This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.
A particularly resonant moment for me was at the end of our exchange with the GE employees. We (the delegates from STS Roundtable) had spent about an hour touring their plant, an hour asking them questions, and maybe 30-45 minutes responding to theirs. The Roundtable organizers had decided to give Philippe a token of our appreciation for taking the time to host us. With the significant Belgian contingent at the Roundtable, some craft Belgian beer was decided on as the appropriate gift. At the end of the visit, a small box with maybe 4 beers was handed over to Philippe with a few words of thanks. Without missing a beat, he turned around and said “Thank you for your gift and for spending time with us today.” Holding up the box of beer, “This will be a draw prize for all the members of the GE team who made this visit possible.”
It was a simple gesture to turn this gift over to the team — one that was unnecessary, and had it been missing, would not have raised any flags. But for Philippe to so quickly move ownership of this ‘gift’ to the team was really remarkable to see. I had not expected to be so struck by that moment, but what resonated for me was “consistency”. From how Philippe talked about the GE Bromont plant, the team ownership of the well-being of employees, and deep-seated embodied understanding of the subject matter — this gesture markedly demonstrated that Philippe walked the talk. The employees also walked the talk. I didn’t hear a theoretical understanding of socio- technical systems or open systems theory — but there was a deep felt commitment to their participative management in an embodied, natural way, which drove a consistency beyond mere intellectual understanding. I am so thankful to have seen a living, breathing STS-designed organization. Like the difference between reading an old travel book for Asia, and stepping off the plane to feel the press of warm tropical air on my face — this visit made STS real.