Going Horizontal: How do you really want to work?

Curiosity and excitement about horizontal organizations coexist with concerns and cynicism. Most of today’s work force is disengaged and the current ways of working won’t be able to take us into our future. Even if we know all this, we still struggle to figure out what to do come Monday morning.

What if we stepped back to reexamine how we really want to be working?

For over 10 years I have been using our company, Percolab, as a lab of  how an organization can function. With clients, colleagues and international friends, we try things out and sense make, in a never ending learning process. In 2016 I began offering workshops on the topic: Demystifying Self-Management. They helped people connect with the notion and explore some basic elements. In 2017, at SXSW in the USA, with Edwin Jansen, we gave a panel on Growing a Company without Bosses. It was a provocation and we were stunned by the response.

Weeks later I signed a book contract with my favorite publisher, Berrett-Koehler: Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time. It is a practical book. It builds on the fabulous work in the field of new ways of working, such as Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. Going Horizontal is all about the practice. It offers seven domains of practice to help anchor new habits and mindset as they develop. But Going Horizontal is more than a book, it is also a community and a series of practical trainings.

A conversation on the Future of Organizations with Frederic Laloux at the annual conference of the Quebec society of HR professionals

Who shows up at a Going Horizontal training?

In Antwerp, Belgium, six countries were in the room. Some people had specific questions while others wanted to make sense of their own experimentations. In Quebec City, Canada, workers from a pulp and paper factory joined Lawyers without Borders, an IT professional (recovering from a less than satisfactory foray into self-management), and consultants and students. Going Horizontal connects across domains and job titles.

A deep dive in Spain

The next stop is in Spain the 11-14th October, 2018 for a four day residential training in a castle in the middle of a 200 hectare forest outside of Barcelona. Beyond the enchanting venue, will be a unique learning experience. This training is offered by a powerful international team:

  • Dr. Salvador García, professor in Personal Development, Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation at the University of Barcelona,  Founder of Imagine Lab, Author of “Management by Values” and “Values Intelligence” and one of the top business speakers in Spain.
  • Carolina Escobar Mejía, Agile coach and Founder of the horizontal organization Somos Mas
  • Phoebe Tickell, Learning innovator and Social entrepreneur with Enspiral NZ & Schumacher College UK.
  • Nil Roda-Naccari Noguera from Percolab Spain and yours truly from Percolab Quebec

The day to day challenges of participants will be the basis of the program. The seven domains of practice of the Going Horizontal framework will help to grow our strengths and overcome our blind spots. Together we are exploring the new rich and yet unexplored territory of all that Going Horizontal can be.  Via each training the community grows as participants can become champions of horizontal practices in their local context.

If this speaks to you, please join us in Spain! If you know someone who should be there, please let them know.

Either way you can pre-order the book Going Horizontal now via Amazon.

If you would like to collaborate to offer a Going Horizontal training or virtual book club in your area, please contact info@percolab.com

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There is more than one way to price a workshop: experiments in shared economy

For those of us who work in participatory design, what does it look like to extend engagement to questions of money as well?

So you’ve got a small budget set aside for professional development. You find a training that looks good on paper, costs say $100 to attend and you register by paying the fee and submitting your name. At the end of a long day of powerpoints, you leave with a few notes in hand and your receipt/attendance confirmation for the human resources department, never having given much thought to the cost or value of the workshop.

At Percolab events that doesn’t happen.   

For many years now, we has been experimenting with different ways to engage with with cost and value of trainings. Percolab has taken inspiration from practices in the Art of Hosting community, from The Commons, and in particular, a practice that our colleague Ria in Brussels introduced us to: the shared economy.


With each of the open workshops that I was a part of hosting in 2017, we experimented with different ways to present this useful practice. Most of us are not comfortable talking about money. We have very little practice being open and transparent about how much we would like to earn, how much we can afford to pay, and the value we receive from a training. With inspiration from my colleagues around the world, this is what I have learned so far about how to present the shared economy in a way that is inviting, clear, reassuring and effective.

Experiment #1

At the self-management workshop we hosted back in May, we gave participants two options.

1) Register and pay the listed price on Eventbrite ahead of time

OR

2) Engage with the shared economy by paying a small registration fee (so that we know you’re actually coming) and then paying the remaining amount, of your choice, at the end of the event.

It sounds like a pay-what-you-can model, or a sliding scale, but that’s not the idea behind it. While we do want our workshops to be accessible to anyone regardless of their financial situation, what we were aiming for was a shared economy practice. It’s an opportunity to take into account the budget of the event, and then choose what to pay based on the information available, including the number of participants. i.e. “sharing” the cost.

What’s unique about this model, is that it’s an engagement. You are agreeing to share the responsibility, and cover the minimum cost for the event to run successfully.

At the end of the workshop, we share our budget with you (including how much we would like to receive as hosts/facilitators/trainers). We then divide the total cost by the number of participants and everyone makes a choice based on that proposed average cost.

The result?

For that particular event, about half the participants paid the listed event price ahead of time, and half engaged with the shared economy. Our budget included the cost of the room, catered lunch, printed materials, and the time and expertise of the facilitators.

In the end, it turned out that this two-option, shared economy acted like a sliding scale. If you had a company paying your training bill, you paid the full listed price. If you were an independent, or coming from a non-profit organization, you participated in shared economy. Some paid a bit more than average, some paid a bit less. Everyone has a fairly good idea of where they fit on a scale of income, so they know for themselves if they can contribute a bit more than the average, or not. We covered all of our costs, and paid ourselves. And we learned something about the demonstrated need for accommodating different budgets.

But there was more to be experimented with.

There is also the question of perceived value. Are you engaging with the budget and making a choice that is not just a matter of what you can afford, but the value that you have received? Are you consciously participating in the financial reality of your learning experience?

For those of us whose profession it is to increase participation and engagement in events and organizations, this is an important question. For the trainings that are based on, and designed for engagement, it seems pertinent that we extend that engagement to the question of money as well.

Our good friend Frederic Laloux asked similar questions of his readers when he published the online version of his book (which was a foundational building block of our self-management workshop) Reinventing Organizations.

The idea is, “I cannot know what the book is worth to you, so I’m not sure a fixed price makes much sense.” It’s an experiment in abundance where I trust that when I give, I will also receive.”

When our colleague Nil was in town, co-hosting The Money Game with Cedric, they took inspiration from the gifting economy and asked participants: “What would be a contribution you could offer that would give you joy?”

This consciousness around our relationship to money is important to us. We are shifting our budgeting and allocations for project work internally away from a time-based model (how many hours did it take you to do this?) to one that factors in complexity, expertise, and value. Some very human qualities of the work.

Experiment #2

At our most recent evening workshop, on the topic of generative decision making, we decided to combine a few of these ideas, and encourage an engagement with the value of the event.

As we closed the session, we asked participants to write down on one side of a paper what they learned, or are taking away from the workshop.

On the other side, thinking about the value this event has had for you, write 3 numbers:

1) A contribution that would feel unjust or too low,

2) An amount that would feel like too much for this evening of learning,

3) A number that you would feel good about contributing to this event, based on what you have learned and what you can afford.

The first step was about reflecting on value and money on your own.

The second step was to share the budget of the event.

We listed the cost of the room, the snacks we provided (essential for an event at the end of the workday) and what we hoped to receive as hosts of the event. For the line item relating to the honorarium for the facilitators (our pay), we set a range for what we would each be willing to receive, on the low and the high end, for this evening of work. We had a similar range for the percentage that we would put back into the Percolab pot for overhead as we do with every project.

We counted the number of people in the room and did the math together for the average amount each person would need to contribute to cover the cost. We were left with a range depending on whether the facilitators were to receive their low-mid or high honorarium amount.

With that, we told participants which methods of payment were available, and left the rest up to them.

The result?

The added step of having each participant reflect on their own about their relationship to the value of the event was important. It changed the nature of the conversation and the participants were more engaged with the budget we presented.

For ourselves, it felt more honest to list a range for the pay we would each receive (and to be clear whether it would be split 50/50 between us and why). As organizers of an event, it is not easy to declare how much you would like to make. Mostly because we don’t practice it very often. And then to discuss with a co-host whether we are splitting the profits evenly or not, for whatever reason. It’s a step that I push until the last minute every time. But being able to include it in the presentation of the budget makes it that much more transparent and that much more clear.

Things to experiment with next time:
How could we include the collective aspect of shared economy? Until now participants have been making the decision on their own, with or without time to reflect on value first. What if we had a discussion about it and shared the responsibility openly as a group?
This is something that was factored in when the Shared Economy was first piloted at a learning village that our colleague Ria was a part of. To read more about the origins of this idea: https://slovenialearningvillage.wordpress.com/how-much/

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Pulling on the self-managing thread: The Regitex experience

Lisa Fecteau

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in October, we sat down with Lisa Fecteau, founder and owner of Regitex, to ask a few questions about her company’s approach to self-management. As we settled into her cozy kitchen with a cup of tea, she was curious about Percolab and why we wanted to interview her. We shared that Percolab has been self-managed since it’s inception, and as we are continually growing, we’ve made our practices and structures more explicit. We even train other organizations as they make the shift to self-management. We are always hungry to learn from other self-managed organizations, especially in other sectors. Regitex is just about as different as it gets from Percolab.

Lisa founded Regitex with her brother in 1998. Regitex manufactures yarns used in the production of protective garments (think firefighter’s uniforms), technical yarns for medical purposes (think bandages), and high-tech yarns used for a range of other purposes (like hosiery). Regitex does straight-up industrial production: raw materials come into the factory, machines are used to transform them, finished products come out of the factory, and then shipped all around the world.

When I think of this kind of industrial structure I think of foremen and plant managers. I think of a boss and the boss’ boss and of the boss’ boss’ boss. My imagination might even conjure a cigar-puffing owner living on a yacht somewhere far away: totally disengaged with the people who work for him and totally engaged with the profits they generate.

I seem to have a very narrow and staid (maybe even stale) view of what it means to run a factory. And Lisa Fecteau, with her unassuming manner, was turning that view on its head.

Regitex’s move to self-management did not happen in a burst of inspiration. It was a long, slow progression of small steps that carved out a self-managing path for the organization’s functioning. In the intervening years between the company’s founding and shift to self-management, Lisa bought out her brother’s shares in the company (thus becoming sole owner) and the company made the move from manufacturing yarn for fashion and furniture (its first market) to the protective textile focus it has now. As the manufacturing capacity and number of employees grew, Lisa decided to connect with her employees directly. For a period of 2.5 years she did rounds of interviews every 6 months. Sitting down with teams, and sometimes individuals, Lisa would ask questions so she could learn about their perception of the company. Sometime after the 5th round of interviews she realized that she had heard enough about the dissatisfaction and issues that were arising, and that nothing had significantly changed between round 1 and round 5 of interviews.

She had no idea what to do but decided she would just sit with it for a while

It all started to unblock with the need to hire a new Director of Production. After a long and unsatisfactory search for the right person, Regitex’s Director of Human Resources presented Lisa with an interesting alternative: what if instead of hiring a single director of production they created a Production Team comprised of existing employees who carried production know-how because of their work within the company.

Within a short time it became apparent that the team approach was more efficient and led to better decision-making because the Production Team had direct access to the information they needed to run things smoothly. Lisa and her HR director started experimenting with creating more of a team-based approach within the company to see how this would work out. The enthusiasm for self-managing practices was spreading across the company.

So Lisa left.

I didn’t expect that turn in the story. Lisa explained that had been sensing that she was still too much at the centre of the company and that instead of gently propelling it along towards self-management, her presence was holding them back. She completely withdrew from all operations and administration and didn’t set foot in the factory for months. “It was painful,” she confides, “I felt like I wasn’t needed anymore.”

Upon her return they decided to abolish all titles and job descriptions, including those in upper management, and move to a role-based system. They determined which were the functions that needed to happen for the organization to run smoothly, and then invited employees to self-nominate for the roles they found interesting. The roles were adapted to the logistical challenges of a company that works with day, evening, and night shifts, and the obligations outlined in their collective labour agreement.

Because, yes, Regitex is a unionized workplace.

While we were surprised and intrigued by this information, Lisa seemed unfazed about our union-related questions. For her, a key element to self-management is about trusting people’s common sense and ability to make thoughtful decisions – if you just give them enough space. In recent months, Regitex had a couple of grievances filed against them – not by internal employees, but by the union’s syndicate head office. At a formal meeting between herself, Regitex’s internal union reps and the syndicate’s official representatives, the grievances were quickly withdrawn when the Regitex employees made it clear that they had complete decision-making authority over their working conditions.

As a new collective agreement is in the works for early 2018, a strategic planning committee has been created to ensure that both Regitex’s interests and its employees’ needs are reflected in the next contract. Participation in the committee is voluntary (like everything else at Regitex) and those who have stepped forward to steer it also happen to be the company’s internal union reps. Which, in essence, means that the company’s administration has entrusted its unionized employees to make key decisions that directly impact the company and that unionized employees are considering the company interests and well-being while planning its side of the collective agreement.

As the daughter of a unionized blue collar worker, this reality is worlds away from the divisive power struggles and politicking I imagine when I think of contract agreements between unionized employees and the boss’ boss’ boss. I remember my Dad white-knuckling it through collective agreement processes in the 80’s that did not for a moment consider the interconnectedness of either the employees’ or employer’s ecosystems.

So what’s next for self-management at Regitex? They are investing in internal training for more employees to learn how to coach each other, improving the communications and other organizing systems, and exploring how profit-sharing could be done in a clear and equitable way. For Lisa, her personal next steps involve connecting with what is quickly becoming an international movement around self-management (Percolab’s own Samantha Slade is writing a book on the topic) to share Regitex’s experience.

When asked if she has a nugget of wisdom to share with us about her experience with Regitex, Lisa responds without hesitation: If you want to shift to self-management do less, not more. Don’t try to create all kinds of new initiatives. Pull back for a while, observe, watch, create space, and leave this space open for newness to emerge. That’s when stuff starts to happen.

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Principles and processes for co-designing self-organizing events

It’s easier than it sounds. If you organize events, this is for you.

The international Art of Hosting community has developed a different way to design gatherings. There is an underlying pattern that has been fine-tuned and experimented around the world for over 20 years. No matter what the convening topic, from collaboration methods to water management, to financial matters, it is possible to design, organize and meet with the flavour and feel of life, because they are the result of an underlying pattern.

Participants and conveners do not necessarily get to see this backstage, (how the hosting team works together through the design/preparation day and onwards) though everyone is sensing its existence. Over and over, it has laid the conditions for groups to experience a functional self-organizing operating system, live an enlivening experience, access deep co-learning, and do good work. A friend with decades of event organisation explains it as an update of the system software we have been working with for a long time; a 2.0 version, if you will. This is my attempt to share the pattern in a practical and helpful way, without reducing it to a simple recipe to follow. The pattern holds deep consciousness and wisdom, and I hope I am honouring it well. It begins with three principles.

It is wise that a facilitation team spends some time together just prior to a convening. The length of time will depend on elements such as the duration of the convening, the familiarity between the team members, the challenges and risks. Typically, for a three-day event, the hosting team will spend one or two days together prior to the event. For a very short meeting, the hosts will spend a shorter time.


Principle 1: Responsive design — Wait until as close to the gathering/training as possible to design the program

Certain aspects related to organizing a gathering/training can and should be done well in advance of the event, such as the venue, food, decorations, lodging, budget, registration, communication. What the team also does upfront is getting to know the context more, and getting to know each other a better, so they become a real team. As for the design of the actual program, if we want it to be acutely responsive to the context and needs that connect to the convening, to the tiny changes, local and beyond, that are forever taking place right up to the first day of the convening, then it makes sense to leave the programming to just prior to the event.

Friendly warning: We have become so accustomed to developing our event programs months in advance of an event, that waiting until just prior to the event may generate a certain level of anxiety.

Principle 2: A strong container — Give importance to the invisible field that holds a meeting

If we want power, depth and flow in our gatherings then we will need to accord time and space to build what we call, for lack of a better word, “a relationship field” or a “strong container”. This is the invisible field that holds the potential of a group. It is the collective presence and the quality of the relationships between the team members that make up the quality of this field. If this is strong and healthy, it can facilitate generative conversations, paradigm shifts and deep connections. With it, the event team will stay in healthy collaboration even if the event brings stormy weather. This can mean taking time to be together, play, sing, cook, share silence, whatever flows. This is how friendship and familiarity grows. Being in good relationship with yourself and with others helps to enjoy and benefit from the diversity of others.

Friendly warning: We have become so accustomed to time management for performance that giving time and spaciousness to being together may cause some anxiety.

Principle 3: — Learning edges, self-organisation and community of practice — Practice our own medicine

Every work session in the preparation is a micro-example of what is being created. How you are imagining the event should be showing up during this preparation time. If you want participants to harvest online, the team should start during the design days. Be in this practice with the team before the event and you will be practicing well at the event. The practice contributes to the container. If we want the event participants to experience deep learning, then the team should share their learning edges with each other. If the team is trusting and trying something new during the convening, beyond our fears, with the support of each other, then we are modelling that for the whole event. There is life in the trembling and this is being in a community of practice.

Friendly warning: We have become so accustomed to showing up with our expertise that it can be uncomfortable to reveal our learning edges.

How do we design together?

When we finally get to design the actual event our reflex is to jump in directly. Go slow and begin with the following. By doing these steps, the design that is needed will reveal itself. Embody the principles described above in the actual design time.

Need, purpose and participants

Take time to strengthen the connection to the need underlying the event and then to the purpose. Since the purpose is the invisible leader it needs to be held clearly by the whole team. The original call for the event began with this and so should the design. It is the centre of the work.

Team learnings

What is the intention or learning edges of each person in the team? If we want to facilitate learning we need to be in learning ourselves. If we embody the work we strengthen it.

Sensing in

Take time to understand the context, the people who will be coming, what is going on around to be more in tune and responsive to what is needed. Listen with all your senses, on all kind of levels.

Outputs — Acting more wisely for the world

Good work should always yields real results. The Hopi Indians say: “Will it grown corn for the people?”. What is the convening going to create that will be useful for the world?

The venue

The venue can support the quality of the convening. When it is possible spend some time at the venue? Connect and feel the flow in the space. How can the event make use of it? Are there any outdoor possibilities? Imagine the space and beauty unfolding. Embrace the constraints that come with it.

Friendly reminder: It is not either or, you need the analytical and planning capacities together with many soft skills.

How do we design for self-organization?

When the time comes to actual designing the event, the same principles apply.

  1. Clarify responsibilities/teams

If the event goes over a few days, create sub-teams. One way to approach this is a team for each day, a team for space and beauty and a team for documenting (harvesting). It can be helpful to identify how many spots there are in each team; then it is clear if people are in a single team or multiple teams. When it is time to decide who is in which team, in a self-organizing framework it is important that each person choses for herself. It can be useful to invite people to think about their offering and their learning edges before and then place pens on the table and in silence everyone writes their name where they are feeling they should be. It is important to note that the sub-team have a role of stewarding the tasks, not of executing all the activities and work of the day.

2) Clarify the flow and structure

Each team spends time designing a flow of activities for their area of responsibility. It is NOT yet time to dig into the design, only identifying the flow of activities (ex. team hosts, team coaches, participants) and the number of each. Then, to ensure that all the parts work together, the teams share their flow and activities and receive comments. Friction points and blind spots will be revealed. The teams then have a bit of time to produce a second version of their flow and activities if necessary. The group then comes back together to agree on the design. In this way everyone is aware and in support of the total design.

3) Activity designing

Only now each person identifies the activities/roles they will be responsible for, individually or in teams. Now each activity can be designed in detail. Those for day one will take priority. Some will be done prior to the event and some will be designed during the event with (some of) the participants (during breaks or evening).

4) Inviting in

During the first morning of the event, participants are invited to step in with their own activities or proposals within the scaffolding structure set up by the team. This structure holds the space so that the facilitation/hosting and documenting/harvesting can be done with the ample participation of all, in an open and flexible way. When the preparation work has been done – attending to all the details with care — the principles described above allow the loose structure to be held with quality and rigour. It can appear chaotic but the freedom is held by a container that supports coherence, alignment and freedom. It allows us to open up to what is possible and alive. This is how we organise amongst ourselves.

The Art of Hosting way creates a self-organizing operating system, an edginess of possibility, a depth of learning and a quality in human connection that often eludes us in other types of gatherings and meetings. Events all over the world are organized in this manner with great success, from the European Institutions, to local neighbourhoods, from businesses to professional networks.


Learn more about Art of Hosting and upcoming trainings.

Thank you to Ria Baeck for contribution and support in writing this article.

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Collective sense-making as practice

Semi-structured co-learning across projects, domains, territories

Collective sense making is not evaluation nor debate. Very simply it requires some common themes which serve as common language or filters through which to think together about work that is very different. The common filters honor what is specific of what is happening in each place or domain and invite in a common language and thinking angle.

Recently I joined the European university of public sector territorial innovation for a 3 day adventure with over 200 people structured around 16 real projects from multiple countries. I was invited as an external witness, a healthy innovation practice, and was invited to intervene at the closing session. My task was to bridge between the event itself and the future via my external observations and insights. It was an invitation to work in emergence, with no possibility to plan ahead; this is the zone in which I thrive.

 At the end of the three days, I spoke to the group on the importance of prototyping as a rapid learning process, imperfect doing in order to gain information and insights. I reminded us all that co-creation requires being explicit with ourselves and the group on our commitment and contribution level. It is ok to be involved intensely and then step out, as long as it is made known. And then I finished on the topic of collective sense-making as a key process to help see more systemically. It is this point I wish to share in more detail.

I invited participants to identify some themes that could be interesting for us all. I do love how I can trust human beings and their intelligence and natural care. The themes that emerged were:

#citizeninvolvement

#coherence

#interdisciplinarity

There was no need to modify or improve upon these themes. They came straight from those who had lived the three days together. They would serve us for our collective sense making. We needed only to trust that that they were helpful themes for us.

I invited everyone to spend 5 minutes in silence to write whatever came up for them around these themes and our last three days of exploration around public sector innovation via the projects. Just a raw 5 minute writing time to prepare us for our collective sense-making.

Then it was time to step into conversations in pairs. Again, I reminded everyone to help each other not fall into debate or evaluation culture and to find someone who they had not met and who had worked on a different project than them. We had 15 minutes together in co-learning around our agreed themes.

There was some hesitation and then the entire room delved into deep conversation. Afterwards we had a share back and people spoke to how this had brought forward insights, anchored learning and made connections. People spoke of the delight to be in this type of flowing conversation with depth. The process was received as a gift. Some even used the term “soothing”. It does feel good to step back from our daily work, and converse with someone we don’t even know. Having a light “container” of shared themes and a little bit of solo time helps us access the deeper learnings that are ready to surface. It is about the sweet spot between chaos and order that allows generative emergence.

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Art of Asking for Help

How comfortable are you at asking for help? How clear are your requests for help?

Have you ever thought that we can improve our asking for help skills and even approach asking for help as a practice? Our awareness of the specific type of help we are asking for and the words we use to ask for help can be fine-tuned. Indeed, the more our request for help is precise the higher our chances of obtaining the help we actually want and avoid frustrations on both sides (feelings of not being heard or not being appreciated).

At percolab we have developed a simple tool to support the development of our asking for help culture. We have seen how it can open up space and deconstruct preset minds. We have noticed that it can work with everyone.

Before you dive into the typology, think of a moment when you offered help recently and think of a moment when you asked for help recently.

Jot down your examples and then read through the typology and see where they fit. If your examples are not in the typology, let me know so the typology can evolve and strengthen with our collective intelligence.

1. Ask me questions (coaching)

2. Show me how to . . . (demonstrate)

3. Tell me information or perspective (local knowledge/experience based)

4. Give me expert advice (expertise based)

5. Think creatively with me (idea generation)

6. Give me feedback on my idea, model etc. (enriching)

7. Be my audience/participant (practice)

8. Provide me moral support (emotion)

9. Give me a hand… (physical, action help)

10. Loan/give me something (material support)

11. Protect and care for me (abuse support)

12. Make sense with me (intellectual/intuitive)

13. Motivate me (kick in the butt)

14. Step in with/for me (solidarity)

15. Can you listen to me (attention)

Now, write down two requests for help using the typology. Go and ask someone for help. If the person can’t answer the first request, try the second one. How was that? Did you notice a difference?

As collaboration and participatory leadership are on the rise, our capacity to excel at asking for help is becoming all the more important. The time of the hero leader who could figure everything out on his or her own is over.

It is kind to ask for help. Do not trust someone who cannot ask for help”.

Note: Feel free to adapt and adjust this typology. Think of it as a commons. I invite you share how you are using it and how it is evolving with your usage. here or email sam@percolab.com

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