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"You think you are very good - well it's not true"

By David Deegan



Sometimes when we enter a development programme we assume it will be something of “just a refresher” for us. We have worked in partnership with Atos over the past four years, delivering a well-respected Programme Manager Masterclass, and we created a short video about the Masterclass. In it, you will hear one of the participants, Sowmithiran, say “You think you are very good – that is why you have been selected for this programme. Well it’s not true!”

Quite a bold statement to make, particularly from one of our brightest participants! But he went on to say that the Masterclass had made him conscious of some things that he hadn’t realised he needed to learn. In other words, the Masterclass had surfaced his “Unconscious Incompetence”, or to be less brutal, in Johari Window terminology, it had surfaced things that were “Unknown To Him”.

He was not only an intelligent participant, he was perceptive in his self-reflection; yet our Masterclass surfaced uncomfortable gaps for him. Development Programmes can have this effect on participants. So the key question is; how do you do this in a way that keeps people safe?

At Cranfield we have created a Business Simulation process called Grounded Experiential Learning (GEL). My colleagues Geraint and Sergio explain this in the video, but in short, it is a process which helps people to find out what is “Unknown to them” in a safe way.

We work with our partner clients to create an unfolding fictional story that tightly reflects the client reality. We then use that story to create scenarios and conversations, which participants have to deal with, in short role-play situations that move participants away from the comfort of relying on their technical Project/Programme Manager skills and into the less comfortable field of applying those technicalities in relationships. In the Atos GEL story there are three stages. In the first we encourage participants to understand what they are they trying to achieve as a business. In the second stage we explore programme and stakeholder management. In the third we challenge participants to question themselves about what it takes to be a trusted partner.

To help participants do this in a way that keeps them psychologically safe, we created a series of role-play scenarios based upon key conversations that would happen at each of these 3 key stages. Participants have to prepare for those conversations and then engage with characters who closely resemble typical clients/stakeholders they would encounter. At the end of the conversation they receive tangible and pragmatic feedback both from their peers as well as our faculty. As part of the process we teach participants how to give their peers that transformative feedback.  

We did an immense amount of research with Atos during the design phase to ensure that every conversation scenario closely resembles typical experiences of Atos Project Managers. And it is the deep level of research that enables participants to become so drawn into each of the scenarios, coupled with the insightful feedback from their colleagues and Cranfield faculty, that highlights, in a safe, laboratory-style environment, the insights into their own behaviour that the participants value so highly.

There are 3 key tips for helping people to safely find out what they don’t know about themselves.

1: Keep it real

Create a process that is real for them – it needs to be something they will accept as so real, so that even if personal reflection on the experience might feel difficult, it is worth spending further time on.

2: No comeback

Create a process that allows them to try things out in a realistic way without reprisal – a fictional scenario that is based upon their organisation/industry reality, but held in a space where confidentiality is preserved unconditionally.

3: Valued feedback

Ensure they can receive feedback, from people whom they recognise and respect as peers and experts. And ensure that those people know how to give feedback that will be understood and can be acted upon. Being a peer or an expert in the same technical field, doesn’t guarantee you are skilled at giving someone insightful and transformative feedback!

Click on the link below to watch the video in full (5 mins) and hear more of Atos participants who, within the safe parameters of our Masterclass, we encouraged to quietly reflect upon – “You think you are very good – well it’s not true!”

If you would like more information about Grounded Experiential Learning or Executive Development, contact us.


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