My ex-colleague, James had introduced me to a guy called Jeremy, who runs a Leadership Development consultancy in London. I went over to meet him and outlined the basic concept:
We want to find out what team members think is important and why, so that Team Leaders have a better handle on how people understand about their context. With that, the Team Leader can organise more effective engagement and teamwork.
He was keen. “Context, yes. That could be the missing piece. Sounds good. Let me know when you’re further down the track.”
Good. We have interest from a potential partner.
And now it’s August.
I’m looking forward to a break: we’d set up a road trip around Scotland, mainly to meet up with family to celebrate my dad’s birthday. My mum and dad are from Aberdeenshire. The North East of Scotland is littered with a lively and friendly bunch of cousins, second cousins and good friends I’d got to know while I had lived there in my late 20’s.
But what was I going to say in response to the question “What are you doing these days?” I wished I was a year further down the track and able to boast success. Right now I can’t even describe this ‘context based’ team analysis work to people who don’t understand what ‘Communications’ is in the first place.
Then, before I left, Miss X and I had a skype call.
“From the research we’ve looked at, there’s no way we can academically prove relationships between factors in any given business context in order to be able to evidence ‘types’ of context that people could use,” she said, “it would take decades.”
I could hear the disappointment in her voice. We had hoped there’d been a study out there somewhere that we could link to – or an existing framework we could use as a basis.
Nothing but a stone in my stomach.
We called my friend from The Alchemists again to ask about the validity of going forward with something, based on nothing. “Businesses have pain points”, she stated in the amazingly clear and accessible way she does. “It doesn’t matter if it’s proven or not, if you can do something to alleviate that pain and show that it works, it’s fine.”
OK. So we’re still alive then. But with what? On the outside I was smiling, packing up for the holiday, getting my hair done. On the inside, I was saddened.
I needed an encouragement fix and decided to talk with an old friend of mine in person when I got to Aberdeenshire. She’s soared up the ranks in business: the kind of person who is employed as a Director and gets a retainer so she doesn’t leave. I’ve got huge admiration for the way she thinks and really wanted her to ‘get’ this – to say that she sees the potential too and help me think it through. We fixed up a meeting for 5 days’ time. For some reason, survival of the whole concept seemed to hang on that meeting.
Five days later and we were walking in the woods, my family further up ahead with her partner, and their dog running around. The smell of fresh air and pine trees took me back to walks in those same woods with her, years ago. I explained the story and the idea as clearly as I could.
“No, it’s just not compelling. For me, teams work when everyone understands what the priorities are.”
The way she expresses herself seems so logical and finite.
“I don’t see how analysing everyone’s perceptions would do anything – except dig up a whole load of stuff I don’t have time for,” she said. “Sorry – I’m just telling you what I think.”
I continued to smile on the outside and thanked her for being so honest, joking about the hair-brained ideas I come up with. We had a lovely cup of tea back at her place afterwards.
The stone in my stomach was now almost unbearable. I found some time to call Miss X in a panic.
“If we move away from ‘typing’ a team context and just do a kind of context ‘scan’ to look where people are aligned or not, where the issues are – do you think we have something?” I asked, trying to disguise the desperation in my voice.
“Possibly yes,” she replied “but I know you’ve got a lot more on the line than I do. I’m happy to keep investigating this with you but will quite understand if you want to call it quits.”
What did we have – really? My intuition told me not to stop – there was something right there! I could almost visualise the process.
And I still had that call set up with Jeremy in a couple of weeks. What was I doing to say? How could I unjumble all of this to make the right decisions?
The big, impatient stone sat there all holiday. I yearned to get back to my desk and sort all this out – to either run with it, or not.
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