Reap Benefit
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Reap Benefit

Leaving the dance floor for the balcony

by Baiju Balan

Reap Benefit Mentor Baiju Balan recently attended an Acumen Academy course on Adaptive Leadership, a program designed for those who wish to understand the path of leadership. He shared some of his learnings and insights with us.

One of the key messages I took away from the course is that if we are spending most of our time doing it is likely that we are not leading adaptively.

The program shared the concept of the Dance Floor : a space where all the action happens in the organisation. This could be an Email inbox, day-to-day meetings, deadlines and noisy distractions. It’s important to leave the dance floor and go to the breezy Balcony: A Space from where we see the big picture or from where we can see the dance floor from above. From the balcony we can see which direction things are moving and identify patterns in operations.

In short, it is important to reflect about the big picture every now and then, and an adaptive leader shouldn’t get caught up so long in the dance floor.

The dance floor can be a space where a lot of things get done and it gives immense satisfaction to be in it. But getting on the Balcony is where Adaptive Leadership begins.

Being a mentor who engages directly with the youth, Whenever I wanted to go to the balcony, I used to go and check Reap Benefit’s Solve Ninja action dashboard. I wasn’t aware of the concepts of balcony and dance floor then, but upon checking out the dashboard I was able to validate the work we are doing as an organization and how my individual efforts as a mentor are adding value to it.

As an organization with the power of technology, Reap Benefit gives the power and access to the balcony to every single team member. This practice can help activating adaptive leaders from all levels of the organization

Co-creation is crucial to adaptive leadership

When a person presents change or an intervention within an organisation, usually they are the ones most excited by it and end up doing most of the work. This is because people tend not to own what they do not create. So, the idea of co-creation is crucial in adaptive leadership. An adaptive leader should consider the values, loyalties and losses of everyone in the room while presenting a new intervention or change to the system. The session shared some questions we might consider asking people to understand values, loyalties and losses.

  • Values: What do people like? What programs do they get involved in? What are their top values?
  • Loyalties: Does the change affect anyone or anything that is important for people in the room?
  • Losses: Do people resist change because they fear loss of autonomy? Loss of resource or convenience? (Sometimes a change is not properly implemented because people find it inconvenient to implement it. An adaptive leader should be open to this possibility.)

Knowing the difference between technical problem and adaptive problems

Technical problems are problems which have clearly defined solutions. Here’s an example.

Problem: One needs to take sessions online.

Solution: Sign up for a Zoom account and train teams on taking and managing classes on the platform. Usually, there is an expert or authority who can solve this problem.

Adaptive problems are recurring problems, which are difficult to define, and need more efforts to solve. For example: Are people ready to migrate online? What losses may occur? Who will be left behind? Often, people tend to use technical fixes for an adaptive problem, and later face resistance from team members.

Here are five points which an adaptive leader would do, which I carry with me.

  1. They get past the past
  2. They watch for gaps between own words and actions
  3. They conduct needed conversations
  4. They focus on what we are conserving
  5. They fall in love with tough decisions

When the entire world was going through the early days of pandemic, a lot of adaptive problems emerged, especially in smaller organisations. Adapting to remote work and technology-based alternatives were the major challenges that organisation faced. In Reap Benefit, switching to online mode of session delivery was one of such adaptive challenges that we had faced as a team.

How did we solve it adaptively?

As a team, we had to make sure that no-one is left behind, and everyone is comfortable with the tech-tools before we started using them with our Solve Ninjas. The training team had conducted mock sessions and feedback loops on a regular basis, made sure that the entire team was comfortable with online sessions, the tools that we used, and tried to foresee possible hiccups that may occur during the program delivery online.

These constant learning sessions made everyone more comfortable and the team also felt at ease around the new normal in program delivery. People even went the extra mile and started experimenting with the tools and shared the hacks that they figured out. Which means the team got so comfortable with everything, that they even started to notice the nuances, and felt comfortable sharing it with others. All this, while providing access to anyone would want to occasionally visit the balcony.

Although this happened about a year ago, I feel that the initiative the entire team took during that time was the best example for adaptive leadership.

The learning experience with Acumen was very engaging, and all credit goes to my cohort. They ensure we meet regularly, share learnings and experiences and even write the assignments together! We worked together regardless of the vast differences in our time zones and I was able to learn a lot from them.

I would like to acknowledge the team educators: Allen, Ifeoma, Shelley, Meghna, Baber and Anshika.

And gratitude to Kuldeep for recommending the program

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