By Sarah McAdam: The Transition Network team has been reflecting recently. It’s been a fascinating, sometimes uncomfortable and very useful process (we think!), so we thought we’d share a little of the experience. We decided to create space in our diaries for a “period of reflection” because we were feeling overwhelmed by the needs, opportunities and information reaching us from all directions. We understood that it’s really important to pause after each piece of work, celebrate what has gone well and reflect together on what we’ve learned before planning the next activity and we recognised we needed to get better at putting this excellent theory into practice. We noticed many in the team were getting sick – could it be that we weren’t working very sustainably?
We made the decision that our core staff team would spend three days each month reflecting together, over the period January to March. We’re a small team based all over the UK and beyond, so it’s not straightforward for us to get together; but this felt important.
Given that we were responding quickly to a pressing problem, we had limited time to work out what was needed and make a plan – can you see a pattern emerging? Making a virtue out of a necessity (an important Transition skill), we agreed that our reflection weeks would be very flexible – we would allow questions and issues to emerge, follow the tensions and the group energy and not get too obsessed about structure or outcomes. A refreshing change from the pressure we feel in many of our meetings to get through a heavy agenda and keep our work moving forward.
The action learning cycle was a key concept underpinning our process and we found ourselves referring to it frequently – see right.
Over the course of the last three months, I’ve come to recognise how easy it is for me personally and for our organisation to lose touch with this healthy way of working and get into a frenetic pattern of doing stuff. A recent blog by Sophy – particularly the section asking “what drives a culture of burnout” – suggested why this behaviour is so common across our movement.
Some things that made our reflections process work well:
we took the time to create a safe ‘container’ – sharing feelings and building trust in a way which enabled people to raise difficult subjects and reflect deeply rather than skimming the surface;
we took time to set intentions together for each of our sessions and agree on the programme as we developed it – creating a strong sense that we were all responsible for the process (and honing our collective decision-making!);
we set out our reflection around four levels of scale – the personal, the organisational, the Transition movement and the world – identifying for each level some of the issues that are currently giving rise to tension or calling for our attention;
we translated those issues into questions (which you can find here);
we used an open space process to enable groups to form around the subjects which felt most pressing or interesting;
we practiced different kinds of reflection, alone, in pairs and small groups and sitting in circle as a whole team – building up our reflection ‘muscles’ and noticing when we experienced resistance or an urge to rush into action
we set up a reflection skype group to open up the process to Hubsters, Trustees and members of the wider TN team, using the chat function to share what we were doing and explore the concept of reflection more broadly;
we spent social time together sharing food, watching films, sitting in the sun and talking about stuff other than work!
So where did all this get us? Each person’s perspective is different and valuable and we’ve made the video above to enable the participants to speak for themselves.
Certainly, we didn’t end our three month experiment with everything neatly resolved. In fact, our experience taught us that high quality reflection takes time – particularly while we’re building up our skills in this unfamiliar territory. Over the course of the three months, we made space for reflection in most of our day-to-day operational meetings and at a Transition Network Board meeting and my sense is that each of those groups have benefited in some way.
We ended the process determined to embed the action learning cycle into our working practices. We think this will probably mean undertaking fewer activities at any given time, so we can collaborate more effectively, pay more attention to the quality of the work we’re doing and feel a sense of achievement and momentum rather than a constant sense of being pulled in too many directions. The process has already thrown up many exciting opportunities that we wouldn’t have been able to see had we not taken this time. We’ll let you know how we get on!