The Development of ‘One Thing at a Time’

By Janet Whitley, Team Lead for Collective Leadership for Scotland

Our small team works to develop leadership practice around complex issues, recognising the critical importance of working collectively in pursuit of complex outcomes.  In more normal circumstances, we are out and about, working with multi-partner leadership teams all over Scotland.

The team operates as a collective with partners from organisations across pubic services, so we make a point of engaging with partners and our wider Collective Leadership community on an ongoing basis.  Despite an initial wariness that colleagues would be totally consumed by the Covid-19 response, we began to see a real wish from many for ongoing connection and support over this time.

We rapidly developed the “One Thing at a Time” programme of themed weeks, offered as a gentle framework for learning and available at different levels of depth, to opt in to as the time and opportunity permits.  Offering the programme has required us to learn very quickly ourselves about how to offer meaningful development work online, particularly when our own work is so focussed on relationships.  Feedback so far suggests that this offer has been well-received.

Recognising the very difficult circumstances that many colleagues have been working in, the supportive practices felt particularly important, offering sometimes even a very brief respite from a frenetic pace of work and the possibility of brief reflection or a different experience.  These have included hosted sessions and shared resources on listening, dialogue walks, guided journaling, mindfulness and creative practices.

I have been closely involved in hosting our Guided Journaling session, creating a 30-minute opportunity to step away from other tasks and focus time on a deeper level of reflection.

Sessions are offered at different times in the week, aiming to create an opportunity early in the week to reflect on what is important in the week ahead, and then a session later in the week which is more focussed on what has been important in the week that has just passed.

Journaling is an invitation for colleagues to experiment with a different route to reflection, thinking through the act of writing in response to a series of prompt questions and just seeing what comes out on the page.  This can feel very different to our more usual practice of thinking then writing afterwards. 

I am very conscious in offering questions in a session like this that the choice of question has a big influence on the area of reflection that participants pursue.  I have therefore taken quite a bit of time to think through which questions to ask for each session, recognising the very difficult times that we are working in at present and the need for a focus on wellbeing and self-care.  I have also aimed to incorporate questions which bring a focus on the key aspects of our work on Collective Leadership, experimenting with how these can meaningfully be explored. 

I have really enjoyed this process of formulating questions and clustering them together in groups that work well for each session, and which then offer variety and progression as the sessions have been offered over the weeks.

After spending time writing their responses to the questions posed, participants have the opportunity for a brief conversation together about anything that has come up for them through the process, choosing to share as they wish any of the content that has arisen for them too. 

Participants have warmly welcomed the sessions, commenting on how the act of signing up for our sessions has created the extra push that they need to set aside the time for the practice.  Many have commented on how they have valued the nature of the questions posed.

The guided journaling sessions are an interesting example of work that we are not accustomed to offering in a face-to face, stand-alone session and they seem to lend themselves particularly well to an online format in the current circumstances.

Great to join you just now for the guided journaling.  I journal a lot, but I still found this useful as it extended that self-directed practice in surprising and interesting ways. I loved the short format too – like a shot in the arm! Looking forward to doing more.”

Dr Kirstie Skinner,  Director of Strategy and Research, Outset Partners

The final scheduled development activity that was offered through our team before we came into lockdown was an intensive week-long programme in early March with Meg Wheatley.  The timing of this feels deeply auspicious, as a group of around 35 leaders from many different roles across public services learned about how best to serve at times when the human spirit needs protection – learning about ourselves and how to be present for others in our leadership roles.  Many participants have since described how the programme feels as if it was direct preparation for their work in the face of Covid-19 and the cohort has kept strongly connected since.

For our team, working away from the main SG offices is the norm – although working in lockdown has clearly brought challenges for us all.  We have developed a range of practices over time to ensure that we are regularly checking in on each other and supporting each other’s well-being.  These include a clear check-in at the outset of meetings, mindfulness sessions and guided journaling together.  For us it is important to recognise that communication is just as much about being heard and listening as it is about transmitting information and we pay particular attention to these aspects.

I have been spending lockdown with my husband, two teenage girls and our two dogs.  Whilst my dogs  have a tendency to start barking just at the point when I am about to host a session on Zoom or make a contribution in a meeting, they have also been great in making sure everyone in the house goes out for a walk each day.  This has felt like an important part of our routine, taking us to the park with a river near to where we live and allowing us to all spend time outdoors in nature.

Stay safe and well.

All my best wishes – Janet.

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