January 18

2024: What I learnt from Tong Yee and his team at And


This is not a sponsored post and I don’t get paid by And to write any of this.

As a young 16 year old, I still remember putting my nose into each fresh issue of Broader Perspectives, which was an initiative by The School of Thought, the GP tuition centre that was first started by Tong Yee in 2002.

And somehow, as I stuck my nose more into the field of Organisational Development (OD), his name kept coming up.

If you don’t know, Tong Yee started And.

Information from his publicly available LinkedIn profileInformation from his publicly available LinkedIn profile

But let me take you to the day when his lessons finally became real

I sat in the room, extremely conscious that everyone was looking at me and expecting me to say something. Anything.

After all, I had been the one who had organised the earlier discussions on what could improve in our church group. And at this point, we were deciding whether we should stay on as a group, or break up, since the earlier complaints were that we were not growing spiritually.

If you’re sensitive to that religious context, please relax. This is not an article to preach.

But it helps to frame the challenge that we were facing.

The challenge is real.

As it probably is in some contexts you’ve faced.

A group decides to stay or break up based on how well it’s achieving its shared, and aligned goals.

If it doesn’t share the same values and goals, the painful discussion needs to be had, about whether the group is better apart.

What do you do in those instances?

Back to the story.

Conscious, I decided to pass the baton on, saying that I had nothing new to add to what others had shared.

The discussion moved on.

If I hadn’t gone for the training by And, I would have likely blabbered on and on like a dead fish, never clear when others were hoping that I could simply, just shut up.

Just what did Debra and Yu Ching, who trained me at And, teach that I hadn’t realised previously?

Tong Yee is a legend for how he makes complex OD really interactive and real.

And what might you learn, particularly in how we interact within the groups and organisations we are part of? And especially when there are tensions to be resolved?

Why we need to know this

Let’s be clear. Not everyone needs to learn organisational development (OD). And not everyone should.

The common age where most people are allowed into OD courses is 40, because they think you need a certain degree of life experience before you are allowed to experience the best of the learning.

But OD is vital because if you really dig into things, you would see that most things occur in groups, and most tensions occur between groups.

Seeing spaces, and the gaps in between them

One thing I saw both Yu Ching and Debra do was to consciously remove empty chairs in the room, before the session first started.

FNS singapore SPOT training teaches you how to make better meetings
If you’ve ever found yourself struggling in organisations, welcome to the club.

Paying attention to this physical space matters, as minute a detail as it sounds.

Have you ever thought of how you enter a room, and more importantly, how you’re received within that room? Physically, you take up space. But emotionally, you also do. You either drain or give someone more energy.

As someone who wasn’t very well liked (in the past, and not now, I would like to think), I could see that whenever I entered the room with the rest of my colleagues, there was a palpable tension in the room.

How we show up in these spaces we enter does matter.

Think about the last time you entered a room, and immediately heard the room hush. How do we see those spaces, and more importantly, do we see the gaps that these spaces invite us to step into?

There are two parts to how we show up in groups. The first part is unconscious. We often step into spaces showing up as we always have. We show up as we are used to.

For example, for a long time, unconsciously, I realised that I was showing up in situations as the ‘Warrior’. The warrior often focuses on the task, and how the task needs to be done ‘now’.

This tended to piss off people who worked with me, because they hadn’t necessarily agreed to cede power to me. They must have been thinking,

Who does this guy think he is?

This is part of the archetypes that Tong Yee and his team developed and shared during the training.

If you look at these 4 archetypes, you would immediately find someone you show up more as. Don’t jump too quickly into trying to find a solution, because it might not be a problem.

But in the context when it does become a problem, it might then be worth looking at some different solutions.

When does it become a problem?

When it stops bringing you the outcomes you want.

Learning to hold the space

One thing leaders don’t talk about, but which I think is done quite often, is that

leaders hold space.

They build the spaces where people can thrive, and feel safe.

If I take myself back to the time in this church group meeting, I knew that there was an expectation for me to share what I thought. But I also knew that whatever I shared may shape what others say.

So I chose to play the role of holding a better space for a more fruitful discussion, rather than leaning the discussion towards what I thought was best for the group.

Imagine yourself being like Mrs Fantastic, who shapes the forcefield that protects others. You’re not the Hulk who’s lifting your colleagues, your group mates, out of distress every single time.

Once you see, you cannot unsee

And if you look at Tong Yee and what he’s done over the years, from his early years as a GP teacher in, to what he does now at And, there’s much to learn.

He’s gone from teaching the language (quite literally), to building the spaces at Thought Collective (which is today a space at Common Ground in Bedok, which hosts socially minded organisations), to building the language around how we can have healthier systems where we operate in.

As Debra likes to say,

once you see, you cannot unsee.

I’m not sure how I could possibly describe to you the curiosity around OD.

If you’ve been hurt before by the people in your organisation, you would understand why. Colleagues you work with don’t wake up thinking,

ah, I’m going to hurt someone today.

They don’t.

They do so because sometimes, organisations and how they are structured, result in coping mechanisms, which result in them lashing out at the people around them.

For example, if you give a person who’s never led a team, a chance to lead, yet leave him with no support, the moment a team member seems to threaten this new leader’s position, what do you expect?

Healthy leaders, may welcome the ideas by this young upstart.

Others who are more insecure, may not.

That’s where you start seeing tensions.

Learning to create healthy environments where people can thrive and grow isn’t just a nice to have.

It’s a need to have.

And once you see the need, you would probably see why you need to learn how to better deal with these spaces.

Tong Yee’s a great mentor to start with.



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