Collaboration: The Key to Project Success?

In October 2012 the BBC broadcasted a 2-part series by Evan Davis entitled ‘Built in Britain’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nd290.

In these programmes Evan explored the potential for major infrastructure projects to act as a catalyst for reinvigorating the UK economy. In part 2, the story focused on two major projects; the high speed rail link between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel; also the Olympic Park. The projects and the potential economic impact were very interesting.

The programme explored the reasons for the success of these two projects and sought to explain the reasons for our ‘new found ability to deliver complex projects successfully’. In addition to funding and engineering excellence, key project people identified a significant reason for the success of these projects in comparison to previous experiences was the contractual relationships set-up; which really encouraged people to work together – a very practical demonstration of the power of collaboration.

This is music to the ears. For many years I have worked with projects, engineering, construction and business change projects. In my experience the most successful projects emerge when project teams really do work together and engage their stakeholders effectively.

Some recent examples in my work include

Global Change

The Project Director inherited a global business change project that had experienced two previous false starts. The Director instigated monthly, off-site, facilitated workshops.

New IT Systems

In the other two examples, business change projects incorporating new IT, the solutions needed to be rolled out across numerous business units in the country. A short sequence of facilitated project launch workshops were instigated.

During these different workshops the facilitators focussed on providing processes that enabled participants to absolutely engage in the highly uncertain situations.

These workshops went much further than the traditional project kick-off meetings where PowerPoint slides are shown and contact details are exchanged. In these facilitated workshops differing viewpoints and perspectives at the start of the project were seen as enriching the process. Through a series of professionally facilitated steps, all participants were able to share, explore and ultimately shape their projects. This led to true collaboration.

Just as in the recent infrastructure projects described in the Evan Davis programme, these business change projects were all delivered very successfully. Perhaps the evidence points to an emergent clue – the key that unlocks a stream of successful projects – true collaboration?
nigelchapman@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

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Home Early: Good or Bad?

Whenever I run sessions, the question “We are really doing well – how would you feel if we had a shorter lunch and tried to finish earlier in the day?” is usually greeted with universal enthusiasm. Occasionally, however, there are people who prefer to stick to an agreed and advertised end time rather than find themselves with an unexpected half hour’s free time. This was driven home to me during a recent session when one participant felt aggrieved that the outcome had been achieved earlier than she had expected, and the day finished at 4pm instead of the advertised 4.30pm.
Of course, as we all know, people have different preferences when it comes to sticking to a schedule. More importantly, a good facilitator will know when the timings have to be “flexed” to allow for penetrating and valuable debate on an issue which, although timed for maybe 60 minutes, is clearly taking longer to solve. Similarly, we have to know when a discussion is not achieving its desired outcome and needs to be cut short and the process changed to enable a different method to be used to achieve the required result.
I think the key skill lies in flexing the timings accordingly within the agreed start and end point to a day, without finishing late, and yet taking into account those (admittedly few) people who may get upset if you finish early. One solution I find works ( on the enjoyable occasions when a range of facilitated techniques have resulted in an early conclusion) is to warn participants that the timings may be cut short, but that the session will still be “live” and open for further discussion for those who wish to stay until the appointed end time. This works well because although the formal debate has concluded, and results captured, the informal networking and sparking of ideas can continue.
Of course, this means that the facilitator needs to be on hand, and still working hard, right up to that appointed time, but after all that is what we are paid for!

clarehoward@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

What Makes Change Programmes Stick?

Currently I am working on four independent pieces of work which can be described as business change. These involve, to varying degrees, changed ways of working, new IT solutions, strategic initiatives to address the market. All have in common the desire to improve the organisation. In every case there is a senior sponsor holding some fairly clear thoughts on the need for the change but not so sure about the means to achieve. Ultimately what is achieved from all of these various programmes will be largely dependent upon the extent to which people grasp the change and make it happen.
I am quietly very confident that all of these programmes will be successful. Yet this seems at odds with the numerous surveys that would suggest that as many as 3 out of 4 change programmes fail to meet expectations. In a way it feels as though we have grown change programmes into monsters – and they scare us! This often leads to a response that mobilises various resources, books, courses, consultants, complex models which in turn either leads to confusion or paralysis or both. Does this have to be so? I think not!

At the heart of many, if not all, change programmes – are people. All sorts of people, people who have identified the need for change (sponsors), people who agree the need (advocates), people who feel threatened by the change, people who can bring potentially useful specialist expertise and other people, probably the majority, who either haven’t heard about the change programme at all, or if they have – just wonder what is going on.

If the situation described above is the reality, then it seems that fundamentally that to move forward and to build momentum it is simple…. people need to talk to each other. However, somehow this gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day pressures. Combine this with the noise from the advice and teachings of the books, courses, consultants, complex models and the desire to be ‘seen to be doing something’ and surprise, surprise whatever results are, or are not delivered, there are always massive gaps versus expectations.

Compare this to my current role as a facilitator on the four different change programmes. In each case I am working closely with the sponsors to ensure that we create the appropriate environment for people to be able to talk to each other. Of course, it is not just to talk, it is to listen, to ask questions, to challenge, to propose, to explore and to listen again – so that everyone builds a shared understanding, not only of what the change is aiming to achieve, but also how they can shape, influence, contribute to –  and ultimately own the change. I know how important these discussions will be in making the change stick and I am looking forward to observing how powerful this seemingly simple process is in practice.

nigelchapman@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