Moving from events to high quality process architecture

I know many people who are determined to make the world a better place, by analysing the status quo, recommending and reminding of what needs to be done, or by pushing new agendas. But what startles me is how many of them tend to be locked in a strange paradigm – our habit of believing that it is events that change the world. Packed with key note speeches, panel discussions and so-called break-out sessions (breaking-out from what?) these publically noticeable events are built on the assumption that if the audience listens to new or convincing thoughts they get inspired and will do things differently. They don’t and why should they. These events probably create more pressure among certain circles of who is allowed to speak to whom on the stage then having an effect on changing human behaviour. I seriously doubt that they make a difference to the state of the world, although they might occasionally inspire new perspective. Most people I speak to say – it is not the speeches, this is just an old-fashioned ritual – it is the people I talk to during the coffee breaks. Harrison Owen has invented an entire new meeting technique built on the fact that it is more efficient to have constant coffee breaks nicely organized than the more traditional conference or event setting. Open space has found a huge number of followers with brilliant results.

But I suggest going beyond. People tend to focus on events and on publicity and forget that consensus building for whatever change is envisaged is a slow process requiring attention to people’s expertise as well as sensitivity to societal dynamics, power dynamics and a culture of genuine dialogue.

  • In fact, societal change requires solid process architecture – the design of the overall preparation, implementation and review process for a collaborative change initiative.
  • The sequence of informal as much as formal communication events such as one-on-one engagement conversations, and
  • small workshop as engagement processes, that then lead to
  • larger events bringing stakeholders together into structured conversations designed to lead to a desired outcome.
  • This must be followed up by a process architecture that safeguards implementation.

Large events then are publicly perceived milestones, but most of the work takes place behind the curtains of the public stage. If 50% of the funds spent on public events would be invested in solid process architectures we certainly would make better progress.

What can we do when we are in an environment where people focus on public events and don’t understand our talk about process, cohesiveness, dialogue or relationship building? We can introduce the Collective Leadership Compass as a quality check for good process design. Only well designed collaboration leads to the envisaged outcomes. Each little step is important. The process architecture can be seen as a guiding structure, almost like a balustrade that keeps the complex set of actors relatively stable and within a frame of action that everybody understands. It helps to prevent chaos, but allows enough freedom for the different forms of communication that collaboration requires. The more difficulties, conflicts and differences of interest that can be expected among stakeholders, the more structure the process architecture needs to provide. It gives all actors the minimum degree of certainty in a complex and uncertain environment. It helps stakeholders develop a sense of cohesion, it gives orientation, and safeguards against unhelpful interventions.

Take a deep dive into the application of collective leadership by reading The Art of Leading Collectively.

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