Reflective Practices to Facilitate Managerial Mindfulness

In the previous post I discussed managerial mindfulness as an outcome of the Confident People Management (CPM) Program.  This form of mindfulness translates into conscious awareness about the type of team culture the manager is developing through their words, actions, inactions, and time allocation.  The cultural framework developed for the CPM program provides the catalyst for reflective practices incorporated in the program.

The manager’s role in shaping team culture

At the outset of our process of consciousness-raising within the CPM program, we reinforce the view that the immediate manager is the most influential person in shaping the team culture.  We say to our participant managers, “What you say and how you say it; what you do and how you do it; what you omit to do; and what you spend your time on; is shaping your team culture hour by hour, day by day.”  We acknowledge to participants that it is a harsh reality that “they get the team culture they deserve” – that their team culture is a direct result of what they choose to say and do and what they spend their time on.

However, we also explain to the participant managers that they have a set of tools at their disposal which enable them to shape team culture – the tools include congruent behaviour, active listening, setting expectations, positive feedback, and corrective feedback.  We then work with the managers through a series of experiential exercises and reflective practices that enable them to progressively build their awareness of how they are currently shaping their team culture and how they might proceed differently to improve both the productivity of their team and the mental health of their team members.

The cultural framework as a catalyst for developing managerial mindfulness

The CPM program is conducted over four to six workshop days, with the first two workshop days being adjacent and the remaining workshops separated by a month to facilitate practice on-the-job of the acquired skills.  Participant managers also conduct a workplace project (individually or in a team) to implement their learning from the program and gain greater personal insight and self-awareness.  The presentation of the results of their project to co-participants and their managers occurs on the final day of the Program.

The CPM Program offers many opportunities to develop managerial mindfulness through the following reflective practices:

  • Reflection on past experience: Participant managers are asked to reflect individually and in small groups on their experience of being managed by other supervisors/managers.  They then share in the small groups and the plenary group not only about their manager’s behaviour but also the impact that their manager’s words, actions, inaction, and time allocation had on them – on their feelings and their motivation.  This typically leads to a discussion about how workplace culture is shaped by managers – increasing awareness of the impact on team culture of their own managerial behaviour.
  • Exploring intention: Being conscious of your intention in any endeavour is a key element of mindfulness.  The centrepiece of the team culture model is congruence – aligning words and actions.  Participants reflect individually in writing on what kind of culture they are intending to create and how congruent their words, actions, inaction, and time allocation are with this intention. 
  • Debriefing experiential exercises: During the workshops, participant managers undertake experiential exercises focused on the elements of the team culture model – setting expectations, active listening, positive feedback, and corrective feedback.  They then reflect on the exercise in their group and share insights with the plenary group. This process facilitates the development of reflection-on-action.
  • Reflection on workplace practice: At the end of each workshop, participant managers are asked to consciously practise several skills in their workplace with their intact team during the intervening period between workshops.  Each new workshop begins with a small group-based reflection exercise.  The results of their reflection-on-action is shared with the larger group.  This often stimulates vicarious learning amongst the broader group.
  • Presentation of action learning project:  Participants are asked during their presentations to share what they set out to do, what outcomes they achieved (intended and unintended) and what they learnt through the program and their project.  This reflective process helps individual participants to make explicit their implicit learning.

Reflection

My co-facilitator and I have observed that the frequent practice of reflection-on-action during the CPM Program tends to cultivate the capacity to reflect-in-action, a process that involves being fully present on purpose.  As participant managers undertake reflective practices within the Program, they progressively develop the insights and skills of managerial mindfulness, awareness of how they are shaping team culture in the moment through their words, actions, inaction, and time allocation.  As they grow in mindfulness, the managers are more in tune with their staff, better able to be present when interacting and more open to influence and the development of staff agency.  This, in turn, contributes to the development of a productive and mentally healthy culture.

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Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Managerial Mindfulness

Over the past 12 years, I have been co-facilitating a longitudinal, action learning program for managers.  The initial program, Practical People Management, was developed by my colleague Julie Cork and Mike Nelson in 2004 to address the issue of poor-quality supervision that was negatively impacting the health of public servants.  Over time, different components such as managing change and managing generational differences were added to the content of the program resulting in a loss of coherence.

When Julie and I started working together, we began to pool our ideas, concepts, models, and experiences and repurposed the program as Confident People Management (CPM).  A key element of this change was the introduction of a cultural change framework to integrate the components of the program.  

We also became more conscious of the role the program played in assisting managers to create both a productive and a mentally healthy workplace.  As we explored the writings and research on mental health in the workplace, we became increasingly aware of the role that mindfulness could play in helping managers to develop self-awareness and self-regulation and to facilitate development of a workplace culture conducive to the positive mental health of their employees.

Action learning, mindfulness, and mental health in the workplace

We were conscious that the research on mindfulness demonstrated that developing mindfulness was conducive to positive mental health in the workplace and elsewhere.  We were confident that action learning also contributed to a mentally healthy workplace. So, I undertook research to identify what were the factors (active ingredients) that enabled both action learning and mindfulness to contribute to positive mental health in the workplace.

In a book chapter I wrote on the topic, Action Learning and Mindfulness for Mental Health in the Workplace, I explained how action learning and mindfulness are complementary and mutually reinforcing as they have the common intermediate goals of developing “self-awareness” and “agency” , both of which are conducive to positive mental health in the workplace.

Our initial efforts to incorporate mindfulness concepts and practices into the Confident People Management (CPM) Program involved adding a mindfulness session to the program content.  However, for various reasons, including time restrictions, this did not have the traction we had hoped for.

As we reflected on the CPM Program and its development, we began to reframe our facilitation processes as “consciousness-raising”.   More recently, in our lag time because of Covid-19, I have come to conceptualise a core outcome of the program as developing “managerial mindfulness”.

Managerial Mindfulness

Drawing on the definition of mindfulness proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I have developed a definition of Managerial Mindfulness as follows:

Managerial mindfulness is the awareness that arises when a manager pays particular attention, in the present moment, on purpose, to the impact they are having on the culture of their team.  This involves consciousness about the impact, positive or negative, that their words, actions, omissions, and time allocation have on the development of a productive and mentally healthy workplace. Managerial mindfulness is developed through openness, curiosity, and a commitment to reflective practice.

Over time, we have incorporated a range of reflective practices into CPM that facilitate the development of managerial consciousness by participant managers.  Some of these processes are integral to an action learning approach, others involve strategic questioning around the manager’s role in shaping team culture.

Reflection

Both action learning and mindfulness contribute to positive mental health.  However, in any given context, mindfulness practices can take on different forms.  Within the context of the CPM program, experiential learning and on-the-job practice, combined with reflective practice, enable participating managers to grow in mindfulness.  As they develop and enhance their managerial mindfulness, they can more consciously and effectively develop a workplace culture that builds both productivity and positive mental health.  They become acutely aware of the impact of their own words, actions, inaction, and time allocation in shaping their team culture.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness, Action Learning and Reflection

In a previous post, I discussed how action learning and mindfulness can be mutually reinforcing in terms of building self-awareness.  With action learning, the catalyst for self-awareness and redefinition of self and role are the external challenges that confront the limitations of your own sense of self.  For mindfulness, the pursuit of awareness leads to the exploration of your own thoughts and emotions in everyday life and particularly in relationships and interactions.

Reflection in action learning moves from the outside to the inside, while reflection in mindfulness moves from the inside to the outside.  Hence, action learning and mindfulness are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

In this post, I want to explore how action learning and mindfulness are mutually reinforcing in relation to development of the art of reflection.

Reflection

Reflection is a process of exploring our understandings and feelings we have identified as part of a review of our actions and their outcomes, intended and unintended, or a process of exploring both our understandings and feelings that we are experiencing during the course of some action or inaction.

Donald Schön (1983), author of The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, argues that reflection defines the professional and he differentiates between reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action, the former occurring after we have taken some action, the latter involving reflection in the course of taking action.

Reflection-on-action

Reflection-on-action is often referred to as “reflective practice” which can be defined in the following way:

Reflective practice occurs when you explore an experience you have had to identify what happened, and what your role in the experience was – including your behaviour and thinking, and related emotions.

We reflect on our experiences to understand what we and others have contributed to a situation and its outcomes, so that we can improve our contribution and the outcomes in future situations.

Mindfulness prepares us for the reflective practice involved in action learning.  If we are mindful, we are more aware of our environment, our thoughts, emotions and actions.  Hence, we are more present to the situation and better able to notice and recall what transpired when we planned and took action.  This leads to a clearer perception of our role in the planning and action.  We also have a clearer understanding of what happened, consequences intended and unintended, and why those occurred.

Mindfulness also builds self-management so that we are better able to reflect on what transpired because our reflections are not clouded by unresolved feelings or distorted recall that is influenced by “confirmatory bias” – in other words, we can avoid “reading into’ an experience an assumption that we confirm by selectively revisiting what happened.  Without effective self-management, we can delude ourselves that our reflections on our experiences are accurate when, in fact, they are clouded by our biased perceptions and assumptions (some of which we have developed to protect our self-esteem).

Mindfulness, then helps us to better reflect on action because we are more present when we undertake the action.  We are more tuned to our senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – more perceptive as a result.  Our recollection of what happened, both in terms of ourselves and others, is more accurate because we are more aware when the action is taking place and less biased when reflecting on what took place.

Reflection-in-action

Donald Schön (1983) describes reflection-in-action as a process whereby we stop ourselves in the course of taking action and change our approach to improve our outcomes:

The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behaviour. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation. (p.68)

Mindfulness also makes us better able to reflect-in-action because we are more aware of ourselves and our environment.  It can help us to stop and reflect in the course of planning or taking action based on our plans (or actions taken spontaneously or reactively).

Our improved self-management achieved through mindfulness helps us to retain our balance while taking action and gives us the capacity to effectively manage negative triggers.

Mindfulness, Action Learning and Reflection

Mindfulness enriches both reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action, while action learning acts as a catalyst to mindful reflection on our actions and their consequences.  We need to be mindful to be able to reflect-in-action – being present with full awareness.  So mindfulness and action learning enrich each other.  The more we practice reflection on our actions, the more we are able to spontaneously reflect-in-action.

Action learning typically involves working, and reflecting, in a group so that we can be open to “supportive challenge” by others in the group, resulting in challenge to our assumptions and perspectives.  Adelle Bish and Bob Dick, in their conference paper, Reflection for everyone, highlight the fact that reflection in an action learning context can be “seen as having two dimensions, one individual and intrapersonal and the other interpersonal and interactive” (p.11).  These different dimensions are considered to “reinforce and build on each other” (p.12)  Mindfulness enhances the individual/ intrapersonal dimension by virtue of the distinct personal benefits that accrue through mindfulness practice, and also enhances interpersonal relationships.

As we grow in mindfulness, our awareness of ourselves, our interactions and our environment grow and enable us to engage more effectively in action learning – we become more perceptive, more present, more creative and bring calmness and clarity to the situation.  Mindfulness and action learning, acting in concert, are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of pasja1000  on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.