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

Agile Team Working – making time to talk

Proud and Sorry

Proud and Sorry

As facilitators one of the great benefits is that we work across a range of different organisations and professions, picking up little bits of technical knowledge as we go. I worked within a software company on a series of projects and facilitated events to help them explore some Agile working practices. In the process of this I came across an excellent reference source: Agile Retrospectives

This book is often my “go to” book when working with smaller teams. One of our recent challenges was a piece of work with a small team of remote workers for the ECC The team needed to make progress on some work tasks during a series of two face to face meetings but more importantly they needed to talk to each other and build the feelings of trust. Some of the tools in the Agile Retrospectives really helped with this challenge.

One of the ones that I often use successfully is the “Proud” and “Sorry” session. By using this format it is possible for people to share what disappointed them about the project, or others, in a way that seems to avoid the normal defensive reaction. This method also does something which we always suggest to even small teams – it allows you to write and think your responses individually first before sharing them in a group. With a small team it is tempting to have all the discussions in the large group but this can lead to Groupthink and make some contributions less significant than others.

As with all teams taking time to listen to each other, to build the trust will then make sure that the actual meeting work can be done very effectively. We find that the meeting takes no longer than a normal more agenda driven type of meeting approach, but the richness and depth leads to a far better result after the meeting.

Case Study of our work with ECC

Innovation: Time for Reflection

Many of our facilitated events are designed to develop innovative approaches to current problems. The activities that are often used to explore innovation tend to focus on energetic activities which engage participants with each other and encourage a free flowing dialogue.

These are often great and do create energy and ideas. What has troubled me for a long time has been that these types of activities are well received by extrovert types but the quieter, more reflective type of participant will often be observed on the edges of these activities. There is an assumption that creativity is needs noise and activity to be truly “out of the box thinking”.

There have been many critiques already about this approach to creativity http://bit.ly/paspNY My own personal experience is that whilst some great ideas have emerged from conversations with others some of the best ideas have emerged during quieter periods of thinking often when swimming or travelling.

I wanted to experiment with bringing some quieter reflective activity into an innovation event and started exploring different approaches. One approach I really liked came out of my work within Software engineering companies where we had been exploring the use of Agile as a method of project management. A book related to this project was “Agile Retrospectives: making good teams great” http://bit.ly/qRGNol

I adapted an idea from here on Reflective Writing for my innovation conference. We had a group of 40 people and they were working on tables of 5 people. We held the reflection session after two days of input and activity. Each participant had 10 minutes to reflect on the ideas that had emerged so far and was asked to write or draw the thoughts that emerged. After 10 minutes they passed their work to the next person in the group who then added their thoughts and comments to the work, until the work had gone round the small group. The group then discussed the emerging themes and the light bulb moments during this activity.

One of the amazing experiences was being in a conference room with 40 people with no noise at all, it made me realise how little peace we provide at events for people just to sit back and reflect. The activity produced some fascinating insights which were shared as wall posts for others to read at a later stage.

One area I do want to develop with this technique is how best to use it with people who do not want to write things down, they would be happy talking about it but not writing for various reasons. How do we keep them engaged but also keep the quiet which seems such an important principle.

christinebell@centreforfacilitation.co.uk