Case study: Vistage UK Ltd

vistageSince 1957, Vistage has been improving the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of business leaders by bringing together successful MDs, CEOs, executives and business owners into private advisory groups. In a Vistage group, about a dozen executives meet once a month to discuss their challenges, evaluate opportunities and solve an assortment of strategic, operational and sometimes personal issues.

In October 2013, Nikky Smedley was asked by the Bristol based Vistage Chair to lead a session as part of their group’s retreat to Stow in the Wold. The two day retreat was arranged to explore each participant’s ‘story thus far’ in the morning of the first day, i.e. the past, and the second day to address the future, thereby leaving Nikky’s first afternoon half-day to deal with the present, the NOW – the session had been billed as, “Adventures in Communication.” The brief also included bringing an element of fun, and taking a walk in the beautiful surrounding Cotswold countryside. This was quite a lot to pack into a couple of hours.

One of our skills is being able to look inside a complicated brief, and pull a multi-stranded ask into a cohesive whole.

We decided to work around a theme of “Inside/Outside”, an exercise in self-awareness exploring internal and external communication patterns, as well as physically splitting the time between interior and exterior environments.

The session started with a warm-up activity, around non-verbal expression of each of the delegates personal communication style. There was then discussion around the experience, and applicable insights and parallels with personal and business habits.
We then moved onto the main challenge, which was to walk as far as possible along the public footpath, over the fields to a nearby town, and return to the room in exactly one hour. Each participant travelled alone and in silence, leaving at 2 minute intervals, without watch or phone – and had an additional personal challenge (e.g. Bring back 2 items with a strong sensory identity) and a postcard to send to themselves. They were also asked to spend 5 minutes sitting in silent thought as part of the process. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day!

On their return, each participant was asked to consider their ‘communication style’ drawing, and reflect on any themes there which impacted on their internal dialogue during the walk – and indeed on their externally voiced observations once everyone was back in the room.

It was interesting to note how unusual it was in the lives of these successful business people, to have time alone to quietly think – and this led to some interesting questioning around how to create those ‘pauses’ in the lives of their organisations.

There was also discussion around each person’s level of competitiveness, and the points where that rose to the fore, and where it subsided. . . and, indeed the effect that had on each person’s experience.

The session was an innovative and enjoyable way to address the duality of internal and external experience, and how using internal and dialogue differs, complements and occasionally conflicts – impacting on the effectiveness of any individual’s communication style.

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