How I related to that. The Woolwich in the late 80’s and early 90’s was a hierarchical organisation and I remember feeling such a tiny cog in a big machine with hardly any chance to make my own mark without the permission of what seemed like a weight of people. Coming from local government where I had helped set up residents’ groups at a time when no-one in the Housing Department knew how to do that, it felt crushing. I had gone from a place that gave me so much autonomy, I often felt like I was floundering without support, to a place where rules, subordination (very nicely wrapped, by the way) and conformity were the order of the day. It’s no wonder that setting up Indigo felt like an escape, a chance to exercise my self-expression and the biggest gulp of fresh air I have ever taken. Incidentally, my relationship with The Woolwich from that moment changed. Continuing to work with them externally, outside of those norms that had felt so stifling, I was able to make an enormous difference to the people I worked with and these are still some of my proudest memories.
My time at The Woolwich is now vintage. Yet, I work in all kinds of organisations that still get caught up in managing their rules from time-keeping to job descriptions that with the best and most compassionate will in the world prevent the kind of disruption occurring from which creativity springs. The bank that wants to attract young graduates with Twitter but needs sign off from its Global Communications Team for every external response is an example.
As leaders, how do we reconcile this need for self-expression, autonomy, and what Matthew Taylor might call “living the fuller life” with the realities of running, leading and changing organisations that have to be productive and cannot afford to lag behind? At times the need for autonomy seems in direct competition with the need to have good governance, structure that ensures equality and ways of giving people a sense of belonging and safety so that they can do their jobs well. It’s a tension and debate that has to be acknowledged and managed in every ambitious organisation and within each of us.