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Unlocking capacity for strategic thinking – the transformation story of Alexander Construction through the Power of Three programme

In this blog Maria Lehto writes about the Power of Three, a programme created and facilitated by Amara. Maria went on to interview two participants of the process, with aim to understand what kind of transformation was initiated in them, both on individual and organisational level.

We are just about to finish our first round of Power of Three programme, which included four trios from three different organisations. At Amara, we were all curious to hear how has the process been from the participants’ perspective, so I asked to interview two participants and they generously agreed to share their thoughts. In this blog, you’ll get to read how Mark Hamilton, the Managing Director of Alexander and Carmel Bird, Administrator in Alexander Construction experienced the Power of Three journey. 

To start from the beginning, I asked Mark how he ended up joining the Power of Three programme with Alexander Construction. He explained that he had been trying to initiate fundamental change in Alexander Construction but had not gained the momentum he was looking for. Change initiatives seemed to gain interest initially, but quickly everything and everyone just returned to how things had always been and the commitment didn’t last. Mark saw that the world around him had changed quite a bit but the ways of running the company were the same, and no longer fit for purpose. He was eager to challenge his employees and have them think together with him whether there was a better way to run the business.

“So we called for volunteers, we needed really two plus me I thought, and we ended up getting six people volunteering plus me so it was seven. That was quite exciting in itself and we worked out how we’re gonna do this with Amara and we set up the two teams and I just kind of sit across the two watching them”

From the participants’ side, the interest was definitely there, but the whole programme still seemed to be bit of a mystery: “so Mark sent an invitation to all staff. He actually didn’t say so much about it, only that he’s looking for three people to go on a bit of a journey. All that sounded interesting and that was basically it. I’ve always probably gone to this kind of groups more out of curiosity and I’ve actually really enjoyed them, so it just felt like it was the right thing to do. And it ended up as such!”, says Carmel.

While Mark had experienced the power of small teams in other programmes, neither he or Carmel really knew what to expect of the programme. Both of them were curious and open minded, looking forward to working with the other trios from different countries and trusting that something good would emerge from this experience.

So, how did Mark and Carmel experience the process?

In the first session, Mark realised that they had come across something very different to which they were used to in Alexander Construction: “Well I was a little bit scared that we were going to lose people, because the opening session was quite… holistic. There was the whole breathing and taking time and being silent and almost getting into a meditative state. None of those people in my team would even contemplate on doing that for any reason! So there’s that concern, but I just encouraged the team to trust the process, that there’s a reason why we’re taking these steps. I wasn’t really sure if there was but I kind of guessed there must be! Watching it unfold over the weeks from people freaking out, saying “I don’t really want to be part of this anymore”, to “oh I get it now, I get what’s happening, I understand” and then towards the end there was a real energy around the questions and.. yea there was some real positivity and energy around that, it was actually quite exciting to watch!”

For Carmel, the first session sealed the deal and she decided that she really wants to continue on this journey. She explained that whilst speaking out in a Zoom meeting full of people you don’t know might have felt a bit daunting at first, getting to know and really connect with the other participants was rewarding in the end. She also feels that working in a trio instead of a couple or bigger group, took the conversations to a deeper level: “Maybe it’s just that third element, because two people could possibly agree or disagree wholeheartedly, that third person balances it out… the third person brings it all together. So definitely I believe that three makes it work. And I think it’s really important to have three people that don’t normally work together, because it brings another union. We’re actually going to incorporate this practice that it’s always three people that move together through every problem, because it actually seems to work.” 

While Mark explained that he was a bit scared of losing people in the beginning, he was happy and proud to see the results of the Alexander Construction trios in the end: “The last presentation that the team made, I got a real buzz out of that! I was surprised by the thinking that was coming out of people that I wasn’t sure … would think that way. We unlocked some pretty deep stuff and then it started to become apparent what had happened as you watch this thing unfold. People in your team who you wouldn’t really think as visionaries or strategic thinkers have popped out of the woodwork and gone into a programme and are producing some really interesting ideas. And they want to be part of driving them too!”

The energy and excitement definitely wasn’t one-sided, as Carmel explained, she really felt that Mark was proud of the work they had done in the trios. She was actually the one to present their journey to the wider group, and she tells how she had a big realisation during the final presentation: “As I was presenting, I realised how far we had come. From the beginning to the end, there was actually a lot that happened in between …so I was actually blown away as I put that all together and saw that we have come such a long way. I came home and it took an hour for my partner to bring me back down I was pretty pumped! So yeah, it was cool!”

What kind of change was initiated during the program?

Having created excitement and positive energy during the process is great, of course, but what I was most interested in was lasting change. As we believe in Amara, transforming an organisation must start with the individual. So, did we manage to initiate transformation in the participants or even in the whole organisation? I was happy to hear Carmel explaining how her own thinking has changed and she now approaches problems in a new way. Rather than going straight ahead with the mindset of “fixing it”, she now sees the issues in larger context, and is able to make broader connections between different things. Sounds like a much better understanding of complexity to me!

“I think I’ve always been the one to break down problems in my head, but that doesn’t always have a result. Whereas I think now with having that “mud”, I’ll actually take the problem to a different place where I don’t have to solve it. I can actually put it over here because it might actually have something to do with things over there (points in a different direction). So yes definitely, definitely well worth it! You just change the way you think about it. It’s just been really good to change… to stop and think. I guess it’s probably more what the programme has given me”

The personal transformations seem to have started the transformation on an organisational level as well, as Mark explains that he now feels that he has a stronger, broader and more committed team to drive change within Alexander Construction. In other words, he now feels more supported to lead change. 

“For years it has only really been a couple of us trying to initiate change within the company. As a result of Power of Three, I’ve now got a bigger team. So, the end result is a bigger pool of trained people to help us take the company to a point where I’m sure we can go” 

He believes that having asked for volunteers to join Power of Three, instead of just assigning members of the management team, made a big difference. People were in the trios because they had true interest to be part of the programme, which translated to true commitment and enthusiasm. He sees it really valuable that people from different levels of the organisation joined the programme, creating inclusion and connection throughout the company. It was great to hear that the initiatives created within the Power of Three process are already cascading to the whole company. As Carmel presented their journey to all employees in a companywide event, it received great enthusiasm and engagement. “It’s gonna be a segue for us to start rolling out our small experiments to the rest of the company”, says Mark. 

Carmel emphasised that having to make an appointment together with their trio to work on their inquiry each week throughout the process was something that really helped them to keep going. Without it, she explained, it would have been so easy to just push the complex issues further and further in the future and get lost in the everyday tasks. For Mark on the other hand, observing the trios going through the process from outside, the most exciting thing was to see the trio’s energy evolve throughout the process: “watching my team from thinking ‘what the hell is going on here’ to ‘oh I get it now’ to ‘let’s go, let’s start this process!’, that was the coolest thing really”.

In the end, Mark seems to feel confident that the programme yielded desired results and that any organisation could benefit from it: “I think any business or organisation that wanted to make cultural change, it’s work having a crack I reckon.” He is even planning on taking more people from Alexander Construction through Power of Three, with aim to unlock “some amazing thing” as he puts it. He points out however, that a lot of trust is needed to get the true benefit from the programme, as there is no certainty and the road might occasionally feel unfamiliar. 

In conclusion, what is the Power of Three program all about?

So I asked Mark, “looking back to the past months and having seen two trios from your company going through the Power of Three programme, what would you say it’s all about?”  “I’d say that it’s a programme that teaches you to unlock a new way of thinking and to create a bond between three people. So it unlocks the thinking process that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to and it also uses the power of small groups working on a common purpose”

Carmel is also convinced that any organisation could benefit from the programme but points out aptly that the leaders have to have certain mindset and need to be ready for transformation within themselves. She highlights that she feels lucky to be working in Alexander Construction, where much of the decision making power is given to the employees through Power of Three and other initiatives: “Having the staff making decisions in these kinds of groups is empowering, it gives you a sense of worth. So yeah, it’s really cool! Because so many people go to work cranky… it’s just a job, just changing time for money. And since you spend more hours with the people at work with than you do at home, you should be able to enjoy it!”

Find the next Power of Three program starting in October 2020 here!