art of connection
October 1, 2022

Could film help with the art of connection for your change project?

By Ty Francis

When talking to leaders in many industries about major changes (like digital transformation) many recognise the art of connection. By that I mean the skill (more art than science) of connecting with people across the organisation to take them with you on that journey. Otherwise put as winning hearts & minds or ensuring high employee engagement through the process.

Given that data literacy & agile working are two of the topics our readers wanted to hear more about, it feels worth exploring how to retain such connection during such changes. So, I’m delighted to welcome back Gestalt coach & filmmaker Ty Francis to share his insight. Readers will recall that Ty has shared with us before on playing to win, adaptive change & vision.

In this post, Ty turns his lens on the need for more human connection in this increasingly digitally intermediated world. He shares some concerning statistics as to the dangers of the scale of disconnection in our society & workplaces. More encouragingly, he shares how filmmaking can help & a case study of how he helped one organisation use film to achieve the art of connection.

The scourge of disconnectedness

We live with only the illusion of real connectedness. One of the painful paradoxes of our time, is that digitalisation has facilitated unprecedented global connectivity, yet most of the social ills we experience have their roots in feelings of disconnectedness. One telling study in the journal, Science, showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. So eat your greens and exercise, but don’t forget to connect!

Emojis, texting, FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Messenger, SnapChat, and other apps are important forms of social connection. In business, too, teams hold virtual meetings across different geographies and time zones, yet the people in those teams may never meet in person – it is as though team performance has nothing to do with personal care for one another.

Government research shows that suicide rates are rising despite the numbers of FaceBook friends people have. The internet connects us to vast knowledge repositories, yet we lose touch with the wisdom traditions of our own cultures. Satellites guide us down unknown roads and across unsailed oceans, yet we lose touch with our own inner guidance and we feel out of step with ourselves. We are often so busy, distracted and pressured, that we become disconnected from who we truly are, from what matters to us deeply, and from one other. It will never stop being deeply beautiful, deeply confusing and deeply sad that moments of real connection – to ourselves, to one another and to the world in which we live – are so rare and fleeting.

How film supports connection 

The answer is not necessarily to live like the Amish. How do we embrace technology and explore its potential for affording us deeper and more enriching forms of human connection?

Film is a unique in this respect, because it can be a powerfully creative medium, combining visual richness with the emotive power of storytelling. Film both captures and communicates complexity. Yet the solution is not just about film technology alone! Corporations and governments have spent too long being ‘groomed’ for TV, and the results are glossy corporate videos that no-one watches or believes, with the CEO reading prepared notes from an autocue; and political debate where our elected representatives have learned to deflect difficult questions and to speak in soundbites rather than to speak from the heart. Used in these ways, film becomes simply another medium of false connection.

Authentic filming is based on authentic relating. Film-making can only support authentic connection when it is combined with the vital skills of human interaction – paying close attention, trusting, active listening, empathy, dialogue, and more. This requires self-acceptance, truthfulness, courage, and vulnerability from us. Yet the results can be transformational.

“Authentic filming is based on authentic relating. The camera has to cooperate with the human heart.”

A case study in the art of connection

However, for film to work in this way, organisations and the OD professionals that serve them have to step out of silo thinking and re-imagine the relationship between leadership development, corporate communications and culture change. Film is the perfect medium for playing in the disconnect between these disciplines.

Some years ago I was asked by a client in the pharmaceutical industry to support an 18-month period of downsizing in their manufacturing division, while maintaining employee engagement and morale and also catalysing a culture change. We used a team of shop-floor employees to make a series of monthly films, sensitively yet honestly documenting the journey – warts and all. On-camera breakfast meetings with the VP of Manufacturing and other senior leaders, where tough questions were put by the workers and real dialogue was engaged in, and candid vox pops representing a range of feelings and opinions of people at all levels of the hierarchy, really cemented relationships and made an important contribution to the business at a critical time. This kind of filming cut across traditional OD disciplines and really connected people.

Far from being a distraction from important business conversations, our experience is that film-making focuses discussion more tightly, and used skilfully in the hands of expert facilitators, enables more creative engagement with the strategic and operational imperatives in hand. On-the-spot editing enables moments of truth and insight to be captured and reflected quickly, and programmes can easily be created that can be shared with teams and stakeholders who are not present very soon after the event. As well as being inclusive, these programmes are themselves emotionally engaging and stimulate further reflection and dialogue in ways that support transformation.

How could film help you take hearts & minds on your journey?

Many thanks to Ty for sharing his advice & experience. As Ty summarises this: “Film really enables meaningful connections to be made and unlocks the potential of people to make a difference!”

But what about you? I hope that post was a useful new idea. Could you consider using this new media? Or have you already made use of authentic filmmaking? If so, I’d love to hear how that has worked for you. Let’s all take more time as leaders to reflect on how we are enabling greater connectedness.