Fifty RSA Fellows and friends squeezed into a City of London meeting room recently for a buzzing event to launch a brand-new group, the RSA London Reinventing Work Network, which aims to encourage the adoption of next-generation organisational practices by RSA fellows, their organisations – and the RSA itself.
Many readers of Enlivening Edge will have enjoyed the talks at the RSA by Frederic Laloux and Jos de Blok – and perhaps noted the enthusiasm of the host, RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor, for reinventing his own organisation.
The RSA, founded in 1754, is nowadays all about “21st Century Enlightenment” – exactly the kind of place where ideas about next-generation organisations should thrive.
And its 27,000 Fellows are encouraged to set up interest groups around themes that matter to them. So this group seemed a natural next step – and when Doug Crawford and I pitched the idea to the organisation’s London Region leadership this summer, they quickly backed us.
As the public face of the group I fell quickly into the role of “host”. It really was like hosting a party – for much of the time I was focussed on introductions, making sure there were enough chairs, and keeping things on schedule, so I missed what was being said.
“Host Leadership” author Mark McKergow was in the room, by the way, as were Clean Language leaders James Lawley and Penny Tompkins and Enlivening Edge’s own George Pór. A great guest list!
In my kick-off comments I quoted Timothy Leary. Controversial? Probably. The RSA has the ear of government, and so isn’t the kind of place where you expect to hear from hippy gurus. But Leary hit the nail on the head:
“Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on a conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…”
We’d structured the evening to include lots of conversations, enabling everyone to connect around shared interests. Doug and his fellow facilitator Francois Knuchel kept things moving.
We also heard four five-minute “provocations” from people who are “doing it”: Julian Wilson of engineering firm Matt Black Systems; Shaun Smith of IT consultancy Verseworks; James Archer of Public World, who are bringing the Buurtzorg model of healthcare to the UK; and Andrew Haynes, a grassroots “Culturevist” within a large broadcasting company.
What did attendees experience?
Let’s hear from a few attendees:
Dunia Reverter, business transformation consultant:
You could feel the enthusiasm vibrating in the room. It was a very open and interactive session, where participants were bonded by an emerging theme: self managed organisations that take us to a whole new level of freedom, human achievement, and purposefulness.
Julian’s own story on how Matt Black Systems successfully transformed into “teal” was such a nice breath of fresh air, and inspiration to all.”
Business owner Steve McCann: “I was surprised that some people thought that Julian would have had the most to lose by taking his company Teal. They weren’t noticing that what he actually lost was being force-fed responsibilities that staff should have been taking for themselves.”
Executive coach and former financial services executive Katherine Bryant: “I was prepared for interesting debate but the sheer diversity of the group, their motivations for being there and their varied insights astounded me.
“Having spent 18yrs in financial services I admit to having strong scepticism about whether self management could be implemented into existing organisations, particularly in the city.
As this is where most of my clients are now, I am happy (and surprised!) to say that as a result of this enlightening evening I can see a chink of light, ways that perhaps just some of the principles can be integrated for now and then built upon for the greater good. In fact I think it’s critical for their evolution and survival.”
IT Consultant Ian Webster: “Insightful, thought-provoking – and some good company. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Julian: it’s really good to hear from somebody who has walked the talk and actually done it.”
Penny Tompkins, co-author of Metaphors In Mind:
I learned more about the leading-edge topic of self-management in organisations in many ways. Firstly, people who have already changed the structure of their businesses to be self-managed told us how they did that. Secondly,in small groups we discussed how we would like the Network to evolve.
What happens next?
It’s not yet clear where this group will go over the coming months. The organising team – an informal group of co-optees and volunteers – ended up with a new challenge: a giant pile of post-it notes with questions and ideas for possible future discussions, and a clipboard which listed a dozen possible speakers.
The group doesn’t yet even have a LinkedIn or Facebook group: the wheels of the RSA bureaucracy turn slowly, and there are political difficulties with doing things outside the system.
And, I think it’s proved worthwhile to work along with that system thus far. George Pór tells me that thanks to the RSA’s convening power, this event attracted twice as many people as any other London evening group around this theme.
We’ve attracted attention from RSA Fellows around the country who are looking to take similar regional initiatives, or combine to create something national. And we’ve connected Fellows who are facing similar challenges, but who didn’t know about each other and so couldn’t join forces.
We have, in fact, helped people to “find the others”.
The next meeting will take place on 4 November. It’s likely to feature a more in-depth exploration of Julian Wilson’s experience, as well as graphic facilitation from Katherine Woods, creator of this fantastic map of Frederic Laloux’s book:
Judy Rees is a freelance trainer, facilitator and coach who helps teams of people who work apart to work better together by developing the foundational skills for self-management and collaboration. She’s the co-author of Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors And Opening Minds and presenter of the podcast Collaboration Dynamics. For more information or to contact her, go to www.xraylistening.com