Slow down to speed up later

Cambridgeshire Oct10

Soon I will be travelling for ten days to Cayman and the USA, blending seeing clients, family, friends.

Whilst most of my active clients are on retainers, over the years I’ve built deep relationships with a number of clients who call me in periodically to support them as needed.

One such client overseas has asked me to spend a day with their team on this trip. When I asked them what they would like me to support them with, the client principal, with lots of experience of the work, sent a list of three specific tools and frameworks they’d like me to cover with the team.

Simple enough, at one level, but today let me use this example, as well as a story around the photo above, to explain what I mean by:

Slow down to speed up later

First, to the photo above. A stunning fen in Cambridgeshire. If you look up the word fen, you may read it means: “the flat low-lying areas of eastern England, mainly in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and Norfolk, formerly marshland but largely drained for agriculture since the 17th century.”

These gorgeous fens, part of a massive expanse of farmland in the area, do indeed have the feel of being very much unchanged since the 17th century. Quite beautiful, and this particular October day the temperature rose from a chill start to over 20c by late morning. Wonderful!

Two weeks earlier, I had been in the same place with the same person and their dog, as I wrote about in “Slowing down – walking the dog“, and in which post I gave one or two personal thoughts on the value of slowing down for me. This time, however, a different learning. On this occasion, the two of us again took his dog for a walk for about two hours, but then we went to the local pub for an early lunch.

Now, in all of this, including the walk two weeks ago, there was a business purpose. On this occasion, my co-creator mentioned that he had given a lot of thought to the book he had written as the source material for a programme we are developing and had written some notes to “deconstruct” it, writing some keywords and phrases down.

After our walk, as we sat in the old pub with a pint of local beer and before and after eating our sausage and mashed potatoes (SO good!), he talked me through his notes. As I listened intently, ideas started flowing effortlessly and at speed. Ideas for the design and flow of the programme, what exercises we could create for the participants, which master facilitator would champion which theme, these ideas and so much more.

All of this came forth in only about an hour or so, like a fire hose gushing water in a torrent. As we got into the car a little later for my ride back to the railway station, my friend noted: “what a super productive lunch that was !”

My initial reaction was that it wasn’t surprising, as we played to our individual strengths to gel and create something.

On a little reflection though, I recognised that we had moved particularly fast, and a key reason why that could happen was that we had invested time, our dog walking, in really getting to understand each other at different levels.

We had done this, as we both saw real value in what we could create, so had started out by patiently taking the time to build a relationship, to build understanding, to build trust.

With that in place, the two of us, with decades of experience between us in complementary areas of expertise, were able to create something in about an hour that may have taken some others days or weeks.

In short, we chose to:

Slow down to speed up later

So, to the client example.

First, it is marvellous to be back working with a client team who I’ve done some really in-depth work with before. Though I haven’t worked with this client for about two years, the trust and understanding between us are already really deep from past experience so my usual process for a day with a team of multiple planning meetings and calls could be compressed down to an email and one call.

The email, as noted above, simply noted the three tools and frameworks that the client principal was looking for me to deliver. With the theme here of slowing down to speed up later, though, I then approached this with a coaching mindset, looking on the call to understand what the underlying situation, energy, status of the team is that had them first ask to spend the day with me, and second, to choose these three tools and frameworks.

Given the trust and understanding already present, on the call I was able to ask the client pointed and direct questions and they quickly shared what the underlying issues were to focus on.

You see, clients don’t come to me to deliver tools and frameworks, to train them. Yes, I’ve got the knowledge and experience for this and will do such delivery, but what they are always really looking for me to bring is to support them in looking at “what is really going on”, without judgement or opinion, then help them create alignment and leave with clarity on how to move forward. In other words, I bring the tools of a trainer, facilitator, consultant, and at the same time, there is group coaching going on to help the client team reach their own answers.

When I first started out with such work, I did less advance planning, and if a client was as clear as this one was by email (that they need me to deliver three specific tools and frameworks to the team), I might have just prepared the tools and delivered them as training alone. From years of experience though, and perhaps it is part of my make up as well as the client need, when I’ve done that I’ve always sensed that I’ve missed an opportunity to support the client in creating deeper value than simply training.

It is for those reasons that I take as much time as is needed to meet and speak with the client before such team meetings. We may not walk their dog, but we will take time to build understanding, build trust, then we can look closely and become clear on what the current situation truly is and what is really needed to create the value they seek.

From years of experience, such time spent is hugely valuable, as the training element is only a tiny part of the true value created once both client and facilitator have co-created the context, the “why” of the day.

In short, together we take time, we:

Slow down to speed up later