On ….fulness

I recently managed to take a break from working and travelled to Scotland, a place I have never actually been before but will definitely return to many more times. It is quite simply a beautiful and majestic place to spend some time when one is seeking rejuvenation and recuperation

It was only 1 week (hindsight tells me it should have been 3 weeks) but in that week I discovered and reconnected to 3 keys things about what helps me rest, play and find peace which I knew but somehow didn’t really acknowledge or pay attention to enough to do something about them over the last 18 months.

Sunset over Loch Fyne, Scotland
Sunset over Loch Fyne, Scotland

Each day was gifted with a view across Loch Fyne (Scotlands longest sea loch) as we had rented a cottage, which resided on its banks and it had private access to the Loch where we wild swam (with and without wetsuits – it was cold, but not as cold as I had expected), paddleboarded, watched dolphins, bird watched, enjoyed sunsets and simply absorbed the wonderful scenery which seemed to constantly change and shift with every glance.

My first reconnection was to Restfulness.

I knew I was tired and needed rest, but somehow I had forgotten and lost touch with what restfulness really meant to me and how I could find it. Over the last 18 months or so, I hadn’t really experienced prolonged periods of rest, I may have had periods of time when I wasn’t working but not really resting.

What I learnt restfulness really looks like and what really works for me is being in and close to the sea/water, spending time by myself, day dreaming, sitting still and quietly and being in and close to nature. What was fortunate about this holiday was I could access all of these things in the same place at the same time, without even travelling anywhere. I experienced a restfulness I have literally never experienced before. Now I have, I know what it means for me when I need to rest and I can make more choices that create this moving forward (the idea of moving to Scotland did come up in conversation!!).

Side note: If you are interested in digging deeper about rest for yourself I can recommend “The art of rest by Claudia Hammond

Secondly the reconnection I found was to Mindfulness.

I’ve been doing meditation for a while, often supported by my Headspace app and my shakti mat, however I found a stillness and peace in ways I had experienced or found successful before, an example being simply sitting still and watching the loch, however with a soft gaze. This softness allowed me to relax, focus on my breathing and this created a meditative state which felt more natural, more balanced and more energetic afterwards. One occasion I simply sat still for 2 hours listening to and softly watching the loch, the movement of the water, gently lapping on a rocky shore, the occasional flight of birds, the hum of bubblebees in the garden and the slowness of my breathing. The joy which emerged as a result of this was so energising and so powerful, I’ve tried a variation of this now I’m back home and have yet to replicate the same conditions or experience.

Thirdly and lastly I reconnected to Playfulness.

The last 18 months for me personally have had a big absence of “play” and in ways that allow me to simply lean into joy, laughter and connection. The result of which led to some significant personal challenges around my mental health. I had been doing physical activities and doing things I enjoyed before, but not enough of, however in this week I discovered the simple joy of playing in and around the water. It was invigorating and I actually felt myself smiling and felt myself feeling happy and joyful. Until that moment, I simply didn’t realise it was really absent from my life in a way that nourishes.

Side note: If you are interested in learning more about play, I’d recommend watching Stuart Brown’s Ted Talkhe also has a book which I’d recommend to Play : how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul (you can get it at local or national bookstores)

My personal challenge and development moving forward is to rethink what I do, how I do it and who I do it with. I also need to find, explore and then sustain a pattern and system of connecting to these three fulness’s that allow me to feel the physical and mental health benefits.

What do you think? what are you learning or have learnt?


A Personal Blindspot – working against what I actually need

I started a new role in August (moving from a practitioner interventionist role to a strategic interventionist role) and since then its felt like I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of learning and reflection.

I’ve learned to enjoy and love learning although i now know it never gets easier it just gets deeper and more powerful.

I could share so many things I’ve learnt but the last few weeks have provided the richness and yet some of the hardest and deepest lessons so far.

To provide some context earlier this year I learnt that some key factors influencing my psychological safety are; (1) feeling like I have autonomy over my work and the sense I have a choice and (2) a feeling that I can trust others and feel as if I am trusted.

These factors are important in helping me make sense of some of the lessons I’ve been fortunate to learn from.

In my previous role I held a couple of flawed assumptions that drove my behaviours (consciously and unconsciously);

(1) that the position I held in the team meant that I had an equal right to directly shape the direction of the team and;

(2) that our goal as a team was to become self managed and therefore needed no leader.

I hadn’t appreciated or acknowledged that these assumptions were having such an influence over my behaviour until experiencing and understanding what it felt like to be on the receiving end. Being able to take a different perspective and look back on my own behaviours through the lens of my line manager and the strategic role. In my previous role my assumptions created behaviours where I saw the relationship with my manager as transactional and in some ways optional and only reported in when I needed help.

In my new role all of this was flipped on its head as I started to see the relationship as purposeful, necessary and collaborative and centred around how I help her help the team (which I am part of)

And this was where the important lessons started to play out for me.

The more I connected to the reality of my managers world I could see how team behaviours that I had unintentionally contributed to were undermining my manager, working against our teams purpose and reduced, in fact removed the autonomy and trust I was seeking to feel safe and productive. All this because of the flawed assumptions I held, I could see I was actively working against what I needed.

This was initially hard to learn as I have a huge amount of respect and trust for my manager and learning through a new perspective that what I was doing was the opposite and unintentionally showed a lack of respect. This hit me quite hard. I could see that my behaviours and actions eroded the trust we had and removed the autonomy I was seeking. Again I was learning that I was actively working against what I was seeking.

My initial and immediate reactions were fuelled in shame – negative self talk, embarrassment and not feeling good enough.

I’m grateful for my practice of shame resilience as this helped me reframe the story I was making up and I shifted it into a space of guilt – focus on behaviour, personal responsibility and generosity.

The reframing took a while to conclude as I needed to speak it and share it openly with those I trusted and that happened in front of my manager and the majority of the team this week. The moment this happened I felt myself grow from it. I had confronted the barrier to achieving what I was seeking.

This allowed me to avoid a spiral of self doubt and shame and instead provided me with a rich lesson to learn from.

But this was only possible due to the realisation that I was actively working against what I actually needed and was seeking to feel safe. Shifting roles may have been a driver but the key to unlocking my learning was exploring my behaviour from a different perspective and seeing it through the eyes of those I work with and for. A space of empathy and compassion

What I can now see is that by supporting, helping and working with my manager and seeking clarity of role, clarity of expectation and clarity of direction and focus it creates and cultivates the trust and autonomy I’ve been seeking all this time.

I’m now feeling safe again and am enjoying the feeling of autonomy.

Are you doing anything that works directly against what you need?

How will you know?

Are you prepared to do what it takes to find out?

Keep learning

On being deliberately developmental

I share this and invite reflections on what you think and feel about the space that Ray describes as a work environment?


Uncovering assumptions

Think : Christian Weidinger via Flickr

I’m continually fascinated by what happens around change and why some things, that on face value appear to sound and look great and are perceived to be exactly what is needed to help things improve. But yet over time they simply fade away and people are left wondering, what happened to that piece of work? or what happened to that project? and importantly why didn’t things actually change?

Over the years in my previous role as Digital Lead, I often supported and created projects on the edges which on face value sounded good and for a period of time generated some positive buzz and some momentum, but as I sit here now I am left wondering why didn’t those things create the change I thought they would, why are things not changing.  I accept there have been some surface changes, but I’m not going to kid myself in thinking that those surface changes were worth it. After all, nothing fundamentally has changed. In fact, one thing has and that is ME, I’ve fundamentally changed.

The shift for me in understanding this systemically and conceptually has been the learning and practice within my new role. In this role, I am learning about Systems Thinking and Intervention Theory which is helping me to support leaders to see and think differently.

Over the last few months, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I was involved in and whether I can, could or should re-engage but have struggled with this as I’ve not really understood how to do that in a practical way which helps. One of those things is LocalGov Digital – something which I dedicated a huge amount of personal time and energy into over 5 years.

When the network started in 2012 I was in a different head space. When I look back at that now and the decisions and motivations I had then, I can now understand why I did what I did and why I think LocalGov Digital managed to get the traction it did at the time and continues to do so.  We had a good narrative, we had a groundswell of support and recognition and were able to harness that to grow our collective visibility – things were looking good.

I thought it was a great way to connect to people but one assumption underpinning this was that collectively we (LocalGov Digital) were already thinking differently (more on this later) and therefore took an unconscious stance of “we were right and others were wrong”.  I now know this is not a constructive position to take and inevitably leads to conflict and tribalism.

I didn’t know any different and for me personally, the value the network created was one of support and connection with people which previously didn’t exist…I felt like I belonged and found a safe space. Finally, I was able to connect with others who thought the same as I did….but over time I was blind to the unintended consequences of the actions the network took, including actions by myself.  I’m not suggesting everything or everyone was wrong, in fact, what I’m saying is that I’m learning that actions I took then internally and through the network are having consequences over time that from my new point of view were not constructive or helpful.   I know the network did the same as a whole, but the network was simply behaving within the parameters of a public sector system which triggered those actions.

In terms of seeing this as a pattern of behaviour, I am now seeing this across many networks and can see this is essentially how networks come together – I can even see elements of the same spirit and determination of early LocalGov Digital being replayed albeit slightly differently through the One Team Gov‘s activity / messaging.

My observations are that both endeavours are coming from a place of good intent, (change public services for the better) however, there are some BIG assumptions sitting behind that good intent, those assumptions are currently invisible and therefore have been unchallenged.

For me, one of the biggest assumptions sitting behind both LocalGov Digital and One Team Gov is that everyone who engages or contributes with any of this work is already and actively thinking differently?

When I say “thinking differently” how I now understand that is that people are learning in a double loop way, resulting in thinking differently.  What I’ve learnt about myself is that I was not thinking differently, I was, in fact, thinking very much like everyone else, including the people I had assumed I thought differently from…that realisation was a pretty illuminating and painful one, but I am now able to learn from that and can see the journey and the power of that journey.

There is an excellent article on double loop learning here, it is quite a heavy subject but this post articulates it clearly in my opinion. I’d very much recommend reading it before continuing but just in case you don’t have time I’ll be quoting from it anyway throughout this post.

“For double-loop learning to occur and persist at any level in the organisation, the self-fuelling processes must be interrupted. In order to interrupt these processes, individual theories-in-use [how we think] must be altered.” (Argyris & Schon)

“An organisation with a [defensive] learning system is highly unlikely to learn to alter its governing variables, norms and assumptions [i.e. thinking] because this would require organisational inquiry into double-loop issues, and [defensive] systems militate against this…we will have to create a new learning system as a rare event.” 

When one applies to this oneself it has transformational impact, this is the journey I’ve been supported to go on in my new role here…

This next snippet sums up for me the nature of the journey i’ve been on…please note the wall they refer to in the snippet below is a barrier to double loop learning.

“The first task is for you to see yourself – you have to become aware of the wall…and Argyris & Schon are suggesting that you may (likely) require an intervention (a shake) to do this. Your current defensive learning system is getting in the way.

Let’s be clear on what would make a successful intervention possible, and what would not.

An interventionist would locate themselves in your system and help you (properly) see yourselves…and coach you through contemplating what you see and the new questions that you are now asking…and facilitate you through experimenting with your new thinking and making this the ‘new normal’. This is ‘action learning’.

This ‘new normal’ isn’t version 2 of your current system. It would be a different type of system – one that thinks differently.”

So when I say think differently, this is how I now see and understand that.

So coming back to the “assumption” of everyone already and actively thinking differently presents a number of questions for me;

  • How do we know people are actively thinking differently?
  • How do we know that the people who are looking at their work are able to legitimately change that work?
  • How do we know they are doing purposeful work and do they know what purposeful work is?
  • Do people know and understand the purpose of their work from an outside in perspective?
  • Are people able to have the current conditions that apply to their everyday work suspended?
  • Are the leaders who have the legitimate power to suspend those conditions engaged and connected?
  • How are we learning what good looks like through a new lens of thinking?

So with these questions and more in my head, I’m starting to wonder now whether we are simply advocating people do different things over actually thinking differently?  And what are the consequences of that approach?

If the purpose was to help people to think differently as defined through double loop learning, what would Local Gov Digital and One Team Gov do differently as a result of that shift in purpose?

I don’t have an answer to this but welcome peoples thoughts and opinions no matter how diverse they are.







A letter to myself of 12 months ago

06-03-10 You Wrote Me Oh So Many Letters
Dear colleague,

You don’t really who I am although I will look familiar, I know you, actually better than you know yourself. I’ve wanted to write this for a while now as I’ve been meaning to connect with you and offer some words of support, some words about pain and suffering and some of what you read might challenge you to your core.

Writing this isn’t as easy as I had imagined it would be as I’m considering how you might interpret this, react to this and respond to everything I write in this letter.

What I have learnt over the last 12 months is that it is nearly impossible teaching anyone who thinks they already know what they need to learn. You helped me learn that. You showed me the impossible is possible.

I know and understand that your desire and passion for wanting to see change happen can seem unrivalled compared to some of our colleagues and I applaud you for that. You are well respected and liked by your peers and you are always up to date with the latest and newest things and always appear knowledgeable about change and changes elsewhere. It has taken time and effort but you have justifiably earnt the position you have. That space inside you though that feels empty won’t go away on your current path. It is a calling for something profoundly different.

Making change happen in organisations is a complex affair and can be incredibly frustrating especially when other people don’t get or understand what you are doing or trying to achieve.  I know you wished people would simply think the way you do! But I’m here to say you are one who needs to change the way you think!

I’m not suggesting that what you do is wrong or that change in some form doesn’t happen as a result of what you do. However, how do you understand the consequences of the approaches you have taken and continue to take? Are you aware of your blind spots? Are you even capable of seeing them? Are you aware, particularly around whether you can actually see the change you envisaged or are you blinded or suppressing the truth – my truth was – I was contributing to the problem I was trying to fix?  I know that you are part of the problem you are trying to solve!

I found it personally difficult as I thought I knew what I needed to know – BUT I have spent the last 12 months unlearning nearly 100% of what I knew and understood. That nearly broke me, it pushed me to the edge of my emotional resilience, I cried (often), I felt lost, insecure and often thought my time was up and I should leave my job, but deep down there was a spark that refused to die. In those moments I found myself amongst the best people I could have ever hoped to have around me to support me, challenge me, help me to understand a new perspective. A new team, friends, colleagues and fellow companions on a journey of discovery.  You will meet these people soon – cherish them.

I used to think and believe that ‘starting many fires’ and constructively disrupting the status quo from the edges as a ‘rebel’ was the only way change would and could happen. In fact I would go as far as to say it is how I positioned myself and my role for a number of years, I even went on training courses advocating this was the only way change could happen – I know you deeply believe this to be true too, but you will unlearn this and find the truth. I can’t tell you what that is as you need to learn this for yourself and when you do I will be here for you.

After some reflection and searching I can draw upon the experience I have through a different lens and that tells me (if I truly listen) I was misguided, misinformed and lacking the self-awareness to truly understand how change happens, real sustainable change and my realistic chances of affecting change. Don’t let the hype that surrounds you blind you to the truth and your inner truth.

Why do you do want you do? Are you really clear on your purpose? Are you sighted on your defacto purpose playing out for others to see and feel as the consequences of the actions you take ripple outwards working against the very thing you hope to achieve?

How aware are you of the influence and power you have to make a sustainable change?  You should revisit this dynamic once you have understood the answer to why there is a disconnect between your external influence and internal influence!

I’m not for one moment suggesting you give up, throw in the towel or walk away.   Just trust when I say to you that you will need to pause, take stock, reassess and reframe everything.

It gets better, in fact, I can tell you I’ve never been happier in my role, in my life and it starts when you let go. The clarity emerges but allows yourself to lean into the uncertainty, the darkness and the space between who you are now and who you can be.

We may not agree on what is written on this page, but understanding how you feel, how you think and why you do what you do is important to me.

When you are ready, I will be here, waiting – I will be ready to hold your hand, stand beside you and walk with you into your future.


A friend