17 Years at Twyfords – now what?

This blog is personal, and hopefully not too self-indulgent.

I’m leaving Twyfords after 17 years, and what a ride it has been! Here is my attempt to describe what I have learned about consulting, collaboration, and myself.

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When I applied for a job at Twyfords I underwent the most gruelling recruitment process and somehow I beat another 50 candidates for the position. Having been a social worker in the public sector for over 15 years I suddenly found myself a consultant at Twyfords, working on all sorts of new projects, mostly around wastewater and engaging communities about various options to replace ocean outfalls.

I learned so much working with Vivien Twyford. My desk was not far from her office, and I listened intently to how she worked with her clients. She was, and is, incredibly professional. She always followed through, did what she said she would do, and documented conversations meticulously. Vivien was encouraging, patient, and slow to judge others. It was a sharp learning curve and Vivien was a masterful mentor.

Before long Vivien and I, along with a few professional colleagues, launched the Australasian Chapter of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). So much has happened since then, and as others stepped up the Chapter became an Affiliate, and now has more members than North America. We introduced the IAP2 Certificate and Vivien and I delivered it to several thousand over ten years, along with John Dengate and Stuart Waters who both joined Twyfords in 2004.

It was thrilling to attend IAP2 conferences at Banff, Alberta; Salt Lake City, Utah; Madison, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Montreal, Quebec; Sydney, Australia and Glasgow, UK and those experiences have lead to lifelong friendships. Co-facilitating training academies in Canada and Scotland were also amazing experiences. The projects I have worked on have also been challenging and full of learning experiences – way too many to name.

But I thought it would be worth highlighting some of the things I have learned over the past 17 years: about consulting, about collaborating, and about myself. Here goes.

What I have learned about consulting.

Well, lots – but here are just three things.

Firstly, when it comes to working with organisations and how they engage communities, the harder I worked at working ‘for’ the organisation, the more I seemed to get in the way. It didn’t make sense for community representatives to say they liked working with me, but still didn’t trust my client. So I learned that it was much more useful to work with clients to build their capacity and confidence, and to measure my work by the extent to which the relationship improves between the organisation and their stakeholders/communities. This approach asked different questions of myself and the way I worked.

Secondly, when my clients were very anxious about projects the worst thing to do was to try to behave like a contractor by seeking to do everything they asked and doing it exactly as they requested. Somehow this made them more anxious. I learned it was much better to offer advice and help them see the logical consequences of doing ‘business as usual’ as opposed to stepping into something unknown, but worth a go.

Thirdly, the more comfortable I am with myself, the more my clients trust me. There is something about knowing yourself, what you have to offer, and being ok with what you are not so good at, that builds confidence and a healthier relationship. I don’t know short cuts to getting to this point – I do know that it’s a lot easier as a 52 year old than a 35 year old.

What I have learned about collaboration and engagement.

Lots and lots. Firstly, it’s easier to talk about than to do. Collaborating with my partners at Twyfords has been a source of incredible learning and growth. It has also meant that I have much more respect for the challenges of my clients in learning this new dance of ‘collaborating’.

Secondly, people are more capable of collaborating than we give them credit for. Given a decent process, and when trusted to rise to the occasion, they do! I have very often found myself saying ‘I knew they could do it, but I didn’t realise it would be THIS good!’

Thirdly, leaders need help to sponsor collaborative endeavours. It is scary, uncertain and unfamiliar. Yet when they get a taste for leading in this new way, it is exhilarating. I love seeing the shift!

Fourthly, collaborations don’t need to be forever. They work best when there is shared purpose, where ‘everyone is making the same film’ (to quote Quentin Tarantino). Staying together forever doesn’t always make sense – even though it is difficult to call it quits when it is clear it is best to move on.


What I have learned about myself

Well I could write a book about this so I will try to keep it brief.

Firstly, my tendency to seek harmony can be a barrier to great learning, and can deprive the collaboration of what it needs to flourish. Collaboration is not about being nice. Harmony can often be at the expense of learning and creative tension.

Secondly, working in the complex domain is exciting; whether facilitating, coaching or providing advice. I’ve learned that quiet time is important for me to recover and to recharge my batteries. Listening to my body and mind is important; and quiet time is not wasted time. It is not only necessary for me, it can also highly productive.

Thirdly, and I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, I have learned that I am quite good at what I do – and I sometimes surprise myself. Of course there are many things I am not good at and I am better at getting help from others where it makes sense. But helping people to be at their best to respond to complex situations seems to be something I can do and have an aptitude for. I think that means I am very lucky – to find myself doing what I enjoy and being useful to those with whom I work.

So now I move into something new, and yet it is not all that new. I will be doing similar work but will be open to new opportunities and new partnerships. I will be learning to run my own business and all that entails. I’m sure it will be another big learning curve, just as it was all those years ago when I started at Twyfords.

I have so much to be grateful for – so many opportunities, experiences, and most of all great people. A big thank you to my Twyfords’ colleagues who are supporting this new direction. I know we will continue to learn about our craft and share stories together.

That’s all folks.….for now anyway.

Originally published on Twyfords website 10th September, 2014




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