Finding magic: a story about someone called Alex

 In Culture, General thoughts, Leadership

There’s an important lesson to be learned in this.

I want to tell you a story. It’s a story about magic, playing cards and someone called Alex. Already you’ve made up your mind about what this story is about, and that’s important. I’d like you to remember that later in the story when you’re surprised that the story didn’t turn out quite as you’d planned.


Back to the story…

Alex worked in a major government department. She was excellent at her job. Alex is also a good leader and had a great team working with her. Alex is the kind of employee that all businesses hope to have. She turns up on time, does her work well, doesn’t disappear off sick or disrupt the team. We like Alex a lot.

You see, Alex is a great employee because she’s really good at fitting in. For the Star Trek fans among you, Alex has assimilated. But Alex also had a secret.

I like to think of organisational talent as a pack of cards. When someone joins the team, they step into a role and with it comes all of those expectations. And that person takes on those expectations.  It’s a bit like the pack of cards face down. They all look the same.

Your team members adopt the ‘pattern’ on the back of the cards; they subconsciously know what the organisational behaviours and values are and it shapes how they behave.  They understand the organisational pattern of expectations they are stepping into. They use the back of the card pattern to shape how they behave. 

We try to fit in with everyone else so that we can feel safe. We adopt the characteristics of the team.


A secret identity

Back to Alex and her secret. As I went into work early one morning, I got the pleasure of finding out about what Alex did outside of her government jobs. She had created the most amazing and beautiful book, did some fabulous online projects, brilliantly designed artefacts and had even featured on Radio 4.

Her creativity and potential are astounding. Her talent was so much more than anything I had seen at work. 


Turn the cards over

If we go back to our pack of cards and how we all look the same to fit in, to be part of the team. If we stop and turn over those cards, we see all the differences that we each carry. All of our individual quirks, background, culture, and talent. No two cards are the same.

There is a wonderful opportunity in revealing both sides of the cards. Knowing you need your corporate, all the same side, but underneath there is more. The many differences are where innovation and creativity comes. It’s where you find the magic.

And this is what true inclusivity looks like. Inclusivity that gets the full potential of diverse teams. That can reveal both sides of the cards.

But no one had turned over Alex’s corporate card which meant no one had found her potential. And even if they had seen it, they wouldn’t have known what to do with it within the current model. It just wouldn’t fit in the organisational chart box. Which means it’s a great time not to include, evolve or grow. It’s a great time to reinvent.

What does that mean for organisations? Well, it means it’s a great time to reinvent how your teams work and build more true inclusivity into roles.


Where to find the magic

Here is the most important thing about turning over these cards: you will only find the magic in the most unlikely of places. Going back to Alex, she did such a good job of fitting into her role that no one would have thought she had this other side. So no one bothered to ask her about what she did outside of work. They made assumptions based on the social role she adopted at work. And their behaviour was a result of those assumptions. There is nothing wrong with this. We all do it.

However, if we take a moment to ask those in our teams about themselves, if we have conversations and get to know people, we will find the magic in the most unlikely of places.

And that’s what the workplace of today needs – magic!


Finding magic in story-telling

Which loops us back around to the beginning of this post. I told you that the idea you had in your head about a story of magic, playing cards and someone called Alex wouldn’t meet your expectations. And this is important. We all make stories in our heads based on the knowledge we have. When we meet someone who does a job, we have a story about what they will do, how they will behave and what the outcome will be. These stories come from our personal culture but also our organisational culture. We frame things based on our experience.

I bet that you thought Alex would turn out to be a magician. Maybe she does have an alter-ego as a magician. I’m not sure. I never asked her. Perhaps I will the next time I see her.

When we create our stories about people we work with, we can sometimes miss out on the richness that is within our teams. Even the stories of our teams as a whole can harm whether we turn over those playing cards. When we change the story, we change our perception, and that can give us a more robust and diverse team, which is good for everyone.


A new story for teams

Teams today are looking to adopt different ways of being. To find solutions to complex problems through the power of diverse thinking. To create inclusive environments with space for curiosity, questions and conversation.  We can help release that power through our work to build more psychological safety into teams.  Find out more about how this works and get a free conversation starter video over here. We can’t promise you’ll definitely find magic, but you might. 

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