One of our ambitions is to be a ‘living lab’ for what we believe in: organising ourselves around a ‘thriving state’. In our experience this thriving state consists of three components:
Thriving together =
sense of energy + sense of learning + desire to act together
While experimenting with it we found four levers or ‘thriving practices’ that I would like to share.
1. The right meeting rhythm and the right context
A minimum frequency to stay connected and choosing or creating the right environment for meetings is essential.
Although being in a business where we could easily work with clients on our own and although it is easy being virtually connected nowadays, we found out that a rhythm of being together physically once a month was the minimum frequency. Seeing each other face-to-face remains vital next to having (almost) daily contact via a chat app, regular phone calls and informing each other via online platforms. Next to these monthly meetings, we have quarterly sharing/information/learning sessions and each half year a review/preview session.
As we don’t have a shared office and live in different parts of the Netherlands, we take care in selecting the right location per meeting/session. Finally, we seriously recommend having a strategizing/teaming session of a week on an off-site location (for years we rented a renovated farmhouse in the countryside for a week each half year and last August we went to Sweden for a week). It is particularly nice and fruitful to share this location and experience with selected clients, business partners and other friends-of-the-firm.
2. Starting with the most important thing first
Get connected in the ‘here and now’, instead of going through an agenda straight away.
Although having an agenda with recurrent main points is important, it definitely pays off to start with a mindful ‘check in’ asking for what’s on people’s minds and (especially) in their heart when starting the meeting. A simple question like: “Where are you now? Could you share what is currently going through your mind (thoughts and associations) and what you currently feel in your heart or sense in your body?” sets a whole different climate for the rest of the meeting and allows the team to get to the ‘here and now’.
For our quarterly and half yearly meetings in which we look back and look forward we found another practice that is particularly fruitful to stimulate and learn about thriving together: ask everyone to prepare a story about what they are grateful for in the past period and what they value in terms of collective achievement or collective contribution as a team. This sets a whole different scene than asking for strong points/achievements and improvement points/under-achievements. It’s much more appreciative and it underlines the importance of the collectivity of the achievement of the team or organisation. It takes people out of the ‘defence mode’ which is a ‘dragon’ that is always waiting to emerge when talking about achievement or performance.
3. Previews in stead of reviews
Start with the question: ‘What is my meaningful contribution?’
This is a very important point: every kind of review invokes tensions and uncertainty, also with us. That’s why a good and appreciative preparation and start of the meeting are vital. And the main point is to put the emphasis in energy and time on having previews instead of reviews. Have a meaningful dialogue about everyone’s future contribution and goals, the shared goals and ambition and the consequences of all this. You first and foremost need to give each individual time and space to reflect on and express what they have contributed (both facts and feelings) and what they desire to contribute in the coming period. Goals and ambitions first need to make personal sense, be meaningful, before making them concrete/SMART.
You also need to have a critical dialogue with each other about whether the contribution is strength-based and how you can work together based on complementarity. Simply put: what is the right complementary pair/group on this particular strategic mission, project or activity? Rather than having lengthy discussions on how to implement a strategic mission or project with the whole team, the key success factor is to make sure that one person really adopts this mission as a personal ‘do or die’ mission and challenge him/her on who to take on board with complementary talents and passion.
4. Manage on energy
Prioritise courageous conversations when tensions arise.
What did we learn from the tensions we had to face? There were moments when we were disappointed in our own ability to combine individual thriving and thriving together. Neglecting this disappointment or frustration is not a wise thing to do, but addressing this is not easy. We would be the first to admit! When we were not conscious of the energy leaking away and/or not having courageous conversations about what was going on, thriving became surviving.
So we needed to face the ‘dragon’ when it emerged and avoid the survival mechanisms under stress: ‘freeze’, ’flight’ or ‘fight’. We felt like the knights of the round table: sit down, lay down your weapons and engage in dialogue as equals.
You can use Marshall Rosenberg’s techniques and attitudes on non-violent communication. Mention your feelings, express your needs and your request to the other. Another method is to engage in what Otto Scharmer calls the ‘U-process’: slow down and open your mind, your heart and collectively feel what is wanting to emerge (open will).
Acknowledge everyone’s contribution, talent and passion
When we perceive too many ‘dragons’, we lack the consciousness and courage to see them for what they really are: bundles of neglected energy, passion and talents. So prevent the ‘dragon’ from being (fully) born and acknowledge everyone’s contribution, talent and passion. Make sure that people feel that they are appreciated and that their contribution is seen. There is a lot you can do in creating the right atmosphere.
Good luck in thriving together this year and we would appreciate to hear the ‘lessons learned’ of your experiments!