To achieve a renewed working model
May 16, 2021
Review by Joe Chan
As a manager in the senior management of a non – profit organisation I work with people and the community, handling and tackling pressures and expectations from internal and external stakeholders. So, I can relate well to Wim’s position and challenge in this article. As a Solution Focus (SF) practitioner, Wim has really demonstrated some key essence of the SF approach which shone through his works and project:
Listening and paying attention to the language and use of words
Having forums, surveys, discussions and clarifications are really useful to understand the staffs’ views.
Collaborative and non–expert stance
Knowing very clearly that in this change process we can never do it alone and expect to go far; instead it’s about engaging the ground and the parties involved.
Doing things in a SF manner doesn’t mean overriding everything and everyone else with our beliefs and approach. Working with the frameworks / expectations needed, people’s concerns and limitations and inviting others to co-create together in this space is definitely an art which can be learnt in this instance.
In his article, Wim reminds us to listen carefully and pay attention to the interactions that bring about change!
How can we organise so that we obtain more quality in our work and have workable jobs in such a way that we are able to cope with this rapidly changing world we live in?
That was the question several centres of pupil guidance in Flanders (known as CLB) asked themselves in the last couple of years. The workload is very high; politicians expect CLBs to improve their efficiency and effectiveness more than ever. Therefore our umbrella organization asked the CLBs to rewrite our mission, core activities, values and guiding principles. This was under the guidance of external consultants.
For the CLB I work in, my colleagues of the management team delegated me to be part of this process, together with delegates of the other CLBs. Afterwards I was asked to facilitate the change process in our own CLB.
This case study describes some aspects of the change facilitation I led in my CLB using a Solution Focused (SF) approach.
The external consultants gave the CLBs a framework to work with and instructed us in the use of it. I picked out the things I found useful and used the framework in a more SF way. We formed a group of 15 colleagues who were willing to facilitate this process together with me. We called this the “Flywheel” team. Our CLB has around 145 colleagues, so it was important to have a valid representation of our employees. It is my responsibility to facilitate the process of this change facilitation.
An overview of all the things we have done is:
- We informed our colleagues about the renewed mission statement, core activities and professional values. Within this framework every CLB had to fill in what this means in their own organisation and create a working model which is most useful for them
- We held several stakeholder participation forums, including the ones with our own colleagues
- We described a future perfect based on all the input we received, picked out the 5 most useful building blocks (for the moment) to strive to this future perfect and used scaling questions for each building block
- Suggested by the external consultants all CLBs held a survey. After we got the results we decided to have conversations with all our colleagues about the results
- We formulated the core values of our own CLB
- We held monthly meetings with the Flywheel team in a SF way.
I will describe 2 of these more in detail:
- Conversations about the survey
- Formulating our core values
Conversations about the survey
After our colleagues filled in the survey we had an overview of the results. Then the Flywheel team asked itself, “what can we do with these numbers”?
For instance, when an item about ‘having variation in our work’ scores a mediocre result, what can we do with this? Do we have to do something or is it acceptable for the colleagues as it is now?
Even when the score of an item seems more obvious, for instance when some groups score rather low on self-actualisation. What does this mean for them? What can we and they do about it? Do we actually have to do something about it? What do they want? What ideas do they have? And so on …
Therefore, we decided to have conversations with all of our colleagues, which was a lot of work. We work in a multidisciplinary setting, so we decided to have conversations with groups of psychologists, social workers, doctors, nurses, administrative workers, etc.
I couldn’t do this alone because of the huge amount of time this would cost me. Most colleagues of the Flywheel team weren’t very eager to do this for several reasons. That’s why I said to them, “If we want to do this, then I need your help. What do you need so that you’re feel able to do this?”
Their answers were:
- We don’t want to do this alone, working in pairs would help.
- We want to know which questions to ask and how to handle difficult situations.
So, we prepared this with the people who were willing to guide these conversations. In summary we came up with this cheat sheet for our conversations.
A survey can be useful as a platform, but you are on thin ice when you want to interpret numbers. That’s why I believe in the importance of conversations. Even then it still is a tricky job to really understand what people are saying. Luckily, we have some SF questions to cope with this.
I’m very proud of my colleagues for the way they led these conversations. For example, two colleagues of the Flywheel team who led the conversation with the management team, where I was a participant because I’m a member of the management team. It was so great to hear them ask SF questions for example to my director: “Okay, so this is an issue for the management team … and what do you want instead? Imagine that we are already reorganized, how will it look like then?”
I even notice that my colleagues on the Flywheel team are using more and more SF questions in other meetings too.
Formulating our core values
On the forum with all our colleagues we used an exercise developed by the external consultants to gain information about what our core values might be. This gave us an indication, but it wasn’t easy to reduce all the input we got into a couple of keywords. Therefore I created an SF exercise based on the framework of the FARO-model (an intervision model by Anton Stellamans and Liselotte Baeijaert) and used some guidelines from the book, “Time To Think” (Nancy Kline).
The goal of this exercise was to formulate our core values. I facilitated this exercise in a meeting with the Flywheel team. Before we started this exercise, we clustered the answers of our colleagues from the forum and used this as our common thread.
The exercise can also be done with no input . We used it in this context to make the input we already had more accurate. ‘Exercise describing core values ‘
As a result, we were able to describe 5 core values:
Independecy We’re an independent organization and we are there for our clients. Therefore we work together with schools and other organisations but it’s the client that decides what we can do for them.
Connection We want to facilitate connections between the important actors in the lives of our client.
Growth and development We believe in a human nature wherein people want to grow and develop.
Focus on what works well Focussing on positive things and what works well are a useful leverage for further progression.
Creative and innovative As a CLB of the city of Ghent we have a tradition in setting up innovative projects with several partners. We want to maintain this tradition and encourage creative ideas.
Some thoughts on the core values
As you may notice, there are a lot of SF clues in their answers although I kept out of the content. As a facilitator I just asked them SF questions. I find this a very intriguing idea. It seems that we can inspire and influence people with SF questions and by doing that, raise the chance that they will give more SF clues in their answers.
‘Interaction’ is the common thread in my work. Whether it is with pupils, parents, my colleagues or stakeholders, it is the interaction in all its facets that generates insights and further progression. In these interactions it is very important to ask questions adapted and built on the language of those we speak with. SF questions generate hope and a perspective of a future perfect. The words of those we speak with give us a language to use and using their language also nurtures alliances.
I also noticed the importance and wisdom in the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We have to respect the pace of our colleagues. This is not only important in accomplishing our organisational goals but also from a human point of view. Some are ready for changes (and even want bigger changes), others need more time to get used to rather small changes. In fact, the words big and small have a lot of meanings. The semantics, changes and the consequences that come with these are always in the eye of the beholder. It would be disrespectful of us to fill these in for them. Everybody has his own truth and that’s the platform we have to build on within the organizational framework we build up together.
An organization isn’t a technical blue print of a working model. It is a structure wherein people work together who want to fulfil their personal and professional goals within the organisational goals. It is the people who actually make the organisation. That’s another reason why it is so important to ‘go together.’ By interacting frequently, you can keep your fingers on the pulse, observe what happens in the meantime and ask some SF questions about it.
A couple of things that work for me or inspire me:
- To lead the meetings with the flywheel team I used elements of the book “Teamcoaching with the solution circle” by Daniel Meier.
- “The user’s guide to the future” by Mark McKergow is a very handy and useful tool to make such a process comprehensive and tangible.
- The SFIO webinar with Alan Kay and his briefness in asking questions inspired me to keep focus in the forum we held with our colleagues and with our stakeholders.
- Authenticity is something I stand for. I do what I believe in and trust my gut feeling. I don’t want to copy somebody or something, but I do like to be inspired. Or as Milton Erickson once said, “Be your own natural self” (excerpt from disc 5, volume 1, In the room with Milton H. Erickson).
- I like to use humour. For example, when I wanted to illustrate good teamwork to the flywheel team I showed them this short movie. I think this helps to put some extra oxygen in people, their life and work … and I like a laugh once in a while too.
- Chris Iveson said in a video of BRIEF International, “The most important thing is the pragmatic position we choose to take in believing that the client can change. This helps me to keep having a useful view on the colleagues who don’t believe in the effects of this changing process yet.”
- The quote of Mark McKergow: “Change is happening all the time, the simple way to change is to find useful change and amplify it”. It’s something I used a lot in the meetings with the Flywheel team. Therefore it’s great to hear my colleagues of the Flywheel team telling spontaneously to other colleagues in a forum that it’s useful to focus on what goes well and amplify the good initiatives that we’re already doing. When I first noticed this, I had to think about the concept of SF inside by Aoki Yasuteru and the CNPR (chain of positive natural responses). (go to 12:08 – 14:14)
- The principle of ‘listen-select-build.’ Peter De Jong and Insoo Kim Berg explain this in their book “Interviewing for Solutions”. This is probably the most important asset of my work. It helps me a lot in staying close with the ones I talk with.
- And as a cherry on the cake it was amazing to experience that John Brooker and John Wheeler did the same with me while we had a video meeting for my review process. Now that’s what I call an “aha” experience!
- I’m happy to share thoughts with you if you would like. After all, it is the interaction that will do the trick.