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Hybrid working: planning for the future
Hybrid working: planning for the future

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4.1 Sensemaking for futures planning

In Activity 10 in which you planned a workshop to discover your Why, you started the process of sense-making. In Section 1.4 you viewed some predicted trends towards a vastly different post-pandemic world to the world before 2020. Irrespective of where these trends are heading, in order for us to continue to deliver on our personal, project, team and organisational mission, we need to respond accordingly.

Responding in an era of uncertainty is complex, especially where people are involved. Fortunately, tools, frameworks and concepts are available to help us through the complexity.

One such concept that builds on thinking by others, was developed by Karl Weick in 1995 and is known as ‘sense-making’. ‘Sense-making involves turning circumstances into a situation that is comprehended explicitly in words and that serves as a springboard into action’ (Weick et al., 2005).

Sense-making helps us understand a situation, how elements of the situation are connected (whether tightly coupled or looser), and how and why people behave in it in the way that they do. Sense-making is particularly helpful in a complex situation when some aspects are not obvious. Taking into consideration the personal interest of those impacted by a change when planning is extremely important to a successful implementation, as ‘personal investment’ in a change can be a great motivator.

Sense-making is particularly useful in understanding how people and teams engage and organise following a crisis or change.

Dave Snowden founder of the Cynefin framework [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] defines sense-making in his ‘What is Sense-making?’ reflections as: ‘How do we make sense of the world so we can act in it’ (Snowden, 2008). ln the video below he explains how sense-making can be used for exploring problems and making decisions.

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Video 6 Sense-making for exploring problems and making decisions
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Activity 11 Sensemaking conversations

Timing: 15 minutes

Drawing on the insights that Dave Snowden shared in the video above, now watch Video 7 below, ‘Sensemaking: using conversations to make a difference every day’. In this second video, Alan Arnett explains how sensemaking can move us forward, to answer the following three questions:

  1. What are we solving?
  2. Where are we heading?
  3. How might we get there?
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Video 7 Sensemaking: using conversations to make a difference every day

As you watch the video make notes in the box below and consider:

  • How can sense-making aid understanding what you are solving?
  • How can it help with a human centred approach to making sense of problems, and understand where you might be heading?
  • How could it lead to better conversations, to understand how you might get there?
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The language we use is a key part of assisting with sense-making, how we have conversations and the language we use helps both ourselves and others come to common understandings and enables us to explore the world in different ways, especially in uncertain times.

In the video 6 Dave Snowden highlights:

'Most human beings communicate novel ideas through metaphors and stories, and that's still the most successful way of doing it.' (Snowden, 2022)

Storytelling is a powerful tool for engaging others and helping people understand problems and the world, by helping them to visualise what is possible in a way that is relatable and meaningful to them. This can also assist with encouraging people to talk to each other, as Alan Arnett highlighted in the video, it can be a challenge to have better conversations in order to make sense of our world.