Have you ever looked a a bee or an ant and had the feeling that there’s no such thing as a single bee, or a single ant? Anne Caspari has. “They’re a collective,” she says. “No one part works independently of the other.”
An ecologist and environmental planner by training, Anne uses her education in the patterns of nature to coach business leaders into making the deep personal changes needed in order for organisations to adapt, grow and make an impact. In the caffeine fuelled, anxiety-filled, status-obsessed jungle that is the modern workplace it’s Anne’s agenda to integrate lessons from the world’s best functioning organisation, the natural world, to restore equilibrium and balance.
In 2015 she co-founded EZC Partners, a coaching consultancy practise who work with a number of social impact enterprises and governmental organisations, including the European Environment Agency and the United Nations, coaching CEOs on key leadership skills to help their organisations function more efficiently.
Anne grew up in south west Germany in a nature loving household. Her father grew so many rare orchids in the living room that she remembers it as a ‘jungle behind glass’. Family holidays were spent hiking and identifying plants in the Dolomites or the Allgäu mountains in Bavaria. As a child she preferred animals to school friends, and credits them for teaching her how to intuitively sense what goes on beneath the level of verbal communication. A lifelong rider, she says that horses helped her to learn what she calls ‘precision consciousness’ by forcing her to be aware of the unconscious emotions and unresolved conflicts that she was bringing to the ride. “They are such teachers that they will mirror you back single thoughts, or single internal movements,” she says, speaking from her home in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin.
After two decades of city hopping from Rome, to Brussels and then Basel Anne seems at peace in the relatively rural setting, botanical drawings decorate the walls and oddities collected from the outdoors are displayed on cabinets and shelves. After a childhood immersed in the outdoors, choosing a career in conservation was a natural choice for Anne who from a young age had felt a deep affinity with and understanding of the delicate web of life, “there were things I knew about nature that I didn’t know how to express when I was young,” she says. “I could see that it was a whole network and if you built something in one place you wouldn’t only just destroy something there but interrupt a whole pattern.”
After university she took an unconventional path for a scientist and followed her heart to Rome to learn Italian, spending nine years in the city working first as a freelancer on environmental projects and eventually lecturing on integral ecology and business ethics at the European School of Economics. Living in the relaxed culture of southern Europe offered a kind of freedom which would not have been possible in the bureaucratic culture of Germany, “structures are looser in Italy,” she says, “there is a real sense of creativity of survival.”
“From a young age Anne felt a deep affinity with and understanding of the delicate web of life.”
While in Rome she won a prize for a water course rehabilitation project on the outskirts of the city. For the project she worked with an architect in a neighbourhood of Rome where 20th century urban planners had replaced natural riverbeds with concrete waterways. Over time, these unnatural interventions had become filthy and polluted. By taking out the artificial waterways, removing obstacles and adding clean water the natural rhythm of the river was restored, “you don’t even need to do anything, just remove the obstacles, let the little creeks and rivers meander again and the natural ecosystem will do the work,” she says.
In Italy Anne started to find herself increasingly drawn towards working with people. She began to notice how even the best laid plans could be inadvertently sabotaged by people who had not reckoned with the ways in which their deeply held beliefs, assumptions and patterns of behaviour were affecting their work. These behaviours could not only be limiting on a personal level, but it created negative cycles on an organisational level which overtime would become serious obstacles to progress. In search of solutions, Anne began diving into integral and structural theory as methods for understanding human organisation. Her early work with nature systems became a blueprint for analysing organisational structures, since she understood that at their core they are a web of interconnecting relationships between individuals, rather than a machine that can be programmed and planned. “People are so used to beating every problem with project management,” she says, “but organisations are about people, and people don’t always behave according to plan.”
Today in her work in organisations Anne coaches CEOs and leaders on such qualities as integrity and following intuition. True leadership, she says, goes beyond the mechanisms of expertise and book knowledge. “Some leaders will get to a certain position where they cannot deal with life’s complexity, or their job’s complexity, using technical knowledge alone.” If leaders are guided to examine the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and habits that unconsciously govern their behaviour then they can cultivate the qualities that make great leadership, such as quality of presence.
Like the Roman waterways, once these obstacles are removed then healthy systems with space for innovation and growth will spring forth.
From hunter gatherers to modern day social impact companies working against climate change, the ability to effectively organise has been an essential human survival skill for millennia. With such great stakes at hand, Anne recognises that there are limitations to one-on-one coaching. “There’s obviously a scaling problem, approaching one consciousness at a time has limits,” she says. “But when you work with leaders of big corporations that have thousands of employees, these small shifts can have big implications.” For every individual, cultivating a sense of internal guidance is an essential skill for whatever the future brings. “Listen to yourself and your sense of purpose,” Anne says. “Once you can do that it doesn’t really matter what life puts in your way.”
Co-created with love by Tarn Rodgers Johns and Jeanine van Seenus.
Words by TARN RODGERS JOHNS
Tarn is a Berlin-based journalist and editor of emerge, driven by curiosity and an incessant need to get to the bottom of everything. She is interested in psychology, human creativity and emerging cultural narratives.
Photos by CAROLINE MACKINTOSH
Caroline is a Berlin-based South African artist. Inspired by the natural world, her work focuses on the human form and it’s juxtaposition within nature. Capturing the essence of being and experiencing, her dreamscape aesthetic shows the spontaneous need for the raw, wild and free in this world.
published in: http://www.whatisemerging.com/profiles/lessons-from-nature-on-personal-growth
Companies have become aware of the fact that core values – integrity, trust, fairness – can function as attractors that drive beneficial behaviours in the workplace. What they are not getting is that core values just can´t be prescribed, top down or in any other direction.
While many companies large and small have come to the laudable conclusion to focus their organizational development efforts on values rather than behaviours, most go about this strategy in a wrong way. When values are defined upfront without letting them emerge through a process and paying attention to which values are currently operative, people tend to game the system and display what HR and HQ want to hear. Dave Snowden puts it this way: “As soon as you write your values down, you´ve lost them”.
Even if you work with more sophisticated approaches that try and distinguish between actual and desired values in the organisation, the methods used to survey those values most often distort the results. Questionnaires and 360s are gamed easily and you know where to put your x-es in your sleep. Experts are biased with unconscious hypothesis while surveying and indexing the data.
Apart from inviting staff members at every organisational level to find workarounds and game the organisational system (infamous example: VW emissions), announcing a change initiative and defining the marching order and direction is having yet another detrimental effect that is largely underestimated. Once a desired future state – or a value – is defined and plans are made that define and prescribe how to get there, present time weak signals, resistances or value streams that are not in line with the goal are not detected and neglected. Their information content is lost. It could be anything from a warning, a wisdom, a diversification, a potential innovation or a completely different emergent field for the company.
No one can shift a Mindset. Understand that Mindset is not a thing. Mindset in this sense is a slightly misleading term for the sum total of all human interactions in a given environment, including their underlying drivers and value streams. Only here, at the sourcecode can any shifting be happening.
In organizational development, the key is to workwith what isactually happening; not what should be happening. What are people really telling each other, their friends, peers and partners about their work? What if you could tap into that vast intelligence and get authentic, real time, immediate and relevant data that you could milk for existing problems, challenges as well as emergent trends and solutions?
Dave Snowden suggests a few things that need to be happening.
We make it easy for people to tell little stories that are indicating what is really happening in the company. The stories can be about a a certain attitude towards change or safety, they can indicate problems, challenges, or trends. The stories tell about the way things are done in the company.
A software, SenseMaker, can capture the stories and search for trends and challenges and the actual tendency for the company to engage a certain topic (like change, leadership, safety, collaboration, etc.). Snowden calls this mapping out the current dispositional state of the organisation.
Then the whole organization, or a department, can be nudged into the direction of the next possible generative steps. A guiding question is: “What can we do tomorrow that gets us more stories like these, and less stories like those”
I find this approach extremely relevant and elegant. The first is working with what is and with people as they are now. The basic assumption is that people know their jobs, and they know what is happening, both good and bad. This is mining the organisational gold. In its simplicity, this must also be a huge disappointment for most change agents and developmental experts. No big change initiative, no mindset change for employees, no bringing staff members up to a higher level of consciousness for them to do their job better. They can all stay as they are. And yet, we can work story by story and work with the systemic structures. Values can be exposed through the stories in the process – the actual, lived values. They are part of the current dispositional state of the system and the emergent one. We can work with what is doable, accessible, sense making and generative, now. This is extremely powerful.
In our opinion, this approach has an immense potential that goes far beyond organizational development. It can be applicable to working in a much different way with communities, governance, climate change, refugees, environmental issues, projects, leadership development and evaluation.
Here is a recent fun talk by Dave Snowden where he talks about this topic in more detail and depth. Listen up, since he tends to talk in ‘zip-files of meaning’ you will need to unpack.
“People have a reservoir of talent worth discovering. They just have to be given the opportunity to discover it in themselves” Ricardo Semler
We find that people, leaders, managers and other professionals know their job, its challenges and solutions better than anybody else does. We help them unlock this intelligence, unblock any stuckness and release their ‘reservoir’ of untapped resources and insights.
Most people have an innate understanding about the nature of change, yet often enough they find themselves locked up in structures that ask for a ‘predict and control’ plan to deal with pushback, resistance and relational power dynamics. Ready-made plans disregard how change and transformation work and overlook the nature of human interactions, values and asymmetrical needs. We can help with that. We are intimately familiar with change and transformation as adaptive processes; we comprehend the resistances and immunities around it, and know how to facilitate the processes needed to come out shiny at the other side.
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging”. Joseph Campbell
With the world becoming more volatile, more uncertain, more complex and ambiguous, personal and organizational life has become more than a just a small challenge.
How to respond to an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world is the primary challenge facing today’s CEOs. With all this uncertainty comes ambiguity – something a surprising number of CEOs feel ill equipped to handle.
At EZC.Partners, we help people, leaders, CEOs, managers and other professionals to navigate these challenges efficiently, successfully, and elegantly.
Do you recognize any of these symptoms?
In a personal or team domain
lack of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, inattention to results (team dysfunctions)
missing a sense of purpose
unhealthy competition and infighting
a felt sense of overwhelm
workloads are too high or too complex
bumping against questionable rules
little investment in capacity building or leadership development
missing impact, power and alignment in personal reality (job, relationship)
uncertainty in transition periods
complexity gap: leaders feel overwhelmed with the complexity of the job
Leaders feel in over their heads
they get bad support in transition or promotions
find it hard to communicate to direct reports or bosses
find it hard to make decisions when outcomes can’t be predicted
lack of trust in teams and across hierarchies
‘the way we work around here keeps pain alive’
mismatch between espoused values and lived culture
inattention to results
group cohesion instead of coherence
culture is not tended to but has crept in
culture is not made conscious or explicit
‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’
System and Governance
high artificial complexity caused by inflexible structures and hierarchies
inadequate structures for 21st century organisations
having to follow or to administer rules that add to artificial complexity
gaming the system and workarounds
pushback from clients or staff
resistance to change
lack of innovation and creativity
We regard these phenomena as natural tensions in organizations and, in many cases, as tensions bearing vital information and opportunities for growth and development.
“Seeking the ideal has a long history, it produces many saints but few paradigm changes”. Dave Snowden
We work with developmental models and find them helpful in many ways, especially when working with leadership development. We draw on models from different researchers, such as Susanne Cook-Greuter (ego development), Bill Torbert (action logics), Robert Kegan (orders of consciousness and immunity to change) or Theo Dawson and her team (Lectica/LDMA).
We work with developmental models where they are adequate in order to cope with ever increasing complexity in the VUCA world. We don’t focus on teaching people to think at “higher levels”. “Higher levels of performance emerge when knowledge is adequately elaborated and the environment supports higher levels of thinking and performance. We focus on helping people to think better at their current level and challenging them to elaborate their current knowledge and skills” (Theo Dawson).
We support people through working on building fundamental skills, like the ability to feel, the ability to direct one’s attention, to dis-identify from previously held viewpoints and identities, the ability to integrate projections and shadow material. This work is directed inwards, bottom-wards, lateral, around, but not “up”. In this sense, vertical development can be a peculiar by-product and result of this kind of work. Often, we have found that an over-emphasis of vertical development as “growth” is often both counter-productive and partial.
This is why we hold “developmental logics” lightly, as so many people are mistaking vertical development for the ‘growth to goodness” and the ‘ladder of development’ for the only way how people learn, which is isn’t. Also, we are a bit suspicious of the promise of vertical development leading to greater success in both business and life. We don’t find real evidence for that correlation.
Teaching people at any level to gain awareness around their personal patterns and the ability to dis-identify with unreflected identities is the key for us.
This also has some implications for organisational development. This kind of work is fantastic for personal and leadership development, but the approach of “one consciousness at the time” doesn’t scale so well.
This is why we complement our development work with other approaches. We work with our clients to enable them to work in and with human systems and manage complexity and uncertainty. We work building capacities that enable them to participate fully and authentically in value creation and in organizational life with emergent outcomes and behaviors. We also work with approaches that engage employees and staff members of entire teams, departments, companies or communities. Read up on this approach here.
“Follow the intensity of your resistance down to its source and sure enough you will find a treasure.”
With transformation work, encountering and overcoming resistances is an intrinsic part of the game. In coaching and facilitating transformative change, people naturally face stages of resistance, fear and confusion. This will inevitably trigger escape and protection mechanisms of the Self system that come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and flavours.
Many of these take the form of well-rehearsed identities (e.g. spiritual identities, cynical attitudes, attack of coach or method, sudden shift of priorities) that are designed to ‘protect’ the coachee from the suspected pain of re-owning deeper lying disassociated parts (shadows). These defence mechanisms can easily sabotage the transformative process. In many cases, people are not aware of these phenomena, but rather strongly identified with them. Kegan and Lahey (2009) define this as “Immunity to Change”, a “hidden commitment”, with an underlying root cause that competes and conflicts with a stated commitment to change. These hidden commitments cause people to resist change and to fail to realise their best intentions. It takes experience to spot such phenomena and to defuse or utilize any deviating construct arising in the space appropriately, in real time.
Fortunately, these patterns tend to have recognizable sequences.
An experienced coach can identify them and knows how far or deep a group or an individual is on their way through the process and what is still ahead of them relative to their goal. The good news is that there are plenty of extremely good tools available.
Resistances are treasure indicators
In transformation work we encounter a lot of tension and collective shadow around resistance and blockage, not just in the coachees, but also with some coaches and trainers. These tensions can and should be harvested as there is an intelligence in there with a communication. It requires practice, like mental aikido training, to recognize obstructing, attacking or resisting forces as forces to work with and as pointers and key indicators to the most important acupuncture points for change, much like a treasure map.
“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.” Peter Senge
If the transformational process is designed to prototype new ideas, listening to the information sitting on resistances and fears can actually provide the breakthrough that is called for. Then, working with resistances can be like a fun ride in a roller coaster or a ride in a sail boat using the resistance to propel you in the direction of your conscious choice. Welcome to the world of trim tabs.
“To work our way towards a shared language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life”. Christopher Alexander
A Realist Approach to Complexity
Ever heard of this awkward sounding word, VUCA? It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and tries to describe the conditions of the systems we work and live in. The point is, that navigating these VUCA waters makes life tough for leaders, organizations and CEOs, many of whom don’t believe that either they or their organisations are equipped to deal with it. Indeed, how do you make decisions when the outcome has to be uncertain and cannot be predicted.
We work with three complementary approaches parallel.
We work on closing what we call “the complexity gap” and work with matching leadership skills in complexity thinking, collaborative capacity and leadership decision making with the growing complexity of the jobs, especially in international multi-stakeholder work environments. This is capacity building at its finest.
We work inside of complex adaptive systems with processes and governance structures that release artificially built up complexity in organizations.
We work with the people in whole organizations to tease out what is actually happening for them and probe for the actual, mostly unrecognized and untapped potential for culture change, growth, and emergence.
The Complexity Gap
According to a report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value, which interviewed more than 1,500 CEOs from companies of all sizes across 60 countries, says that CEOs are confronted with a “complexity gap” that poses a bigger challenge than any factor measured in eight years of CEO research.
Eight out of 10 of the CEOs interviewed expect their environment to grow significantly more complex over the next few years, but fewer than half believe they know how to deal with it.
At EZC.Partners we help leaders to close this growing gap between the complexity of the workplace challenges and personal leadership skills and capacities.
We can meet these demands and (1) work strategically on the development of respective skills and knowledge, (2) learn to work closely with others who represent a wide range of perspectives and areas of expertise, and (3) use the best tools available to scaffold their thinking.
We work with tools that are best geared for
assessing current thinking in relation to the complexity of the job (Lectica’s LDMA, Lectical Decision Making Assessment)
scaffolding employee and leadership development and capacity building in the areas of complexity thinking and collaborative capacity to foster skill development as learning experiences
supporting hiring decisions: providing a nuanced and objective source of information about prospective employees’ leadership decision-making skills.
We help organizations deflate artificially increased complexity that has built up. This occurs when you operate in complex adaptive systems but apply rigid constraints and assumptions that are linear or causal. Complex adaptive factors (people, emergent processes) are hitting inflexible structures (rules, hierarchies, cultures). We untangle the power dynamics, path dependencies, constraints, and commonly held views about workplace challenges through rigorous processes and organic governance structures. Releasing this built up complexity enormously increases impact, efficiency, fosters open participation and team intelligence, and introduces different strategic conversations around managing organizations successfully despite of VUCA factors. Our most favorite approach and tool to work with this is Bonnitta Roy’s OPO (Open Participatory Organization) and App Associates Intl.
Complex Adaptive Challenges and Sense Making
We understand how complex adaptive systems behave. And while we help leaders become “VUCA fit” with personal leadership development, we are committed to a ‘realist position’ where we work with “what is” outside of the developmental agenda. We work with people, not on them, with the system, not on it. We manage the intelligence potential of the present rather trying to constantly achieve an idealized future state that makes us miss signals and opportunities on the way there. We tap into the distributed intelligence of the workplace – people aren’t stupid, most of the time they know what is going on, what is going wrong and how things could be improved. We provide means to tap into that knowledge and get real time, unbiased, relevant and ongoing data about what is actually happening at work. Scanning the data for weak signals, trends, emergent behavior or detractors, we simply nudge the system into a generative direction. We help creating locally contextualized solutions and architectures for sustainable change and beneficial emergence. To do that, we work with Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework and the Sensemaker® Tools by Cognitive Edge.