U Lab Scotland – Conversations and Catching the Waves

News & Updates
2nd June 2015

Know that feeling of being with kindred spirits? That’s how I felt yesterday.

We were in Saint Paul’s and St George’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. A magnificent venue for the first of a series of ‘U Lab Scotland’ preparatory events. Over 200 people attended. Some had to take seats in the balcony. Such was the interest in this event.

U Lab is based on Theory U, an approach to change that aims to unleash the collective energy and intelligence in a group. The process encourages participants to view complex issues through a different lens and observe deeply.  After a period of deep reflection solutions emerge through a process of ‘prototyping’ and testing. Otto Scharmer and colleagues from MIT have been developing the approach over many years with a growing excitement worldwide.

Change as an Emergent Property

I’ve had an interest in change as an ’emergent property’ for a number of years. I took an ‘intensive’ programme similarly called ‘Change Lab’ run by Adam Kahane in Utrecht a few years back. The programme, based on action enquiry, followed the U process and it was truly inspiring. I still draw on the learning in my current work in helping people and organisations navigate change.

Hearing the principles of U Lab being introduced by Scottish Government officials created a frisson of excitement inside me, and I suspect in many others. It was a defining moment. And perhaps another indication of the groundswell in Scotland of people searching for something different.

U Lab is just one of many ways to support change. It’s the implications of the choice that’s so important here. Scottish Government could have chosen a more traditional approach. But they didn’t. They took the brave option and put their weight behind an approach that empowers the people.

Keeping it Real

Of course not everyone is comfortable to let things emerge, particularly in public services. Change without any boundaries can create crippling uncertainty for some. The result? They feel like a rabbit in headlights preventing them from moving forward.

It can be equally uncomfortable for leaders to let go. They have a crucial role to play in ‘holding the space’ to allow people time to find new solutions. This means living with a degree of risk. Not easy when already feeling the pressure from all sides.

I applaud Scottish Government for being prepared to take a risk, but public sector managers will need support and reassurance to release some of the holds.

Equally, there’s a need to keep things real. There will always be funding and time constraints to navigate even for the organisations that are more ‘fleet of foot’. Boundary-setting can be light touch though. Like marking out the field of play. The white lines create the boundaries for the change but you leave the rest to emerge.

Catch the Wave

U Lab is being offered free to anyone in Scotland who wants to sign up for the 8 week online course, starting 10th September 2015. The organisers believe that participants will get more out of the course if they join together in ‘Hubs’. These are self-organised and can be ‘communities by location’ or ‘communities of interest’.

I’ll be signing up to be part of a Hub. For me it’s the conversations that matter. Care to join me? Come on, let’s catch the wave!

Scottish Government will be issuing further information on registering for U Lab and how to link up with a Hub later in the summer.

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