Working Together

from Duncan Smith, ADC Associates

Welcome to this monthly newsletter, in which we explore topics relating to leadership and organisational culture, global diversity and inclusion, gender, culture, bias, and more.

In this issue:

  • Creating positive change: anger and compassion
  • Want to have a positive workplace culture? Focus on the how as well as the what
  • How to tell if your organisation is serious about diversity and inclusion

I hope you find these sharings interesting and useful – and whether they are new to you or reminders, that they stimulate your thinking and your practice. If there are topics you would
like to see explored here, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,

Duncan Smith

Problem Solving

Creating Positive Change - Anger and Compassion

When dealing with large scale issues – climate change, systemic injustice, or changing an organisation’s culture – we can sometime feel powerless. A natural response is righteous anger, as in the sense that “those people – the people in power — just don’t  get it. They are (or the system is) the problem.”  At such times it can be helpful, as Pema Chödrön reminds us*, to consider that we can be more effective working with the world rather than struggling against it.

While our anger at injustice may well be justified, and even useful in some situations, we also need to look not only at what we want to achieve but how we get there. To work with change, we need to work with emotions – ours and others’. The technique is to work with emotions; the skill is to start with our own – to know that we can affect the outer world by doing our inner work.

As we consider how to respond to global and organisational challenges – challenges of leadership, culture, diversity and inclusion – a useful question to ask is: what energy do you want to bring into the world? Righteous anger can be a strong motivator to  help us speak truth to power. At the same time, compassion in the face of injustice does not mean compromise or weakness. Compassion is an act of self-care that ultimately has great power to bring about positive change.

Read the full article here

Organisational Culture

Positive Workplace Culture

Focus on the how as well as the what

How we work together is something we don’t tend to be taught much about, particularly if you’ve come up through an organisation, as an executive. A lot of our learning along the way is more about what we do rather than how we do it – especially in terms of working well with others, management, and leadership. Even if we learn the theory, we often don’t focus on the practice; our “to-dos” get in the way.

An organisation is fundamentally a collection of relationships. How effective those relationships are translates directly to the success of the organisation. A positive workplace culture is one in which all people are able to work well together. In order to work  well together we need to know about each other – who we are, what’s important to us, and how we work best. Often, the dynamics between us, right here, right now, are typically unspoken. Reflect for a moment — how aware are you of the unspoken  dynamics around you? How skilful are you in discussing the typically undiscussed? These are the conversations we need to have in order to work effectively together.

Read the full article here

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion

First – the why. Why would someone in the dominant power structure want to change the system? As a leader, as a practitioner – anyone wanting to create more equitable and inclusive organisations – you need to be able to answer one question: what’s in it for me WIIFM)? If the business case was sufficient, we would have seen a lot more change than we have. The business case, as clear as it is, does not address the human case –the emotional responses to diversity. Why do you want a greater gender,  cultural, racial or other mix in your organisation? How can you explain that clearly and simply to someone else? Do you want that greater mix in your leadership and decision making roles? Again, why? And if so, how serious are you? Are you willing to do  the work? A D&I strategy is only useful when it’s supported by behaviours – words on paper are fine, but not sufficient

Second – the how. What amounts of time, resources, and attention are being given to D&I? A senior executive was asked by his CEO to lead a new D&I initiative; his first question back to the CEO was: “How serious are you – in other words, what’s the  budget?” Is your D&I focus strategic, or operational? Do you have a comprehensive strategy that is clearly linked to helping achieve the overall organisational mission? Are you clear that D&I is about the organisation’s culture, not just individual programs?  How much do you rely on things like unconscious bias training? If such training is a centrepiece of your D&I strategy, you have some work to do. While unconscious bias training has been coming in for increasing criticism recently, it’s not the training that’s  the issue, it’s the intention, and the outcomes expected. If your only interest is to raise awareness of the fact that unconscious bias is something we all have without focusing on behaviour and accountability, the risk is that having bias can be used as an  excuse for poor behaviour*.

Unconscious bias is only one piece of the D&I equation – one part of one of the five Foundations of Diversity we use in our work (see – podcasts for more information). If you’re serious about making change in your organisation, 2 hours  on unconscious bias won’t do it. What will do it? More time, deeper conversations – make it about leadership, and about culture.

*Thanks to Lucy Taksa. See ‘Shifting the dial from biased mental states to higher standards of behaviour’.

Upcoming Events

Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks Seminars – 31 October, Islamabad, Pakistan
with Naseem Yasin and Lynda White

The Story Conference – 27-29 November, Melbourne Australia

ADC Associates helps people work together more effectively, make better decisions, and create more inclusive cultures. We facilitate conversations that strengthen working relationships; our methods are especially useful for handling challenging topics or emotionally charged situations, for gaining clarity and awareness, and for team and organisational alignment.

For more information see

Many of the ideas discussed above are addressed in the book Foundations of Diversity, available online or at

If you have any questions or comments relating to this newsletter, please feel free to contact me directly. Please note that I will not be responding to online comments.

We’ll be back next month with more.

All the best,


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