Changing the Smell of the Place

For some time now I have been trying to understand how a point intervention (such as a collaborative workshop) can build momentum in a group of individuals that makes change easy.

At a recent session with my ASE colleagues I was introduced to a YouTube video by Professor Sumantra Ghoshal called “The smell of the place“.

Professor Ghosal talks about how people behave differently depending on the context of their environment. The more stifling the context the more constrained the behaviour, the more liberating the context the more innovative the behaviour. He mentions 4 key things that provide a liberating context…

  1. Stretch – not constraining but creating an exciting sense of purpose and ambition which generates pride in the work being done.
  2. Self discipline – management by commitment not by assuming compliance.
  3. Support – rather than control people support them, genuine change can be achieved if people believe their management hierarchy only exists to story their success.
  4. Trust – rather than a contract, we have a common goal so I won’t force you to do anything I will trust you to do it.

I would like to thank Franc @tobefranc for introducing me to this video and altering my view on the balance between facilitation and ownership. Let’s start by understanding these two words and then go on to look at how these are affected by understanding the impact of context.

Facilitation being the act of making easy or easier.
Ownership being the right of possession.

So how has my view on these things been affected by watching “the smell of the place”? Since I started in this industry of facilitation I have always been of the belief that it was about making the work and therefore the outcomes as easy as possible. This includes capturing all the work, structuring any sharing required between groups and even distribution of the output after the event. But what if this belief is flawed?

What if the act of making work easy creates a context of compliance, control and contract rather than one of self discipline, support and trust?  What if by facilitating to such extremes we have taken ownership away from those doing the work?

To enable participants to truly own the work they do during an intervention and allow it to live after facilitators need to do four things…

  1. Create the stretch by bringing the ambitons to life for every participant
  2. Enable participants to have self discipline by giving them the space to deliver the work in their own way
  3. Support them to deliver the work by providing guidance and the required resources rather than controlling them
  4. Trust them to record, capture and diseminate the work they do rather than doing it for them

These four things are not easy and require a mindset change for both facilitators, managers and the participants themselves but if it seems hard just remember this question…

What happens to the work after a point intervention if we don’t trust the participants during the intervention?


2 thoughts on “Changing the Smell of the Place

  1. Hi David, Thanks for sharing the video, it is really powerful. In the ASE context, I do want to explore the first three aspects…but according to me, the trust part is something more from a belief perspective and less task related – like the capture and recording of their work. Maybe it is just a point of view…but if we have to look at it from a different point of view – Trust would basically be the reason the participant might come again to the ASE system.

    • Thanks for the great comment. For me, all of these four aspects can be viewed from all the vantage points. I completely agree with your view in the belief vantage point of the trust aspect. I was trying to provide some tasks that we as a system can do to demonstrate that we trust the participants to do what is needed with their work.

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