“The best way to predict the future is to create it” – this statement has never rung truer than it does now.

It has also never been more tested than today, in the midst of a pandemic that has shaken the very foundations of society and the global economy. It signifies a real test for our society, our economy, our reality and our humanity; therefore, mobilising our collective intelligence on a massive scale would seem to be the most obvious response. In fact, this is the lever for competitive advantage today. Indeed, leading across boundaries and ecosystems is a business imperative that has only been further underlined by COVID.

We have a unique opportunity to completely rethink the work environment, reinvent the way we work and define what work means for us. This global “future of work” experiment is currently busting myths about both the definition of flexible working, and the stereotypes around home working and (the associated) productivity.

This cannot be without fundamental consequences and, post-lockdown, we will see that remote working will have a very different place both in our own lives and in organisational cultures around the globe.

“Coffeecollab” was set up with the idea of bringing leaders together to co-create and ideate on how to manage the present to encourage future-focused thinking. We also debated what this transition period could look like and how it could be managed.

A think tank for collective intelligence

I am grateful for peoples’ vulnerability and engagement in exploring this together, and for what we learnt. Harvesting these lessons and acting upon them will be key to shaping the post-lockdown environment. It will impact business models and competitive advantage, but also talent management and the employee experience. Organisational cultures will have to shift from ‘ego to eco’ far more quickly than expected, on an operational, cognitive and emotional level.


Our lessons learnt from the ‘coffeeollab’ sessions

Creating virtual tribes is possible

Creating a ‘safe’ space is hard enough face to face, so how is it possible virtually? Understanding the dynamics of creating trust in a virtual space is a challenge, but we overcame it by acknowledging our vulnerability, listening more intently to each other and finding the one thing we did all have in common – a will to understand how this crisis has changed our reality irrevocably, and what this means for our teams and organisations. From this shared platform, we used our differences to build new ideas.

As ever, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and as we meandered through the different subject matters and debates, it became clear that

  • The workplace will look and feel very different from now on
  • Leadership and corporate culture are key to leveraging growth mindset and pushing through resistance to change
  • We need to create a ‘new system’ that balances sustaining human and business capital and allows organisations to adapt to a post-lockdown world
  • Our definition of ‘workplace models’ must always be mindful of different populations in the workplace with different needs.

Collective intelligence is key

Collective intelligence is talked about a lot and digital enables collaboration on a massive scale; across boundaries, silos, locations and organisations. But tools, however powerful, do not bring human collaboration. Connection is a natural reflex for humans whereas organisational design and context often hinder it.

Collective intelligence is hard and requires compromise. We need to actively listen to our peers and move to a more distributed style of leadership, letting go of hero leaders and ego-driven approaches.

We are designed to work and connect face to face, and we have not yet found a fully effective way of adapting this to the virtual space – it is a work in progress. The virtual space is instrumental in blocking information unintentionally. We rarely acknowledge just how much information and connection we gain from simply walking around the office or coworking space, or casually  chatting by the coffee machine or outside the meeting room, literally just “noticing what we notice”, as I like to say. How do we recreate these moments virtually?

We managed to do this in the coffeecollab group, but it was an informal setting with little place for hypervigilance or paranoia about what we were not being told or who knew what… Was this because we had no common objectives or pressure to deliver?

Virtual collective intelligence requires constant alignment, communication, adjustments and check-ins in terms of context, peoples’ perceptions and the different levels of information. Be mindful that you cannot necessarily engage people in the same way in virtual environments and that your presence will feel and be felt differently.

We learnt that the following are effective for virtual collaboration:

  • Build a virtual safe space
  • Take the time to understand others’ points of view
  • Explicitly agree on golden rules for listening and managing the virtual environment
  • Use empathy to support and open dialogue
  • Explicitly include everyone
  • Structure debates as you go
  • Energy management is key

Future-focused scenarios

New economic models, the rise of the virtual economy and the knowledge economy will continue to shape the post-lockdown world. We do not yet know what this will look like as it is evolving constantly and with every paper written on the subject.

The future of work is yet to be defined, so we can be curious and experiment with what it could look like, adjusting as we go. Taking stock of the lessons learnt is key. In research we carried out, 85% of the senior leaders surveyed were only ‘moderately confident’ about their organisation’s capacity to take on board the lessons learnt from the lockdown period of remote working.

Keeping pace with the changing face of learning is one of the levers of transformation. Learning how to unlearn and relearn is pivotal to aligning approaches and behaviours.

We must consciously build a more human-centred system.

It’s time for a better approach

Never has it been more important to address this topic collectively.

How many times have we heard about culture change, using proven methodologies, driving change and empowering organisations?

Even with an aligned purpose, why is there no sustainable change?

How can we create a more human-centred approach that remains pragmatic and relevant?

We will continue working as a mastermind group of committed and curious professionals, who are looking to open organisations up to a different way of thinking and acting.

Come and join us to define pragmatic and concrete approaches that will allow us to drive systemic change across organisational cultures.


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