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

 

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.

Peeping Upwards Above Our Silos: the process of inter-disciplinary working

Diverse skills working together in valuable ‘white space’

As Facilitators we enjoy the stretching challenges we encounter as we strive to help people by providing appropriate processes to achieve ambitious goals. Recently we have successfully provided facilitation in situations where people are engaging ways of working to elevate themselves out of their usual silos into valuable ‘white space’ to create breakthrough or ‘holistic’ solutions. We know there is both a need and benefit for people with diverse skills to work together in some form of ‘higher ground’ that could be called ‘white space’. Sometimes we call this process “Cathedral Thinking”.

white space

Facilitators can help people to reach this white space, by providing well-thought through facilitation processes. These processes are designed so that people are enabled to explore, challenge and articulate a shared goal. We design ways to make sure that people really listen to, hear and understand each other, and then bridge through to working together to achieve progress towards the shared goal.

How can this happen? These four examples are great demonstrations of what I mean by facilitating in the white space:-

I worked with a newly appointed business manager, needing to turnaround an ailing company very quickly. The diagnosis was that there were many people, with excellent functional skills working in strong functions. However, in totality the overall business result was quite frankly abject mediocrity! Through a series of workshops we enabled people to envisage a ‘boundary-less organisation’ where the diverse, but potentially complimentary skills were welded together to achieve a successful, sustainable, robust business.

Another project was focused on constructing a brand new hospital. The traditional ways of working were at best transactional, more frequently adversarial. We invested time to share goals and perspectives and to form common goals. This process motivated everyone and helped people to understand each other’s potential contribution. Unprecedented levels of productivity resulted. It would be easy to assume that everyone just wanted to ‘make as much money as possible’. However when you delve deeper into the shared personal motivations there is far more at stake than this. The installers wanted to go home at the end of the working day without a sore back / neck (ergonomics). We heard stories from the factory workers wanting to go to Sunday morning sports with their children instead of being in the factory making rushed components desperately needed the next day. In practice, a well facilitated process enabled people to achieve their personal goals and make a successful project.

Another project exposed me to another circumstance where diverse skills needed to work together in this valuable white space to craft a comprehensive and robust solution to a very complex set of issues. In this case, an organisation had a need to design and implement a global process / system for dealing with and transparently reporting financial currency hedging. This programme had all the usual ingredients of establishing common goals. The critical factor in this project was the impact of language, and in particular the understanding of meaning and culture within the multi-national team of people. The facilitation processes had to invest time to carefully tease out perspectives. This meant that people were able to appreciate and value the background underlying those perspectives.

More recently, we facilitated an EPSRC sandpit, addressing the Nexus involving Water, Food and Energy. It was delightful to work with and facilitate a wide range of academic disciplines and stakeholders with differing perspectives. Our process supported the group to identify some approaches that transcended the whole topic and expertise in the room. Once again the facilitation processes were designed to enable people to explore, challenge and ultimately share a common goal. We encouraged people to value and connect diversity. The result was to create and articulate novel programmes in the ‘white space’.

This approach can also be seen currently in the world’s response to Ebola, using a ‘Systems Thinking’ perspective. As we start to see progress being made what is becoming clearer is that a diverse range of skills / organisations, including Governments, Armies; Community Leaders; Scientists; Pharmaceutical competitors; Medical professionals; Academics; Charities; came together to formulate and adapt a programme to tackle the situation. It will be enlightening to understand what learning can emerge (de contextualized) and how that learning might be reused to inform any situation where there may be a benefit to enabling a diverse group of skills to work together, to address a shared goal.

Increasingly we see that people, organisations, communities are facing up to challenges which may be most effectively addressed by moving outside and above boundaries into the ‘white space’ described here. In that space, people need to be helped to listen to each other, to understand each other’s language, context, perspective and drivers. Fortunately a professional, skilled Facilitator will be able to provide useful processes to enable this dialogue and engagement.

If you would like to explore ways of reaching upwards to the white space of Cathedral Thinking we would love to talk to you.

Value Added Venues

When we start to plan workshops and events with our clients, the discussion includes the question about ‘where shall we hold this event?’

Of course there are the usual practical considerations, including cost, ease of access, capacity and facilities at the venue and the cost! At another level, we consider the opportunity the location and environment provides to enhance the event itself.

  • Transport Energy Issues

    Transport Energy Issues

    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 way to stimulate creative thinking about a future where transport may look very different to the past.

  • We worked with a Programme Manager who 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 site, 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. A more collaborative style of working was established 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.
  • Ready for Revolution

    Ready for Revolution

    We worked on a “Sandpit” event for the TSB, who were seeking projects to support radical innovation in the Long Term Care of people. We agreed on Crewe Hall,  a location that enabled visits to be made to local venues to provoke thinking. This included a visit to a local garden centre  which highlighted the intense dedication of the plant specialists, for many of them their work was much more than a means to earn money. We also planned a visit to the Methodist Chapel, which provided insight into communities, care and peaceful revolutions.

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.

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