I’m a strategic facilitator. That means I help organisations to think about their futures and create action plans. Usually I’m designing and delivering strategy events that enable boards and their senior management teams do this future planning. Over the past few months I’ve been juggling this day job and also applying these techniques to my own life.
Last year we bought a new house, new to us, it is actually over a hundred years old. The previous owners bought it in 1978 and had done little to improve it since. So we have a bit of a project on our hands.
We knew the house needed work doing on the fabric of the building, electrical, heating, plumbing and as you’ll guess some decoration required too.
We started by working out what was required by the different trades we would need to bring in. We had time to really think deeply about the look we needed to create. Breaking down the huge task like this resulted in a series of scopes of work. Each has detailed floor plans of the old and new layouts with clear notes showing the work required. We gave each to the craftsmen we selected and pinned a copy to a cork-board in the house.
Creating these scopes took time, we spent over 2 months researching and thinking about what we wanted. Then we used these to start a dialogue with the craftsmen we selected.
The scopes created clarity from the complexity of the whole, allowing each trade to focus on applying their skills and knowledge while understanding the context in which they were working with other trades.
The dialogue with each trade was the really interesting bit. Once the craftsmen realised these scopes were a guide rather than a detailed set of instructions, we gradually gained their confidence to inject their thinking.
What emerged was them pushing back at us to do justice to the quality of the original build and a 100 year plan emerged. For example, some of the roof slates needed replacing. We could have just replaced what needed fixing and this would have lasted a decade or so, fingers crossed. This work would need scaffolding around the building. The builders had the confidence to tell us that for a marginal extra cost we could refresh the entire roof and have peace of mind much further into the future.
This changed our way of looking at the house; we started to see our role not just as home owners, but also as part of a line of stewardship of the house extending far into the future. The work we are doing will create a warm and secure home for us, but also extend the viability of the building for at least another hundred years. It’s quite a liberating feeling.
Now everyone involved understands our long term view of the work, we knew we had to anticipate the inevitable confusion that comes with giving the people involved a fair amount of empowerment to get the work done to the high quality standard we needed.
A potential source of confusion was the tension between freedom to act and boundaries required of each trade.
We overcame this by sequencing the main pieces of work required by the different teams involved using post-it notes. This is what it looked like at the start:
We put this in the hall, and as each trade came to finalise their work, we took them through the whole plan and put their names on each post-it so everyone knew who would own each part of the whole. In essence we created a model of distributed leadership.
So how’s it going so far?
Well, 7 months into the rebuild this approach has made my role in managing the programme much easier; I just have to manage the interfaces between the pieces of work rather than micromanage each individual’s work. I’ve hired expert, skilled people and I let them do what they do best.
We have had no problems with any of the craftsmen involved; this has been a productive and happy programme for everyone. We have also had zero accidents, everyone got home safely at the end of each day. I make them cups of tea and resolve the various decisions that cross different areas of the project.
The real surprise for me was that the craftsmen have started to make me cups of tea when I visit too. Perhaps that is the real measure of the success.