Monday, November 06, 2006

Helping Other People Do Great Work

Anyone who organizes learning events and meetings knows that often intermingling in the same room are some people who know each other well, and some first-time guests, who are there to contribute new insights, generate some inspired discussion, and generally help enrich the group's learning about a specific issue.

The meeting we are holding at the end of this week which will focus on change processes has this composition, as did the meeting I went to last week (see blog entry on Thursday, 2 November "A Courtroom or a Concert?") The difference is that at this week's meeting I will be one of the existing group members, whereas last week I was the guest.

So how transferable was my experience last week and what can it prompt me to learn about how to help our guest speakers do great work for us at the upcoming workshop?

When I have made useful contributions into other people's meetings here are a few things that have helped:
* I joined the group several hours before my intervention, so that I could get to know the group and how they interact;
* I had a very clear idea of the goals of my session and the organizers helped me get specific on the desired outcomes;
* The session was introduced by an "insider" and they linked my contribution directly to the rationale of their meeting, and linked it again with a summary at the end;
* The session was well placed in the agenda for its purpose, i.e. if it was a brainstorming session, it happened when people were fresh and creative (first thing in the morning). A reflective discussion was after a sequence of inputs, etc. (later in the day);
* I had numerous exchanges with the organizers prior to my intervention to craft the key messages.

I see from the above, that none of these actions are things that I could do alone. In every case, there was a partner or counterpart in the insider group that provided necessary guidance that helped me do great work.

Now I am the insider in our meeting starting on Friday, how many of these things have I done so far? What more could I do in the next few days that could make all the difference for a first-timer, to create an environment where people are proud of their contributions, others appreciate it, and generally helps everyone do great work?

I think I need to pick up the phone...

Using Storytelling to Generate Ideas: We Just Went to a Great Staff Meeting - What Happened?

If you read the blog post on 19 October, this title will sound familiar. That blog post was inspired by a discussion with a few colleagues after a staff meeting. Some ideas were already popping up on how these kinds of gatherings could be even more interesting and contribute to good dialogue within the institution. We decided to take this a step further and use our own communications unit meeting to generate additional creative ideas, and then to share them with the team who is responsible for our staff meetings. We imagine that these ideas will be read with as much enthusiasm as produced them!

Here was our question: You just went to a great staff meeting - you left excited, energised and hopeful. Tell us - what happened?
We first worked in pairs to create our stories, then shared them with each other. Here are some of the ideas that emerged:

• The staff meeting has changing chairs/facilitators – sometimes the DG, sometimes other management, or staff members lead the meeting.
• A different programme/unit hosts each staff meeting and uses it as a creative event. They use visuals (ppt or video with little text) as people enter the room to promote or update people on their programme. They run a warm-up, facilitate the news and reporting, and use a few minutes of the time for an “ad-break” on their programme. We give an award to the best staff meeting of the year at the Christmas party (people vote for it). Sometimes departments partner to put on their staff meeting so as to encourage cross-department collaboration.

Format of the meeting
• At the beginning of each staff meeting there is a 5-minute warm up to get people’s attention (breathing, tai chi, something fun etc.)
• The free coffee morning is changed to right after the staff meeting to encourage people to talk about the meeting and what they heard.
• There are different formats using interactive exercises for discussion components. For example, people make one minute interventions and then go into different corners of the room and invite people to discuss further, so they are “opt-in” discussions.
• Creative sharing is promoted in the staff meetings, and discussions are held that generate ideas about things of interest to staff, that explore a major issue, or use voting for more inputs by staff.

Reporting and updates
• Reports are not always made by the Heads; other staff members also get to report.
• Reporting uses more visuals, including “advertisements” of new products of which we are proud. Little text is used in the visuals, and more emphasis is put on pictures, cartoons and things to remember.
• Reports are delivered as if they were news items – answering the question, “What’s attractive for people? What is newsworthy?”
• The reports have a limit of 2 minutes (some people say 1 minute!) and a bell or a timer goes off when the time is up.
• The reports are interesting, humorous, engaging – the audience “votes” at the end of a report by clapping and that instant feedback incentivises the staff reporting.
• In reports, some parameters are set – such as that people cannot talk about “where, when or who”, only about “what they have learned and the key messages to staff.” Reports are forward looking and not backward looking, giving staff an idea of what we want to achieve and inviting engagement and discussion.
• Not only technical people take the lead; we also hear from general management, finance, cafeteria, etc. We consider what is interesting to ALL the staff.

Updates on non-programme and non-work activities
• Staff share what is going on in management – using the meeting to achieve even greater transparency on current debates in management.
• Space is given to support staff to share their news items.
• An “open-mike” system is used to allow people to share their news.
• Each staff meeting includes both work-related reports and also updates on people’s lives: births, announcements, weddings, etc.
• Staff meetings include 5 minutes at the end on social aspects such as how to make life exciting in our area (local events, announcements etc.)

Certainly there are great staff meetings in other institutions, what other experiences are out there? Even this 20 minute creative exercise was an example of how a staff meeting can give energy and contribute to our learning about how to do things differently.