Creative Leadership – No Agenda


Together beats apart. Flow beats worklife balance. Productive beats busy. Work is an art form. Connection gives us meaning, conversations are the bond.

Those words you’ve just read, they’re my Twitter bio, and much more besides.

Credo: A statement of the beliefs and aims which guide someone’s actions

In the past few days I’ve been superbly fortunate to be working right across my credo. I’ve been involved in a couple of fantastic workshops, an excellent Facilitation Jam and a series of conversations – all of which have added huge value to our work. There have been many differences in this series of events, and some common threads too. Something that all my recent work has had in common is that is has no agenda. I’ve had a rough idea what each piece of work is about, plus a good sense of start, finish and break times, and from a structure perspective, that’s about it. What requirements and opportunities are created when working with no agenda? Here are a few things I’ve observed.


Everything starts with trust. Trust that we are looking out for one another, trust in what little process there is, and trust that something interesting and useful will emerge. Uncertainty is often created when working in this emergent way, so how do we establish that sense of trust with no agenda?


This isn’t a rose tinted blog post, so let’s recognise and find a way to work with, the inherent uncertainty that comes with open frameworks. Some of this recent work has relied very heavily on contracting – agreeing how we are going to work and what we need for ourselves and each other. At times, this contracting process has been quite protracted, and that’s because we took the approach that working out how we are going to be and what we need are the essence of work. Sorting this out takes as long as it takes, which is fine, until you constrain that vital conversation with an agenda.


A strong common thread in my current work is humour. I’ve laughed a lot in recent days. A few weeks ago when working with Neil Morrison in Louisiana, he suggested that for our work together (we co presented at the state HR conference) to succeed, it needed some humour. Judging by the reaction we got – Neil was right. When I ask people ‘How do you want to be in our work today?’, they often request fun as part of the atmospheric mix. I can’t recall anyone ever asking for dull and miserable. I am serious about my work, and I’m sure you are too. And I think we can be serious with our intent and allow humour in as a part of that. Not always, sure – but then I’m not saying that working with no agenda is always the right thing to do, far from it.


Good work is very often iterative and it emerges through a series of steps, one forward two back, two forward one back. Earlier this week I benefitted hugely from a phone call with someone who listened as I sketched out the flow of a talk and workshop I’m running next week. This flow has a few anchor points and a lot of space in between those points. As a direct result of describing my loose sketch over the phone, it became clear that something wasn’t quite right. I’ve since made a couple of tweaks and I now have an interesting mix of sequence and looseness to play with, derived from a check in call, a call with no agenda.

Freedom of Movement

When you work with no agenda, it becomes easier to work without some other mechanisms too. Loosening the corporate shackles a little can be hugely beneficial. No agenda = no slideware, or at least a heavy reduction in them. A result of this is that we are no longer tied to staring at the wall feigning interest while Bert does his bit before I do mine. Some of our current work has been done outside, and at times, people have come and gone according to their needs and wants, the often slavish obligation to stay until the bitter end has been alleviated.

Collaboration and CoCreation

The past few days have been highly collaborative, highly cocreative. There is a real sense of doing work with each other, not to each other. Expertise and experience in these environments feels self selecting rather than preordained. There is a sense of improvising, of taking an idea and building on it through an often random series of exchanges.


There is no right or wrong way to work, there are right and wrong ways. Working with no agenda all the time is as wrong as working with one all the time, yet in my experience we default to the latter. The world of work exhorts creativity, collaboration, community and even, *shudder*…engagement. But how often do we generously invite people in, and generously give them the much needed permission to cocreate, converse and at times of course, get it wrong? From experience, I think the answer is – not often enough. So why not try a few meetings with no agenda beyond the start and finish time. Maybe start by exploring what’s important right now and just see where that takes you.


Thanks to Julian Stodd, everyone I met through him last week and the crew at Seasalt Learning. Thanks to team Facilitation Jam – you rock. Thanks to Beth and Jas, and to Stephanie, Joe and Heather. Thanks to Carole. I think that’s everyone? Oh sorry, I’ve missed you out, haven’t I? Thank you too.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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