Participation without meaningful engagement is futile


Some thoughts about participation that emerged in conversation with Chris Blantern – a very wise person.

Some leaders treat participation as an end-in-itself – a box to be ticked in the proverbial good leader manual. Arguably, how conversations happen is more important.

Depending on prevailing organisational culture, meetings can be discursive rather than action orientated; or, it can be action-orientated without being discursive. Frustration with either pattern can generate adversarial forms of talk, which could, in turn beget active or passive resistance.

There is a skill/art to facilitating/hosting conversations that generate genuine engagement. However, there is only so much a facilitator can do at each event or meeting. Organisational actors need to be attentive (listening), appreciative (thinking the best of others), curious and inquiring. For many these skills do not come naturally, they have to be learned and practiced. Attending to developing this culture should be the raison d’etre of organisation development practitioners.

group of people reading book sitting on chair
Photo by Helena Lopes on

Exit, Stage Left…

It’s been an emotional last week at Tearfund. It’s been hard to leave the work and people I’ve come to love and admire after seven years. While I knew it would be difficult for me, I was surprised how sad my team were. I think it was the realisation that come Monday we would no longer be in community and that the bond that has been built over the years would be broken. Social media seems a poor substitute to everyday relating but it will have to do

I was even more surprised by the kind words and tributes. It was like being at my own wake!


To the Lovely Global HR Team

I put our latest group photo on my FB last night with the caption… probably the best team in the world. And it seems to have started a FB
war about whether this current team is better or whether the team from 2 years ago was better! Soon after that my former team at CMS got involved also. I guess I walked into that one!
Any hu… I’m writing to thank you all for making yesterday such a meaningful, albeit emotional day. Thank you for your your presence, your kind words, your fellowship, your support, your gracious participation of art-full prayer sharing, your thoughtful gifts but most of all for your unconditional love. I will miss you all greatly.
I have been blessed to get to know all of you. As I said yesterday, I’m always embarrassed when people put the words leader and Patrick in a sentence. I believe that people are purposeFULL and leaderFULL. Most of the time, I just turn up, listen, observe, notice, encourage, make a few suggestions, and things aways seem to click into place, no matter how difficult the situation or issue we are dealing with. It’s my experience that groups of people are normally self-organsing, and that leadership therefore is about facilitating this inherent self-organising propensity, rather than get in the way of it. For those of you who have appreciated this, I pray for more of the same for you. For those who wanted me to be more directive, I hope there’s room for this too in what happens next. Whatever you find life-giving.
The great thing about working for a Christian organisation is that even before you join, you know that love is already there (John 13:34-35). I have certainly found it here, especially in our team. It has been an amazing privilege.
Blessings to you all. (I need to find a different ending for my emails in ODI ): )

And the people said…

The TF Chaplin encouraged me to write down what people have emailed and said to me over the last few weeks as this might lead to a sense of closure. I’m not usually given to such sentimentality nor for accepting praise but I thought I’d try it a try. As you can see, I started but could not finish. Sorry Phil. Maybe its still too soon.
I hope I’m not too late to say many many thanks for all your support over the last few years and for being such a lovely colleague. It’s been great to have you in charge of HR and I have so appreciated how you work and your team and your servant heart in all you do.We will really miss you here and pray that God will bless you abundantly…
I know you probably don’t want me to do this, but I wanted to say goodbye and thanks for being a great colleague!  It’s the end of an era, and I will miss you.  I’ve learned a way of being in the work context from you, and I will miss that in the current organisational climate.
I wanted to put in writing our earlier conversation, and to take this opportunity to thank you so much for all your great service to Tearfund. For me, it has been a joy to work with you over the two and a half years that we have worked together.
You have given so much to the communities we serve, and thank you again for your dedication, your commitment and the grace that you show to everyone. I pray God’s blessing on you for this next stage of your journey with Him, and look forward to staying in good touch…
Hoping this will reach you before you are cut off from the elect (TF email address). Thank you for your email and the excellent way you’ve outlined your leadership style.  I like it very much and it has worked for me.  Without being overly schmaltzy, don’t lose your style – it is an empowering, adult-to-adult style that removes fear,  builds confidence and responsibility in others and fosters friendship.
…you are such a wonderful human being. It makes me so sad to think of the organisation without you as there is nobody like you and I’m not sure there is anyone else with such a wonderful approach to leadership. I can’t even tell you how much you’re going to be missed. There aren’t the words.
I wanted to drop you a quick email to say that I am really going to miss you and to thank you for all the many things, big and small you have done to help me over the last 7 years! You are hands down the best manager I have ever had, I’ve so appreciated the freedom you have given me. Step out and be confident in your next role.
I’ve always appreciated your very humane and sensitive take on things and was looking forward to hearing more of that (particularly in this current climate!) but alas, it’s someone else’s gain. Lucky them, is what I say!
Will really miss you Patrick. Thanks for being one of the good guys. 😀
Will miss you during focus fortnight. I remember your support and help  to me during the Philippines operation;
you’ re an incredible asset to people and company.
The post-Goh Tearfund world is a strange one – I may need to arrange for someone to stop by my desk and tell me a terrible joke every couple of hours to help with the transition. Maybe we should have had a cardboard cut out of you made before you left too?! I feel we should have had some kind of pastoral debriefing plan in place for the team for after you left.
There were just not enough challenges left for you Patrick….  It seem our best talent is moving to ODI
We will miss you Patrick and have so appreciated your kindness and friendship in HR.
I haven’t spent time with you personally, but every time I have seen you, you have always had a smile on your face and have always made me fill welcome which is rare for a person who seats in a position of influence. I will really miss your presence in TF. Sometimes we don’t know the effect our actions have on others- Please do carry this nature wherever you go .
You are the best boss ever!!! Thank you for all your support, encouragement and grace over the last few years. I feel I have learnt so much from you, you are a wonderful human!
You have been a source of inspiration, an encourager, a ‘luminary’ for good practice, an advocate, a counsel for the defence, a prophetic voice and a good friend. Always looked to you as a benchmark in my life for integrity, grace and most of all fun.
Thank you for bring fresh ideas, challenges and human to TF.
Thank you for your support, you really go above and beyond!
You are really one of the loveliest people I have have every met.
I will miss your thoughtful conversations about leadership and innovative ways of working.


I visited the offices of the Overseas Development Institute in Blackfriars Road this morning. I took the train from Mill Hill Broadway to Blackfriars Station. Amazingly, its passenger platforms are built literally above the River Thames. The views on either side of the station are stunning.

The name Blackfriars was first used in 1317. It was taken from Dominican monks who moved into their priority here in 1276 and is so called because they wore black.

The modern bridge is known today for being the world’s largest solar-powered bridge. The roof of the bridge is covered with 4,400 photovoltaic panels, providing up to half of the energy for the station.

I brought my new walkabout Fujifilm camera with me and here are some snaps I took along the way. The images were post-processed in Topaz Studio.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?

I took this image in the Old Quarter, Hanoi. As the old adage goes, it paints a thousand words. For me the following come to mind: busy, touristy, colourful, polluted, industry, resilient, familial, noisy, hipster hangout, chic…

But there’s a lot more that can be said that is unseen. I had watched a BBC documentary on the Vietnam war before visiting and couldn’t get the depressing images of the estimated 3 million people who were killed out of my mind. With each conversation, I found myself wondering what effect the catastrophic event that visited the parents and grand-parents had, and continue to have, on the person I was talking to. A devastating event that began with the words “let’s send in a few more advisers”.

Little wonder I was annoyed one evening when I overheard a middle aged American tourist chastising a Vietnamese waiter for bringing her the wrong order. She wouldn’t let up even after this was rectified, apologies given and wrong dish offered for free. She kept on about it with her friends for quite some time. I know, different time, different context.

Nevertheless, words are fateful. They create our social worlds. This happens one conversation at a time. Can’t help wondering what’s was being created between the American lady and the waiter in this seemingly harmless exchange.


As a consequence of the international aid scandal, I’m wrestling with the question of how leaders can create organisation cultures that have zero tolerance to all forms of abuse without inadvertently creating a draconian culture of surveillance, blame and suspicion?

What does getting the right balance look/feel like? Comments below please.

Can Oxfam “sex scandal” controversy be completely avoided?

Between the human condition and the extreme conditions international aid work is often carried out, probably not. Not entirely. That said, screening, safeguarding and whistle blowing processes must be in place to prevent abuse of any nature. However, when deplorable acts are uncovered and dealt with, they should be seen as a success of these processes, rather than an indictment of the agency concerned. The wrong doings of a few rogue elements shouldn’t be used to ‘pathologise’ the whole organisation as bad, as some have done in the case of Oxfam, an organisation that has and continues to do so much good.

The best any organisation can do is to put in place rigorous processes to reduce the risk of abuse and to enact protocols for dealing with transgressions when they happen, swiftly and openly.

For British charities, developing and codifying (mis)conduct, safeguarding and whistleblowing  policies is mandatory and in many ways the easy part of the equation – write the policies, stipulate the consequences and sanctions for misconduct and communicate this throughout the organisation.

However, turning desired behaviours into lived practice and creating a culture of zero tolerance to abuse given the geographical spread, busyness, complexities and chaos of crisis response is another matter altogether.  Getting the whole system to live up to the highest ethical standards is a relational achievement that involves carefully planned Organisation Development activities that results, not only in organisational members embracing but also embodying espoused values in ways that heightens vigilance to unacceptable behaviours. Unfortunately in a sector increasingly obsessed/stressed with meeting compliance requirements and driven by KPIs and ROIs such culture building activities are often seen as a luxury and a waste of time.

International charities need to be both diligent about developing and implementing preventive policies; and pay equal, if not more attention to co-creating an ethical culture where all organisation members are working towards eliminating all forms of malpractice. Having done this, when things go wrong, and they will, we should hold the organisation concerned accountable for learning from their mistakes and for making tangible improvements, rather than hounding them in ways that reduce their support and consequently their ability to serve their beneficiaries.

Oxfam is a great humanitarian organisation that has and continues to do so much good. They should be encouraged and supported to do better. A retributive approach does not serve the greater good.

Most aid workers put themselves in harm way to serve others. When the instinct is to run away from danger, this special breed of people run towards it. They do so out of compassion and a desire to alleviate suffering. What this current debate ignore, is that for each incident of aid workers abusing beneficiaries, there are an equal, if not more, abuses perpetrated on aid workers and volunteers in the cause of their work. The ones I know carry on regardless. Don’t let the misdeeds of a few taint the honourable, often self sacrificial work of the many.

Extra, Extra…Read all about it. Especially as it’s free for the month of Feb!

I had a really pleasant surprise last week when this email hit my inbox:

Dear Patrick Goh,
I’m delighted to inform you that your article published in Voluntary Sector Review was one of the Journal’s top five most read articles published in 2017. As such we will be making it free to access for the month of February and marketing it on our website ( and on the Voluntary Sector Review twitter feed.

As the email didn’t ask me to fill in my personal information, I’m fairly certain it’s not spam. :)-

My reward? It’s being featured as a free download for the month of February 2018… so get it while you can.

#Don’t you wish your boy / girl friend was hot like me? JK! 

The article’s called Systemic practice and workplace as community: alternatives to managerialism