Where we lost our mojo

It takes time to get to the root of things


This happened in a university department, but I think it’s a pretty typical moment for a lot of different teams in a lot of different contexts. 

They were about to celebrate their tenth anniversary. And when they were founded they were the darlings, they were celebrated as this example of innovative research and teaching. But when we met them, they were saying, “It’s gotten stale. We’ve lost our mojo. What’s our future? We can’t even have the conversation about how we’re going to get to the future, even though we all feel excited about the possibility.” 

Well, we had a series of three or four workshops. I want to tell about a moment in one of them, because it’s the kind of moment that let’s me know that’s something is happening that is going to help people move forward. 

Twenty faculty members of this program had been together all day. And it’s about three in the afternoon. They’ve worked in pairs and small groups. They’ve told stories. They’ve listened actively, they’ve harvested insights. And now they’re together looking at stickies and big sketchy diagrams on the wall. 

So the discussion prompt is, “What’s showing up for you?” And a few rephrase thoughts from the morning. And then it gets a little quiet. And the room feels like we’re stuck. 

And then a senior faculty member, this guy’s tall and bushy haired, he says this: “All I can say is, I’m lonely.” And the room stayed quiet. Everybody turned from the wall to look at him. 

And then he explained. He said, “Before I came to the program, I worked in industry, and I worked in teams. And it was wonderful. I miss my team. I have no one to share my thoughts with, no one to invent and imagine with. And that’s why I say I’m lonely.” 

And that moment and those words, they opened a little door inside each person in the room. They changed the conversation. And they started to see themselves and their department through a new lens. And people became more vulnerable with each other. They let go of something. And that made room for the new, which showed up through the activities that followed. 

Sometimes it takes hours are a couple of days, multiple sessions for people to not be honest with each other, start by being honest with themselves. I don’t think he had that language for how he felt until that moment. But once he said it, it changed the room. 

That’s the kind of moment I love.

ContextUniversity Group size20Duration2 daysOutcomeReframed questions for culture shiftCollaboratorsHanna du Plessis