From board meetings to 11th grade classrooms – Debbie Donaldson’s contribution as a Deep Democracy practitioner

Debbie Donaldson

Debbie Donaldson is a self-employed consultant in the financial services sector and their supply chains. She works primarily in sustainable development specifically in translating strategic intent into actionable plans for implementation. Debbie facilitates the creation of the plans, works with the team to address team dynamics in a way that optimises collaboration and / or supports the team and/or individuals through change management coaching.

She first learned about Deep Democracy seven years ago as she was working for a leading international commercial brokerage company. Since then, she has gone a long way using the tools in her personal and professional life. A personally inspiring application of Deep Democracy came a few years down the road, when she started teaching Deep Democracy to Young Adults.

Getting introduced to Deep Democracy

Debbie was managing the integration of two personal lines brokerages, each of which had quite distinct work cultures. She and her colleague attended a Deep Democracy training to increase their capacity to manage the integration in a way that would create buy-in by the management teams.

Her reaction was unequivocal: “I liked it straight away!” Excited about the new method, Debbie took it to her next meeting, where she used some of the new-learned Deep Democracy tools. “The management team loved it”, she recalls.

But for her, the most impressive results were at home. At the time, her youngest son showed signs of being quiet (withdrawn) as is demonstrated through the resistance line in Deep Democracy. Once she started using the tools she had learned about, the results were immediate and very positive.

Sharing Deep Democracy with Young Adults

Two years ago, Debbie started her independent consultancy business. Part of her strategic intent included dedicating 20% of her time to the development of skills in Young Adults between 16-20 years old. She sees this period for Young Adults as significant in terms of choices. The value proposition is to equip Young Adults with tools that practically and comprehensively facilitate the life decisions being made at this time. Her experience in this environment has confirmed her intuition.

At first, she approached the school her son studied at and used Deep Democracy in facilitating team dynamics within several rowing sports crews. The results were palpable. The school’s Head Master then agreed that he would support the whole 11th grade being trained. The results have been such that she is now preparing to train the 3rd group of Grade 11’s that have come through this school over this time.

Debbie’s second experience was with a boy’s school. There, she taught the students leadership about Deep Democracy. From the beginning, their interest was sparked. Learning about the terrorist line was not enough; they wanted to know how to address it right away. As the training went on, they also understood and appreciated the wisdom of the person that does not agree with a group decision.

The third school showed similar results. At first, in this particular situation the students did not trust their own ability to use the tools and work together. As they learned more and practiced, they were delighted that they could do it. It enabled them to contribute to their school system in a more profound way.

Learning from the Young Adults: how her teaching has evolved

As she taught Deep Democracy to 11th graders, Debbie recognised the need to adapt the model in line with her audience. One of the first changes she made was to divide the program into shorter intervals and train over a longer period of time. “This approach is less exhausting for the students and enables them to test out the tools in-between sessions,” says Debbie.

She also repackaged the training with the Deep Democracy Foundation which evolved into   the CoResolve Programme for Young Adults. This approach has more appropriately included examples and language that Young Adults use. Simply adjustments from “What would it take for you to come along?” to “What do you need from us to come along with the decision?”

Debbie has also realised the necessity for authentically “living the CoResolve approach” with students from the very first interaction. The behaviour of the facilitator contributes to creating a safe space for honest interactions. On one occasion it was important to establish the student leadership’s views on the inclusion of their teachers in their training sessions and they were unanimous in wanting this continued support in their learning journey.

Deep Democracy in a Young Adult and Professional context

When asked whether she needs to adapt her tools to the different contexts in which she works, Debbie says: “the tools don’t change, only the conversations”. She also stresses the importance of emphasizing the different contexts for the application of Deep Democracy to help participants internalise its usefulness i.e. from home to school to work.

She was nervous to use certain tools in her professional world at first, however this was soon overcome. “Take board meetings as an example, asking people to vote with their hands is not standard practice but once participants experience the value of the process they become more comfortable with the clarity it provides”.

Next steps

In the upcoming months, Debbie will be taking CoResolve for Young Adults to an all-girls school, for their entire 11th grade. All the schools have now indicated they would like the new 11th grade students to experience the program.

She intends to keep using Deep Democracy because “it’s practical and it works!”

With her help, more students will gain the much needed collaborative decision making skills for both now and the future. “We have big opportunities and challenges at a local and global level and we need the capacity to work with our differences to increase our effectiveness. This is what the Deep Democracy program is all about”, says Debbie.

For more information, you can contact Debbie at debbie@youareworthit.co.za

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