WHAT MATTERS AT WORK: TAKE HEALTHY STEPS

 

By Harry Webne-Behrman 

The following is an excerpt from What Matters at Work, my recently published book for emerging, facilitative leaders who want to align their actions and those of their organizations with the things they truly value. Everything we do in Journey of Facilitation and Collaboration and Journey Beyond increases and improves our awareness of ourselves, the people in our groups, and the larger context in which we operate — “Taking Healthy Steps” helps us be keenly aware of the ways we may take such journeys. 

Our society tends to reward and reinforce “busy-ness”. We somehow think ourselves inadequate if our reply to others asking, “So, how are you doing?” is anything less than, “Wow…things are really busy for me these days!” It’s a badge of honor, a source of pride, and a core element of professional and personal identity to be flitting from place to place, multi- tasking, and then “playing hard” to the degree time allows it. Of course, we may simply continue to be swamped with chauffeuring kids, attending more meetings, or otherwise filling our proverbial plates: We are BUSY, and there seems to be little incentive to change. 

In his thought-provoking book, Essentialism (2014), author Greg McKeown invites us to focus solely on those things that really matter. He offers several approaches that dovetail quite well with things we’ve noticed, summarized in three core practices: 

● Do Less, But Better 

● Be Committed to the Rigorous Pursuit of Less 

● Focus on the Essential 

The practice that we wish to reinforce at this point is to Take Healthy Steps. This relates to focusing on the Essential, but it also means noticing that as we go from place to place, we take our Intention with us and incorporate a sense of Beauty and Appreciation, as well. 

I make an effort to take at least 10,000 steps each day, as this is one way I bring my intention to stay fit and upright into my routine. But I do more than merely walk from place to place: I try to bring “spring” in my step, noticing my energy level and state of being, perhaps singing to myself for part of the journey. I try to notice the world around me, the sun and trees and people, and appreciate that by walking about I am able to notice very different things than when I drive. 

I have also noticed over the years that, as I walk the areas where I work or live, I meet people I know; this is a great opportunity to connect regarding a project or an idea, or simply to be with friends and colleagues. This awareness has resulted in generally trying to leave an extra few minutes for that walk, so I don’t resent meeting people I want to see. If no such encounter occurs, it allows me the time to notice my environment a bit more completely and refocus my attention on the meeting about to occur before I enter the space where it will happen. As we discuss elsewhere, relationships are the fundamental building blocks of Community; such encounters are actually “work” that is productive, if kept in proper proportion to the other purposes at hand. 

My partner, Lisa, is a voracious walker and has been for many years. Every year for her birthday, she selects a hike and thinks through some of the key milestones along the route. She dedicates this anniversary of her birth as a day of reflection and renewal, both in intellectual terms and in physical terms. Together, we also chart out regular hikes, and consider such events to be excellent ways to both connect together and to have conversations about dilemmas in our work and our family. All along the way, we try to stride in a manner consistent with our broader intentions. 

As a result, I often have time for Connection (when walking with Lisa), Reflection (alone), and Synthesis (to/from meetings). Each aspect matters, and it dawns on me that we don’t often allow such a routine to offer us these important ingredients. My ‘quality of life’ tends to be better when all three ingredients feed one another on a given day. If I Connect with people, especially those important in my life, I tend to be stimulated, energized, and purposeful. Whether I am in Working or Relational mode, I get nourished by interesting conversation about worthy topics. It takes time, and it doesn’t happen in the rushed formalities of e-mail encounters. 

Lastly, Synthesis allows the opportunity to make sense of all we experience, sort out the nuggets of life lessons, and determine what is worth acting upon and how best to do so. Synthesis helps us sort the “Urgency/Importance” matrix and find the meaningful currents in our work – otherwise, we are likely to respond without taking proper stock of the best pathways before us. As we will discuss later around Wellness and Well-Being, the workplace needs to support such behaviors as an integral element of an organization that focuses on What Matters. 

Exercise: Healthy Steps 

WHO: Solo 

WHY: To notice the way we use our transitions at various times of day, and reflect on ways they might be channeled in service to our Intentions. 

HOW: Step 1: Take a few moments to reflect on how we spend our time walking (or otherwise traveling) from place to place. In doing so, try to notice your pace, energy, and mindset as you walk:

  • Am I rushing to this next meeting? What tension am I bringing to the meeting because of it?  

● Do I have an unresolved “bother” that I am now noticing as I walk, as it shows up in my tension and attitude? Do I have a way to put it aside so I can focus with full and best intentions and be present in my next interactions? 

● Am I distracted by the beauty of the walk, taking me in a new, unanticipated direction that I actually appreciate more than my intended destination? What does that mean? 

Step 2: These are all useful things to notice: Consider other ways to demonstrate and practice “taking healthy steps” in this Journey, including non-physical ways so that this is a more inclusive and accessible practice….If it is helpful, write down these ideas to use later. 

By slowing down, I tend to notice more.

By listening, I tend to understand the Needs of others better.

By taking time, I get to Meaningful Outcomes faster.

Be Present – STOP to Appreciate the Moment

One of the most challenging and important things we can do to be true to our Intentions and Values at work is to take moments during the day to slow down from our frantic pace and Be Present. This exercise is excerpted from my recent book, What Matters at Work, and it incorporates the teachings of Russ Harris, a psychologist who is an excellent resource and whose strategies can be readily adapted by all of us.
That’s why I am presenting this exercise, shared a few weeks ago, one more time. It only requires a few minutes — try it out! – Harry
Exercise: STOP to Appreciate the Moment         

WHO: Solo/Group (optional)  

WHY: To pause, meditate, and reflect upon the world around you, so you are refreshed and re-energized to be an engaged learner.

HOW:

Step 1: Take a moment to pause and mindfully appreciate the moment. This prepares us to fully engage in learning using the Kolb cycle. The STOP Practice (adapted here from Russ Harris’s work)27 is an excellent way to do so:

S- Slow down your breathing; or slowly ground yourself, stretch, or press your fingers together.

T – Take note of the world around you with curiosity and appreciation, aware of all you sense (feel, hear, see, smell, taste).

O – Open yourself to make room for thoughts and feelings, allowing them to flow through you fully without judgment.

P – Pursue Values and let them guide you to your next actions. 

Then, engage in the following activity: 

Step 2: Settle yourself in a comfortable position. Focus on a single location, object, or thought and look upon it with appreciation and curiosity. 

Step 3: Journal whatever comes to mind, as spontaneously as possible, for one minute. 

Step 4: After completing this brief journaling, take another minute or two to reflect upon the things you noticed: 

  • What did you notice? 
  • How did it make you feel? 
  • Why did you notice these things or have these feelings?
  • What does it mean if you were to act on any of these insights?

For example: I am sitting in a room surrounded by photographs from an art exhibit. I focus on one photo, a picture of an open window, with flowers on the sill. I appreciate the beauty of the flowers and think back to when I first visited London as a young man and was struck by so many potted flowers in windows. They are beautiful, and they also absorb CO2, benefiting the environment. Finding beauty in the midst of dirt and urban congestion is one wonderful way people in large cities sustain their humanity and connections to the natural world. 

Step 5: Take your thinking one step further: Pick any of the suggested actions that emerged from your prior reflection. Create a way of testing or prototyping this new approach. 

What if our organization provided cut flowers throughout the building, as well as hanging baskets in public spaces? We could place small vases near copy machines, on cafeteria tables, etc. We could support the presence of art on stark walls (I’ve seen this work well), or create a simple “thank you” fund so staff can award one another flowers for a job well done (I’ve seen this work, too!). We can advocate for garden spaces on our grounds that can be tended cooperatively by staff, perhaps in partnership with a school or community group. Etc…

Step 6: Finally: Apply your thinking to a real situation or opportunity you are facing. Along with other relevant parties, reflect on the results. In turn, this may lead to other questions worth exploring. 

The point of this exercise is to experience the moment and to Be Present for the experience. Use the Kolb Learning Cycle, being actively engaged as a learner: Notice the phases as they played out here: We don’t just talk about things, we experience them, then build from that experience so discussions are meaningfully placed in the context of such learning. Whether we take this approach in a classroom, staff meeting, task force, or study group, such an engaged approach to teaching and learning is far more likely to “stick” and be memorable.

                Along Loch Lamond on the West Highland Way, Scotland 

Kindle Version of What Matters at Work on Sale!

Please excuse this promotional announcement… The eBook version of What Matters at Work will be on a special sale on the Amazon site for the coming week. It starts at $1.99 on Thursday, Feb 13th, then increases to $3.99 and $5.99 through the next seven days before returning to its usual $9.99 price (still an excellent deal) on Feb 20th. If you’ve been waiting for an eBook version — or if you have friends and coworkers who might appreciate such a gift — this is your opportunity!

LESSON 17: THE LEARNING ORGANIZATION AND “ENGAGED PEDAGOGY”

The idea of the Learning Organization is easy to grasp, but challenging to implement. We aspire to have workplaces where there is an ongoing exchange of ideas, one where people learn from one another and apply that learning collaboratively and generously to challenges they face. But in order for that to occur, the ways we facilitate teaching and learning must be carefully crafted. 

                            Kolb Learning Cycle

Learning is enhanced by genuine participation, supported by an affirming environment that catalyzes innovation and welcomes questions, doubts, critiques, and ideas that emanate from the ‘edge’ of the organization: “Engaged Pedagogy.” Rather than relying upon traditional training approaches, with vast periods of lecture punctuated by occasional discussion, we must actively engage learners with the material. David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model (1974) offers an excellent approach that has been applied to many types of settings, building from its core elements:

By immediately engaging participants in the experience, they reflect upon how it relates to what they have previously learned or assumed. Reflection links the experience to abstract concepts and questions, such as “How might this be applied in my work setting?” If we provide concrete practice opportunities using realistic scenarios, learners can immediately test various responses to such questions. 

Notice how this method flies in the face of traditional teaching/learning approaches: Rather than learners passively receiving content, mulling it over, and considering how to practically apply it, they are immediately thrust into the “stretch zone” of practicing the skills required to make important connections to what they already know and do. Teachers can immediately witness this effort and adjust their approaches to what they are now hearing, students can readily see what is clear and where they are confused, and “teachable moments” naturally emerge from the collective experience. This approach also works in online learning, breaking down the content so there is frequent experimentation, practice, and synthesis. 

The Learning Organization engages learners far beyond the classroom: Learning is reinforced in on-site coaching sessions, where both experts and peers engage in reinforcing and applying classroom insights. The “test and experiment” phase of the Kolb’s cycle gets extended, leading to new experiences, reflections, and abstractions. This personalized learning is then shared with the greater workplace community through web-based resources, communities of practice, and other settings that maximize its benefits and uncover new possibilities for innovation. 

Engaged Pedagogy offers continuous practice and opportunities for learning. Through such approaches, veteran “Wisdom Keepers” within an organization can readily share their knowledge and contribute to the growth and development of the next generation of leadership. Harvesting such wisdom is essential to the innovative organization; help the next generation learn stories from which they can benefit. Making it natural for such sharing to occur paradoxically opens up new innovation channels, for much is gained by experimenting with previous approaches that may still have kernels of benefits.  

Exercise: STOP to Appreciate the Moment         

WHO: Solo/Group (optional)  

WHY: To pause, meditate, and reflect upon the world around you, so you are refreshed and re-energized to be an engaged learner.

HOW:

Step 1: Take a moment to pause and mindfully appreciate the moment. This prepares us to fully engage in learning using the Kolb cycle. The STOP Practice (adapted here from Russ Harris’s work) is an excellent way to do so:

S- Slow down your breathing; or slowly ground yourself, stretch, or press your fingers together.

T – Take note of the world around you with curiosity and appreciation, aware of all you sense (feel, hear, see, smell, taste).

O – Open yourself to make room for thoughts and feelings, allowing them to flow through you fully without judgment.

P – Pursue Values and let them guide you to your next actions. 

Then, engage in the following activity: 

Step 2: Settle yourself in a comfortable position. Focus on a single location, object, or thought and look upon it with appreciation and curiosity. 

Step 3: Journal whatever comes to mind, as spontaneously as possible, for one minute. 

Step 4: After completing this brief journaling, take another minute or two to reflect upon the things you noticed: 

  • What did you notice? 
  • How did it make you feel? 
  • Why did you notice these things or have these feelings?
  • What does it mean if you were to act on any of these insights?

For example: I am sitting in a room surrounded by photographs from an art exhibit. I focus on one photo, a picture of an open window, with flowers on the sill. I appreciate the beauty of the flowers and think back to when I first visited London as a young man and was struck by so many potted flowers in windows. They are beautiful, and they also absorb CO2, benefiting the environment. Finding beauty in the midst of dirt and urban congestion is one wonderful way people in large cities sustain their humanity and connections to the natural world. 

Step 5: Take your thinking one step further: Pick any of the suggested actions that emerged from your prior reflection. Create a way of testing or prototyping this new approach. 

What if our organization provided cut flowers throughout the building, as well as hanging baskets in public spaces? We could place small vases near copy machines, on cafeteria tables, etc. We could support the presence of art on stark walls (I’ve seen this work well), or create a simple “thank you” fund so staff can award one another flowers for a job well done (I’ve seen this work, too!). We can advocate for garden spaces on our grounds that can be tended cooperatively by staff, perhaps in partnership with a school or community group. Etc…

Step 6: Finally: Apply your thinking to a real situation or opportunity you are facing. Along with other relevant parties, reflect on the results. In turn, this may lead to other questions worth exploring. 

The point of this exercise is to experience the Kolb Learning Cycle, being actively engaged as a learner. Notice the phases as they played out here: We don’t just talk about things, we experience them, then build from that experience so discussions are meaningfully placed in the context of such learning. Whether we take this approach in a classroom, staff meeting, task force, or study group, such an engaged approach to teaching and learning is far more likely to “stick” and be memorable.

Wandering: In the Beginning was the Relationship

The following is an excerpt from my book, What Matters at Work:

Among the key insights gleaned from our work through the years is that none of us exists in isolation from others, and that the fundamental building block of the universe is the Relationship. Contrary to dominant socialization that focuses so strongly on individualism, we have come to appreciate that Relationships are key to fostering our individual success. When those relationships do not exist or are weakened, the state of mind, energy, and ultimate problem-solving capacities of individuals are often strongly compromised. 

This is important, with consequences on how we educate people, how we organize our work places, and how we monitor and respond to issues and concerns that arise in various contexts. We tend to invest in individual training and professional development, and we reward individual accomplishment or criticize individual failure. We give lip-service to “teams” in our classrooms and our workplaces, yet we evaluate performance on such an individualistic basis that such team opportunities are often compromised in terms of their perceived value.

Instead, all individuals need to be understood in terms of their relationships and the contexts in which they exist. If we focus on conditions in which group members can identify and develop their strengths, communicate effectively with one another, develop shared goals and purpose, and ultimately foster interdependent relationships that can sustain collaboration, opportunities for what Warren Bennis calls “great groups” are much more likely to emerge.37 As noted elsewhere, the “wicked” problems we need to address require a level of nimble flexibility and focus that earlier generations may not have required to such a degree. 

How do we foster this capacity, especially in situations requiring innovative responses? Brian Arthur’s research on innovative technologies offers a clear path: Facilitate deep development and competence around strength-based domains in individuals and teams, then bring people together within spaces that encourage members to “lower boundaries” across their expertise domains. In such environments, they can be freed to inquire of one another, experiment, prototype possible solutions, and otherwise engage in the stages of the innovation process likely to produce worthy results. Some responses may be incremental, others more radical, but the sheer quantity and quality are likely to be more effective than our typical approaches. 

This is also reflected in the work of Nathan Myhrvold, who has parlayed his Microsoft fortune into an array of creative projects, most notably his controversial Intellectual Ventures company. Among his discoveries has been a facilitated process whereby Nobel laureates and others have come together for conversations about whatever they are noticing in the world. Intentionally bringing together diverse experts, Myhrvold has been able to glean hundreds of patent-worthy ideas.

I have experimented with this process in two distinct ways: I have adapted Myhrvold’s process to facilitate conversations among scientists in the “Chaos and Complexity Seminar” at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with fascinating results. These discussions produced excellent ideas regarding salient challenges facing the University, and did so in minimal amounts of time. I also co-created a unique conference format, the “Big Learning Event,” that twice brought together innovators and thought leaders from diverse fields of inquiry to foster such interactions and discoveries. When their conversations were offered in the presence of several hundred others who were prepared to observe and then build from what they witnessed, the results were transformative. Indeed, the BLE inspired concrete innovations at the University and was replicated elsewhere. 

It doesn’t always work, but it seems that this approach reliably fosters more connections, insights, and possibilities than our typical academic and corporate silos. Incorporating such thinking into our organizational dynamics and reinforcing opportunities in the ways we train and evaluate performance can be a highly important way to build Relationship.