Farmlands use The ECD to navigate through change

by Sue Harris, Capability Improvement Manager, Farmlands Co-operative Society

Tell us a bit about why you've been using The Emotional Culture Deck with your teams?

Our HR Team was lucky to attend a couple of Agile HR sessions with Cheryl Tansey towards the end of last year, where she introduced us to the ECD. I was hooked almost immediately. I could see massive benefits for us as a business, to help create a more ‘humanistic’ workplace.

We have recently been through a massive period of change that has impacted on our people and our business, and this complete change has taken the best-part of 3 years to complete. Add Covid19 to the mix and another period of change which is on the horizon…it seemed an absolute no-brainer to use the ECD to help people manage during these times of stress, anxiety and possible insecurity.

How would you describe the benefits you've seen from using The ECD?

I think the main benefits I’ve seen so-far are that it helps connect people – the sharing of stories and feelings creates an opportunity for deeper level of appreciation for and understanding of each other. It’s definitely an activity that helps build trust within a group.

The real benefits of facilitating the change workshop the other day will become more obvious in the coming weeks, as people use the ideas generated to demonstrate behaviours and create environments where people feel more supported through this process.

How have you used The ECD with your teams so far?

Last week I used the ECD with 3 different groups of senior leaders who live and work between Invercargill and Kaitaia; they literally came from across the length of the country to attend 3 separate team building workshops. I used some of this time we had together to facilitate the ECD Change Workshop. The reasons I chose to include this activity in the day were these:

  • These leaders have led through significant amounts of business-change in the last 12 months
  • These leaders experienced their own significant change just 4 months ago, with the creation of new teams and they are now being asked to manage another significant period of change in the coming weeks and months
  • Covid19 has created change at a faster pace than we would have anticipated this time last year and we’re expecting these people to not only keep-up, but in many ways, we’re asking them to get ahead

In-short, we (I talked to my immediate team about my plans to use the ECD after introducing it to them at our own new team building day) felt it was important to provide the opportunity for these leaders to identify their feelings towards change and reflect on their individual and shared experiences. We also wanted to support them to find ways to help them help their people, through this next period of change.

Tell us a little bit about the things you've liked the most about using The ECD so far?

20 of the 22 people who took part in our ECD Change Workshop sessions were men. (I would just point-out that this statistic does not reflect a lack of diversity or female presence amongst our business leaders, it simply reflects on the nature of this part of our agriculture/farming-based business. Our other teams who have used the ECD have numbered approx. 50/50-split of males and females.) Asking 20 ‘farming blokes’ to talk about their feelings, even with the recent raised awareness of mental health and the fact that more people are talking about stress and feelings-related issues more often and that being ok, is a big deal.

What I’ve like most about using the ECD so far is that this game provides the words for some feelings, that might otherwise not have been thought-of. The game provides a depth of exploration for feelings experienced. So instead of saying they were ‘stressed’ during a period of time, participants in the game can find cards that dig into that feeling of stress, and they’ve found words like ‘isolated, overwhelmed and insecure’ which provide real clarity of what they were actually experiencing. Instead of saying they were ‘glad’ when they were through this change, they identified they actually felt ‘brave, optimistic and curious’. My experience is, these words evoke a different feeling for the person sharing them, when they’re shared, a greater connection with what they’re describing. And with that comes a greater understanding of self, and others.

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What were your fears (or what were you sceptical about) before using the deck?

As mentioned, I work in an environment that means I am usually outnumbered by men. And these are men who live off and for, the land. They get things done, and they don’t like too much of a fuss. They care deeply about their people, but they show that care through their actions. I was going to ask a room of men, to talk about their feelings. I was honestly worried they might find it too uncomfortable or too ‘fluffy’. And I was worried they might feel like I was wasting their time.

I’m very happy to report, this was not the case – they were respectful and interested and participated fully. The game and the facilitators guide provided time and space for them to explore things in a way that nobody was exposed or embarrassed or were pushed into something so far out of their comfort zone that they withdrew, and that was my fear; that they would feel those things.

What are the things that have surprised you the most about using The ECD so far?

To be honest, nothing has surprised me about the ECD so far. I’ve been evangelical about it since the first time I saw it! It delivers on so many levels and the simplicity with which it enables people to open up and explore what essentially makes them tick. It seems to me that people unwrap themselves without feeling exposed. And that is a very cool thing.

It’s been fascinating watching how people play with and touch the cards. Some people lay them all-out and get a full picture of all the options, others keep them private in a pile in their hands until the time they’re sharing. Some people choose quickly, some slowly. Some hold their card as they’re telling their story, others lay it on the table and almost talk to it, as they share.

It’s absolutely no surprise to me that people find their own way to touch and explore these cards – the way the game has created totally enables that self-exploration.

What are you and your teams planning to do next with The ECD?

We’re looking at the possibility of taking the game to the ‘next level’ of leaders, both up and down the org chart, which is very exciting. We’re also definitely going to use it during our newly created Emerging Leaders Programme which we’re hoping to launch in November this year. We’re planning to use the game to help our people think about how we want our people to feel relating to wellbeing and safety at work.

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