Communication for Collaboration

One of the challenges for project teams where there is collaborative between different organisations and professionals is the lack of a common language. We all use short cuts in our language and descriptions within our own circles and it is easy to assume that others will understand you without needing any further assistance.

As facilitators we will often run sessions at project kick off meetings to help explore the project goal or problem by explaining it by using visual methods. One of our more challenging recent projects has been to bring together people working in the energy industry, systems engineers and academics to agree the research programme needed to develop an energy system for the UK.

The breakthrough for our client and for the participants was an early activity when we invited participants to explain the challenge of the future energy system by creating a model. Our client from the UK Energy Systems Catapult team commented that for him the highlight of the event was

“watching the construction and explanation of models of the energy system put together using balloons, card, pipe cleaners and sticky back plastic”

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Initially he had been concerned that this activity would be too radical and too “playful” for this group of senior professionals but he realised how the activity helped created a level playing field for the communication across all the different professions in the room.

We agreed that created a shared visual understanding enabled the group to work more constructively together so that they were able to complete the task of creating the future research programme and were able to build potential collaborations for the future.

We only get out the pipe cleaners if they have a clear purpose, there are many other ways to explore a topic to reach a shared understand and the power of visual communication can really help with your team collaboration so take a risk to communicate differently!

Christine Bell

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

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Time to Innovate

One of the reactions to our stories of facilitating the EPSRC Sandpit process is surprise about the amount of time that it takes. A fully formed Sandpit/Innovation Lab is a five day event which is a fully immersed residential community experience. There is a process to which provides a different focus for each of the five days and as facilitators we keep the process keeps moving forward so that at the end of the event the funding decisions can be made in a robust and fair manner.

Clustering Ideas Open Space

If you put a group of people in a room and tell them to come up with a new and totally radical idea that has never been thought of before it will take time. Initially people will share ideas that they were already thinking about. By using a process of reflection, challenging, discussion and creative thinking a process can start where these ideas get put to one side allowing space for the truly radical insights to emerge.

Developing Ideas Groupwork

It is possible to do innovation events in shorter periods of time. Sometimes a few hours is all that is available to bring people together to develop new ideas for products, services or research. The time together allows people to start to share emerging ideas, to develop these ideas and to then go away either individually or in teams to work up these ideas into a project/idea proposal.

Using a short burst approach works well if the follow up is part of the process. We work with groups to make sure that by the end of the “innovation lab” workshop  initial ideas are captured. These are written up and shared with the group. Further follow up conversations are initiated to see which of these ideas are worth exploring further. Having a presentation event planned for 6 weeks after the innovation event can provide enough of a focus to keep the momentum going and allow people time to further develop their ideas before sharing them for consideration for further funding or research.

To discuss ideas for Innovation events contact us directly

 

Collaborative Venues

Very frequently, whilst we are starting to plan workshops / events with our clients, the discussion incorporates ‘where shall we hold this event?’
At one level there are the usual practical considerations, including cost, ease of access, capacity and facilities at the venue, cost etc! At another level, we consider the opportunity the location and environment provides to enhance the event itself. A few examples in the past couple of years illustrate the point

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• A Programme Manager needed a project group, composed of very technically competent specialists to understand the interrelationship between their disciplines and how the various parts of the project formed the whole mosaic. In this case a countryside location, remote, but accessible and modest, was chosen for their monthly two day project review workshops. The two days together in a remote location enabled the team to leave behind the shackles of the day-to-day workplace. It enabled collaborative working so that the specialists were able to deliver coherent and highly effective solutions.

• A team needed to develop their Customer Relationship Management capability so we held their workshop at a conference venue that shares space with an up-market repair centre for prestigious cars. The venue provided a great opportunity for participants to see first-hand how the repair centre went about its work – and particularly to see the attention to detail that really makes a difference and generates referrals and repeat business.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

• We worked with the Energy Strategy UK team to explore the future of transport energy. The workshop was held at a Transport Museum in Coventry. This venue provided an insight through a tangible record of transport energy in the past. In the workshop design we incorporated activities using these resources to ‘hover above’ today and look back and look forward. A great stimulate to innovative thinking.

Photo competition

• Another client, passionately seeking for innovation in the Long Term Care of people, chose a location that enabled visits to be made to local venues to provoke thinking. For example, the visit to a local horticultural nursery, highlighted the motivation and dedication of the plant specialists, for many of them their work was much more than a means to earn money.
A well-chosen venue can support the overall theme of an event and can become part of the process. Seeking out interesting locations is a challenge but can often add real value to the event.

Nigel Chapman

This will change you

At the start of our recent five day Innovation Lab event in Norway our project Director Nick Tyler outlined an expectation to the 27 participants that what ever the outcome of the event, whether their project got funded or not …“this event will change you”
Indeed for our participants, many of whom were in the early stages of their careers, the event was a profound and life changing experience. They learnt through practical activities and experience how to work collaboratively with people who were from different backgrounds and had very different mindsets and experiences. They learnt how to move from creative thinking into a peer review process where they were in competition with other colleagues for funding.2016-01-15 13.22.47

But for me as an experienced facilitator who has worked on many of these projects over the last six years did this statement hold true? I think sometimes we can forget that experience does not make you immune to change and now 2 weeks after leaving the land of snow I realise that I have indeed changed

  1. Connecting with my Inner Joy for Facilitation2016-01-14 09.46.37

Working with this international group was just so liberating. From the beginning our client, the Norwegian Research Council were positive and supportive about the designs for the event. The were interested and engaged but did not seek to over control the design process so I was able to think truly creatively about concepts like the swimming pool assessment and the city of Earth 2.1. As our team introduced an activity there was a buzz of excitment and a real willingness to give things a go. The energy made facilitating a real joy and not a process to work through. I realised how much I enjoy working in the area of creative innovation and it made me think about how I can really focus on this as a specialist area now I am back in the UK

2. Taking Time to See the Sky

Like many people in the UK, even as a northerner, I still get so excited about seeeing snow and there was so much of it! Often our facilitators end up never going outside the venue at this type of event but we agreed this time to make sure that both us and the participants got to see the Sky every day. This was such a special time for me, just stepping out from the process and trusting that the rest of the team would continue to keep things moving forward without me. In those brief moments I connected with my sense of what was going on and was able to generate further creative thoughts to keep the process and me fresh.2016-01-10 10.40.31

3.Celebrating our Cities but Changing Them

i have always lived in cities all my life and like most city dwellers I have a love/hate relationship. Hearing this theme explored by the brilliant mind made me challenge my concept of the city and be open to different ways that I might both live and interact with my city in the future. Coming back to the UK I went over to Manchester for work where I saw for the first time “Tent City”. This was not exactly what we had in mind when we talked about a flexible city but clearly our rigid city structures are just not able to cope with the demands on them and the option of living in a tent next to the centre of one of our big Northern Powerhouse Cities seems to be the only option available to a large group of people. Being part of the Innovation Lab made me really think more about why this can happen and what can be done about this

2016-01-18 09.02.16

So thanks Nick for your words, I am indeed changed and thanks to everyone involved in the Cities of the Future Idelab for giving me reasons to change my thoughts and my behaviours, I return to the UK stronger, clearer and more energetic than before and ready to support teams in the UK to make our world a better place.

Not Everyone wants to Talk First

If I asked you to imagine a team discussion or meeting where the purpose was to generate new ideas you might have in your head an image with the following elements:

  • One person at a flip chart with a pen
  • Several people shouting out their ideas
  • The paper being filled with lots of ideas
  • A pause when no one says anything and then someone asks “is that is everything?” Everyone agrees it is and then the group decides which idea to take forward
  • At a large-scale event this might then be followed by a plenary session where all the different groups take several minutes for their spokesperson to describe what they have talked about and to share their best ideas.

For some of you this sounds all so normal and acceptable and even enjoyable. Other people reading this will be shuddering at the thought of having to take part in these brainstorming/workshop rituals. It does not have to be like this! Whilst some people are really comfortable in sharing their thinking out loud with a group of strangers, and some may even thrive on it, others quickly lose their energy and cannot make any creative contributions. The dangers can easily be that a solution is agreed by the group which only represents the views of a few people, a form of Groupthink that is well described by Dr Pete Stebbins in his article.

Techniques that Help

When I work with a group of people I am always consciously thinking about ways to make sure that the voice of many does not get squashed by the voice of the few very vocal people

  1. Thinking Time

Give people some personal time before a group activity. It need only be 2-3 minutes, but this provides enough time for people to take stock individually and to write down initial ideas.

  1. Structured Sharing

Provide a process for sharing the ideas in groups – for example by setting an expectation that each person will share one idea each and only when all these ideas have been shared and grouped do you go round the group again.

  1. Purposeful networking

Instead of speed networking offer more structured activities that will enable people to have more purposeful conversations. We used a highly structured “crowd sourcing” interview method and for social events our “dinner dialogue” cards work well.

  1. Moving groups and space

Build in time in longer programmes for people to take some time out by going for a walk and talk break outside of the main group.  Mix the groups up so that different people who may dominate in certain groups are able to work in a variety of settings and hear so many views it can help them to moderate some of their views.

  1. Abandon the Traditional Plenary

In the traditional plenary feedback most of the group are silent. Consider what the purpose of the plenary is. If you want cross-fertilization of ideas using different techniques where you mix the groups up or just walk around the room looking at the outputs can be just as effective.

Some of these techniques I work on intuitively, sometimes it is based on my own preferences for coming up with ideas. I recently ran a programme for PhD students Industrial Focused Mathematical Modelling Programme. Our programme was about how to encourage creative thinking and we started the process with an experiential activity from which the group developed a hypothesis of what was needed for effective creative group work. They listed lots of useful tips initially. What they added at the end was the tip “take time to think things through individually first, so that your ideas have time to develop independently before the group activity” which was based on the activities and methods we had experienced over the programme. In their summary comments this was one of their biggest learning insights and one which I know they will be taking into their work.

If you want to make more of the skills of the quieter thinkers in your team so that you really do tap the whole group for creative insights try out some of these ideas or give us a call and we can design a process with you that will maximise the levels of engagement and of innovation.

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Is fun out of fashion in the workplace?

As a facilitator I regularly meet people in their business environment. It is evident that one of the more significant changes in the last decade is the step back to increased formality.  I now see much less evidence of informal relationships between colleagues, I am struck by the ever dwindling number of people smiling, laughing and having fun with their colleagues..

Before and after meetings and during breaks there is much less of the old hum of conversation and banter. Breaks are dominated by smartphone activity and it seems that many  people  have a better relationship with their phone than with their colleagues.  When I get the opportunity to chat to participants and ask whether they feel the world of work is as much fun now as it used to be most agree that it isn’t; and that they are not as motivated or energised.  Whilst it would be wrong to conclude these are connected, it is within the realms of possibility.

A great deal of research has concluded that laughter and fun are one of life’s best medicines with many positive physiological and psychological effects on us.  In particular they maintain positive attitudes and reduce stress levels.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter

I have been experimenting whilst facilitating meetings by dedicating a little time to fun and laughter creation with a few short simple activities and noting reactions afterwards.  I am always intrigued too find a greater engagement between and productivity and to observe the effects of this last around two hours .

I subsequently decided to include a question about participant’s impressions of the impact of this in my evaluations asking “Was the fun activity positive or negative and in what way?”  Astoundingly, all completed evaluations so far indicate a positive impact irrespective of personality profiles or behavioural preferences.

Benefits quoted included:

We were less hostile to new ideas

It changed mindsets from critical to positive

I gained the confidence to speak up

And the top two comments were:

We were more focussed on our goals and got there faster

We began to listen to others as well as the sound of our own voices

Five Tips for Increasing Engagement

Based on my action research these are my top tips if you want to increase dynamism and engagement into your meetings through the use of some simple fun activities:

1)      Keep each activity short. Between 5 and 20 minutes.

2)      Ensure everyone is able to be fully involved and nobody is able to ‘sit on the sidelines.

3)      Select activities that have grown up appeal and will embarrass nobody – i.e. stick to problem solving rather than making animal noises or playing ‘truth or dare’. This may be great fun for some but will be horrific for the majority.

4)      Use activities on the spur of a moment, when a meeting reaches a sticky or dull point is always better than interrupting a part of a meeting that is productive.

5)      Finish by discussing a few questions such as:

  • Did you enjoy that? (Check. Don’t assume)
  • Why?
  • What do you anticipate the impact to be on the rest of this meeting?
  • What will you do to maintain this impact?

Pause for Reflection

What can you do  to increase fun and laughter at work?  Are you able take the challenge of improving fun and laughter in your world of work seriously? Is it time to bring fun back into fashion?

LucyBrownsdon@centreforfacilitation.co.uk