Tag Archives: culture

Do It Anyway


Bright eyes.

Look to hear more.

The micros.

The macros.

Seconds loom like minutes.

An empty stage.

An open mic.

A space.

To fill.

And you wait.

You wait.

You breath.

And you wait.

And your silence communicates everything we need to hear.


Bright eyes.

Short breath.

Delicious discomfort.

We do it anyway.

No pull.

No push.

A choice to follow.


Open Space II

My favourite people are those with whom I feel an ease and mutuality. Even better when it’s from the off.

Early 2015 part way through my academy journey where lots of my free time was happily spent nose first in articles and books about leadership, and coaching, and emotional intelligence and the like…a valued friend nudged me towards a ‘Coaching and Mentoring Research Day’ at Sheffield Hallam Uni.

He described it: a full day of learning about coaching and mentoring at a different uni to my place of study, with different people, different academics, a different space. And the best bit, it’s fully and completely open-space learning. No lectures. No presentations. Just coaches and postgraduate students in the topic. I booked a place and got excited.

Then as the day got closer, I wondered why I was going and whether I’d have something valuable to contribute. I’m new. There would be people who’ve been doing this for years, and some who have been published.

I was early and first to arrive, so I signed in and met David Megginson. I wasn’t expecting him to be here. My initial thought… ‘you are legendary both on paper and in person, I am so in awe of you’. And yet, his presence and way of being didn’t allow for that traditional educational neck-aching hierarchy (a barrier which I’d been experience on my MA course). He only knew mutuality, and without being able to tell you exactly how, he only allowed me to be mutual too. I use the word allow meaning a mutual giving of permission with every part of your communication without explicit command. When someone looks at you and in to you, and uses your name, doesn’t forget it, and means it.

Open-Space – based on the principles of Owen

The 16 chairs were in a circle. On the wall was a sheet of flip-chart displaying a blank time-table. 3 open spaces, per hour, with lunch in the middle. A pile of post-its and markers lay on the floor in the middle.

Paul Stokes lead us though introductions, and then set the scene.

The time-table is decided by you, now. Take a post-it and pen, and write down a topic or a question that you want to learn about today. Then place it on the time-table wherever you like. As the topic setter you are the Convener. The only commitment being that you show up and start the conversation. You don’t facilitate it, or present it, you just commit to being there to start it.

5 time slots, over 3 rooms, throughout the day = 15 opportunities.

Then, we negotiated. Moving post-its around so we could plan our preferred time-table and not miss the learning sessions we wanted to be part of. Once it was final, we took a photo or jotted it down so we knew what rooms we wanted to go to when.

With open space, when it starts it starts, when it’s over it’s over. Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen, and (my favourite and the most important part) whoever comes are the right people.

The Rules: only one, the law of two feet. If you want to leave a session, you leave.

The Roles: you might chose to be a bumble-bee cross pollinating from group to group, or a butterfly floating around on the periphery… you choose. Tea and coffee are free flowing.

The richness followed. Meaty, thoughtful, considerate discussions with challenge and curiosity. No echo-chamber. No seeking approval. No stage. No sage. Self-leadership and direction for own learning. Everyone, listened to everyone. It was tangential, and emergent and organic. Thoughts followed paths and opened up ideas and new thinking I didn’t realise was there. It didn’t matter if people agreed, or disagreed. In fact the latter was better. For the first time I felt fully respected, fully valued and fully appreciated as an adult learner. This is what it should be like.

Everyone, listened to everyone.

A space and way of being that honours thinking and values diversity.

I’m still in awe of David Megginson… for all the right reasons: ease, mutuality and brilliance. These open space days have definitely changed my learning and practice and remain my favourite most impactful learning days!


On 22nd Sept 2016 multiple @LnDConnect Unconferences will be held across the UK and abroad. They will be open space. I hope you can join us!


Have you seen the film Spotlight?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this“. (Spotlight, 2015)

It’s one of those films that everyone should see.

It’s powerful, and poignant, and reminds us all that we are only human. And with that we are fallible. And with that we have a responsibility to other people who we live beside. Even if we are in a different layer/corner of society your paths do cross if you choose to notice – Siobhan Sheridan illustrates this here.

A year ago this week a 13 year old girl was found hanging in some bushes a few streets away from her family home. Close to houses on an estate. 10 miles away from where I live. I’m not one to get upset about the tragedy of other people in the news. I’m not fazed when we lose a celebrity and I can easily detach myself from a reality that isn’t mine. This time though, I sobbed. I knew we had let her down.

The media story told us she had been missing for 3 days after running away from home, following an argument with her parents (Mum and Step-Dad). For those 3 days they were in the news daily – pleading and begging for her safe return. He was particularly moved and emotional on camera, and the community they’d recently moved to live within came out in force to search the streets (just not thoroughly enough).

As soon as her face appeared in the local news as ‘missing school girl’ her last name caught my attention. For me, immediately there was more to this story than suicide. I felt nauseous. This wasn’t flippant arm-chair-psych accusation. Her step-dad is my step-cousin.

My childhood was wonderful, and I used to love spending time my 3 step-cousins. We always had adventures. That makes it sound like Enid Blyton. It wasn’t. We lived in a village, they lived in a town – it was much more fun! By adventures read: played out all day and returned later than we should.

I had always known something wasn’t quite as right or as good for them. Either my Mum shared concerns with us and gave us warnings about keeping safe, or I overheard too much adult conversation.

We’re the same age, and we ended up in the same secondary school. We became close, although he was someone it was increasingly hard to be close to. He had a troubled time at school and I was often called out of my lesson to help calm him. He was ‘popular’ but maybe for the wrong reasons, he was often fighting. He trusted me.

And now whilst writing I’m searching my memory for anything he disclosed that I could have told someone else. I wonder if I would have done anyway, and if he’d have wanted me to. Maybe this is my adult, safeguarding-trained, experienced YP practitioner mind at work. (I’ve deleted the red flags that my fingers were itching to record next to each of the paragraphs above like a risk assessment check-list). When do we stop asking questions that can’t be answered? We let him down.

Later on after various incidents, the kind where you tire of your friend taking advantage of your kindness or generosity for example, time and life meant we drifted apart. Only to be reunited if we were out in town at the same time and literally bumped into each other.

Later on I read that he was in court, for enduring cruelty to animals. Later on still I read that he was in prison for fraud. And then out. We were friends on Facebook. Last year I read his Step-Daughter had suicided after going missing for 3 days.

It went quiet. Then this week I read that the ‘Serious Case Review’ is almost ready to be published. A Serious Case Review “takes place after a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse or neglect is thought to be involved” (NSPCC)

It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one” (Spotlight, 2015)

A Conference all about Culture 

Are you a Culturevist?

According to the engaging and smart Matthew Partovi the founder of Culturevist, you are if your care about culture so much you would leave an organisation due to a lack of fit, or put your job at risk to stand up up for culture, or attend a conference all about culture at work.

How much do you care about culture?

Last month I attended the first Culturevist conference in Clerkenwell, underneath a church, in a hall often used for exams. I knew it was going to be a good day from the moment I walked in… Why? Because the person on the sign-in desk was genuinely please to meet me, rather than overly concerned about their role/nervous/stressed/pressured to perform. I’ve not experienced that quite the same before. This warmth increased in the coffee area and in the conference room: great lighting, no raised stage, balloons, and individual desks in rows “a metaphor for how we don’t want this to be…so we’ll move them as we wish during the day” (Matt). Actually, I appreciated the space to myself for notes and thinking whilst listening.

Whilst recently facilitating a train-the-trainer course I suggested that the biscuits you buy for people communicate how (much) value you them. Will you buy the smart-price Rich Tea or extra special cookies. I analysed my biscuit choice of Fig Rolls as nurturing (they seem nostalgic to others and my Grandma always had them available).

At Culturevist we got…

Yes I paid to attend, but regardless, what does this communicate about my value as an attendee? They had me at chocolate and stationary.

The attendees were a mix of Comms, HR, and others interested in organisation culture: mainly in-house. As Culturevist make it a little harder for freelancers to attend their events…I’m not sure why. Maybe because someone previously disliked ‘the sell’ at a networking event, or maybe to reduce the competition (there were freelancers in attendance). The sponsor was subtle and I enjoyed have no selling – how bloody refreshing. Or maybe it was just covert.

The speakers came from Google, WordPress, HSBC, Just Giving, and Facebook. Each speaker and just 15mins to share their story/message, followed by plenty of time for audience Q+A.

First up was Dame Zarine Kharas CEO of Just Giving, a profit making company operating in a non-profit sector. Zarine and a Just Giving have done a lot of work around culture. Key messages included:

  • Ensure trust is at the heart of organisation.
  • Treat people like adults, because they are: like decision makers, like innovators, and they will be so.
  • There is no space for ego in good culture
  • The next step for Just Giving is to measure values

This latter part filled me with equal concern and curiosity, so my question from the flow was “how, for what reason, and what will you do with data?”. But with this being a future venture Zarine just had curiosity, and something about “measuring how well people live up to the standard” which seemed to contradict all that had previously been said.

(Zarine didn’t want to use a mic, and I really struggled to hear her, so I apologise for the lack of detail. Made me think about this article on the price of academic publications; who do we exclude by reducing the accessibility of our message?)

Alice Breeden is Head of People Operations for Google EMEA, and was next up. She shared a Google journey and shared the thinking that facilitated it. After noticing those who stood out as great managers, they asked questions like, what if every Googler had an awesome manager? Reminiscent of problems solving that starts with ‘dumbest ideas first’. Asking the wide-open what if’s often open thinking and conversation that contains the very essence of the concluding solution. What if everyone in your organisation had an awesome manager. What would that look like? Start there.

Alice shared how google did a lot of measuring of managers, to find out what makes an awesome one in Google. Then used these items/traits to develop others. The questions they asked was What if every team was successful? Then measured what made an effective team in Google, and provided people with opportunities to develop these elements.

Google have work rules:

  1. Give your work meaning
  2. Trust your people
  3. Hire only people who are better than you
  4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance
  5. Be frugal and generous
  6. Pay “unfairly”
  7. Nudge
  8. Managing the rising expectations
  9. Enjoy! and then go back to 1

I like these a lot! Although I’m told there was nothing new or exciting from this snapshot that hasn’t already been published and shared before. Which actually leaves me wondering what actually happens inside Google and if this is congruent with the published comms. How much is talking vs doing? I’m certainly going back to no.1 atm and enjoying what happens when you keep to 2-4.

Recently Googlers have experienced development exploring unconscious bias to develop self-awareness. Different to Zarine of just giving, Alice said that Google don’t measure values; they feel them.


Next up was Emmajane Varley, Global Head of Insight, Culture & Group CEO Comms at HSBC who told us a story. A story about a lack of trust in the organisation that they set out to solve, but got stuck (a story has points of stuckness) then discovered inspiration when randomly overhearing a Behavioural Economist and a Town Planner. They were discussed the congestion problem on a well known bridge, and after some field research involving people asking drivers stuck in the jam to roll down the windows for a quick chat, they concluded that the cause of the congestions was the ripple effect of kindness and gratitude. When one driver gave way (where officially they shouldn’t have) and got a thank you, they oxytocin inducing response lead perpetuated more giving way. Resulting is long traffic cues and congestion, but no-one minded because they were high of kindness and gratitude …ok, so maybe there did mind.

Luckily Emmajane had connections and snuck a ‘Thank You’ button on the intranet. She didn’t wait for comms, governance of HR to approve it, she snuck it on there (oh enviable joy). This allowed a fair experiment. Nothing was communicated about the button’s why or how. When HSBC employees spotted this button, and clicked on it, it directed them to a Thank You wall, and they were asked who in the organisation they’d like to thank, and prompted to write said note. Just as anticipated, being grateful and appreciating others was contagious at HSBC. Emmajane shared a significant anecdote that without instructs as to how and why and when to use the Thank You button that had appeared, some people email HR to check it was ok to send a Thank You note.

To follow the speakers we had ‘Open-Mic’ where Matt invited us to take the mic for a strictly timed 60 seconds (signified by a bike horn), to share a story about how we changed/created/impacted upon culture. After all this listening I was excited and eager to talk so I raised my hand and shared a short story about WhatsApp and the team I lead.  Others followed and I appreciated that those who took the mic time for a very long question or soap box were re-asked to share a story. (Trying hard not to go off on a facilitation tangent here…for another log).

Live blogging is a fascinating learning experience for me, but i also enjoy the space and time to reflect – which slow blogging also fulfils. The more I reflect on the day, the conversations, the speakers, the more I’m thinking; the more I know and the more I don’t know. It was brill to be around none L+D people in a learning setting, as a delegate so to speak. Out of my comfort zone and somewhat feeling like when I contributed things people looked at me as if I had something growing out of head – I’ve had that before, but yesterday it took me by surprise. And then even more so by how comfortable I was with being that spotty zebra. Such juicy learning. We all have our own culture.

I’m off to figure out how to sneak a Thank You button on to our intranet…or some other simple yet impactful idea of growing appreciation.

I’ll start by appreciating you for reading my blog. Thank you.