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#BuildingCapacity as a concept, action, service, discovery … here’s what we learnt with

Sjoerd Luteyn (far right) facilitating a recent ebbf learnshop

Sjoerd Luteyn (far right) facilitating a recent ebbf learnshop

#BuildingCapacity may sound like a simple concept – but what is it? Is it actually any different from capitalising on skill development or talent management? The final pre-learning developed into a stunning interaction between participants from three continents as an exploration with Sjoerd Luteyn (who also will be at ebbf’s #BuildingCapacity International Learning Event 6-9 October Bucharest to continue deepening our dialogue on ‘Capacity Building in Organisations’).

The group set out define a concept of what capacity might look like in terms of #BuildingCapacity in organisations. The conversation was built upon two essential ideas: the first included the leadership model where capacity represents an ability to achieve certain ends as objectives or goals through the mobilisation or cultivation of knowledge, skills and values then “poured into action”. 

However, it was recognised by participants that this model can become far too limiting and to illustrate the point one participant said: “We need to understand that a guy who wants to be a chef needs to learn the practical skills to be a cook but your capacity is more than just a skill: companies mix that up: calling capacity – making a PowerPoint presentation”.

The second idea of capacity included the human potential model which was then brought into the discussion, to describe capacity as innate ability: something inborn, and latent if not apparent, to be discovered and developed. One person described his own experience of discovering his latent capacity: coming into a new conducive and stimulating environment, with an invitation to fulfil a challenge, and quickly discovering new levels of capacity, and skillfulness, within himself, that he had no connection to in his previous role and job.

Another participant added: “It’s not just building the knowledge and the skill that is building a capacity: you have to really do it; you have only built this capacity when you are putting it into practice.”

A gentle humour pervaded the conversation enabling the group to go deeper into their inquiry in a warm and friendly atmosphere: “It’s really nice to develop a capacity but for what?”

All agreed, that Purpose is really critical: “It is not enough to develop the capacity to build a business… or the capacity to paint a beautiful painting.” More is needed. Equally, purpose is strongly linked to moral values: “What capacities, and for what purpose, they are to be developed” is essential and must be discerned from one another.

#BuildingCapacity participants felt it is always related to action: there is always something to do, something to improve, to refine. However, it cannot simply be addressed at the level of financial gain or cost cutting, rather #BuildingCapacity includes not only ability but attitude: there is a sense of purpose to be derived from contributing towards development and betterment.

Another concept of capacity as innate ‘human powers’ then linked #BuildingCapacity to the deeper aspects of human nature with examples being discussed as ‘the capacity to love, ‘the capacity to listen’ and ‘the capacity to serve’. This interest was reiterated again later with the idea that we can glimpse the capacity of the human spirit in ‘the capacity for truthfulness’ or ‘the capacity for compassion’ suggests we could deepen in our understanding of what the nature of these capacities are in order to recognise the behaviours and actions “that indicate certain capacities – and without prejudice – its very easy to ignore beautiful qualities”.

It was also suggested that the very concept of #BuildingCapacity could not exist without the concept of service, not as in providing a product or service, or even a customer service’. Nor was it a social service. Rather, if we are discussing capacity building we are reaching towards a much broader and far reaching concept of service as ‘service to mankind’. It was even felt that the ‘capacity to serve mankind’ was, in itself, one of the ‘powers’ of the human spirit. 

One person, who had been listening for some time added that for him: “the ultimate purpose is service to mankind”. He asked if all forms of service find their consumation in this concept of service to mankind “phrased in different ways”? Next came the question: “How many companies would say that ‘its their purpose to serve humanity”? and “Surely, only a minority think this way?” and how is it possible to create scenarios where the service advertised is “what actually and really happens”.

#BuildingCapacity as Discovery

What then ensued was a discussion on the ‘if, where, when and how’ #BuildingCapacity emerging as virtues in Leadership, Human Potential and Service might then begin to intersect.

The participants continued to test their basic assumptions. Do we always need to have a goal or objective for capacity to be developed?  Are there ever instances when this is not desirable?  What is missing if we do not work with goals and objectives? How can you build ‘the capacity to identify capacity’ in order to draw it out? When does having a goal or objective serve as the magnet for capacity to be drawn out of people? How can a capacity be released into environments of free-flow information so that projects or organisations can get to even better places than the direction initially embarked upon?

To quote one person’s insights from this discussion: “Just as capacity is undefined, limitless, so the possible directions it can move in be likewise limitless. Goals in relation to building capacity may be less defined as goals but more as the opportunity to follow where that capacity is moving us and into directions we may never have previously considered or imagined”.

Another then suggested that “It may be that capacity building is finding the path to develop our inner potentialities and put them at the service of a general or shared goal in the understanding that all will express different facets and ways to achieve those goals” to bring “individual growth, organisational mission and driving co-creation” into the development of “conscious economy” which it was felt society was “only just starting to learn”.

For this to take place, it was felt that learning how to create spaces for saftey, authenticity, creativity would be needed to develop concepts that served both the individual’s growth and the organisational development. It seemed that the discussion itself, drew out certain qualities worth noting: an intelligent consideration of ideas whilst giving space for differences of experience and points of view to be carefully thought through.

#BuildingCapacity as Potentiality

Someone, who had been quiet for a long time, then asked with much excitement: “How can you develop capacity knowing – you actually don’t know – what the max is that can it can hold: This I find very fascinating!” She went on to say: 

“#BuildingCapacity is a process in which you stretch. You take little steps. Every time as yourself, and together, you stretch. 

Every time you are asking ‘Oh, is this still within my capacity?’ And then by doing so, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder you can also make it sustainable and very whole: 

‘Yes, we can make this little step.’ 

‘Oh, no, we cannot make that little step right now.’ 

‘So. What is needed now in order to really make this little step?

So that this capacity – from which we know we don’t know the max – we strive to reach its borders: To maximally develop whatever is innate in us.

She concluded by saying: “I find this a very fascinating process: In which the outcome is unclear; but at the same time you know that the outcome is bigger than we can imagine. Which is all very hopeful!

Another person added: “#BuildingCapacity is in this light not just about skills development or ability. It is really trying to identify the potentiality of an individual or a group of people and community as the sum of individuals. It is starting to talk about the unimaginable potentialities that are hidden inside the organisation and that’s a completely different conversation than how do I direct someone’s talent towards my short term objective, profit, whatsoever.  For this capacity to be developed there is different knowledge necessary, and insights other than just the task or objective at hand.  People have to look inside themselves and find it.  They have to see how they can contribute to Purpose with purpose acting from what they love. It is a whole experience in the process of #BuildingCapacity.”

A New Dynamic

Sjoerd Luteyn then summarised the dynamic of how capacity can be drawn out and built in individuals and organisations. It must first be “by experiencing” and being “set in a new direction and possibly even new surroundings” having been entrusted “to do, to experiment” and out of this prepared “safe environment” people can then “start to taste a sweetness of their innate capacities”. He concluded by saying; “This is really something beautiful, learned and seen, in this conversation. Thank you! I have new words, new understandings to talk about the subject with people – not so connected with the subject of Capacity Building – and point them into the direction of ‘potentiality thinking’ inside their organisations and corporations.” 

If you want to be part of the #BuildingCapacity conversation in Bucharest 6th – 9th October there are still a few days left to book your place.

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