What we’re taking from 2021, what we’re leaving behind
2021 was a big year for the Collective Impact Agency (CIA). We grew from one permanent member of staff to a team of five, we took on a lot of projects that we couldn’t have predicted this time last year, and we learned a heck of a lot. As we start the new year we’ve been asking one another the question: What are you taking from 2021, and what are you leaving behind?
One working day into 2021 I found myself running this company pretty much single-handedly after just six handover days. Many of those days had been spent in meetings I didn’t understand, held in the brain fug of the pre-Christmas period. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I learned in my first three months in post just how vast is the reserve of generosity, patience and kindness of others. Strangers gave me their time and support unquestioningly, without ego or ambitions to take advantage. I’ve tried to replicate what I received ever since; ‘lead with generosity’ is our mantra.
My other big takeaway from 2021 was this: There is a lot that happens in organisations because it’s ‘the done thing’. But much of the time we don’t question the assumptions that sit behind it. Why do we use number-watching and evaluation as our primary method of learning? Why do traditional pay structures look the way they do? And, once we start asking these questions, and leaving those assumptions behind, what much more interesting, exciting and human ways of working emerge?
In March I published a piece on why I no longer think SMART targets are useful for personal objectives and the response was massive, and heartening. My next task is to find more curious disrupters with an appetite for experimenting with new ways of doing stuff and uncovering what other assumptions we should leave behind.
Having spent the last quarter as (at long last) a proper, paid member of the CIA team the main thing I’ll leave behind in 2021 is my ‘old’ career. It’s the third phase of my working life (fourth if you count all the Saturday jobs I had as a teen): Phase one was working in the music industry in my late teens and 20s, phase 2 was working in the charity and community sector since 1998 and phase 3 working with the CIA. I’ll leave behind the pressure to conform to the orthodoxy, the expectation to ‘do things as they have always been done’ and I’ll leave behind arbitrary rules that don’t really seem to achieve much.
What I’ll take from 2021 is that things can be done differently. That, if we work together, we can change things and construct a new world. That we can challenge injustice, shine a spotlight on broken systems and lead the way to a new way of working.
My biggest takeaway from 2021 is that it is the relationships we build with one another that makes things feel possible and that enables change to happen. We’ve all experienced a project falling apart after a particular person leaves, perhaps because the bonds were not strong enough between those who remained involved. What I’ve experienced in my time at CIA is if we put the time and effort into creating relationships built on trust and trying to nurture (however hard it might feel sometimes) that common ground between us, we can create solid partnerships that can weather the storms of change-making.
And I am glad to say that I am leaving behind that fear, that niggling doubt, that I am not worthy of a seat at the table. Our efforts to create an equal playing field around decision-making within CIA are helping me to feel valued and confident that my voice matters.
2021 has been like a multi-act play for me; it has involved a change of job and uprooting my home from London to Sheffield, and those changes have not been easy. Because for me it has not been as straightforward as it sounds. Both of those two changes have come with explicit and implicit challenges and consequences, some of which I am still figuring out. What I have learned is that people are complicated, and relationships are multi-dimensional; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all' approach. You have to continually work at even the closest of relationships. You have to pay attention to the unsaid stuff. And you may need to be patient even when you want to scream with frustration. Not everyone finds working in a relational way easy, and you need to be kind.
I am leaving behind upheaval and chaos, knowing full well that more is bound to come in 2022. That’s ok though, when you have great people around you it makes it easier.
Well, that was one hell of a year. It began with me having a total of six days handover with our second employee (Abby) before my daughter, Rosa, was born early and I had to hand over the keys to the organization and disappear on parental leave. (Abby was great.) It ended with a run of various sicknesses and my limping to the Christmas finishing line.
CIA has become involved in so many things, it’s unreal. It has been a remarkable couple of years, seeing this organization develop from an idea we chucked around over homemade bolognaise at my kitchen table to a company with five employees and an increasingly national reputation for creative, provocative thinking. What I’m taking from 2021 is that it is worth the struggle to question, to challenge, to think differently and that if you put your ideas out there, with a little bit of good luck, you will meet a whole bunch of amazing people who will value you, support you, and work with you on your endeavours.
What I’m leaving behind – hopefully – is much of the stress that built up over the year. 2022 looks to be a more stable year for us organisation-wise. Now we just have to hope that Covid also plays ball and doesn’t make us all live 2020 mk III.