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

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