The Big Eyes project: co-developing a new think tank vision

23 August 2018
SERIES Transitioning into a leadership position: notes from the OTT Fellows 8 items

When stepping into the role of a new leader, one must consider how his or her vision can be translated into a reality. This demands a new kind of engagement with his or her peers -now working under their leadership.

Lessons from the 2017 OTT Fellowship suggest the following steps may be taken to kickstart this process:

1. Personal exercise: What do I see today?

The leader allocates a special time/space to reflect upon his/her own vision about where the team/organisation is now and what could be developed/improved in the near future. This should be an exercise to tap both into rational and conventional ideas but also into what his/her heart and creativity reveal.

One possible way to kickstart the process is to take some time to breathe in and out deeply and connect with three levels of inspiration as proposed by a very helpful mindfulness exercise developed by Otto Scharmer. This will enable the team to initiate the process by slowing down and building on three wise sources of inspiration:  the Earth down, the larger source up and our heart and others, horizontally.

2. Team exercise: What do we see today?

The leader will convene his/her team for a special time/space to reflect upon everyone´s vision for the near future. He/she will first share what emerged from the previous exercise, and could also allow team members to know of her own doubts and dilemmas about any potential ideas.

Then the leader will invite each team member to conduct a similar individual exercise to unravel each one´s aspirations when thinking about the future. Individuals will be invited to share them, on a voluntary base.

Based on what emerges, the team will work together to detect some common patterns:

  • What do we see in common? How could this be further refined to become a clear vision?
  • What are the main differences? What can we do together to deal with them?

As a final product, the team could develop a drawing of their potential new vision.  Finally, taking a look at it, they could discuss which other external stakeholders might be able to contribute and/or affect this vision. Conversations with these stakeholders should be planned.

3. Conversation with relevant stakeholders: What do others see today?

Team members will explore the external world (external to the organisation or to the team) by sharing this potential new vision with other stakeholders (other teams if working on a vision for just one team, high level leaders, beneficiaries, donors, partners, etc.) and gathering their feedback.

Having better conversations is a key challenge to become integral leaders who inspire and build on the inner wisdom of other. Krista Tippett, an expert in holding spaces for deep conversations, has developed a very useful guide to help us enhance the art of listening and connecting with others. In it, she stresses the importance of renewing deep conversations:

Public life is bigger than political life. We have narrowly equated the two in recent years, and we’ve impoverished ourselves in the process. Public life includes all of our disciplines and endeavors, including ourselves as citizens and professional people and neighbors and parents and friends. The places we’ve looked for leadership and modeling have become some of the most broken in our midst. And so it is up to us, where we live, to start having the conversations we want to be hearing and creating the realities we want to inhabit.

She proposes practical tips for the main steps in preparing valuable conversations: planning the space, framing the guiding intention, deciding whom to invite and laying the groundwork. Indeed, we should give careful consideration to the guiding questions, and be generous while developing them:

Questions are powerful things. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. It’s hard to respond to a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer; It’s hard to rise above a combative question. But it’s hard to resist a generous question. We can ask questions that inspire dignity and honesty, and revelation.

4. Group session to share findings and co-develop a draft new vision/objectives: What can we see together?

Once conversations with all stakeholders have been conducted, the leader will convene the team again. The meeting will start by sharing key insights that emerged throughout the consultation.

Then, a collective discussion will take place to detect what are the emerging patterns from what everyone sees as the potential changes and contributions that the organisation/team can take forward. The leader will use this discussion as a key input into a final vision that can be finally communicated in different formats.

5. Refinement as an iterative process

Since this vision will set out intended goals and outcomes that can vary as the team/organisation develops specific projects and support, it is suggested that the team uses it as prototype to guide initial efforts. It is suggested that the leader puts forward a specific mechanism to ensure that it is revisited, even if there is need to reiterate one of the described steps.

This flexibility will not only allow the leader to manage his/her and others´ expectations on what is feasible and realistic, but also to build on emerging opportunities that can arise as efforts evolve, and the leader and team members learn and grow.