Turn around

We learn, unlearn and relearn every day

Mr Green went to a meeting, and was the senior most of all participants. The officer in charge had prepared everything needed, the handouts, programme, and any required drafts to be considered.

The officer organizing the meeting knew that Mr Green was to attend. Hence the first item in the agenda after registration and introductions was “choice of chair”. When this agenda is floated, all the participants looked at Mr Green. They know that for the meeting to flow smoothly,  Mr Green had to be given his space. Every participant looked at him, one mentioned the name of Mr Green. Other participants were quick to second the proposal. Silence follows, No objections, No additional proposals. The officer in charge quickly announces the verdict, Mr Green has been unanimously nominated as the chair.

What next? The meeting is handed over to Mr Green, the boss. Definitely, although he had a clue of what the activity was all about, he had not been involved in drawing the programme. He had never participated in earlier series of this activity before.

This was one of the many meetings done with regard to this issue. Earlier meetings had been stormy where many options on the way forward have been floated. Some of the participants with the local exposure did not agree with the prioritized proposals. At one instance, the coordinator had to be categorical in clarifying what was expected. However, without the muscle in terms of hierarchy and coalition, this proposal seemed to be waning.

Hence Mr Green’s participation in the meeting was part of a wider coalition tactic to provide final direction to the meeting. Coincidentally,  Mr Green informally interacts regularly with all the participants and is conversant with all the options being considered. He abhors using coercion, legitimate or reward power to get his way. He knew the challenge ahead was to steer a smooth process of making the final choice which could be gladly accepted and owned  by all the participants.

Mr Green took over the meeting and acknowledged the participants for nominating him to chair the sessions. In the programme, the first slot after new chairman takes over was to give opening remarks. Since this activity is one of those annual workplan targets Mr Green looked forward to accomplish, giving the opening remarks was not a challenging task. Afterall, the philosophical foundations of the activity being undertaken fell squarely on what his competences were. In this regard, he gave an elaborate keynote address in a way as to educate the participants on the task ahead.

The activity at hand was development of outreach materials to guide communities on how to conserve local wetlands. The participants were experts in the science of conservation and had published widely in the same.

One participant commented on how they had developed similar outreach materials before. He encouraged the members that the task at hand was therefore easy as the only difference was the change of social challenge. This view was supported by another participant who also had participated in those earlier outreach material development meetings. These materials were tabled in the meeting and everybody agreed that they were used to guide development of drafts that were being considered in the meeting. To some participants, these materials were good and similar ones needed to be developed this time round.

Mr Green treated every encounter with a task as a learning experience. He considered it as a new problem that required new solutions. He insisted that even though there could be many similarities with past interventions, there were new lessons to be learnt. For one to learn, unlearning was inevitable as the first step followed by relearning. Hence the comments by the two participants was disturbing and if allowed to dominate the discussion, could have derailed the meeting and diluted the outcomes. Mr Green knew that he had to influence the meeting to win participants to his side.

He considered several influence tactics from his repository of knowledge of facilitating similar trainings at a postgraduate course. Since Mr Green did not court confrontation, he chose to offer and propose convincing options for participants to consider. This was accompanied with several critical questions requiring simple answers.

The pillar of Mr Green’s opening remarks was a request to participants to address the why and the who question. He reminded the participants that they were quite familiar with what they wanted to do but that made their approach to issues very technocentric. There was need to ask themselves a question on why certain emphasis is done and the required outcomes. Once this is done, participants were to consider an appropriate style of communicating the same to the target group.

In this regard, Mr Green asked the participants to start by choosing their target audience and why the choice. This elicited a heated debate where lots of target groups were floated, many discarded and all agreed that we prioritize the common members of the community. With this choice imminent, Mr Green was quick to bring in more information to the fore including the community members knowledge level, literacy levels, ownership status of resources and interventions. This coincided with his belief that new intervention is unique and required unlearning and relearning.

The perception in the room changed into one of dialogue with the elderly members of the community. An artist in the room drew a portrait of an elderly, emaciated member of the community on the flip chart and displayed it in front of the room. Everybody was making reference to the portrait in the discussions that followed. The old man in the portrait was symbolically in the room and participants were in dialogue with him.

What followed was consideration of draft outreach materials made in earlier meetings. It was interesting to note the change of attitude among the participants who opted to discard the earlier drafts and develop new text that is appropriate to the ordinary members of the community as represented by the portrait hanging prominently in the room. Many illustrations were proposed, some very captivating. The participants looked motivated and even extended the working hours to suggest more illustrations. During plenary presentations, all groups presented very well thought text and innovatively designed illustrations.

Mr Green commented on the lesson learnt from this activity that “If you want good results from your team, spend time educating them. Once they understand and own the process, they will implement your thoughts independently and innovatively”.

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