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More haste, less speed; driving momentum

It’s happened! After weeks of lockdown (admittedly now partial lockdown) we’ve had our first experience of BLOG BLOCK! Sounds a bit gruesome, feels slightly painful but in the spirit of sharing with HOT (our Maier mantra of honesty – openness – trust) that’s what’s been going on here. Every week, until now, the ideas have flowed easily. As with all our creative design and writing the process that’s evolved over time is one of gathering ideas, one of us then taking ownership and running with it for a bit before passing the baton between us until we’ve shaped it up and given it our collective seal of approval.

This might sound a time consuming approach but we’re talking of working collaboratively at pace – the speed is important as it energises, keeps it fresh and means the time investment isn’t out of kilter with the end result. It has to be said, since the emergence of the COVID and WFH this way of working has been even easier and a bit of a joy. It connects and engages us, perhaps twice as deeply as before, we can intersperse other projects and pieces of work with this flow of communication and creativity. And it’s not just us – clients are telling us that as senior teams they are feeling more connected than ever – catching up more regularly, with added focus and intent. We get that, it’s the same for us too.

Maintaining momentum

Pace and momentum are becoming more of a theme of late. This week a client of ours was venting her frustrations a bit, feeling her Exec team had lost their way in terms of ways of working – ‘over collaborating at the expense of impact and results’. It was one of those conversations where a whole new flow of ideas is secured just though the sharing of the emotions as well as the facts. The point of referencing this here is to emphasise that any (and all) teams committed to collaborative ways of working need to be aware of the bigger picture as well – the context they are operating in. When do you fly solo, when do you confer, how and when do you collaborate with others as a whole team and when do you act as representatives?

Some of the take-aways for us from that conversation were;

‘Yes, we want collaboration but not at the expense of independent thinking – momentum around delivering must be respected. Collaboration cannot afford to drift into lack of urgency or commerciality – it must add value. Ultimately the source of your energy has to come from YOU along with personal accountability – and in this case those ‘P’s cannot overly rely on the ‘J’s to pull it together.’

When asked what was front of mind for her at the moment it was the sense of everything taking too long with a lot of thinking and creating together (big tick) but not enough actioning and delivering (not so good). It’s that imperative of agreeing and owning when the deadline is, where you all sit on that continuum of fit for purpose/good enough/brilliant/perfection. HOT communication and challenge define great collaboration. There’s no space for self-indulgence, over thinking it or just doing your own thing.

Keep experimenting

Some clever delegate in a session this week suggested that rather than tag this period as a ‘new normal’ we should instead refer to it as the ‘new reality.’ ‘Normal’ in his mind inferred a level of consistency and stability – of knowing what to expect. When in fact for many this couldn’t be further from the truth. By chasing ‘normal’ we could be in danger of becoming less experimental, of thinking what we have now will do. Of forgetting to look at where there are opportunities to improve. We shouldn’t overthink what’s in front of us, but we should be looking at trying out new ideas, ‘swinging the bat’ as one of our American partners often says. We won’t hit a ‘home run’ every time but at least we’re in the game. At least we’re contributing positive energy and generating a shared sense of momentum.

Well look at that, BLOG BLOCK overcome! On reflection we’d perhaps neglected our spirit of collaboration and in a busy week one of us jumped in saying ‘OK I’ll do the blog’ without any of the usual pooling of ideas and sparks of inspiration. Which in the end took more not less time. Lesson learnt.

WFH Week 11; What We’ve Learned – Back to ‘Storming’

We ran two team events last week (virtually of course) and although very different in style Tuckman featured in both. For those of you unfamiliar with the name you might know it better as the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ model. Dr Bruce Tuckman published his theory way back in 1965, which for us definitely proves its worth – any model still holding its own after 55 years has to be a bit special. The premise is that every team goes through four stages of development;

  • Forming; when a team first comes together
  • Storming; the stage where teams begin defining and challenging roles, responsibilities, dynamics etc.
  • Norming; the period where a comfortable and effective status quo is found
  • Performing; the point where a team is really flying, they have a strong identity, they can work and think as a collective and are united in their purpose and their shared success

 

The ‘storming’ stage often gets a bad rap – people can mis-read it as being solely about conflict and competition. It’s where boundaries are tested, and individual personalities emerge. But, it can also be a time of great energy and advancement and it’s absolutely necessary if teams are to realise their potential. There’s no skipping over any of the steps, no matter how tempting.

 

The two teams we were working with are both well acquainted with Tuckman, naturally the focus pre-COVID had been about getting to the ‘performing’ phase; what processes needed to be in place, what behaviours were important etc. What came out of our virtual events was the very real sense for these senior leaders of having ‘taken a step backwards’ – in Tuckman terms at least. It’s an iterative model so moving backwards and forwards is part of the process, it’s not linear. But nevertheless these were genuine feelings shared by the two groups. The leaders we were working with were of course able to see ‘storming’ as an opportunity to regroup and rebuild and critical for planning ahead in these challenging times. But it was important to take the time to explore what was happening and to help reconcile a seemingly backward trajectory with sustainable progress.

 

The factors that are evident in high performing teams such as; collective problem solving, confidence of shared purpose and direction, high levels of motivation, team spirit etc. have been stretched to the limit by more recent siloed ways of working. It’s harder to participate and contribute at times, teams are having to learn new ways of working together and it doesn’t suit everyone, team needs are often secondary to individual needs. As one team member put it, ‘It’s so intense on a personal level, it’s harder to look out for each other.’ Especially when you’re ‘cycling through different emotions throughout the day.’

 

As leaders and teams begin to move away from WFH and back into a shared space, the end result most likely a blend of the two – the way we work and interact will need to continue to evolve. We will almost certainly need to be more agile in our thinking, pace may continue to trump precision in our decision making, priorities/OKRs/KPIs will change. And most of this will require us as teams to revisit the ‘storming’ zone (if we’re not there already). But within that we’re encouraging teams to;

  • continue to show empathy and care for each other
  • work to stay HOT (honesty, openness and trust)
  • focus on the ‘we’ not the ‘I’
  • see ‘storming’ as positive, as a way to come back stronger

 

As one of our clients once described it, ‘I don’t particularly like the feeling before a storm, that sense of pressure building. But once a storm has passed there is a freshness to everything, a cleanliness and clarity that wasn’t there before.’ And who wouldn’t want more of that right now?

WFH Week 10 – What we’ve Learned

You can do a lot in ten weeks

Once we were all safely into WFH, we enjoyed anticipating how we were going to make the most of this apparent pause in BAU; what business books we were finally going to get round to reading and how we were going to use this time to find a bit more balance in our working lives. Equilibrium became our favourite word. We immediately signed up to the Down Dog Yoga App, secretly enjoyed seeing folk in their homes spiced up by the occasional random family members inadvertently moving into shot along with wondering who the hand and arm belonged to as a cup of tea arrived on some lucky person’s desk/table. Then after about a week or so of such novelties they seemed to quickly become the norm – did you notice how many people were so pleased to discover the ‘fake’ beach or loft apartment backgrounds offered by Zoom or MS Teams and then just as quickly couldn’t be bothered with them? You can see me in the spare bedroom with the dove wallpaper, it’s ok, I don’t care anymore.

But like us all we very quickly found ourselves thinking; ‘OK, how do we continue to offer support and development and insight (at a time when teams are going to need it most) without being able to be with them? How do we make Maier digital? And that was pretty much the last time our feet touched the floor/Yoga mat. Pause, what pause? This is intense.

We’ve embraced our inner geek

We’ve impressed and surprised ourselves with just how techy we’ve become and how quickly we’ve been able to move from novice to ‘self-designated expert’. This is definitely something we have in common with most of our clients too – and the IT Director who told us 6 months ago how we should all be using Microsoft Teams and was ignored has been gracious enough not to say – ‘I told you so’! This is something we will not be letting go of and intend to continue building into new ways of operating over the coming months/years. Mind you, we do miss our Post-It Notes.

Being apart has drawn us closer together

At Maier we have always cultivated a culture of team and family and because of this we’re genuinely missing hanging out together. But we’ve continued to share, celebrate, laugh, challenge, chat, create and plan. And like all families we constantly talk about the day when we’ll all be back together, in the same room (possibly still 2 metres apart – but hey, we’ll take it). We obviously miss clients too. We work so closely with our clients it’s sometimes hard to see where they stop, and we begin. Being part of their journeys through COVID has only galvanized those relationships and made us even more determined in our purpose. When has it ever been more important than now to ‘set leaders free’ – coupled with our new caveat of ‘safely’ of course.

The world might have turned upside down, but some things haven’t changed

What’s always mattered to us, still matters, but even more so now. Before COVID struck we did a piece of work with our amazing friends at Borne. We revisited what was important to us at Maier and why what we do and how we do it is so unique. As part of the process we redrafted our values but the one value that has always been at the core of who we are at Maier remains unchanged. Generosity of spirit has been our beacon throughout the twenty five plus years we’ve been around, but it’s perhaps never been more relevant than it is now. For the time being Maier might be solely digital, but that hasn’t changed who we are or what we believe in. Generosity of spirit is still our North star.

We still look forward to the weekend

In a conversation the other day with one of the Directors at a large Housing Group they mentioned that even though they haven’t been able to go out at weekends, they still loved it when the weekend arrived. It struck us that until very recently, even though the highlight for most of us has been queuing patiently outside a supermarket, we still looked forward to the weekend arriving. Miraculously on a Friday afternoon our houses revert back to homes having been offices all week, the final ‘home-school’ bell signals the end of what has been a productive, challenging, fraught, messy (if you’ve been doing art) five days and having whipped through the house and garden with the vigour and ruthlessness of Marie Kondo in those early weeks, all that’s left to do (in our imagination at least) is to kick back and enjoy the weather. Bring on the weekend we say.

WFH Week 7; Remobilisation – through the looking glass

As we see our European colleagues take their first tentative steps out of lockdown, and with our own ‘next phase’ to be announced on Sunday, conversations with clients this week have understandably turned to the topic of remobilisation. With leaders beginning to scope out what a ‘new normal’ might look like the question many are wrestling with is just how different do we WANT life on the other side to be? In reimagining a next phase leaders are beginning to think about what might be different by necessity and what could be different by design i.e. what has the COVID crisis enabled us to do better, quicker, more effectively and more efficiently? What do we want to keep as part of the new world?

Many leaders have shared with us how proud they are at the speed at which their teams have adapted. The rapid learning and adoption of new processes and technology etc. has given them a sense of what can be done, of what’s possible. But as we begin to think about the transition out of the current phase and into the next, this fast and frictionless new way of operating will surely have changed the perceptions and expectations of employees and customers alike. For them the past really is a ‘foreign land’ and one they have no desire to revisit.

As stressful as the move from office to home was, all agree that remobilisation will be much more complex and many of the groups we’re working with have already assigned ‘business continuity and transition teams’ to take on the challenge. In responding to the initial call to action there was something of the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ in needing to all pull together and act as one. In many cases it was a unilateral decision – acknowledged and uncontested and for the majority aided by the fact we were physically still in the same place together making informal communications that bit easier. In returning there are many more factors to consider; can we operate in the workspace while socially distancing, which teams should return first, are the transport links to and from work safe for everyone, are schools and nurseries open? The list is endless. And in amongst all of this will be the individual decisions people make in terms of what it will take for them to feel psychologically safe to return to work. It will be important as leaders to suspend any judgments we might make, subconsciously or otherwise, and to encourage and communicate, with what will be a disparate workforce, the need for everyone to accept and respect elements of personal preference in ways of getting the job done. Perhaps most importantly, how do we hang onto some of these new ways of working that maintains that sense of choice, mutual trust, heightened personal accountability and autonomy.

In keeping these numerous plates spinning, and no doubt with increased governance and scrutiny to boot, there will inevitably be moments of high dudgeon and emotion. As one of our clients put it, ‘Know when to remove yourself from the ‘drama trail’ and be less involved’ – let some of the internal intensity dissipate before putting yourself back in the mix. Ultimately what people will need most from their leadership teams during transition is clarity and consistency – are you all able to communicate and respond with the same level of confidence and conviction of purpose? There’s also something in all of this about maintaining the human and empathetic elements so noticeable in interactions and communications during this period. Don’t be afraid of sharing some of your own vulnerabilities and in reassuring staff that their safety and well-being is still very much at the top of the agenda. As is their input in; how we reshape working practices and structures to get the best out of all we’ve learnt and been through.

We’re ending this week’s post with a quote from another of our clients who is working with fellow Exec members on a transition plan, ‘It’s important that we’re not forced into acting too quickly. We need to set our own pace and know that what we’re doing for our staff and business is right for us. We don’t want to be rushed or panicked into returning by what the Government are saying or what others are doing. We know we can deliver great service safely doing what we’re doing now so for us it’s about getting it right before we move back into the office’ – or indeed not back in the office at all!

The politics of leadership and personal values – stand up and be counted

Ok, we’re back in the zone at Maier with a really busy few months ahead of us in the build up to..shhh…Christmas. As a team we rely on a sense of shared energy to help us maintain our super high standards of design and delivery even when it feels like we’re operating in the middle of a whirlwind – yes, you know that feeling too I’m sure. In thinking what supplies us with some of that energy – no red bull needed here – it comes down to shared beliefs, values and courage.

Here are some prompts and events that provided just that;

LCF #fashionmatters gala on 10th October

We are already working in close partnership with LCF on an ambitious and far reaching organisational wide transformational leadership programme (we will be sharing more of this at a later date) as a result of this we know we share many of the same values and sense of vision. The gala was only the second one to have taken place, a glittering affair held at the Savoy and obviously a fabulous opportunity to go all out in terms of fashion and dressing up (it’s hard but we forced ourselves). Most importantly, it was all about fundraising to provide much needed bursaries which makes it hard not to end up discussing politics around the tables – whatever your views and leaning. The star speaker – I am using that term advisedly – was Grayson Perry known for being outspoken, brave and living his life according to his inner beliefs. He said it as he saw it, took no prisoners and not only made us all sit up and listen he also has that rare ability to make you laugh as he challenges and provokes. There were some real leadership lessons in there; be true to your beliefs, show some courage, but blend some of the tougher messages with some wit and inspiration.

He ended with a great statement and you could almost have followed it with…discuss!

‘I don’t see the next Alexander McQueen coming from Eton. End of’

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The event far surpassed its goal of raising money for at least 29 bursaries (as achieved at last year’s inaugural event). By generating an astonishing 85k excitingly there is now enough to far exceed that original target. Brilliant stuff.

That misogyny speech;

Julia Gillard popped up on good old radio 4 (yes, how could we do our blog without a mention) promoting her upcoming memoir. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04jk364

As a reminder, Julia G became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in 2010, holding tenure for exactly 3 years and 3 days during which time the world witnessed (thanks to Youtube) her now infamous ‘misogyny speech’. It’s the one where she called out some of the less attractive traits of those in office and gave voice to the beleaguered, undermined and misrepresented everywhere…not just women.

She speaks about the difficulty when you’re ‘at the top’ to get the balance right between ‘command and emotion’, between ‘head and heart’ – familiar themes in our work with our own client leaders and ‘top teams’. As those of you who have had the Maier treatment will know there’s no get out, we want to know what people are feeling as well as what they’re thinking. But back to Julia – as with Grayson Perry – you may or may not agree with her politics but the courage and conviction of her message is indisputable. There is no way you can doubt how true she is being to her own values and principles – as every leader should be even when it’s scary. As Julia says; ‘It’s better to keep running in front of the tidal wave and not look back.’

But she also demonstrates a real humility – a character trait we have often heard Nick Robertson CEO of ASOS referencing when sharing leadership values he holds close to his own heart – when she publicly asks; ‘Should I have let myself feel more?’ this is in stark contrast to her adversary Tony Abbot the current Australian PM, when he says ‘it is not his job to emote’. If we expect leaders to show disciplined restraint with emotion tagged as weakness where in the end does the emotion get to be vented? How do we engage the hearts and minds of our organisations and our customers? This business of sharing feelings and emotions runs deep for us at Maier, it provides a unifying theme in so much of our work. It is where we will always be true to our beliefs and show great courage when emotions need addressing however hard it might be. Final word on this goes to Julia G; ‘ We exist in a binary world of good and bad, but this one dimensional portrayal makes it impossible to be seen as a full human being with the normal complexity that comes with being neither perfect, nor evil’. Powerful stuff.

Sharing the love; thanks to some of you out there we felt wonderfully supported in our ‘Stand up to Cancer’ march on October 11th. Your donations and lovely messages filled us with our own sense of conviction as we set off in a magnificent and slightly terrifying full scale thunder storm! Lisa found that walking several miles in wellies is not such a great idea and everyone was amazed that I actually went to the lengths of covering my banner in cling wrap – I am not known for my love of detail – but I did not want my message to those I am supporting to be lost in the rain. When the message is important enough we should all go to any lengths to make sure it is heard.

If you haven’t donated yet – please do tap the link below and throw a few quid in if you’re able. As with LCF, we aimed lower than we should have – we’re 500% higher than our target and have raised nearly £2.5K.

https://www.justgiving.com/maiermarchoncancer/

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