Tuesday 11 April 2017

Experiments with Emergent Leadership

My self and a colleague recently attended Tobias Mayer's Emergent Agile Leadership workshop. Part of the corporate sponsorship deal we have at my current place is that when you come back you share your notes or what you learned.

I added the acceptance criteria that whatever we did should be something interactive with the community we have, since I think note taking is subjective and nobody really understands the context. That and I hate writing notes - I am terrible at multitasking!

Then we went on the course and realised what an enormous challenge we had set ourselves. Tobias guided us through 2 days of very thought provoking discussion, mixed with some games and interactive exercises. At the end, he left us with this closer:

What is your intent on leaving here? This workshop has supplied no formula, no model, no process.

The workshop was a journey of discovery. Not something that you can shrink wrap. It was something that you can only experience. Leaving us with a lot of head scratching to do - how do we introduce some of these ideas to our community? How do we get 2 days worth of thinking into an hour?!

We started to think about how we could re-create elements of this. We wanted to create a little discomfort and we wanted people to engage in deep discussion, which was something we realised we did very little of but got a lot out of.

I also wanted a bit of quirk! So, here is what we did.

We came up with a game. In separate teams they all had to cross a river (one side of the room to the other) using only the stepping stones (a3 pieces of paper). The goal is to get everyone across, racing the other teams. There are rules but they have to uncover them. A judge will let them know when they have broken a rule - the whole team has to start over if that happens.

"Maybe, we all need to be on a stone at the same time?"
The judges are told the rules away from the group. There's actually only one - don't let them all cross! Essentially, they randomly get the team to start again. I know it's cruel.

This is to cause the team to communicate and experiment. We suspected people would jump forward into a leadership role and some would follow. We also wondered if the leadership role would be with a single person or would move through the group as they fail miserably to complete the task. Would leaders step back when others stepped forward? Would the leader help at all?

At the end of the game we asked everyone to point to who they thought was the leader. We then separated the leaders and asked them:

Were you aware you were the leader?
Why do you think people saw you as the leader?
Were you trying to lead?

The others, we separated into groups and asked them these questions:

Why did you see them as the leader?
Did you choose them or did they step forward?
Was there more than one leader? How did they share?

We then explored some of the themes from the groups. We noticed that in some groups there was no dominant leader - so it was emergent and moved around. This allowed us to explore leadership as an energy that anybody can bring on demand. We also talked about how participation is a central part of being a good citizen.

We then re-created a discussion session from the workshop, using Tobias' own content so they had the opportunity to explore and think about a specific theme. We finished up with asking the community how they would like to proceed and if they would like to explore some of the ideas a little more deeply.

Although this cannot replace the workshop we went on, we think it did get people thinking a little differently about leadership in their own teams. Many thanks to Tobias for helping us 'see it' a little more clearly.

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