ (Yes, Julian’s idea). It’s still small and experimental, I am enjoying playing with and examining how to construct opportunities for people and ideas to emerge (see another idea: Social Leadership).
I’m all about the practical side, how things can be done and what we can learn along the way. When I start to work with ideas, given my background as an instructional designer, self taught, I do a lot of research, I read, I contextualise, I drill down and try to connect the dots based on other ideas and concepts that live in my pre-consciousness (not sub-conscious, but just below the surface, ready to draw on when needed). I identify commonalities, that’s how I learn, how I teach myself.
So, to theme or not? I would like it to be on me, on my vision for the Journal, on my personality! However, if I am carrying this experiment out, I have to open it up.
I like themes, and I like to analyse and see themes emerge, interpret and share them back to the community for validation. In my opinion, this is one way to contribute knowledge to a community of practice (see Wenger, mapping knowledge).
It boils down to what we want from this Journal. I have my own ideas and agenda which is multifaceted, however others find different value from it. For example, in one conversation with Kate Ensor who volunteered for the Selection Committee, she expressed how she would use the Journal to share the ideas and practices of working and living in social spaces with colleagues who are new to these concepts.
Perhaps identifying a common thread that has emerged from a set of written pieces belongs in an editorial, being a more subjective point of view on the pieces themselves.
Based on experiences in the first and second edition, the type of submissions we receive vary, from the highly reasearched in the first edition to more relaxed stories of experience in the second edition. Looking forward and planning the third Call for Submissions in May, I’m interested in hearing from you:
Let me know your thoughts and opinions!
On day two of unpremeditated reblogging, this post came across my feed. As an unashamed project doer, I can’t help but respond! I don’t think projects are the problem, in an of themselves. My best work is done when I’m up against a deadline, when I know there is a finish line and must pull out all the stops to get there. There’s certainly an ideal timeline, too tight and there isn’t room for creativity or, as importantly, collaboration and co-creation. As a project doer, whether my own or for a client, the quality of what we are able to achieve is a direct result of the quality of person we are able to convince to collaborate with us. Yes, convince, not compel. The first litmus test of any project is engagement. It sometimes takes perseverance, a small group of die hard ‘believers’ to jump the first few hurdles. But when I feel overrun with interest and enthusiasm, I know that what I am doing is a success. Not all projects end up the same way, but with each, I am able to expand my network, both inside and outside the organization I am with, learning as I go who can contribute what, and who I like to work with. The organization that is able to attract people who are enthusiastically interested in working together because of shared values and passions is the one who will be able to withstand and thrive in our changing environment because of the connections that we create between us. And my way of doing this is through projects. I need that light at the end of the tunnel, that goal I achieve, review and iterate, learning with each pass and project.
Thanks for inspiring this 5am rant Julian!
To adapt our organisations to thrive in the Social Age will require a holistic pattern of adaptation: you cannot fix an ecosystem challenge with a single touch point. Reflecting on this got me thinking about projects, and more specifically whether projects are the enemy of change. Many aspects of organisational life are geared up around the definition of, procurement of, delivery of, and endpoint, of projects. And yet the real world, and the social systems that exist within it, have no start and end point. It’s possible that the unit of organisation we use most widely, the project, is itself both part of the resistance to change and part of the system we are trying to change.
I don’t wish to over dramatise, but there’s certainly something about the way that projects are delivered in isolation, whilst change requires an alignment of energy and holistic pattern of adaptation, or at…
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Thanks for this informational post Kate! (It reminds me to follow you, not sure why I haven’t already ;D ) I appreciate that you’re finding value in the cards, hearing the stories of how they are being used is useful to me, not only to amplify and tell others in order to inspire them, but also to appreciate how we all build this social leadership ecosystem together, based on our individual needs and experiences.
I have an agile feeling. I don’t know if we’re doing this right, but what we’re doing feels right. Is this agile?
Work on the Social Leadership in Practice continues with Kate. After writing the user stories, we chose one that seemed to be the path of least resistance and decided on a way to address it. We decided that each of us would interview two out of four people we agreed were identifiable to us, based on reputation and character, as social leaders. After the interviews, today, we shared our initial thoughts, the ‘headlines’ of our analysis, to see if there was any common ground in each interview. Then we agreed on four themes to focus on, and write together based on examples from the interviews. This is where we’re at.
As a new team, we are building a kind of rhythm and some habits that we will be able to use to drive other ideas.
Doing the interviews did two things: gave more information about the topic and also inspired us to move forward with another mini project.
Working quickly together, to produce something in order to learn what value it has in our context, among our communities. It’s difficult to know what will gain traction before testing the waters.
Is this agile?
We are also learning about how we like to work. Interviews very fun to do, really long to analyse. Factoring in extra thinking time is important for the next one.
Our next experiment is from something that came out of the interviews: stories about how people got started. Each of our interviewees shared their beginning story. So we will see if we can get permission to share it or do a rudimentary recording and share that. It still responds to the same user story though. Is that agile?
It is a good way to understand more about social leadership in practice. Yet, it has less to do with the practice than with how the practice evolves.
For example, I’m currently running the beta testing the Social Leadership cards, and some feedback came in today. One person told a story about how she was using them,
The idea of a blog is something that makes me a bit nervous to be honest. I do value many blogs I’ve read. I’ve started looking at the approaches of others who share; I need to find my own style. Time to grab it and do something with it.
I added the bold. This was a pretty strong theme we identified. The beginning, the ‘leap’, the courage to start. And to continue. These are things I think about too. And I found it interesting to hear how others are doing it. So that’s the basis for sharing as well. I think it fulfills the user story better than the one we are doing now, but builds off of this one. That idea could not have existed without the learning we did, and continue!
I’m appreciating the experimental quality of the way we are working. We don’t know the answers, but every time we deliver something to test, we get a deeper understanding. Not just of the topic, but of how we work together and what form the eventual product will take.