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Tag Archives: Facilitation

 

To

The HR Director Sir,

Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd

Head Office,

95, Kamla Mills Compound,

Mumbai, Maharshtra

India

 

From

Dattaram Waghmare

Procurement Manager,

Jefferson Spice Extracts Plant

Khopoli Industrial Estate

Khopoli, Maharashtra

India


Dear Respected HR Director Sir,

Myself Dattaram Waghmare, Manager of Procurement at the Khopoli plant.  You may not remember me Sir, but I know you as everyone else does at our Plant. When you visited the plant with the Managing Director three months back you came to my cabin (third cabin from the left of the water cooler on the first floor of the administrative building) and shook my hand with a broad smile. It was a proud moment for me Sir, that you visited my small humble cabin. Hope you remember me now (I was wearing my favourite blue checks half sleeve shirt in honour of your visit). Even if you do not, I would not blame you Sir, since you visited so many cabins that day and met so many managers and workers, that it would be difficult to keep all of us in your important mind.

The reason I am taking my freedom to write this letter to you and eat your precious time, is because of what you said to me that day.

You said:

“Dattaram if you ever have any problem do not hesitate to get in touch with me. We appreciate the work you are doing and the Company believes in taking care of it’s loyal employees.” 

Thank you Sir.

Listening to you say those words made me feel high all day, that day. (When I have few drinks with my co-managers sometimes in the evenings after work, they say “Dattaram you have become high”. I do not know why they say high, when I am still on ground, but the feeling was same to same…intoxicating) This high boosted my morale and made me feel motivated to deliver my best for the Company, as I have been delivering for the past twenty years.

Apologies for getting into by-lane Sir and eating more of your precious time, let me come straight to the point, of why I am writing this letter to your esteemed self. I now have a problem. And since you said that I can share any of my problem with you, I am taking my freedom to do that with this letter.

I do not know how to start…or where to start…because it is a complex problem….like all problems this problem also has a story behind it…

Even though it had been troubling me for some time, I first noticed the problem (clearly) when I got a 360 degree report from my senior, Mr Sharma, the Plant Manager two months back. He called me to his cabin, which is much bigger than mine and made me sit on the soft black leather chair. (I wish HR could distribute those chairs to all managers… for that I will write another time)

Mr Sharma said to me:

“Dattaram here is your 360 degree report. Please go through it. We will discuss this next week. There is also a Leadership Training program next month where you will be coached on the feedback in this report by expert coaches.”

As I went through the 52 page report Sir in my cabin later, I felt lost, confused and heavy (in the head) as I was filled with so much information that I could not make sense of it. And that is when it struck me Sir, the problem, clearly.

You see Sir, in the report my good self has been divided into five categories, and each category has further five divisions. The categories are “Leading Myself”, “Leading Others”, “Leading Business”, “Leading For Growth” and “Leading ….” (I do not remember what the fifth leading is about). I have been rated by my senior manager, my peers, my direct reports on different points such as:

“Do I inspire and grow talent.”

“Do I possess entrepreneur spirit”

“Do I take my team along”

“Do I have strategic outlook”

So on and so forth….

For each of these statement I have been given marks by different people from 1 to 5 (just like it was in my school report), but the problem here is that I do not know who has given me what marks and why has he given me those marks. You see Sir the report says that it wishes to protect the confidentiality of the people giving me marks.

At the end of the report there are written remarks, from people I work with, such as:

“Dattaram is good with technical skills, but requires to focus on developing strategic outlook.”

“Dattaram needs to focus on follow-up and bring more passion to meeting his deadlines”

“Dattaram has to bring greater innovation to the procurement process and get work done from his team, rather than do it himself.”

Now when I read this report I ask my good self.

“Dattaram what do all these marks and statements mean? Who has given what marks and why? Who is writing what and why?” “What it means to be innovative, strategic or getting work from my team?”

As I ponder on all these questions Sir I get lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

So I decide to keep the 360 degree report in my last drawer of my desk, where I keep all such reports that I cannot understand what to do. As I open my drawer I see that it is already full of reports and there is no place for the 52 page 360 degree report. So decide to take out these reports and see what are these reports that have eaten up all the space in my last most drawer. As I arranged them in a pile, one on top of the other, they seemed like a mountain of data about myself. And I feel I am struggling to climb this mountain of reports.

“Your (meaning My) Temperament – August 2007

“FIRO B – May 2008”

“DISC Profiling – June 2009”

“Asessment Center Report – Sep 2010”

“Six Dimension EQ – April 2011”

“Situational Leadership – Oct 2011”

“MBTI, Step 1, Step 2, – Jan 2012”

“Jefferson Spice Extracts Global Value Based Leadership Report – Mar 2012”

These are some of the reports Sir, since I joined the procurement department as manager in 2007.  Prior to that, I was working as a deputy in supply chain and I have got more reports for that designation, that are now lying at my home in the beautiful company quarters. Looking at these reports I deeply think, how much our esteemed American-Indian Company has taken the trouble of developing me into a leader and bettering my work relationship with my colleagues. Please convey my regards to Mr. Jefferson and his family in America and also tell Mr. Jefferson that I try my best to follow his family values of “Innovation, Quality, Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Accountability”.

But coming back to these reports Sir.

“I do not understand them.”

Please forgive me to say this, but keeping in mind our Company value of ethics, I am taking freedom to be honest. These reports are full of scales, alphabets and description, very much like the 360 degree report. They highlight my strengths and weaknesses, some makes sense, some does not, some I agree and some I do not agree. But my question to you Respected Sir, with utmost humility, since you are expert in the field of Human Resources management is:

“What do I do with this mountain of information?”

You see Sir when I was born (sorry for going into flashback suddenly) my grandmother Parvati Waghmare (God bless her soul), got the village priest to draw my horoscope. You see Sir I come from a small village called Nandangaon, 20 kilometres from Satara, a district in Maharashtra. In our village Sir, there is a custom to draw the horoscope of the child as soon as he is born, just as it is in most of India. (I am sure your esteemed self must be having a horoscope too, with very bright stars, which you consult from time to time) Like you know Sir, a horoscope tells in detail about a person’s personality, his qualities, skills, behaviour, likes and dislikes. Not only that, it also tells how much he will study, when he will get married and what work he will do. Also, how much money he will make. And mind you Sir, all this is very scientific based on the planetary positions at the time of a person’s birth.  A lot of these predictions have come true Sir for me, in my life. How else can a poor farmer’s son work as procurement manager in the esteemed company of Mr Jefferson. All of this is written and cannot be changed.

Please do not misunderstand Sir. I am not a fatalist. No, No, No. Not at all. I am firm believer of hard work. I have practised hard work all my life. I would never have survived without it. But I am a practical man. You see Sir,

“I am what I am.”

After reading so much of this analysis of my good self, I feel like the “dead rat” being seen under a microscope in the science laboratory of my college in Satara. There are so many alphabets, labels and numbers given to my attitude and behaviour that I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head).

If you ask me Sir, I still feel like I the same Dattaram Waghmare who joined the Company as a trainee supervisor in 1992. I was sincere, hardworking and believed in good relations with colleagues. I still feel the same. But lately, in the past few years, after undergoing so many tests, assessments and trainings I feel that it is not good enough to be “me” for the work I do. For every role now, there are detailed qualities to develop. There is a special name to it too. That word I find difficult to pronounce. Let me try. They call it the “Comp-e-ten-cy Framework”. And HR, as your good self would know tries it’s best to fit us or develop in us those comp-e-ten-cies that are best suited for our job. This is a new trend Sir, just like this Facebook craze on the internet. (My teenage daughter Priya is all the time on Facebook) So just like Facebook on internet there is this “comp-e-ten-cy framework” trend in Companies.  (Just between you and me Sir, I feel this “comp-e-ten-cy business” is a scheme started by some cunning HR person in partnership with a cunning trainer to fool people into thinking that they are getting developed, so that people take HR seriously and the trainer can make some money)

You see Sir, there are number of competencies prescribed for my job.

  1. Innovation
  2. Strategic Thinking
  3. Team Development
  4. Leadership
  5. Quality
  6. Communication
  7. Execution.

Sir, when I think of all these “comp-e-ten-cies”, I feel lost, confused and heavy (in the head). I do not know what to do. I am simple man Sir and I do my work, have good relations with everyone and try to go back home to my wife and children on time. (You see my wife gets very upset if I come late). These words, ratings and “comp-e-ten-cies” confuse me. Just like sometimes I feel during training programs.

Yes Sir, and that is the second part of my problem.

The problem is that the Company is making so much efforts to “develop” my thinking, my relating, my leadership so that I can give my best performance to the Company. And it is doing all this through testing and training me. But I am now beginning to wonder

“Is all this testing and training to develop my good self a waste of time and money?”

And when I say this Sir, please do not misunderstand me. I am aware of the good intentions of HR for the Company and its employees. I am sharing this with you because I get a feeling that the pure hearted and trusting HR department of our ethical Jefferson Company is getting fooled by consultants and trainers, who charge the Company good money for creating reports and training programs that do not make any difference in the long run.

You see Sir, I have also attended many training programs over the years.

“Coaching for Excellence – Aug 2007”

“Leading For Change – Jan 2008”

“Joy At Workplace – Dec 2008”

“Appreciating Self and Others – Mar 2009”

“Learning From Nature, Outbound Training – June 2010

“Building Teams That Work – March 2011”

“Learning Through Case Studies – October 2011”

“Building Learning Organizations – Jan 2012”

“Out of Bound, Outbound Training – June 2012”

As I write to you Sir, I see at all the group photos on my desk for these training programs and some are pinned on my soft board. It brings back fond memories Sir. Of the games we played, the good places we visited, the hotels we stayed in, the food we ate (some were in five-star hotels, being a poor farmers son, I almost fainted when I saw the quantity of rich type of food available) and the new friends I made from people of other departments.

The formats of all the trainings were more or less the same. Activity, game, group talking, trainer talking, inspirational video, case study, profile testing (Sir I sincerely feel if, HR or any trainer does another profile testing of my good self, I will throw up and become violently sick!), feedback, group discussion, evening party.

I have enjoyed all these trainings and felt filled up with learning and motivation at the end of each of them. Most of my colleagues have felt the same way. And we all have given good feedback in the training forms we fill at the end of the training as you would have noticed. There are few people who believe that these trainings do not make any difference and they are there just to have a good time. I did not believe them Sir. You see Sir, there are always some rotten apples in a basket of good apples, as there is saying in English language. But the problem that I am facing now is that I am beginning to start believing in what these “rotten apples” are saying.

I am beginning to question and wonder what difference have these training programs have made to me, to my relationship or to my work, in the long run. And after some very, very hard thinking I have come to firm conclusion Sir.

“It has not changed anything.”

I continue to be who I am. And my colleagues continue to be who they are. And our working relations (good or bad) is as it always was. And even if something has changed, I do not think it has changed because of testing and training.

You see Sir the impact of each training does not last for more than two days (sometimes lesser). Just like watching the movie of Mr Salman Khan. Youngsters start behaving like Salman Bhai after watching his movies like Dabang and Wanted, but you see Sir the effect does not last very long and very soon they start  behaving in the manner that their horoscope tells them to.

When I used to be young in college at Satara, I used  be a big fan of Sri Amitabh Bachanji. (I still am Sir and our entire family is keenly awaiting the next episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati. I am sure you must be seeing it with your family too.) I went to see this movie Deewar. In the movie Sri Amitabh Bachanji plays angry young man, like in all his movies. But this one had big impact on me. I felt angry at The System for making me poor. For having to work so hard to get even decent education. And for having to collect so much money to marry my sisters. The System, was the villain. And Vijay (Sri Bachanji’s name in the movie) fought The System. Just as I was a victim of The System.

After the movie I felt Vijay’s character had entered into my body. And I joined the college students union to fight The System. But it did not last very long. When the Principal called me to his office and said he would expel me from college for creating a nuisance. I thought of my poor farmer father, my aging mother, the unmarried sisters at home and I started crying. All I wanted was to earn a decent degree and get a secure job so I could get my sisters married and release my mother’s jewellery mortgaged with the village landlord. I did not want to fight The System. I just wanted not to be poor. I wanted money to buy back my village land, a house, take care of my family, get married and live happily. As I am doing now.

Training programs are like that. They make you believe some fancy notion of yourself and you start believing it for a while. But the effect does not last long. It is like filling a balloon with air. It starts bobbing and jumping in the air. But after two days the air comes out and the balloon is back to its original state. Unless someone pricks the balloon and burst the temporary high energy.

I know Sir, you must now be wondering:

“Dattaram I am understanding what you are saying, but what do you want me to do?”

 I understand your impatience Sir and once again apologies for eating your precious time. But I will request your kind patience just for little time more.

You see Sir I share, everything with my wife. (Just as I am sure you do with your wife) She is only tenth standard failed and she comes from small village near mine. (You should come to our house on Sunday and taste the chicken curry she makes, it is a truly Godly and a holy eating experience) One Sunday, I shared with Lakshmi (that is her name and it is also the name of the Goddess of wealth in Hindu tradition. She has lived up to her name Sir, after marriage I have never been short of money, I have enough Sir for a man of my background and you see Sir, I am a practical man), yes, yes I am coming to the point Sir.

I shared with Lakshmi this confused, lost and heavy (in the head feeling) Actually, she noticed even before I shared, and I told her about this 360 degree report that I could not understand. Let me reproduce to you our conversation, so that I do not miss anything. Original conversation was in Marathi, which I have translated in English for your esteemed self.

Lakhsmi: “What is the matter? You seem lost these days?”

My Good Self: “There is a report I cannot understand.”

Lakshmi: “What report?”

My Good Self: “A report where my senior, colleagues and juniors have said something about me.”

Lakshmi: “What have they said about you?”

My Good Self: “That is what I cannot understand. It is all in scales, graphs, percentages, ratings. And what they have written is general. I do not even know who has written what and why he has written it?”

Lakhsmi: “Have they not written their names against what they have said?”

My Good Self:  “No. Because their identity has to be protected?”

Lakhmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: “Because…..that is the way it is, as per the report.”

Lakshmi: “Why?”

My Good Self: <silent>

Lakshmi: “So you are saying, that to tell each other something at work, you do it through a report that you cannot understand?  And none of you writes his name after what he is saying?”

My Good Self: <Head nodding> (Indian way of saying yes)

Lakshmi: (stirring the chicken curry) “Why don’t you simply talk to each other?”

That is when it hit me Sir. Like a sudden FLASH of Lightning!

“Why don’t we simply talk to each other!”

After all Sir we work for the same esteemed Jefferson Company. And we all are in the Company to meet our needs by meeting the Company’s needs. We know each other well. Then why do we not talk to each other.

We can talk about what we feel about our work, about our policies, about our leadership, about what we think and feel about each other, about our differences, about our strengths, about other departments, about EVERYTHING! And all this talking can help us work effectively, with greater motivation and team work.

What I have noticed Sir, is that we never seem to have conversations that matter. We waste so much time and energy in maintaining appearances? In generating reports and doing trainings that do not bring any meaningful long-term change? And most importantly Sir I feel we have complicated everything, simply because we wish to appear knowledgeable and learned.

Most conversations are about what does not matter. Most conversations never touch the core of the issue. Come to think of it the most important and honest conversations happen over a cigarette or a cutting chai (or even in the bathroom), in unguarded moments, not in the conference or the board room.

I am now wondering how to get these bathroom conversations into the board room?

I feel when we can talk freely among ourselves then we will not need reports, tests and trainings to complicate matters.

I am not sure though if people will talk so easily. Will they trust each other? Or will we start fighting like little children? Or will it be, like some people say “Opening a Pandora’s Box”. (I wonder who Mr. Pandora is and why do people keep opening his box, without his permission?)

I do not know for sure Sir. But what I am certain of Sir, is that these reports and trainings are eating our Company’s valuable time and energy and not delivering anything worthwhile.

What we need Sir perhaps is someone like the wise old man in our village. Whenever people had a problem in our village, they would go to him. He would get both parties to talk to each other, sometimes more than two parties. Everyone got a chance to share what they wanted, everyone got a chance to hear what the others had to say and invariably when people were honest with each other, they found their own solutions. There was no need for any politics and manipulation.

What we need Sir, perhaps is not consultant and trainers, but a wise old man (like the one in my village) who can encourage people to talk and share and find their own solutions. Simply, without all this complexity. They even have a term for this Sir. I checked with Mr. Sharma and also saw it in the dictionary.

It is called facilitate.

We need someone who can facilitate meaningful conversations among us. Like that old man, never taking any sides, of the richer or the poorer, of the powerful or the weak. That is why we trusted him. He simply let people talk to each other. And he shared his views whenever needed. And let me tell you Sir, the views of the old man were very valuable indeed. For he could see what neither of us could see. Since we were so close to the situation. He saw from the outside and having learnt from life’s experience, he also saw from inside of us. And what he had to offer was truly valuable.

I do not know Sir, where we can find such a old man, for old men are not produced in MBA colleges. Neither are all old men wise.

What I do know, is that we need someone (young or old) who can facilitate honest conversations among us. Someone who we can trust, like the old man in our village. And who can work with our company for a long enough time. I feel just as every family has a family doctor, every company must have such a old man.

I believe Sir, if we really search we will surely find. There is a saying in Hindi Sir “If you try hard enough you can find God”

My apologies once again for eating your time with this long letter. But I do feel it is in the best interest of our esteemed Company to invest our valuable resources of time and money wisely, in these hard times. And as you know there is a saying in English:

 “A stitch in time, saves nine.”

Even though I am not quite sure of what it exactly means Sir, it just feels right to use it now. Finally I am left with a question that has been playing on my mind for these past few days. It keeps revolving in my head and I do not have any answer. I would like to share it with you Dear Respected HR Director Sir and I am hoping you will be able to offer me some wisdom from the vast ocean of your knowledge. Sir the question is:

“Why is it so difficult to be simple?”

I await your response to the question and my letter with great anticipation.

Please forgive any mistakes of my good self, while writing this letter to your esteemed self.

I remain your faithful employee of Jefferson Spice Extracts (India) Pvt. Ltd.

Dattaram Waghmare

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I was excited when I first went through the brochure of the Learning Societies Unconference. For two reasons. One, it was a gathering of people, in a manner I had never experienced before. Two, they seemed my kind of people. They were expecting more than three hundred people from across the world, with a variety of backgrounds to explore new ways of learning and living. Moreover, there was no structure to the conference; hence, it was called the un-conference. It would emerge as we went along. It worked for me. Anything that questioned mainstream education and economics and believed in going with the flow definitely had my vote. It seemed as though I had found my community at last.

As I reached Hideout, the rural venue, three hours from Mumbai, it took me a while to settle into the variety of people I suddenly came across. People who had attended earlier conferences greeted each other with shouts and hugs, like long lost family members. I smiled politely and shook hands. I was new to this family. Yet the distinctive character of the community was felt. These were people who had walked out of mainstream institutions, schools and corporations, and were searching for new ways of educating their children and living more authentic lives. Some had covered ground in that journey, while others were just beginning. Most importantly, it gave me a sense of community. I felt mainstream here!

The next five days were to be devoted to learning, sharing, listening and bonding. Each day began with an open space and members offered to hold workshops on a variety of topics. The workshops offered were mind-boggling! Ranging from the power of spaces, making of caps, sharing unschooling experiences, effective listening, radical honesty, creative letter writing, tarot cards, non-violent communication, belly dancing and the much anticipated unconventional relationships – to name a few. I offered one on finding inner authority. Then there were mela-shops of different organizations doing a variety of work in the developmental sector ranging from education to ecology. This seemed like a learners paradise.

I floated mostly. Without any agenda.  Allowing the day to unfold. Here is what I learnt.

On Learning

My primary learning was that learning and unlearning is a myth. There is nothing to learn or unlearn. Every learning or unlearning results in a new answer. Another concept. And each concept comes in the way of experiencing life. We keep replacing old concepts with new ones and perpetuate the illusion of learning. Giving precedence to learning over living.

Each time I think I have found a new way to live, to relate, to educate I feel fortified with answers. Until the answers crumble when dashed against the incomprehensible mystery of life. Then the mind searches for new answers, new masters, new books, new theories. Once it finds the new answer, it rests for a while. Until the cycle is repeated. Little realizing that the problems of living stem from the mind, the questions come from the mind and the mind finds the answers too. The mind labels this activity learning or unlearning. A poor substitute to living.

On Relating

Just as the nature of the mind is to create constructs, we look for the ideal construct to relate. Marriage, the traditional construct having failed, the mind now looks for new answers through unconventional relationships. Each construct – open marriages, polyamory, fidelity, commitment – is picked and examined closely. A hidden hope that the exploration would give the magical key into this mysterious terrain of relating between a man and a woman. Some of us have questions, some have answers, while others have stories to share.

In the search for a new construct, I realize that I am missing a crucial moment of relating. To myself, in this very moment.  And if I am not relating to myself, how will I ever relate to another.  Thus theories, concepts and constructs relate to one another other, leaving feelings unfelt and needs unarticulated.

On Authority    

Every time I seek an answer from another, I create authority. Every time I give an answer to another, I become an authority. From some I seek answers. To others I give answers. What is common is my need for answers. Where does this need stem from? What is it like to live without answers? Is it possible?

Yet I speak. I speak of how to be free, when I am bound. I speak of becoming independent, when I cultivate dependence. I speak of relating, when I myself do not relate. I speak to humans, when my own humanness awaits expression. Have I become a commentator on living, at the cost of living?

On Freedom

Does freedom mean being unbounded? What if my unbounded expression creates inconvenience to another? How does one then live as a free individual within an interdependent community? Is being free flowing, allowing for chaos to create, letting it evolve organically, indicative of my ignorance or my reactiveness to the system that confined me for so long? Can individual freedom truly exist without agreed norms and boundaries?

In the absence of basic norms, who decides? In absence of clear time boundaries, who waits? In the absence of clear roles, what remains undone? If my primary purpose is to learn, when will I learn that freedom and boundaries go hand in hand?

On Sensitivity

I talk of being sensitive to the environment, to nature, to the value of hard work and honest labour. But what of my sensitivity in communication to fellow human beings. Does not sensitivity have more than one flavour?  How swayed am I by my commitment to a singular value, that I am blinded to my own verbal violence? Am I so lost in my own story of sensitivity that I do not see my insensitivity to others?

How different am I from the terrorist or the rioter who kills for his value? Have I lost my sensitivity and rationality in my story of self-righteousness?

On Facilitation

I wish to facilitate inclusiveness. Facilitate listening. Restore peace and harmony. What is my need to do so? In the process am I giving up my authenticity to play a role, live up to an image of what I aspire to be? Am I listening to myself? Am I at peace and harmony? Have I explored myself deeply enough or am I seeking solutions from the outside?

What would happen if I gave up the security of a technique to communicate? Or the crutch of an approach to facilitate?  What if I got up one day to see all that I had learnt had been erased? Would I then get in touch with what I felt in the moment? Would I then risk becoming vulnerable to express my need to another? Or would I become immobilized if there was no one to facilitate me? And I run to find another mask that would make me socially loved and accepted?

On Feelings

Why is it so hard for me to be in touch with my feelings? The most fundamental aspect of my being. What draws my energy constantly towards the concepts and theories of the mind? Seeking answers, giving answers in a symbolic language that by its very nature is untrue, fragmented and static. Inadequate to meet the needs of a life that is dynamic, animated and whole. How do I perceive this whole without fragmentation?

Am I myself fragmented? Seeking completion, belonging and acceptance from family, friends and community? Will my search ever end?

On Creating A New World

In my pursuit to create a new world, a better world, for my children and the generations to come, am I missing out on another world? The world inside of me. Have I ever looked inside. Not introspecting, analyzing or interpreting, but simply looked and noted without words. Or am I so busy setting the world right that I have no time to stop and note the world I carry within.

Can I ever bring integration outside, if I am divided inside? Can I bring peace and harmony to the world, without bringing it first into my heart and mind? Is the world a reflection of my own mind? Am I the world?

 ***

During the conference I stayed in a dormitory in the home for the aged run by Christian nuns. It was reminiscent of my growing years in a convent boarding school. There was fixed time for everything. The gates of the home shut at 10.00 pm sharp. Often we had to wait outside in the hope that the Sister would be kind enough to open it. She mostly did and we would scamper inside muttering “Sorry” under our breath.

What I loved most about the place was the lake adjoining it. There was a dam and the water flowed into a small pond with rocks and pebbles. I went there for a bath every morning. It became my morning ritual. Often as I used to go for my bath, I would come across a few participants gazing at the sun. Drawing energy from it. Everything about the place was so energising. The cool air, the green cover, the gushing waters, the still rocks.

As I stepped into the waters and took the first dip. I entered another world. A fluid world of swirling gushing current. The world above me lost for a moment. Till I emerged for a breath of air. The sun continued to shine radiantly. The morning breeze played harmoniously with the trees, caressing the leaves with playful curiosity. For moment everything seemed perfect. Everything in nature seemed as it was meant to be.

Was I not an integral part of nature? Why then why did I seek perfection? Change? Evolution? Growth? Standing right in the middle of The Garden of Eden I sought it everywhere, other than where it seemed to be. Inside of me.

As I arrived in Mumbai I needed a day to ground myself. Even though I had traveled a mere three hours, I experienced a mental-emotional jet lag of many eons. I felt as though I had journeyed into the cosmos of each person present there, a catharsis leading to a realignment of my own cosmos.

Bringing me closer to myself.

***

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a facilitator’s journey

Mumbai, March 2011

“You can consider them for PR” wrote Aditya Natraj, founder of Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) in a mail to his colleague Tripti Vyas, marking us a copy on it. “PR?” I thought. Public Relations. We don’t do PR?! Yet I was keen to work with Kaivalya in any capacity. I had read the blog posts of a few Gandhi Fellows – the term used for the youngsters undergoing a two-year full time, residential leadership programme called the Gandhi Fellowship. The authenticity of their sharing and the earthiness of their challenges engaged me.

The Fellowship recruits graduates and postgraduates from colleges across the country and puts them through an intense experiential learning process. They work at the grass roots, as assistants to headmasters in ailing government schools. During this journey the Fellows go through a variety of self-transformative processes of personal reflection, slum or village immersion (staying with slum dwellers or villagers for four weeks as one of them), learning journeys (attending a vipassana camp, group visits to development organizations, articulation of their private dreams). It is a rigorous experience and a social experiment of sorts, that brings together youngsters from a variety of geographies, classes, cultures and ideologies. As the KEF website states, “The Fellowship is a nursery that raises youngsters’ aspirations and inspires them to become the change they want to see in the world.”

Having got a taste of the Fellowship world reading their experiences, I was eager to work with these youngsters, desirous of real change – inside and outside. It was also a first of its kind long-term residential programme that I had ever come across, whose primary focus is on self-awareness and personal growth. It was a welcome change from working with corporates, where inspite of repeated clarion calls for human change, the primary focus continues to be target achievement and wealth creation.

We met Tripti Vyas, Head of the Gandhi Fellowship programme, at our office one lazy afternoon. Having taught English literature for twelve years I noticed her articulation was word-perfect. She also enlightened us what PR meant. Personal Reflection. We heaved a collective sigh of relief. This seemed closer to what we did. The fellows underwent three PR processes over a period of two years. Each process is spread over five days, with the primary objective of creating awareness towards relating with self and others.  As the discussions proceeded over the next few days, Kaivalya grew confident of our facilitation skills and we drew reassurance from their values that resonated with ours. Soon we were contracted for the PR process of forty Gandhi Fellows at Ahmedabad.

Ahmedabad, May 2011

The first thing that hit me at Ahmedabad in May was the searing heat. The second was forty youngsters singing Chetana Geet at full lung capacity. There were youngsters in all shapes and sizes. A whirlpool of colourful headgear, long beards, trendy T-shirts, short kurtas, lengthy bermudas. This truly was a social churning pot!

We divided the youngsters randomly into three groups for separate PR sessions with different facilitators. We had kept the design simple. Ask one person at a time to choose any question that is most relevant to his life at the moment and explore that question deeply from multiple perspectives. The other participants would assist in his exploration with their own questions. After the exploration was over the person would be requested to share his feelings and insights if any. The organizational focus was on facilitating each person to find his private dream and helping him to articulate it. Our focus was on getting the person to touch a chord within himself that reverberated deeply and gave an insight into his question. Somewhere in the process we hoped to bridge feeling with purpose.

I began kayaking (facilitating) the river of self-exploration with the fellows.

It started with easy paddling into the waters of introduction.  As the first person volunteered for exploration, the water flowed faster.  Post that I came across a few small rapids. “Is this all there is to the design?” “What is our concrete take away or action points?” The kayak shook slightly. I peddled saying “Yes this is all there is to the design. Why not be patient and give it a try? As regards action points, is not our surreal inner world made of ever changing thoughts and feelings. Yet we want bulleted action points to make us feel that we have learnt something new about ourselves. Does it result in any real transformation?” I manoeuvred the first rapid.

I would not do it the same way now, based on what I have learnt over time of kayaking. Taking responsibility for someone else’s learning and giving them explanations for my design and approach, is not the best kayaking move. It puts me in a parental mode and the other person in a child mode. We stop relating as equal adults.

As I moved further down the river, I came across another rapid. Something someone did affected me adversely. I chose to overlook it. Not only did I choose to overlook it, I overlooked it more than once. Now from what I have learnt about kayaking, this is a criminal thing to do. It is akin to your kayak hitting a rock and developing a hole in it. A little water is beginning to seep in. I let it be, saying it is not much bother. It is just a teeny-weeny hole. Another rock another hole. Very soon, the boat will have enough water to capsize. That is precisely what happened with me. Not expressing my anger as it occurred, at the specific person, for the specific situation, bottled up feelings inside me and made me feel vulnerable later. It came out as a general volatile expression to the entire group.  It left the group confused and alienated from me. The kayak was beginning to topple over. No amount of skillful paddling would help. Neither, did I have any skill or energy to paddle in such gushing waters. I did the only thing I could. Let go. I got in touch with my feelings in the moment and responded from that space, without any attachment to outcome. This is the best kayaking move that one can ever master. Just flow with the force of the river. Don’t try to master it. Submit to it. Unfortunately surrendering can never be learnt through effort, it happens when all effort comes to naught.

Even though the kayak fell down a huge waterfall, it survived. The natural flow of the river brought it back to course. I was totally drenched and exhausted, yet in one piece. As we continued on our journey, the rapids were less lethal. Perhaps we had encountered our worst fall and survived it together. As the journey came to an end after five days, I was shaky and scattered. I needed some quality “looking at the ceiling time”. As Tripti mentioned in one of our funnier moments, it is that time when you are hit so hard by life, that all you can do is lie down on your bed and stare at the ceiling. I did my time and learnt a few lessons. The primary lesson being,a feeling of humility that comes from experiencing your vulnerability.

Mumbai, June 2011

I have realized two distinct organizational behaviours about Kaivalya over time. Their legendary planning and their proficient use of acronyms. Both of which we have learnt to be comfortable with over time. Tripti mentioned to us in our post PR meeting at a Mumbai coffee shop “We have planned the PR1 for GF4 will from 17th to 21st October”.  PR meant Personal Reflection. GF meant Gandhi Fellows. Some other acronyms used are. PM for Programme Manager. PL for Programme Leader. VI for Village Immersion. SI for Slum Immersion. LJ for Learning Journeys.  LQ for Learning Quality. People are mostly addressed by their initials. I often joke that they should come up with a Kaivalya acronym dictionary. “It will be 100 fellows this time. We have decided to scale up the fourth batch” she added. I gulped my green tea anticipating what that would be like. I had forgotten Kaivalya’s third behaviour. Scalability!

As October approached, we were told that the PR would happen in Rajasthan at Jhunjhunu. Each batch would have about 15 to 18 fellows and the time would be approximately four days. This was a bigger challenge, a faster river. More people, less time. We came up with another simple boat design, to traverse this rapid. Each person at a time, chooses any one person in the group who he wants to relate to and starts relating. Once he is done, everyone in the group gives him feedback about how they experienced him and what in their view could have made the relating better.

Jhunjhunu, October 2011

This was my first trip to Rajasthan. The first thing I noticed on our way from Jaipur to Jhunjhunu was my skin felt stretched and dry. The second thing I noticed was that my work partner Payal kept asking, “How is the weather in Rajasthan?”  I raised my eyebrows. Were we not already in Rajasthan! It later came to light that for some inexplicable reason she equated Rajasthan with the desert. This became our standing joke throughout the trip, apart from my bag being the heaviest for a five-day trip! After a heavy oily highway meal, with the best buttermilk I have ever tasted we reached Jhunjhunu late evening.

The next day mid-morning we met all the hundred fellows in the hall. This time I felt more confident. It was like starting on another adventurous journey, after having learnt some lessons from the previous one. I began by reading a quote tattooed on one young man’s arm in Hebrew “If I am not there for myself, then who is? If I am not there for another, then who am I? If not now, then when?” I felt the meaning of that quote would experientially unfold for us in the next few days to come.

We had made a long list of all that we would say for context setting. Like an instructor narrating the security instructions before the kayak hits the water, we began telling what the passengers of this kayaking experience could expect, what would help them to get there, what approach we would take and what our expectations were from them. The core message was, what we meant by self-awareness. Not reflection. Not analysis. Not introspection. It was being aware of what was happening to me right now! I snapped my finger for effect. Right now! After we were done with the context setting, we got a lot of resistance. “The Buddha says there is no such thing as the now.” “Is it not necessary to be selfish?”  “Do you mean to say we should stop using our intellect?” “How can I trust you when I have been betrayed earlier?” The kayaking had begun. I was surprised and glad to come across this collective rapid at the start of our journey. It gave us a chance to emphasize that the PR process was not mandatory. Each individual could exercise his choice whether he wished to be a part of it or not. Just as we could choose who to work with or not. There was full freedom for all concerned.  Of course with full freedom also comes full responsibility. Having said that I felt absolved of being a parental figure to them and sensed that they were now ready to take responsibility for their learning and making their own choices. It was an important equalizing process, of relating adult to adult. A mandatory requirement for kayaking.

I was allocated the Udaipurwati group. As we settled into the room, I started the kayaking expedition with introductions and meanings of each name. It amazes me at times how much one can learn about a person simply by what his name means and how he relates to it. They wanted to know more about me. I shared my journey with them. I shared the design of the boat that we would travel in the next four days. One person took the initiative and selected a person to relate. The first movements were very formal and stiff. Almost like seeking information from another, with no reciprocation, self-disclosure, curiosity or experiencing of self or another.  The next few interactions continued like that, with little spontaneity and greater self-consciousness. As we moved onto day two one person broke the spontaneity barrier and chatted heart-to-heart, clearing old misunderstanding and blocks. Then another did it. Then they started getting a hang of it. And then…boredom set in. Someone said if this was all there was to the design then she felt bored and she was speaking for some others in the group. I thought about what she said, and tried to get them to move to a space of here and now relating, where one explores relating as and when a feeling happens, be it anything – anger or affection. I tried various ways to get them to understand what I meant, through experimentation and role-plays; to no avail. Then came the turning point in our expedition. Someone mentioned “I am confused tell me what to do?” That made me angry.  I was not a parental figure to take care of her confusion; neither was she a child to seek my help whenever vulnerable. I was struggling in this learning journey as much as she was. Yet this incident gave me a ray of hope, to explore my anger with her, then and there. And then, the group began to get what it means to relate with feelings that are alive right now, irrespective of whether the incident happened five years back, six months back, yesterday or just now! The sooner we explored our feelings in relation to someone the better it is. It avoids judgements and unnecessary baggage. It could result in either greater trust or clear choices. The kayak had manoeuvred this difficult turn in the river successfully.

From then on the group moved seamlessly into relating about clearing past misunderstandings or expressing what they felt about something or someone there and then! Some members were so taken up by the idea of relating in the “here and now” that any discussion of past events was considered a waste of time, even though some authentic sharing was happening.  It seemed that their “conceptual idea” of here and now stopped them from being in touch with others and their own feeling in the moment.

As we cruised the river of relating, a radical thought started germinating in me. “How would this boat travel if I as the principal boatman did nothing!? Would the passengers be able to paddle and manage this boat on their own? Or would it capsize? I had never tried something like this in any of my previous expeditions. I took the chance. First, I stopped telling them what to do, then I walked out of the room, telling them that they were doing fine and that I would return in sometime. I walked down. Poured myself a cup of tea. Took a long walk. Went to my room. Rested for a while. I returned to the boat after two hours. As I sat down, I heard that they had designed a new boat for us to travel in. A process by which each person would get a feedback from another.  They requested me to also participate in the process. At that moment, something magical happened. The best thing that can happen to a kayak boatman.

The kayak had turned into a long canoe with all of us sitting divided on either side of the boat paddling together. Just like the snake boat used during the Kerala boat festival. It was miraculous! The kayak instead of capsizing had become a bigger boat that could accommodate all of us, with each one of us taking responsibility for our own paddling! Even though I had strongly resisted being a parental figure, I felt just as a proud parent would, on seeing his children become independent. The journey perhaps was not of the kayak, traversing the river. The journey was of transforming the kayak into a canoe. The ultimate accomplishment for any facilitator of human processes.

Mumbai, November 2011

“It was a powerful design” said Tripti, sipping her coffee at our regular meeting place. “What is better is that it is scalable. We are looking at around 250 Gandhi Fellows in the next batch.” I wondered what that would be like?

We would need many more boats to take so many people on river expeditions. The need was now to train more boatmen to launch many more kayaking expeditions. As I shared this, I saw the seed of a social change revolution begin to sprout.

It felt good watering this plant.

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“What do you do?” We are often asked. The question leaves us stumped. Depending on who’s asking, our answers may range from – organisation development, HR consulting, leadership development or team building. Some people end up thinking we offer life skills. Well the actual answer is peculiar. We do neither of the above, yet all of the above. Let me explain.

First, why is it difficult to explain what we do? Second, what we do and what emerges out of it.

My work is purely experiential, hence difficult to explain. It is like asking someone eating a chocolate ice cream what does it taste like. He will say “it tastes like chocolate ice cream”. Now, if you have tasted chocolate ice cream you will recall that taste from memory. But if you have never eaten it before, then chocolate ice cream are simply words and you are as clueless as before.  Since what I do is not something I have experienced others do, I don’t really have words to explain it. In which case I use common words that people will relate to – OD, HR, Training, Coaching etc. Of course these have so many connotations based on the listener’s association with these words, that he simply puts my work under one of these buckets, and is quite satisfied thinking he has understood what I do. But that is not what I do.

So what do I do? Simply put, I engage people in conversations. With themselves or with each other. It is my belief that all that is manifest in the outer world is on account of the inner conversations of people. These conversations may comprise of beliefs, values, ideas, notions, concepts, theories, philosophies, prejudices, perceptions, views, opinions, judgements. Call it what you may, all these form part of our inner conversation, that becomes our self-identity. When this personal inner world relates to another person’s inner world it creates a relationship. When there are more people bound together, it creates a culture. Cultures gives rise to systems, processes, policies – stated or unstated- to manage a social unit. Be it a family, organisation or a nation.

In the work we have done, I have observed that engaging people in facilitative conversations brings awareness of mindsets, values, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, roles, systems. It also highlights how these are related to each other and helps to identify what is functional and dysfunctional in a particular situation. These conversations are very real. By that I mean pertinent to the person’s current life situation. Since neither of this is intellectual or cognitive, it impacts people at a feeling level. These conversations have the capability to impact mindsets and beliefs, during the course of the conversations itself. Even views the person may hold about himself. Quite unlike intellectual learning, where concepts are gathered, to be put to good use later. Which in my experience rarely happens. It only adds to the concept bank of a person, without creating any shift in consciousness.

So what use is this? The beauty of it is, that it can be put to any use. Ranging from helping individuals get in touch with themselves more deeply, facilitating full self-expression to building organisation cultures. The outcome is mostly a by-product of these conversations. A recent interview and interactive process we did with the leadership team of an organization to my mind built individual and group self-awareness, opened communication blocks, examined individual styles to organizational roles, identified key organizational blocks, built ownership to the organisation brand and vision and identified the next strategic initiatives for organizational growth. Did we start with these objectives? No. We simply started and ended with facilitating conversations that were unarticulated. Bringing multiple perspectives to awareness for exploration and enhancing the gestalt of an individual to experience himself and another. Whatever objectives were achieved, were an outcome that of that process.

I often tell people, what I do cannot be told or sold. It can only be experienced and recommended. People who have experienced our work and found value in it, become our brand ambassadors. We recently did a group coaching exercise for young adults, as a part of a two year leadership program called Gandhi Fellowship. Enclosed below is a testimonial from Tripti, the Head of that program. It was one of the most fulfilling assignments and the comprehensive testimonial is reflective of how we work. Even though the focus in this assignment was the individual and not the organisation, our approach in all cases remain the same. Facilitating the unsaid.

In conclusion I am reminded of the saying “The proof of the pudding lies in eating it.”

And, knowing what Flow does lies in experiencing it!

Testimonial from Kaivalya Education Foundation

{http://www.gandhifellowship.org}

Flow conducted a five day Personal Reflection process for the fellows of the Gandhi Fellowship program. The brief to Flow was to design a process that would enhance the fellows’ self-awareness, get them to systematically begin exploring the question, “Who am I?” and thus be able to reach clarity about themselves so as to enable each fellow to articulate to herself his/her early version of their ‘private dream’; which is a the pivot around which the Gandhi Fellowship program is designed.

 Flow had to design a process that explored the innermost questions of each individual but it had to be done in a group and it had to be designed for 40 people. How to design a standard process that can be customized to the needs of each individual? And most importantly how to do this an environment that is emotionally and psychologically safe? These were the issues around which Flow had to work.

 Added to this was the challenge that these were no regular corporate employees, who would do a process simply because they had been asked to. The Fellows are individuals who will not do anything only for the sake of it and they are people who will ask questions and demand reasons for what they are getting in to.

 Flow Consulting designed a process that effectively and intelligently worked around the above-mentioned challenges and constraints. The design of the process was accurate to the last minute and yet left room for ideas and emotions to flow when needed. Within a tight design there was room for adaptation, participation and even co-facilitation. The beauty of the process was that by the second day fellows themselves had begun to contribute to the facilitation process.

 The process stretched the limits of all, the fellows and of members from Flow Consulting too. A process of such intense nature that extends for five days can be a emotionally and psychologically draining but Ajay, Payal and Jaya flowed through the ebb and flow of intense emotions with consummate ease.

 What I appreciate most was their ability to connect with, respect and appreciate the uniqueness of the Gandhi Fellows. This attitude percolated to the fellows and so they were able to draw  real appreciation and respect from the Fellows.

The most evident outcome of the process has been that the Fellows have learnt how to accept the emotion they are feeling at a given moment and  then give word to their emotions. This ability to connect to the ebb and flow of one’s emotions is the first step towards taking responsibility for one’s feelings, which in turn is a giant step in reaching true maturity. Flow has made a huge contribution to this growth in the journey of the 40 fellows.

Tripti Vyas

Head: Gandhi Fellowship Programme

Kaivalya Education Foundation

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