A Tactical Meetings is a meeting which uses a specific process to structure discussions and decisions. The process is part of the holocracy model and is often adopted by self-managing teams. Holocracy, and some of the processes it uses, can be very appealing to teams and organisations which prefer to focus on what needs to be done in order to become self-managing. Good processes can be hugely beneficial and in health and care and better ways of getting things done are very attractive. They tap into the concern we have about efficiency and spending as much of our time and resource as possible with the people we are caring for. Minimising the time spent and maximising the efficacy of meetings is a good thing. However, if teams and organisations are not also paying attention and dedicating time and effort to the issue of wholeness; adopting these methods and misapplying selected elements of holocracy can make current challenges much worse. As the breakthroughs of wholeness and evolutionary purpose are often more challenging for traditional health and care organisation and their leaders, there is a tendency to focus on the self-managing team aspect and concentrate on processes that enable this. Below are two case examples from my work which help illustrate this.
Tactical meetings were adopted by a new subsidiary business set up to be self-managing. It involved a team spread over a large geography. The new business intended to make good use of technology and be very efficient with time. Team members would not need to meet unless they were delivering a service together. All team interactions were online and tactical team meetings took place as a video-conference. Some staff worked part time for the new subsidiary business and part time for the parent company. Team members working in the established parent company met regularly in their shared office and naturally transacted business for the subsidiary company in this existing office space too. As holocracy had not been adopted as a whole system, there were gaps in communication information was not accessible to staff located outside the physical office. In the subsidiary company Tactical Meetings were held weekly and lasted between 30 minutes and an hour. Members not present in the parent company office found these meetings confusing and unhelpful. They often felt ill-informed, excluded and frustrated that there were not enough opportunities to discuss their work and develop relationships with colleagues in the Tactical Meetings. There was no other opportunity outside them. Staff working in the parent company office viewed the dissatisfaction expressed as due to the new team members having difficulty adjusting to the Tactical Meeting process and advised them to read the holocracy literature. Relationships had not developed that enabled these difficult issues to be discussed in more depth. The subsidiary business struggled to make progress and the team saw a 40% staff turnover rate in its first year.
In a large organisation an established team had problematic weekly team meetings that lasted at least 2 hours. Staff were frustrated that these meetings often failed to make progress and some team members admitted to avoiding them if possible. The team agreed to try a Tactical Meeting approach. They found it tough to comply with the rigid format and at first, keeping and updating records and formally preparing proposals outside of the meeting felt like an extra task the team did not have time for. The team persevered and within a month the tactical meeting process enabled weekly business to be progressed in 30 to 40 minutes. The team paid close attention to relationships and wholeness in developing their work together as a self-managing team. The Leadership did not demand the time released by the Tactical Meeting process to be turned over to more “doing” but allowed the team to make its own decisions about how to use the time. The team used it to implement new practices which strengthened their relationships and ability to be together. In the newly released “Team Time” staff brought their lunch to share to the first 20 minutes of the meeting and used it to catch up with each other as colleagues and friends. They then scheduled the remaining time to concentrate on things that they viewed as important. This included discussions on new best practice and legislation, enabling them to develop professionally as individuals and as a team. They also held discussions about how they were experiencing organisational policies and the impact these were having on their practice. These conversations explored how their work was aligning with their team and personal values and purpose and informed actions they took on this. Deep conversation and learning enabled significant enhancements of practice to the benefit of the organisation. This was possible because of the attention paid to the needs of team members and developing and maintaining trusting relationships in the team.
New ways of working deliver real benefits when all aspects are pursued with intention. It is possible to implement self-managing processes in isolation from wholeness and evolutionary purpose, but these will not deliver and may even cause harm. Whilst it can seem a familiar and attractive option, the focus on processes alone help perpetuate the thinking, attitudes and behaviours which created the challenges we currently face. Only by focusing on practice and adopting practices that enable wholeness and enhance our ability to sense and pursue purpose can self-managing systems deliver the benefits they promise to health and care.
Jane Pightling has experience across the public, private and charitable sector. Through her work in the NHS Leadership Academy and her consultancy Evolutionary Connections she developed complex systems leadership capacity, providing training, coaching programmes and establishing networks and communities of practice to sustain learning. She maintains her social work registration and her commitment to person centred and community focused approaches. Jane has a deep interest in the potential offered by new ways of working, designing and building organisations and communities that can best deliver this kind of service. She works mainly with organisations in the health and care sector to develop approaches that design in autonomy, wholeness and purpose.