Flexing to Engage with the Season of Disruption

In an attempt to become more flexible, yoga was a hobby I picked up in lockdown. I was able to stick to a routine thanks to YouTube videos, a reduced commute and (let’s face it) no real need to get out of gym wear. My physical flexibility started to improve over time. Whilst I’m not able to wrap my feet around my head yet, I’ve found there are some incredible positions the human body can manage.

Interestingly, I’ve seen not only my physical flexibility improving, but my mental flexibility being tested too. In the early months of 2020 the world we once knew completely changed. We entered that phase often referred to as ‘the new normal’. The way we used to do things just wasn’t possible. Overnight. I’ll admit it took me a while to get my head around it and even now I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it.

At Interactive Workshops we had to flex, adapt and innovate faster than ever before in the season of disruption that followed the outbreak of COVID-19. Helpfully, we are a team with a sense of adventure who love getting stuck into a challenge and being agile to meet a need. We also have brilliant client relationships built on trust, meaning that even in disruption we can explore, experiment and create together.

Opportunity in uncertain times

The perfect example of taking an opportunity in these uncertain times was the delivery of a full day face-to-face training just a month into the first UK lockdown. Five working days before we were due to run a workshop for leaders at Savills’, we were on the phone to Savills’ then Head of Learning and Development, Ruth Barnes, to discuss all the options. With the country in lockdown, we certainly couldn’t run the workshop in person as planned. Would an online solution work? We had designed the day to include group work and even simulations with professional actors.

A true advocator of learning, Ruth’s words were;

“We’re still running it, it’s just going to be different.”

I love this attitude. This mindset is brilliant in times like these.

We threw around ideas, session flows were re-drafted, and within days a plan was put in place to do the whole workshop online. Now being very familiar with delivery via Zoom, at that time we were stretching what we knew to be possible in remote delivery. In the online format, we found we could still provide group input sessions, share pre-prepared slides, run the planned simulations with all the same actors remotely and provide individual coaching slots via separate Zoom calls. 

“Managers were joining us having just been thrown into an uncertain world overnight. ‘Career Conversations’ wasn’t right for the time.

A gut feeling told us that the original content focusing on ‘Career Conversations’ wasn’t right for the time. These managers were joining us having been thrown into an uncertain world, with news on restrictions and timescales changing by the day. This was an opportunity to speak directly to that context. What if we shared content on dealing with this current situation? Savills were on board with this idea. We designed the content, re-mapped the flow and re-wrote the simulation for the actors, all in a day’s work. A making, not a meeting.

I’m sure a month into lockdown many programmes that were designed to be in person were cancelled or indefinitely postponed. Yet, with some flexibility and quick decision-making, we were ready to deliver a day that was just as engaging as the one we had planned in person. All through a truly collaborative process.

Delivery day

On the day of the workshop I still made time for my morning yoga, but I did make sure I showered and got out of my gym wear in time to meet my guests on screen.

“The real value came from a network of managers openly and honestly sharing management strategies and tactics.”

Attendees dialled in, participants connected and caught up, people paused in the chaos and really listened. Whilst the internet connection waned for some, the personal connection was stronger than ever. The real value came from having an open and honest support network sharing which management strategies and tactics had been working out there in the real world, and which hadn’t.

Managing uncertainty

The participants from Savills were guided in ‘Managing Uncertainty’ through facilitated content, individual coaching slots and simulations with the actors. They left with a clear action plan of what they needed to do. What was necessary during the uncertainty and how can we be ready for what follows this season? The feedback from the attendees mirrored our feelings of the experience; it was a huge success and inspiring to be part of.

Although significantly different from the original plan, Savills used this time in the first weeks of lockdown to equip their leaders to manage in these uncertain working days in the weeks and months ahead. That’s a far better outcome than if the workshops had been postponed or cancelled. It’s an enviable position to be in.

The season of disruption brought so many learnings. It taught me that as people we are much more resilient than we think, that we can adapt to almost anything, and that even in difficult times – whether it’s learning and development or yoga poses – a little flexibility can put you in an impressive position.