Reflection is an inquiry into the experience and emphasizes how we can learn and gain knowledge from experience. Moreover, when engaging with reflection, one tries to make sense out of perplexity instead of trying to control and get rid of it. In a working group or even in an organizational context, individual and collective reflection can be seen as an efficient way of learning and contributing to change.
As it has been clear for the last year and a half, leaders, staff members and people in general confront situations in working life, where one cannot rely only on professional knowledge and where one must act in spontaneous, indeterminate ways; there is still a prevailing idea of professional knowledge as something technically rational and rigorous. This claims people as instrumental problem solvers—their actions stay rigid as they react to problematic situations according to their disciplinary background.
As a leader I have learned there are many factors that make working life situations messy but COVID-19 was, and still is, the King of Struggles and at the early stage, it was clear that there were several conflicts or contradictions inherent in the situation.
The situation was unique and not an “off the book” case. We knew that putting our heads together and figuring out different ways to continue the work we had started could help communities around the globe. We strongly felt that Workability International could give organizations across the globe some hope, and we were determined not the let COVID-19 silence us.
We all took those best practices that served us and implemented them in our communities. I quickly learned that even with great solutions, like new digital learning experiences, the situation was still infused with value conflicts: what are the problems worth solving and should people with disabilities or barriers to work be considered among those who need to be helped before others since everybody needed something. After seeing that, it is very clear that the most important area of professional practice lies beyond the conventional boundaries of professional competence and politics. What matters the most are the people, the ones we serve and the ones who work for us. We constantly need to ask, “How can we help?” But most importantly we need to listen and when we did that, the message was clear. Do not let the fire go out.
In the last 16 months the question of dealing with uncertainty has also been essential in the work and joint learning experiences among the Workability International Board. The pandemic showed us that is not just about describing the know-how in the action. When handling more demanding situations, we had to integrate reflection-in-action to the ongoing task. I think that reflection-in-action was infused in everyone’s doing with their own organizations and with Workability International; similarly, applying new working tools into every day practice meant learning new ways of using one’s competences. As we learned it was not easy. The practices we used as a group considered the way in which difficult emotions were worked through. We learned that empathy and emotional intelligence is and will be the new super tool when working with other people. That is what makes us humane and gives us hope.
Today as we keep learning and reflecting, I believe we have realized that we have accomplished more than just the lessons learned.
The Board engaged in reflexive practices and created different ways to use the digital platform; we also released the new member site in the middle of the pandemic. Pretty amazing, don’t you think? The whole process consisted of different phases, starting with collective problem describing meetings, continuing with acting out the problems in the form of implementation, and ending up in interpreting and picturing what members may benefit most from. This made us active constructors of bigger learning processes. Reflexive practices, the significance of democracy and dealing with uncertainty in different work communities showed us how something different, new and unrecognizable can start to emerge at the intersection between competing cultural traditions.
Thus, this group of people coming from different professional backgrounds and nations should be considered a great advantage. Since there is no common professional language to share, nor ready-made organizational structures and norms to conform to, the group had to work with a simple state of mind of openness to the situation. How can we survive from COVID-19 and rebuild Workability International to serve its members better? How can we help? This needs to be seen as a key element when aiming to find new perspectives to Workability International and how it can serve its members. Global knowledge can be seen as a great asset when building something that the new era will demand.
As I look back on the situation now, when we were simultaneously fighting against the global pandemic and building/rebranding Workability International, with a hand on my heart I can say that when things were hard; this global group of members and the shared information was one of the key elements for me as leader to cope and build a good fight against coronavirus. In the beginning the intention was to find “what people wanted to achieve and create it together” – to formulate a shared will among professionals from different working cultures. In addition to promoting informal conversation platforms, one aim was to create a professional learning community where common experiences could be shared and a “trans-professional knowledge base” created. My reflective and reflexive journey illuminates well that what we have experienced together is more than solutions or platforms. We have been able to see light at the end of the tunnel, build professional friendships, learn, share a vision of a better future for those who need our help and finally build a family who stick together.
My takeaway from the past and hope for the future can be found in the word: FIRE. Like the Olympic flame, we are the ones who need to keep the game going and the fire burning and within the word ‘fire’ there are four key learning concepts:
Feedback - Interaction - Reflexivity - Empathy
This will provide the basis for future actions and new beginnings-we welcome everyone to join us.
Marjo Jokipii The President and CEO Sotek foundation and Goodwill Finland