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Devolving power at Overhear

Sharing power doesn't mean having any less power for yourself. To celebrate Overhear becoming a organisation run by equals, we're splitting this blog post three ways as Tom, Kibriya and Adrian catch you up on what's been going on behind the scenes at Overhear and what the future might hold...

Tom having a grand time on an Overhear walking tour


Leading up to and during lockdown I had been reading up on topics such as Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory, I was introduced to these ideas through a friend and picked up Reinventing Organizations by Fredrix Laloux and An Everyone Culture by Lisa Laskow Lahey, Andy Fleming, Robert Kegan, Deborah Helsing and Matthew L. Miller.

I also listened into the equally inspiring Civic Square: Department of Dreams Online Festival from the next iteration of Birmingham's Impact Hub team setting up an incredible community in Port Loop, Ladywood.

So finding myself with no Overhear projects to undertake, not having acquired the Arts Council Recovery Grant, and brimming with these new ideas, I decided it was time to invite Kibriya Mehrban and Adrian B Earle into a bit of an unknown with me on the future of Overhear... to devolve my power as CEO and share it with them. This means I am no longer the last word or the final decision maker in what happens in the organisation, I can't veto their ideas or say what they can and can't do. The only 'rule' is that we all have to ask each other for advice.

Instead of wanting to predict and control everything about Overhear I have learnt that to let go of my assumed power and hand it over to Kibriya and Adrian would open up new avenues and opportunities that I could never reach. What would they do with this organism I had created and where would they put their energy if it was theirs to experiment with?

we organise into circles of responsibilities and roles rather than a heirarchical structurestructure

To create some sort of framework for this new way of working we have loosely adopted the Holacracy constitution, which distinguishes between people and roles. I say loosely because as a team of only three the framework doesn't really come into effect - our decision making doesn't need to be particularly streamlined yet - but as we grow it's a good framework to understand and implement when we need to work and make decisions quicker. It is also built on the tenants of self-management and shared ownership that we are aligning ourselves with.

So far its been a great experience. Having two other dedicated minds channelling their energy into Overhear eliminated several blind spots I had and has already resulted in the development of our first online workshop and a tight ACE Application we will hear back on in December.

Kibriya pretending not to be terrified reading poetry at Verve Poetry Festival


When Tom reached out to discuss his intentions for Overhear, I was initially cautious – as anyone is upon being sent a 28-page pdf file via WhatsApp – but after a couple of conversations with him, and with our latest addition Adrian, a few things became clear.

  1. This was potentially a really exciting moment for Overhear, where there were possibilities for growth in all kinds of new and interesting directions, and I was being invited to be part of it

  2. Sharing power in a bigger team made perfect sense with what Overhear was trying to do in terms of encouraging community and connection – and what each of us was individually interested in

  3. In a time when people were being told to stay inside wherever possible, this was going to be tough

a screenshot of a Zoom call with various participants smiling
a few of the wonderful participants from our Statues workshop in August

What The Situation did do was give us time to talk things over, at length - something that was incredibly important to the process of defining what we all wanted from Overhear, what we imagined it becoming and what our own roles in that might be. Weekly meetings between myself, Tom, Adrian and occasionally, Stuart Langridge, where we were all empowered to share our ideas, critiques and suggestions resulted in more progress in our projects than any of us would have accomplished alone. We’ve turned pitches around in days, run our first ever workshop, collaborated with a whole host of poets and partners as well as putting together a funding bid we feel proud of, all in a few short months.

For me personally, Overhear adopting a holocratic approach to working has meant I’ve been able to grow beyond my original role. Adding workshop facilitating and co-directing an organisation to my list of experiences has been illuminating, if only to discover that with the right support, I can be useful in more ways than I’d thought. Selfishly, I’ve also appreciated the opportunity to have regular conversations with people as innovative and inspiring as the Overhear team, and I cannot wait to find out what the work we’re doing looks like in the future.

Adrian being his usual dapper self


I'm driven by storytelling and building things. Finding new and innovative ways to tell stories and constructing them if they don't already exist. I think I'd read the invite email from Tom 1.5x before I replied with an emphatic yes.

Being a bit of a dreamer I loved our initial discussions about what Overhear could become on the grandest of scales and I was heartened when that scope was undiminished through subsequent meetings and we started to implement practical steps to achieve things we agreed might be far in our collective futures.

Being part of startups in the forms of Magazines and Media to Theatre, I was well aware (and phenomenally blunt...sorry Tom!) about the ability of ideas to fall at the hurdle of implementation.

But in Tom and Kibriya I found two people who had come to the table as ready and willing as I was to build something awesome. What that thing, Overhear, will be is up to us collectively. That might be the principal reason why I jumped at the chance to be involved: To create and innovate in a Holocratic framework. A management/ development style that had only been theoretical until Tom pitched it in a meeting with his fantastic 'Why not?'

We all have our strengths, areas of expertise and contact pools. Tom and Kibriya as well as being excellent creatives and people-orientated thinkers, are also fabulous human beings that it's a hell of a lot of fun spending time with. Combining our skills in a non-hierarchical framework based on sustainability, respect, ethical practice and growth in service of the community has the potential to be brilliant not only because it creates a great space to make things happen but also because our successful making-of-a-very-cool-thing can be an example to other Cool Thing Makers, creative developers, or just people looking to collaborate, showing that there can be a better way to make and grow!

We live in very strange and unpredictable times, but on this front at least the future sounds Awesome.


So here we go! Fingers crossed for December and our Arts Council bid to redevelop the app and do some development and research on the Organisation.

If what we are doing sounds interesting and you would also like to take Overhear and channel some energy into it give us a call! We are looking for othera to take a bit of a leap and chip in. Particularly with the Business Management side of things as well as an in house App Developer we can call on!

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