March 29, 2023

Abdul the workshop facilitator greets me warmly at the door as I enter the workshop venue during the afternoon tea break. There are several hundred Taliban delegates milling around, sipping small glasses of green tea, and eating biscuits. In huddles, they are in intense conversation and laughing as they take this rare opportunity to catch up on what has happened in their different units and personal lives since the last workshop.

I notice everyone has a sticker on them with a different animal hand-drawn on it. There are many lions, horses, eagles, etc. although Abdul himself has a small green boat drawn on his sticker.

Pointing at the impressive banner above the projector screen, I ask Abdul about the workshop topic on restructuring the Taliban. Could he sum up the problem the workshop is trying to address and what he would like to achieve?

‘In the Taliban organizational structure, it’s a classic case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Although I think the more acceptable term now is native Americans isn’t it? Every time there is a NATO missile strike on the Taliban, as you hear from the BBC and CNN reports, it always kills ‘a senior Taliban commander, second in command, etc.’ How many seconds in command can there be? If every time a missile lands it kills a top guy, it is pretty clear that we have a serious problem, the organizational structure is too top-heavy. Diagrammatically you could represent the current organogram as an upside-down triangle.

In this workshop we want to see how we can, through facilitated constructive dialogue and channelled brainstorming, turn the organisational triangle to have the broad base on the bottom and the point facing upwards. I am facilitating a bottom up interactive process in the workshop as I want to achieve collective buy-in of the new organisational vision. It won’t be easy as fundamentally many individuals will feel threatened by the shifts in power. I have asked everyone not only to leave their Kalashnikovs at the door, but also their egos.

Going forward, the workshop’s success can only be measured by what robust and concrete impacts there are after the workshop. I’ve stressed many times in this workshop that it is not a talk shop. The word ‘work’ is within the longer word, ‘workshop’ for a reason. I am quietly confident of success in getting the organization restructured to have a leaner command structure. Six months from now whenever there is a NATO missile strike on the Taliban, more than often you will hear it reported from CNN and BBC that only junior ranks in the Taliban have been killed.’

Before I leave Abdul to finish his tea and get back to facilitating the next session, I ask him about the stickers everyone is wearing with animals drawn on them. I’m intrigued by Abdul’s own sticker with a boat on it.

Abdul, ‘As well as having a light hearted ice breaker, I wanted the workshop to begin with people taking a step back from themselves, to open their minds, freeing up new conceptual possibilities by envisaging themselves in the character of their favourite animal.

About my sticker. Well, even though I set the parameters of the exercise to restrict the choice to animals, I chose a green boat to represent myself. That is the kind of mindset I have. If there is a box on the table in a room, most people are immediately drawn to think about what is in that box, but not me. I think about what is outside the box, maybe below the table, or about what is in the room next door to the room with the box in it. I might also ask why a box? Why not a balloon?

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