I’d have to start earning again in about 4 months and was desperate to get something moving. I’d put my CV out with some interim agencies – just in case (all my own work fell apart – I had to simply ignore that possibility) but I just couldn’t envisage getting enthusiastic about ANOTHER project with the same old challenges, the same old inefficiencies, and the same old difficult leaders. This had to work. Plus now I’m even blogging about it (is that wise?) so it HAS to be a success story!
OK – I wanted to develop something REALLY INCREDIBLE to make that notorious Middle Manager engagement challenge a thing of the past. The philosophical premise leading the development of this concept was clear, based on my experience and observation in organisations over the past 25 years:
What people in a team think and feel can block progress. This is about what they factually know (or not), what they assume, what they act on (or not), what they experience, their values, and what they feel is important. All of this drives their behaviour, interactions, listening filters…. If a leader could connect effectively with their staff at this ‘situational’ level, it would be meaningful, motivating and engaging; it would build relationships, trust, teamwork and drive results.
IT SO WOULD. No doubt.
I had an outline structure around how this could be captured then transferred into insights (that managers and teams would otherwise simply not have the time to discover through conversation alone) as the starting point. And now that I had a complementary co-conspirator to work with a few hours a week, the project felt more real, which was so reassuring. Miss X was rigorous, research oriented and sceptical – absolutely perfect. She was getting involved for a benefit we’d work out once we worked out what it was we were actually working out, if you know what I mean. It was a ladies agreement. I like that.
“Do you think we could ‘type’ various work situations, much like Myers Briggs’ MBTI types personality?” I asked her, feeling inspired and stupid all at the same time.
“Possibly. Sounds interesting,” she said. “Let’s look into it.” And so we started researching current literature for where team situations might be already linked to engagement and performance and analysing the challenge. Looking at it, the Team Leader is in a difficult spot. They often need to work with:
- Team, organisation and other environmental changes
- Low levels of support from / influence on their seniors
- A lack of knowledge / training / leadership experience
- Issues within the team (skills / attitude / conflict / availability)
- Pressure to deliver results within legal, time, budgetary and other limitations.
No wonder engagement is such an issue.
We thought about the warning signs that might evidence poor managerial engagement from a sponsor’s point of view:
- They seem to be hiding behind tasks or processes rather than building relationships
- They don’t seem to be asking the right questions upwards or connecting their team into the organization
- They may not look like they have a grasp of the requirements that were initially discussed
- Neither they, nor their direct reports look comfortable
- Results are disappointing.
More structure around how to address this began to form. And at the same time I felt myself lost, oscillating between the highs of what could just be a big delusion, and the lows of finding myself in so many conscious-unknowns about social sciences, leadership development and research in general. I badly needed to find a safe place: I needed to know that after 2 months of self-declared entrepreneurship, this wasn’t all going to be a waste of time and result in me feeling cornered and stupid.
Delusion was the safest place right now.
I started remembering people who I’d worked with before. People I’d brainstormed with, shared frustrations with, listened to, sought help from. These were the real collaborators, the rebels, the ones thinking differently and if I called to ask for their views, I knew they’d be honest without cutting me down. Having previously worked as the Comms Manager of a global in-house learning consultancy, names popped up easily so I set up some calls asking my old contacts if they thought this idea made sense, if they thought it would work (YES, UNANIMOUSLY THEY DID) and if they’d seen an approach like this around anywhere before (NO THEY HADN’T). The light inside me grew and grew every time this positivity bounced back. It was amazing – like the kind of philanthropy you see with people giving and sharing freely on the internet. Those I reached out to were super-keen to support, encourage and challenge wherever we could fit it in. THANK YOU!!!
One rather brilliant ex-colleague I’d worked with at that Global Learning organisation, James wasn’t reachable by phone. I sent a summary mail and hoped it would reach him. The next day:
“You might be on to something there,” he replied in a 1-liner. Let me introduce you to Jeremy.
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