Karen Morton

Jan 17, 2019, 8:00 AM

Awaydays: Holding the Space

For many of us, just before Christmas there is a time when work and domestic deadlines collide. Like the churning patch of sea where the outgoing river meets the incoming tide.  Someone once told me: “The thing is, the date is fixed, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it!”

And then the chaos is over. I love Boxing Day; a long walk and the Guardian Holiday Crossword. Whatever your beliefs, it is likely that you will have taken at least a couple of days off at the end of 2018, and been focused on activities that had nothing whatsoever to do with work.   

I am conscious of an unusual state of mind immediately after a break. Making plans and believing, maybe for only a few hours, that everything is perfectly manageable. That strange time back in the office when you give your attention to the first few emails, before the reality, complexity and ‘overwhelm’ reappear.

Taking a break often connects us with open space, or changes our perspective: Walking on a hill, looking at the sky, watching the fire, doing a puzzle. And as we enter a new year, most of us will reflect back and think forward.

As a facilitator, I know I can help recreate those moments of seeing, of space, of having, briefly, stopped the world from crowding in. Like our taking time to look at the sky, it is important for organisations to take themselves away from the day-to-day clutter of competing priorities, and allow themselves time for future gazing.

A well-facilitated awayday “holds the space” for listening and thinking as a group, whether a small senior management team or the entire organisation. It values the perspectives of everyone - whatever their role - as contributors to the whole, and provides creative ideas and new possibilities. As an environment for refreshed thinking, it is very different from a meeting.  

A bespoke awayday might include:
•    pooling different world views to draw out possible futures
•    creating mini-biographies of hypothetical clients to raise awareness
•    drawing out maps of user journeys to understand barriers
•    debating changing beliefs and expectations
•    building towers to assess core resilience for new projects
•    sharing metaphors to hold our values in a changing world
•    finding a collaborative pathway forward

And then, of course, the good facilitator holds the valuable outputs of this special time, to crystallise as practical - and manageable - actions.

Is it time for your organisation to plan an awayday? Happy to help…! 


If you would like to talk with Karen Morton about organising and facilitating an awayday for your charity, she can be contacted at office@actionplanning.co.uk

An Action Planning Consultant, Karen Morton has designed and facilitated over 100 awaydays, as well as small focus groups and large open space discussions.  Karen is also an experienced chair and trains on subjects ranging from local leadership to meetings skills.  As a management consultant, she works to build robust and resilient organisations and networks, from supporting the early days of new initiatives to helping redesign structures, build capacity or strengthen governance. Customers include local and national charities, public sector bodies and partnerships, often (but by no means exclusively) within the women’s, criminal justice, or infrastructure sectors.   Karen is a member of EUConsult, and lead convener of the Management Development Network of voluntary sector specialist consultants and trainers.

Karen Morton

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