For many years the Latin American consultancy Symnetics has been running ‘best practice’ meetings, whereby executives from many different industries meet to discuss business practices, strategies and methodologies. These evolved over the years to become the Community of Strategic Management (Comunidade de Gestão da Estratégia).
When Maria Auxiliadora, Director of Education took over responsibility for these meetings in 2011, she wanted to create something different. Having been to Schumacher College early that year for a three week course The Economics of Happiness, and having been immersed in complexity and a more dynamic way of thinking and knowing, she wanted to bring some of this thinking to Brazil. It was in January 2011, spending some time in the very tranquil surroundings of the county of Galloway in Scotland that one morning, looking out across the beautiful countryside, the inspiration came to her to create a new model of learning and dialogue for the group.
The community is an open group which any person from any company interested in business strategy can join. At the present moment, there are executives from many of the largest companies in Brazil, covering many industry sectors such including banking, manufacturing, education, transport and energy. There are around 25 members of the group which meets once every two months in São Paulo. The community is split into four groups, and each group focusses on one particular topic, which currently are strategic projects, processes for monitoring strategy, sustainability, and employee engagement.
What is interesting is that Maria has taken a very holistic or integrated approach to the design of the community. Although members take responsibility for covering each theme, in each meeting every member fully participates in a discussing and exploration. At the start of the year, the groups decide the themes themselves, and then following on from this, outside of the actual meetings members collaborate to research their topics, collect data and information, analyse and then present their findings and conclusions. The community therefore is much like a dynamic and living organism, developing a momentum itself, with members travelling between cities to meet at each other’s places of work, and to really explore each topic at a very profound level, allowing them to share these insights when the community comes together.
During each meeting, the community focusses on just one theme. The meeting takes place across an entire day, and as the dialogue takes place at an extremely high level, i.e. they are able to explore issues in detail, and in a manner that allows insights to be immediately put into practice once back at their places of work. All the members have a strategic role in their organisations, allowing this work to have a high impact not only of course for their companies, but for Brazil as a whole.
Maria also invites guest speakers to the events, who come not just to do a presentation, but to really work with the participants during the interactive sessions and practical exercises. Facilitation of discussion is as important as the transmission of facts, information, ideas, and frameworks etc. I was invited along yesterday as an expert in sustainability, and we discussed the concept of sustainability in all its guises, including the development of resilient organisations and new business models.
I will talk more about the content of this particular meeting in part two of this article, but for me it was great to see how Maria has worked hard on the group dynamics, whereby the community now feels like a coherent and authentic whole, with a great deal of trust and support seen between the participating members. Being influenced greatly by the late David Bohm, I always mention the importance of true dialogue in communication, and the need for dialogue in solving complex problems. For me, dialogue is about putting as much effort into understanding the meaning of what others are saying, of their mental models and paradigms, as we do arguing for our own ideas. In this community, the quality of relationship between each member really does allow for this profound exploration of ideas to take place, something that can be extremely hard to achieve in other formal or organisational settings.
I spoke to everyone saying that I was not aware of there being any other group like this in Brazil, or indeed perhaps Latin America. Symnetics does have discussion groups also in Argentina, Chile and Mexico, and at the end of each year all the communities come together to enable a much wider sharing of ideas and research.
Personal development for me is about a journey of transition, and at times this is not always easy, especially when we try and take on new ways of thinking which may be radically different to our own. In this instance, the structure of this form of community is vital, as each member is able to not only encourage his or her fellow members, but continue this support in personal meetings all throughout the year. This way members are able to develop not only in terms of professional skills, but also develop in personal aspects as well, and here they have the addition of both emotional and psychological support needed to achieve this.
In part two of this article I will how I introduced the theme of sustainability to the community, and then in part three I will look at some of the activities we did in detail, to show how these exercises, presentations and dialogue come together in a single session. I will also share some of the insights from the actual participants as I think that these are absolutely fascinating.