The L is SALT is for Learning. For me, this part of the acronym had the most immediate and powerful impact on how I did things.
I first heard about SALT when I visited Ian and Alison Campbell at the Salvation Army Headquarters in London in (I think) February 2004. I had heard a lot about Ian and Alison before the visit, but that did little to prepare me for the flood of ideas and energy that I encountered that afternoon. It took me a long time to take in all of them. But there was one that for me was overwhelming and new. It was the idea that when a SALT team engages with a community, the SALT team has to learn from the community and take that learning back into their own organisation. I remember taking the bus back across London to catch the train to my home in the north of England and I simply could not get this idea out of my head.
At the time I spent a lot of time working with companies. They were paying me to be the expert. I decided I was going to experiment with this strange SALT idea. In all my meetings from now on, my challenge was to learn from the people I was working with. And so I tried it. And I found that I enjoyed it very much indeed. After a few months, I was reviewing my project with the 2 senior partners who ran the company. They had received feedback that people had noticed a very dramatic change in the way I was working with them. What was the change and why had I done it? And so I explained. I wondered if this was going to be the end of the relationship. But no, all that they asked was that at the end of the year, I make a presentation to the group of the things I had learned from my work with them.
So this became a regular feature of my work. At the end of the year, I would present what I had learned from the people who were paying me to be the expert. In the language of SALT, the presentation was an appreciation of strengths. In some ways it came to be a celebration of strengths, strengths that people had not realised that they had.
When I made my presentation at the end of 2008, something very interesting happened. One of the group asked if she could add some of the things that she had learned from her colleagues during the year. And then the process unfolded. Other people started to contribute what they had learned from their colleagues during the year. And it went on and on. It was very moving, very powerful and very useful.
Only a few months earlier I had been introduced by Laurence to the practice of ‘Watering the flowers’. I do know that I had been influenced by what I had learned from Laurence. I don’t know if I had spoken to my colleagues about it. But I recognised the same feelings in the room at the end of the session.
I would like to recommend the exercise of a group of people celebrating what they have learned from each other.