I used to think that I worked well under pressure given my background in organizing events but when I started work at an IT services company as a Project Manager, I found that I apparently don’t respond too well to it especially when it comes in the form of an angry client screaming at me through the phone.
In my defense, both experiences happened when I had to take over an already messed up project but regardless of the situation, I should be able to handle and diffuse it professionally and confidently. Instead, I end up stuttering and babbling and not at all regaining the client’s trust and confidence in me.
It was through these experiences that I started studying more and more about project management in an effort to just be more put together and be less frazzled when tough situations come up. I went about it very technically to the point that I almost signed up to take a PMP exam but fortunately I used Mark as my personal therapist while he was Symph’s business consultant and that lead me to join something called The Learning Circle with him.
The Learning Circle is what I fondly call my “PM Hippy Group”. It’s essentially an invite-only learning circle where people, who are leaders in any product development effort, meet with each other both physically and virtually for eight months and go through a program inspired by Theory U to not only learn tools that will enable them to become better leaders but also to unpack the mystery that is their own psyche through the views and experiences of the other participants.
Very hippy, right?
At first I didn’t really know what to think of it as Mark just said that it was a group for “people who are in the process of learning” when he first introduced the concept to me. I thought, “Well, I am someone who is currently in the process of learning and this is going to be a group of people who are much more experienced leaders than I am, ” because later on in the application process to the group I found out that I was the youngest participant so I went, “heck, what do I have to lose. Let’s do it!”
Eight months later, it’s safe to say that the program was more than what I thought it would be and turned out to be one of the most formative experiences of my life. Not just my working life, but my life-life. It provided me with an idea of what the future could become and how I could go about unveiling it, it gave me relationships that I genuinely think will last a lifetime and most of all, I managed to control my stuttering and get a grip on myself in tough work situations!
So what did we do exactly at The Learning Circle? Frankly, the program itself is very loose and although it introduced some tools that could be used for better team collaboration, it was more centered on getting to know one another and learning from each other’s experiences.
We primarily had online sessions held via Zoom that would last for about an hour or two where we go through a tool like Personal Values Assessment (PVA), Case Clinic or Lean Coffee in each session together. Supplementing these online sessions were on-site sessions where myself and Mark had to fly to Singapore to meet with the other participants. We did workshop-like activities like Satir’s Ingredients of Interaction and Empathy Box together, but most of the time we go through the program prepared by the circle’s facilitator (a.k.a “Driver”).
These on-sites probably wouldn’t have had the same effect if we didn’t pair them with the regular online calls. There’s just a certain charm in seeing someone you’ve been talking to regularly online and then finally getting to share a meal with them in person. I also particularly liked the on-sites as they were often held in one of the participants’ homes. It felt very personal and, well, homey and that I think elevated the experience.
I learned as much about myself as I learned about others. I learned how to identify parts of my thinking that needed some improvement and went about noticing and changing it. While the process of doing this seemed so unrelated to what I wanted to achieve, it somehow translated into how I performed at work in real life over time.
The idea that The Learning Circle revolves around — where instead of the word “mentor” being associated to one person, it is associated now to a group of people who are not only invested in your growth and learning but are also open to receiving your care for them — is something that I really enjoyed experiencing and hope to help others experience as well.
Myself and Mark will be starting to interview people to join our own “fork” of The Learning Circle program for participants in the Philippines this November so hit me up if you’re interested. For other experiences like this, you can stay tuned for the Product Tonic Unconference next year and for the next batch of the u.lab 1x MOOC that is run by the team who wrote about Theory U.
Cheers to continuous learning!
P.S. They aren’t really “old guys”. It was an inside joke at one of our on-sites that came up when I talked to them about me not knowing what to tell my mom when she asks “What are you doing in Singapore?”. Michael then said “Just tell her you’re hanging out with a bunch of old guys.” and thus, the title for this blogpost was born.