The Changing Workplace

 These articles are part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous post, click here.

As a first activity in the Changing Workplace session, participants were invited to gather into age groups and discuss the changes that they have witnessed in work and the workplace over the course of their lifetime, and to place their observations on a large-group timeline.

There was a fair amount of overlap among the findings of the small groups: the increased pace of work, the blurring of boundaries between private and work life, the increasing abundance of information and communication. Looking and the combined timeline, one participant summarized the feeling in the room: ‘It’s all negative.’

The majority of the people in the room though had taken part in the pre-conference Positive Participative Innovation workshop, and questioned their negativity in light of their recent energizing and productive experience provided by the positive approaches of AI, OST and Design Thinking. The need for a more optimistic outlook in facing these challenges was palpable in the room. Suddenly, Kristin offered her solution to the group: ‘I like to frame it as ‘I am learning how to…’’.

Her intervention was met with nods of approval and smiles. Indeed, we are living in changing times. That is a fact that all our combined experience eloquently demonstrated. Framing our own challenges as practitioners within the context of learning and humbly viewing ourselves as learners allows us to embody the principles of the learning organizations we seek to design.

 

Dena Duijkers,

HSI 2014

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STS Past & Future

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

As a newcomer to the field, I learned a few new things as I walked the gallery walls after the small group discussions on the history of STS. I noticed that several flip charts mentioned Cal Pava as someone who had made a significant contribution to the field. I hadn’t come across his name before, and later at the gala dinner, I found out from Carolyn who he was and why I had never heard of him. Cal Pava was a seminal influence on ‘new-STS’ theory and his work examined the impact of technology on the field. Unfortunately, he published very little and passed away at a young age. But members of the STS RT have access to this otherwise ‘hidden’ knowledge. Proof positive that there was more knowledge in the room than on the Internet!

Dena Duijkers,

HSI 2014

 

What stood out for me in this session was the feeling of relevance. The STS past and future was the first working session of the conference. It was intimidating to join a group of STS seasoned practitioners and academics in this learning experience, questioning my relevance and what I can contribute to this wealth of knowledge. However, the process used to collect data on STS past was a reminder that even the (seemingly) insignificant knowledge is an invaluable part in the construction of the whole. This brings me to Ackoff’s reflection on the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The collective knowledge in the room was bigger, more important (and complete) than any individual piece of knowledge. However, the personal experience of every participant – new or old to STS allowed us to create a collective reality that we all shared. How can we bring this lesson into creating a shared future vision and reality, where every member of the community will feel relevant?

Catalina Barbarosie,

HSI 2013

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GE Bromont Site Visit – 4

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

Attending the STS annual conference was a great opportunity to see how participative management translated to real life. I have been to manufacturing plants before, some traditional ones and some other working under STS principles, and what I learned during our visit to the GE Bromont plant is that regardless of the country, industry or technology used, the productivity, efficiency and employee morale are higher when the STS principles are applied.

At GE Bromont I witnessed the passion and the commitment that people bring into their work.  Not only the hosts that received us, but also the rest of the employees that were working during our visit showed commitment and love for the job they’ve been doing for so many years and how engaged they are with GE Bromont. This engagement is not the result of a program or a quick fix, but it’s something that the managers have been developing and co-creating with the employes throughout the years. It is the result of involving everyone in the decision making process, of understanding what people need to perform and giving them the tools and the trust to do it.

Being interested in collaboration, training, and organizational development, I asked several questions about these topics, and our hosts agreed that this was a great place to work and people felt proud and grateful of working at such a great place. Creativity, engagement and the need to solve problems in an efficient way, along with enough elbow room to take actions resulted in creative solutions, such as their own ERP, that stands for Excel Rapid Program, which has been a more useful solution for their needs.

For me, this visit was a great opportunity to confirm that STS principles are the best way to engage with the increasing demands of participation, engagement and teamwork that employees bring to the workplace.

Marcela Urteaga,

HSI 2012

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GE Bromont Site Visit – 3

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

The plan was that during lunch we would have a facilitated discussion with our GE Bromont tour guides. My group finished the tour late, and as we assembled around the table, excited and famished, sitting arrangements were a second thought. Incidentally, I found myself at one end of the table with the guides, while the conversation was taking place at the other end, out of earshot. To strike up  a conversation, I asked Sonny, our guide, how he had learned to speak English so well (remember that Bromont is in small town Québec). Our conversation moved on to Sonny’s personal story of how he ended up working at GE Bromont and what he had in plan for the future.

Suddenly Eli, who was sitting beside me, piped in, in English, with a powerful question: ‘what is the best thing about working here?’ Sonny answered that it was a great place to work that paid well and where he would want his son to work. Now that grabbed Eli’s attention! He explained  he had the habit of using that query to ‘test’ workplaces throughout his long career; this was the first time he had someone answer that they wanted their children to work at the same place they did, as most people would like something better than what they already had for their children. Sonny argued that his current position was fulfilling and even enviable in his community. It then struck me that we had just visited an organization that made its workers fulfilled while outshining the competition, and had had the privilege of experiencing an exceptional workplace.

Besides providing a perceptive benchmark for workplace satisfaction, Eli’s question opened up a new line of inquiry for me. Sonny’s response touched upon the ideas of continuity and prosperity, and these are intimately linked to the wider environment, in this case, the community. What was the impact of the community on GE Bromont’s success, and what are the impacts of GE Bromont on the community? How will they align their actions to ensure continued shared prosperity for the next generation?

Dena Duijkers,

HSI 2014

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GE Bromont Site Visit – 2

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.

Tristan Khaner,

HSI 2015

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GE Bromont Site Visit – 1

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

During the 2014 Conference we had the amazing opportunity to visit GE Bromont, part of GE Aviation and the only GE plant designed using STS principles. It has been highly successful since its creation in the mid-90s .    This plant is located in Bromont, Quebec, a small French-speaking community, 85 km from Montreal.  They manufacture cutting-edge motors for commercial aircraft, military, marine, business and general aviation.

GE Bromont also hosts the GE Aviation Global Robotics, Automation and Instrumentation R&D Centre, and has not only contributed to the economic development of Bromont, but it has also hired approximately 100 workers since 1997.

We were welcomed by Philippe Simonato, the plant manager, who explained the culture, history and achievements of GE Bromont. GE employees gave us a tour for the plant and we had the opportunity to ask questions, observe their processes and the plant operation, and finally we had lunch in small groups were we continued talking about processes, technology, human systems and innovation.

We will have for you our reflections on the visit, as well as information obtained through interviews with experts on Socio-technical systems.

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Pre-Conference Workshop: Positive Participative Innovation

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

The Positive Participative Innovation (PPI) workshop was an important milestone on my journey of discovering the STS Roundtable and the STS community.

I greatly appreciated the way three theories (Appreciative Inquiry, Design Thinking and Open Systems Theory) were merged to demonstrate positive participative innovation. This year the word “innovation” seems following me everywhere: in my professional work (I conducted an evaluation of an innovation project and why the intended change is not happening) and my personal development (so, what is innovation after all? And how do you define it?). I was curious to see how one can make the experience of innovation positive and participative. I loved this workshop. Everything made sense.

I greatly appreciated the diversity of participants in terms of their nationalities, professional background, interests, the way they see the world around us. Diversity is the main ingredient of any innovation: it helps to discover new perspectives on the same issue and uncover hidden dimension of possible solutions just by listening to how others see or perceive the problem.

The language used by the workshop facilitators in line with the Appreciative Inquiry philosophy: “Let’s envision the “wow” future,” “dream-storm innovations” and “model & iterate the innovations.”

I have already borrowed a number of tools that were used in the workshop:

–       Building a 3-D model to explain a concept or an idea;

–       Using visuals to explain a strategy or a proposal;

–       “Less words more visuals” was a great slogan of the day;

–       Rotating participants in each group during the initial brainstorming helps to diversify the flow of idea and, at the same time, ensures its continuity as half of the table are people from the previous discussion flow;

–       There were several seemingly unrelated objects on each table and as I learned they had their own specific purpose: to help people with various learning preferences to remain present during the workshop (Thanks you Carolyn, for a great tip!);

–       “Burning questions list” is not really new to me (thanks to Don!) but seeing it outside the class room was a powerful experience.

I would also like to underline the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and encouragement of the inter-generational sharing of knowledge, insights, and outcomes of their ongoing projects.

Khurshida Mambetova,

HSI 2015

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Pre-Conference Workshop: Positive Participative Innovation

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

Positive Participatory Innovation (PPI) Workshop engages participants in a live-case study on how to purposefully pursue the creation of healthy, humane, and innovative futures.

Despite all my planning and preparation, the week of the conference was harrowing, as I had to deal with a destabilizing work-related issue. My situation is not unique as many of us, perhaps too many, know that workplaces are at times sites in which larger systemic issues are played through people and by people, as victims and perpetrators caught in the web of a maladapted society.

In a turbulent environment in which feeling unsafe at work is just one item on a depressingly long list of issues, the PPI workshop was a hopeful experience. It was beautifully designed by DBD (Don, Bernard, Doug) and brought us together to build on each other’s strengths while experiencing work in a productive and innovative temporary organization.

Although the groups experienced occasional fight/flight dynamics, my first ‘striking’ moment happened during the second day of the workshop, when participating in a large- group-data-clustering exercise. As I experienced the high-energy of a creative working mode, that might be the exact time when I realized that people with diverse affiliations and backgrounds are truly building on each other’s work and generating a great momentum for future collaboration.  As we were envisioning an issue-based ecosystem for more humane workplaces, I started to feel less tired, more energized, and definitely engaged.

Now, we are back in our organizations, communities, and families. Will we (GLOWIN) be able to maintain this momentum? Can we embody and enact in our local networks and workplaces the changes that we want to create?

Aurelia L. Roman,

HSI 2010

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Pre-Conference Workshop: Positive Participative Innovation

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

My first contact with the STS community occurred on the first morning of the pre-conference Positive Participative Innovation (PPI) workshop. As a student of Human Systems Intervention at Concordia, I had studied various approaches to organizational structure and change, one of them being Socio-Technical Systems. However, my knowledge of the theory was just that — theoretical. I therefore arrived the morning of the pre-conference with many questions on how I would be able to contribute to the workshop’s end goal of designing prototypes for a global organization on workplace innovation.

The workshop design integrated principles of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), Open Systems Theory (OST), and Design Thinking (DT), and unfolded through a three-phase process of Inquiring, Imagining and Invigorating. One of the key features that effectively held these processes together in one workshop was the constant reforming of small groups.  By ‘doing the shuffle’ between each activity, the facilitators maximized interactions between participants, thus maintaining the high energy level of the group, enabling community building, and fostering creativity. The effect was so striking that even by the end of the first day ‘do the shuffle’ had become a buzzword for the nascent community!

On the morning of the first day, after a few shuffles, I found myself among yet another set of new faces to conduct AI interviews with a peer. The exercise impacted my entire experience for the day and the rest of the week, as in the course of the interview, I discovered that I did have something to contribute to this community that we were creating from scratch as a group of diverse practitioners seeking to connect and work with an even wider range of practitioners to create better workplaces that work better. Thanks to my AI partner Sam’s probing questions, I discovered that I had valuable experience in making organizations work across cultures. What’s even more interesting, I found that I could compare notes with Sam, who, as a Ph.D candidate from Belgium, had quite a few experiences working across cultures of his own under his belt.  I wasn’t alone!

From that moment on, I felt energized and confident in my ability to participate in the workshop and contribute to the organization we were in the process of creating, and as we cycled through the Imagine and Invigorate stages, that feeling grew. Thanks to the positive and participatory nature of the overall workshop process, I left the two-day workshop with the sense of having contributed to taking GLOWIN, the organization we were in the process of creating, one step ahead on the road to coming into being.

Dena Duijkers,

HSI 2014

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Pre-Conference Workshop: Positive Participative Innovation

This article is part of a series of reflections on the 2014 Meeting of the Global STS Network. To view the previous article, click here.

Positive Participative Innovation (PPI) was an opportunity to review some key concepts of Socio-technical Systems Design, Appreciative Inquiry, and Design Thinking. One of the first questions was: “What hopes/aspirations and/or capacities do you bring to this workshop?” Based on the fact that  “The future is created with what we have,” this serves as a reminder for all groups that we can already find richness and variety in our competencies and backgrounds. It also reminds us that people in the system are their own experts in finding solutions.

The innovation challenge starts with a process to Inquire through conversation by asking ourselves novel questions — remember, asking questions is an intervention. Systems begin to move in the direction of the questions we ask — about a Transformational Inquiry topic: How have we…

This prompts a reflection on the importance of asking powerful questions:

-What we ask determines what we find;

-What we find determines how we talk;

-How we talk determines how we imagine together;

-How we imagine determines what we achieve together.

The next step, Imagine, requires that we put the result of our conversation (How might we… ) into images, and that we take the conversation to a deeper level. We transition from Metaphor to Models, using sketches, diagrams, or any other means to dream our future.

During the 3rd step, Invigorate, we ask ourselves how we can test, mobilize and scale our proposal (How will we…), we plan the way to engage new participants and make sure that our innovation is viable, feasible, repeatable and scalable. We detect where is the energy that will make our project a success and how will we ignite this energy.

I liked this process as it is fueled by passion and bold ideas. It echoes ideas about continuous improvement that were explored during Sylvie’s Pecha Kucha presentation, where we were reminded that the light bulb wasn’t invented by improving candles.

Other ideas I heard during the PPI workshop include:

-We live in an emergent world, rather than a predictable one.

-In the process of creation we change ourselves.

-Behavior emerges from the environment —K. Lewin.

Marcela Urteaga,

HSI 2012

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Co-Founder of the Global STS Design Network