Earlier this week we ran an interesting activity in our Staff Meeting. Staff Meetings have changed in the last month, with the request from the Director General (formerly in charge of staff meetings) that they be facilitated by Communications and Learning. ( Perhaps this falls into the Be Careful What You Wish For category – See blog post on “We Just Went to a Great Staff Meeting“, November 2006) Actually we are having good fun thinking of ways to animate the staff meetings and getting them to focus, in a sometimes light manner, on serious issues within our institution.

The activity I am referring to was a type of social network analysis which we did as a group. We adapted a systems game called “Triangles” into an exercise which would show the interconnections between staff at the meeting. We asked each person, silently, to look around the room and select two people that really facilitated their work, that were always responsive, and helpful to them. Then we asked people to quietly move and stand equidistant between those two people, without identifying them.

Well, the room began to move as people tried to find and keep their places, and it took a few minutes to this large system to settle down and stop. Then we started to change the system. We moved the most senior person in the room back about 8 meters and told people that they had to continue to follow the rules and stand equidistant between their two helpful reference people, even if it meant that they had to move again. Not much adjustment happened. Then we moved a middle manager, some movement followed and a little shifting about. Then we began to move people in service units, in Finance, Assistants, and other support people, and we saw much more movement. In some cases, we would move someone, and a few people would shift to maintain their connection and position, and then their shifting would set into place even more movement, and then everyone was moving again.

This exercise really set the notion of the value chain of the organization on its head. The people who were most valuable in influencing the quality of people’s work the most, who helped and facilitated their tasks, were not always the people in the highest positions, sometimes on the contrary.

Do we really notice how many people it takes for us to do a good job? All those people up and down the activity chain who help us deliver and be productive. Who often gets the credit for the good work that happens? How can we highlight more of the processes that make us effective as well as the outputs and products that are produced? How do we notice and value all of those interactions that get things done?

So who gets my Award for Most Valuable Team Member?

  • Cecilia: For being able to combine absolute attention to detail and follow-through, with perpetual good mood and great sensitivity to people’s feelings;
  • Lizzie: For being a maximiser and taking something that is pretty good and making it excellent, and for being able to see very subtle things in people that I simply cannot see;
  • Caroline: For being incredibly pragmatic and clear thinking, and always being willing to volunteer to do something substantial, even when it sounds like quite hard work.

In our institution, it takes a team to get things done.