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Co-initiating the P&I of the future

This blog post is part of the P&I series where we share our personal and professional journeys and how they link to a re-thinking of P&I and its purpose.

Our process of rethinking P&I was underpinned by a series of steps and methodologies which altogether helped us reflect deeply on our achievements and disappointments of the past too. We believed this would help us detect our best potential looking forward. At the same time, the process allowed us to experiment and learn from the approaches, methodologies and tools that we want to promote to help other organisations activate their potentials as part of our future work. These are based on Theory U, Design Thinking, Liberating Structures, and others; they all help connect the knowledge of the mind, the heart, and the hand.

In a nutshell, we went through the following steps and methodologies:

  • Stuck exercise for detecting where we need new movements
  • 9 whys for finding our purpose
  • Growing tree for identifying what nurtures us, gives us strength and direction and what we can give to others
  • 3d mapping for sensing our surrounding system
  • Gems harvesting for identifying our organisational strengths
  •   for finding our individual strongest points

All of these internal exercises were complemented by “coaching circles” where we listened to groups of trusted friends, who have followed our journey since the beginning. We are now finalizing the process by defining our organisational purpose and crystallising ideas. In the four following blog posts we will share each step we took and its outcomes with our readers. We believe some tools and exercises may bring new ideas to apply in your own teams and organisations.

After several months of (virtual) open and spontaneous conversations about our feelings, drivers, motivations, and disappointments as individuals working in the international development sector, we had a unique opportunity to meet for a planning session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December 2019 (at times it sounds too far away, at others it seems yesterday; time perspective has changed since the pandemic). It was also the first time our (almost complete) team could meet face to face. It was a beautiful summer day. All the ingredients were there. And we felt inspired to start mixing them to slowly cook the new P&I. We spent the day on the following methodologies:

Stuck exercise. We began with this tool from Theory U which uses the body wisdom to find out which is the best natural movement to move away from where we feel stuck (a breakdown or an area of life or work that we don’t know how to evolve). The invitation is to move from Sculpture 1 (our body representing the current reality) to Sculpture 2 (our body moving to represent the emerging future). We do not know what the movements will be or where they will stop, but we can follow the movement and then reflect on our experience. Rather than trying to “fix” the situation from the same mind-set or frame of reference that created the stuck situation, we feel deeply into the situation, suspending our problem-solving habit. By paying attention to our “body-knowing” and to the social field, we discover new directions or fresh insights that were not accessible just by thinking.

Nine whys exercise. This is a methodology from Liberating Structures that helped us reflect on what deeply mobilizes us as individuals in our work sphere. With breathtaking simplicity, this exercise can help rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work Each of us thought about a story (an assignment, a project, an activity) in which we felt motivated and where we felt we contributed to a positive change. Stories full of richness emerged: working with women in South Sudan, with government agencies in Ghana, and with young leaders of think tanks of nine different countries. Each of us answered nine times to the question: “Why was that important to you?” We shared why we felt vitalized in those occasions, getting to the root of what fills us with enthusiasm.

We then spent time identifying the commonalities: what situations, challenges or elements bring out our potential as individuals? We identified that we all enjoy working with people from different cultures, and help organisations collectively identify their challenges and co-create ways of addressing them. Altogether, this exercise allowed us to identify what is truly important for us as individuals, and helped visualize the fundamental justification for the existence of our organisation.

Growing tree. Together, we produced a tree that integrated what nurtures us (roots), what gives us strength and direction (trunk) and what we can give to others (fruits). We identified that the roots of the organisation we want to become will grow strong if we question our practices and engage in meaningful reflections, build a horizontal leadership in our space, and cultivate strong and meaningful partnerships. On the contrary, individual and organisational competition fell from our tree like a rotten fruit. Our trunk would grow healthy and strong by pursuing our purpose and practicing the values of openness, confidence, teamwork, and learning. As a result, the top of our tree reflected an organisation that will be capable of offering quality work, perform with integrity, and innovate in our fields. Not least important, a small branch also indicated that we will have fun.

By then, we shared the feeling that we had opened the door to a deep reflection, and that we were moving slowly but meaningfully into creating a new P&I. But the day was not over, and we still had one more methodology to explore (to be addressed in our next blog post).

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