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Stoos Network - Catherine Louis and Deborah Hartmann Preuss Discuss their Expectations

by Shane Hastie on Feb 03, 2012 |

Continuing the series of articles examining the recent Stoos Gathering and the broader Stoos Network coming out of the event, whose goal is to hasten change in organisational management, inspired by the Agile movement in software development and recent advances in management practices embodied in books such as Radical Management, Management 3.0 , Leadership in a Wiki World and The Leaders Dilemma

This interview is with two of the women who attended the event, Catherine Louis and Deborah Hartmann Preuss.

As with the other participants they answered a series of questions about the event, their motivation for attending and their hopes for the future as a result of the event.

InfoQ: Can you describe the Stoos event in one or two sentences from your point of view?
Catherine:   Stoos formed a community voice for like-minded folks who all realize that dissatisfied workers, unhappy customers, lousy returns on investment are the outcomes of a broken system.  {See the mindmap from one of the Stoos open space sessions of the mess we are in.}
Deborah:  Yes, it was a meeting of catalysts - people who work at a meta level, see the patterns, look to a future some cannot yet see, and take risks to move forward on big challenges. In Stoos I found passionate people, as eager as I am to help the victims of "bad management" - in the workforce, in society and especially the executives and managers themselves, many of whom feel caught in an intractable system.

InfoQ:  Why did you attend?
Catherine:   The timing was right. Sounds too contrite, but true.  I have been doing Product Owner and Leadership workshops within companies,  partnering with these companies who are now undergoing the change that Stoos represents.  I am also very fortunate to have had great Servant Leaders in my 20+ years of history in product development, and am forever the optimist. We need great leadership at all levels of an organization.  I realize that there are awesome managers working as great leaders, and we can't "blame the managers" when it's a complex system that needs fixing.  
Deborah: I met with Peter Stevens and Steve Denning in Zürich last year, to explore the topic that has turned into Stoos: how do we get this shift moving faster? I had seen Steve's passion and could tell it was about improving lives, not selling books. I saw Peter's irrepressible enthusiasm. I took Jurgen Appelo's class last year too - as a connector, I always have a finger in whatever is new. These guys know me as someone who creates change, so it was a natural fit. Another reason Peter invited me was to bring the professional coaching point of view - I am trained in both Co-Active and Newfield methods of one-on-one coaching, in addition to my work as an Agile coach and trainer. I was pleased to contribute this experience and point of view, and to provide a connection to the German network of people who care about this issue. As it happens, I’d left my calendar wide open in 2012 and could say yes. There were others we’d have liked to see attend, who unfortunately had to say no and leave their spaces to others.

InfoQ: How was the meeting itself organised?
Deborah: We knew a couple of weeks in advance that the meeting was coming, and some of us had been reading, thinking, researching and discussing on the mailing list and on the web. Once we arrived, the planned facilitation was so subtle as to be almost invisible - and it ended after half a day. That got us through sharing hopes, fears and expectations for the event, working agreements, and getting to know one another and our passions. The second day the facilitation was emergent: we discussed what we wanted to get done, and then we did it, loosely using Open Space and World Cafe principles. We worked in three to four groups, on whatever topics we chose, switching tables regularly. We closed the day with a reporting session - What had we accomplished? What was still left to do? In this closing circle, the first draft of the Stoos Communique was read out by the working group. We all liked it, commented, and then voted to leave the honing of the final statement to a small group that would continue working after the event finished. While they worked on the statement, I recorded one video interview after another through the supper hour. It seems we were all completely occupied in mind and body for the two days of the event.

InfoQ: Were the right people at the event?  If so, why and if not who was missing?
Catherine:  I think there are two answers to this question:  Answer 1:  The people who came must have been the right people, because they used the Law of Two Feet and showed up.  Answer 2:  I know many people were invited that could not attend for whatever reason, representing more of our customer base.  Many of whom are already contributing their dialogue on the group site and the associated discussions.
Deborah: The organisers did try, on short notice, to get as much variety as possible ... it was wonderful to have Israel, South Africa and Finland among the many countries represented. We had managers with traditional and new-paradigm experience, educators of children and of adults, and people already daily helping managers navigate the shift into new ways of thinking. Of course, there were overlaps, too - Michael and I are both trained coaches who work with coaches, and Esther, Peter S., Peter H. all work with Agile teams, but the differences seemed more important than the commonalities. We had not only different national cultures in the room, but very different corporate and work cultures, too. All these differences made us rich. They also made it important to start by building simple working agreements and trust. You ask: who was missing? A balance for the large percentage of American and other English-speaking participants would have been welcomed by me. For example, both Simon and I, the German representatives, are expats. There were Swiss reps, too, who are expats of Canada and the US - I think they've all been in Europe longer than I have. While I am keenly aware of Germany's cultural differences from my homeland, Canada, I cannot reflect a German point of view, at least not yet. Perhaps it is simply that we expats, having fewer ties in Europe during the holidays, had an easier time getting to Stoos on short notice? You could ask the organisers. You asked: Were we the right people? Yes: we were available, willing to listen and learn and contribute, and we are committed to working in our countries of residence (and beyond) to spread the word and spark action. Was anyone missing? Yes, many thousands of thinkers, writers, teachers, and do-ers were missing. And we will work to find them and enlist their help, too, through the Network.

InfoQ: What is the most concrete and specific thing that you took away from the event?
Catherine:  Learning is not optional.  Changing an organizational culture requires fostering learning ecologies to make it safe and enjoyable for people to learn as they work.  Successful future organizations will become "learning networks of diverse individuals that create value."  This is a break from the past - and an opportunity and a challenge for all employees to become essential contributors to their organizations. This involves creating places where it is safe to experiment, fail, and essential to learn from these failures. The future is here: companies that fail to create learning ecologies are being left behind.
Deborah: The phrase "stewardship of the living, not management of the machine" is burned into my brain. I think it resonated with most of us in the same powerful way. This may not seem concrete to you, but the power of a good metaphor to drive passionate action should not be underestimated!

InfoQ: What are the changes you would like to see happening as a result of the formation of the Stoos network?
Catherine: I'd like to encourage a small change in everyone.  Every decision you make, each day, ask yourself "Is this the right thing to do for the customer?"  If the answer is "no", then don't do it. If the answer is "yes", say "hell yes!" and do it right away.  If the answer is "I don't know", escalate the decision to someone who can represent the customer.  If you can't find this person, post your gripe on our Stoos group, and ask the Stoos community for help.
Deborah: Here’s an example of something I hope for: In the Agile software development community, a desperate tester can google up an Agile book or consultant or user group, and start learning and helping his developer colleagues to work better - which helps her own work, too! In my work I see so many Agile teams learning new, self-organising ways of working - and then the organisation starts trying to push them back into the old mold, which is more comfortable and familiar and “safe”. Right now I see good leaders and team members leaving strifeful organisations, frustrated. I would rather see a desperate Scrum Master, Product Owner or line manager google up a book or website or conference or consultant, so he can learn how to help the managers outside his domain think in new ways - in order to help the whole system and reduce friction. And I would like to help the leaders I coach to find their own resources, because what they discover themselves will fit better and is more likely to "stick”.  Perhaps these leaders will google "stoos network" and find some kind of a hub with pointers to the resources nd people they need to find - I would love that. This is my need, as a coach. Other stakeholders have different dreams - and we need all of them, to build together toward a tipping point.

InfoQ: The Stoos Communiqué is very open-ended - in your opinion how can people contribute most effectively to making the changes?
Catherine:  I'd first recommend having a look at the problem statement. I know many successful companies who are already operating in a Stoosonian manner.  If you're one of these companies, join the group and share your advice.  And if you resonate with the problem statement, join in the conversation and share your concerns.  We've formulated “the desired outcome” in the transformation of organizations which all of the participants at Stoos, despite our different viewpoints, embraced. The formulation we adopted is that organizations need to become “learning networks of diverse individuals that create value.”  The words were chosen with care:
Learning: Innovation needs to be part of the organization's culture.
Networks: Self-organized teams with Servant Leadership built in throughout the organization.
Diverse individuals: In order learn and succeed, organizations must be able to represent a diverse customer base.
Creating value: These organizations are creating net value for customers.
Deborah:  Exactly! And I’d expand “value” a bit, to: creating win-win-win-win for customers, employees, stakeholders and environment. And how we get to this outcome is important. Rushing to do more of what got us here is not the answer. Having read the Communiqué and found it resonant, I invite people to spend some time observing, reflecting, thinking. Then meet with people outside your usual circle to increase the diversity of ideas you interact with - perhaps create an online discussion group or meeting or conference to do so. Discuss: what is the first thing we can do to hasten the change? And then, what next? The solutions will look and feel different in every place this happens - and that is good. And: we can learn from one another and carry some things over from one place to another, too. It's a network. I expect to watch the solutions emerge - and believe me, I will be in there helping!

InfoQ: What do your feel is the relationship be between the Stoos Network and contemporary management movements, how will they be complimentary or contradictory or indifferent?
Deborah: It was clear to us that there are already good approaches and competent advisors available to help managers shift out of the old "machine metaphor". So existing approaches are not really the problem. And, personally, I hate to re-invent the wheel - I happily leave the work of management philosophy and research to those better qualified than I. I will use the results of their work. The problem we wanted to discuss is the current stagnation despite the availability (for decades now!) of better ways. The Stoos Network will work to raise the profile of helpful approaches, encourage cross-pollination among currently unconnected communities of thought, and create events where these people can meet and synergise to make this more human-centered organisational paradigm the new reality.

InfoQ: Looking to the future, how might the Stoos Network operate?
Deborah: I am always big on in-person interaction, but creating change on a world-wide scale will mean long-distance collaborations, too. Wouldn't it be awesome if we could finally figure out a great way to work distributed, so we could help people hold their own group meetings, distributed, according to interest? I find the jungle of half-functional and mismatched collaborative software very frustrating... feel like I need a special degree to test and figure out what I should use together to make a sensible collaboration suite. The alternative seems to be very expensive toolsets full of features I do not need, like webinars. But perhaps the Network will turn up such talent... that would be my dream: virtual Open Space or World Cafe meetings going on all over, all the time.

InfoQ:  If there is a follow up event what would you like to see?
Catherine: As it took us a good half a day to get through detailed introductions, the next meeting we may get two days of work in versus something like 8 hours. That being the case I would like to do deep-dives into working topics selected in advance.
Deborah: Of course, in addition to this original working group of 21, we hope many other working groups spring up. To help this, I hope to see LOTS of small, intense, viral events, that spread in a way similar to CITcon, SDTconf, AgileOpen or AgileCoachCamp. Perhaps Lean Startup will provide inspiration. There are other meet-up memes we should explore too. When people cannot meet in person, perhaps events like the ALE Bathtub conferences will help create synergies. These events will be important for connecting people and ideas that have not met before... which will be an important key to hastening the shift.

InfoQ: What are you personally going to do next to help the Stoos movement along?
Catherine: I'd like to start to seeing more interviews from our customer base: folks in management living in the broken system, hearing the issues they are dealing with and want they need to change, and as well, folks in management, true Stoosians,  fostering "learning networks of diverse individuals that create value."   I've got a few folks lined up I'd like to interview, which I will invite here to carry on with this discussion!
Deborah: I’ve just finished editing my own interviews, which took a while. I am known to my community as a creator of events, so now I am working with partners to create in-person events in Germany - we’ve just published our invitation for a first German-language event. If these go well, they may be worth adapting for use elsewhere, too. My idea is not to become some event guru, but rather to show others how to run simple and effective events, which in themselves model the new ways of networked collaboration - in contrast to the traditional hierarchical, talking-heads-only conference formats that suck up energy and cannot contribute to community in the same intense way.

What are your fears?
Deborah: The community wants and needs answers, this is clear. I fear that we give in to pressure from the want-it-now part of the community and just do "whatever". I would rather do something thoughtful and specifically crafted to generate the possibility of new thinking and (especially) new doing.


 

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