Monday, March 26, 2007

Facilitator's Notebook: Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week Lizzie and I are at a workshop on livelihoods and landscapes, which is being hosted by one of our organization's largest programmes. We have 50 participants from all over the world, and to start our introductions in an interactive, exciting way, we decided to structure a "Speed Meeting" activity.

In this activity, each person was asked to draw up a short list of other participants that they would like to meet (people they did not already know well) for a series of five short, 8 minute speed meeting. Initially each person identified 10 potential partners which was used to inform the matching process. After we matched the pairs, we gave people back their own, individual Speed Meeting card which listed their 5 meetings. The process started with a "Go!" and then partners switched every 8 minutes until everyon got to speak to their 5 matches in the time available.

This activity has just finished and I am writing this blog post in our "knowledge marketplace". What seemed like a good idea, and still does to all the participants who thoroughly enjoyed the activity, actually took three people about 2 hours to do the matching process. It was incredibly complex to record everyone's preferences and to match the pairs to satisfy as many people's wishes as possible. We managed in the end, and what did we learn about this activity?

  • 50 people is probably over the limit to do a matching process, 25 would be maximum suggested using a self-selection process.

  • Ask people to pick their top 5 (not 10) so there is less data to work with. Otherwise, there is really too much information! In the end we were only able to match 3-4 out of the list of 10 for each person anyways.

  • Finally, test ambitious activities first (I did a version of this a few years ago, but this was much more complex due to the size of the group). This is probably the biggest point, we used a lot of session time generating an appropriate matrix to capture the data for the matching process. Time we could have usefully applied to other things.

In spite of this, in the end it worked very well; people are happy, and it lifted the energy enormously. AND we have three facilitators who have learned the hard way that testing new activities before the workshop is absolutely worth the time it takes, and ultimately saves time during the event itself!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Understanding What We Are Bringing to the Party: Group Process Consulting Resources

As I mentioned in my previous post, I attended a workshop on Group Process Consultation (GPC) this week. During the many hours we spent together (some days from 08:30 - 21:00!) we discussed many theories, models, books and resources related to group processes, teams and learning. I wanted to take a moment to capture some of them here, and record these for myself, for the team who participated in the GPC workshop with me this week, and for others. By the way, we did not have a actual party all week, although we did do some salsa dancing for our "check-in" this morning...

Exploring what other people bring to the party - Some resources
  • Attribution Theory - This theory assumes that people want to understand why other people do things and explores how they attribute the behaviour they observe - sometimes these inferences are very biased, but inform their interpersonal relationships nonetheless.

  • Johari Window - This is a communication model that can be used to improve understanding between individuals within a team or in a group setting. Based on disclosure, self-disclosure and feedback, the Johari Window can also be used to improve a group's relationship with other groups.

  • Egon Brunswik Lens Model - Our values, beliefs and assumptions are a lens through which we see the world - we make assumptions about what we are seeing based on our own experience of what that behaviour means. Does this represent whats going on? - maybe or maybe not.

  • The Ladder of Inference - A common mental pathway which can lead to misguided beliefs, based on a sequence of inferences.

  • Richard Hackman - Thinking differently about team leadership and the work of teams.

  • Jeffrey Pfeffer - Author of the "Knowing-Doing Gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action. "
Exploring what you are bringing to the party - Some resources
  • Journaling - Ira Progroff - A psychotherapist who developed the intensive journaling programme, which looks at journaling tools for reflection and personal development. We tried journaling as a reflective tool.

  • Firo-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation- Behaviour) - We used this tool to assess how our individual needs for inclusion, control, and affection can shape our interactions with others

  • Mind Mapping - This is a creative problem-solving technique that we also used to "check-in" with how we were feeling on that day. It can be used by individuals to map out their nonlinear thinking paths, or by groups, for problem-solving or as a planning aid.

  • Peter Greider - Author of the book "Following Through: Finishing whatever you start"

  • Peter Block - Author of the book "Flawless Consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used"
These are some of the resources that the group brought to the "party". Does anyone have anything else to add?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

No Hiding Behind Our Desks: Exploring Group Process Consultation

At the moment, I am at an NTL (National Training Laboratory) course on Group Process Consultation. We are learning about how to use this technique to help groups guide themselves to be more effective in their group processes.

It is different than pure "facilitation" in that the Group Process Consultant (GPC) doesn't do any of the up front work for the group (no standing at the flipchart, no developing ground rules, no notetaking). Instead the GPC's work is focused helping the group perform those tasks itself. The Group Process Consultant will observe the group's work and intervene periodically to notice and mirror back to the group some information and ideas about how the group is going about its task and what kind of group "maintenance" is needed for the participants to feel engaged and satisfied with the process. This particular technique is designed to reduce the group's dependence over time on external help (like a facilitator) to achieve its goals. To me, it seems a little like being a group "psychologist."

In our opening day yesterday we spoke about how the course would be multi-leveled all the time. We would be working at the cognitive level by talking about theoretical models, methodologies, etc. We would be exploring the behavioural level through noticing what we are learning and practicing as a GPC. And we would be talking about the personal level and trying to understand as a Group Process Consultant "what I bring to the table". So how can I be aware of myself in a process, how can I manage my assumptions, and notice how I react to things and how that might affect the group. Chuck Phillips, the course's trainer, explained that in Group Process Consultation, "The delivery of the process is the delivery of ourselves. We are the process intervention." So we are also trying to understand our own mental models and make sure they don't get in the way of our work for a group.

We also don't want anything to get in the way of learning this week; even our learning environment is set up to help this. We are in a room with 20 soft chairs on wheels (which we use to scoot around into different discussion groups), but no tables. The trainer noted that when there are tables, people tend to hide behind them, or use them as a barrier between themselves and what is going on in the room. We can't have that, so no tables.

That might be an interesting feature of one of the rooms in the Learnscape we would like to develop at work. It would be nice to have a space to use where nothing is a barrier to process. A small exception might be made, however, for ... footstools.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Secret Life of Teams

At the GAN-Net workshop in any one conversation we manage to go from the personal level (even cellular sometimes) to the global level. Yesterday in our group we had a thought-provoking discussion about teams which did just that.

Overall we are looking at how to improve the impacts of these Global Action Networks in the world, and an optimal way of organizing them to achieve greater social change. One question we were exploring was: How do individual team member limits, limit the team’s impact? How do these limitations affect the quality of the team’s work and “product” movement in their institutions and beyond? Using a more appreciative frame perhaps the question could be: What are the links between personal development issues and the development and work of the team?

We have written quite a bit in this blog about change processes and our theories of change. This takes that one step further by adding the micro-application of change processes into the scope of the discussion. We have our own theories of change within our institutions (explicit or not) and we also have our own theories of change for us as individuals. What’s possible when we put these together for experimentation purposes and learning?

How can we deepen our team’s discussions about this? One participant spoke of the “objectification” of the interior life of a team – just getting this stuff out there to be noticed and discussed. That is not always so easy. How can we articulate and make explicit our own intentions and how they relate to our intentions as a team, and how can we talk about our own fears and how these relate to our fears as a team? (and then link the team to our institution and our institution in the world?) If we think there is a mirror effect, how can we get that out there to look at and discuss?

In our team we try to talk about our strengths and our individual goals and how we can help each other achieve them (we just had our Performance Evaluations, so this is a fresh conversation). However, these things cover mostly the way we wish things to be, rather than the way things are now. It would be interesting to have these conversations together and see how our process for achieving our individual goals link to the process for achieving our team’s goals, and how we can potentially harness those two sources of energy and movement to speed both processes up.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What's a Woozle? Special Features of Global Action Networks

For the next few days I am attending a meeting of GAN-Net outside of Boston. A GAN is a Global Action Network and the people attending the workshop come from organizational development, knowledge management, human development and related fields.

These few days we are discussing the structure, strategy and governance systems of Global Action Networks including how these features could change to make them much more effective in reaching their global missions for social good. Sometimes it seems odd to be discussing fundamental changes in the governance structure or global strategy of a complex organization that has been around for 60 years or has developed a membership base of 10 million people. Surely that organization's structure must be chiseled in stone? However, as one participant reminded the group on the first night, institutions are created in our imaginations, and they can be recreated there too.

For those who are not reading Winnie the Pooh (like I am at my house), a Woozle is an imaginary creature that Pooh is afraid of meeting one dark night while trying to find his way home with Piglet. He eventually discovers that the Woozle footprints he finds are just his and his friend's as they have been walking in circles. These Global Action Networks are a little like that; they might seem large, complex and scary, but in fact they are just us. So changing them should be completely within our realm of possiblity (though of course as we are seeing it is not always so easy).

So off we go to explore how to create a new organizing paradigm for the world with this question: How does the world, how do we, and how do I, discuss and address strategy, structure and governance of complex, global multi-stakeholder issues with the precision and scale required to bring about deep societal change? We need to keep reminding ourselves that those huge footprints we are finding are merely our own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

No Trees Were Harmed Setting Up This Office

We are just about to move our Learning Team into a new office space in the building and are determined not to keep any (or the absolute minimum) of paper files and documents. If we really believe that information is a flow then how can we focus our energies on building our capacities finding just-in-time/up-to-date information and knowledge, rather than keeping hard copy "reference material" stacked up all around us? (See our 3 December 2006 blog post "How is information like electricity or water?")

This is not just a problem of paper data storage, but also refers to electronic files. I read some interesting figures in the Financial Times Digital Business supplement today, "Once data are 90 days old, the chance that you will ever look at them again is less than 20 percent. When the data are a year old, that chance falls to less than 2 per cent. In most organizations, 60 per cent of corporate data could be deleted tomorrow and nobody would notice." The result of keeping so much information around us, which is growing exponentially, is that the IT world is now talking about storage in terms of yottabytes (a one follow by 24 zeros - and I was excited about my gigabyte memory stick!)

In our team's office space we have already tried to stop keeping paper files; however, the shift to electronic saving does not change the fact that the amount of information we are keeping is getting increasingly and unmanageably large. We really need to make that paradigm shift in the way we see information - not as a stock (paper or electronic) but as a flow. If we can, that should make for a nice, clean new office space. People might come in, look around, see our big round table, comfy chairs, workstations, empty bookcase and wonder, "What do these people do?" and that's ok -- we're learning...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Facilitator's Notebook: Bingo!

I have not lost total faith in formal training or workshops as learning delivery tools; Jay Cross' comments to the last blog post have also confirmed that every tool has its appropriate use (and every learner his/her own learning preference). I would also say that training has become less and less "formal" over the years. Good workshops now regularly have interactivity built in, with discussion techniques and games used to help participants find their own meaning through guided experiential learning.

This thought reminded me of an excellent resource for facilitators and trainers: the Thiagi Group's website on "Improving Performance Playfully". If you look under Free Resources there are many activities that can help take the formal out of training. Even lectures (if you have to have them) can be interactive; there is a list of 36 things you can do with lectures to make them more fun in the Interactive Lectures section. One of them is called "Bingo" - have a look!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Applying the 80/20 Principles - What Does It Mean for Formal Learning?

The blog has been a little slow lately as we have entered an intense period of travel. The upside to this is that long flights are great places to read and think (and a much more pleasant environment for this than the emergency room...)

On my flight yesterday I began reading Howard Gardner's book Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds. This book was first published in 2004, and probabaly most people read it then. However, it is interesting to connect it with Jay Cross' new book Informal Learning (2007). One connection jumped out to me immediately - that is the application of 80/20 principles. In Gardner's book, he talks about the Pareto Principle (that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort). He states that this is a counterintuitive concept because people have an embedded 50/50 mentality (that we should spread our effort equally across all parts of an activity until we get to 100%). So if we want to optimise we should just focus on getting to 80% and not worry too much about the last 20%(unless we are brain surgeons or pilots), which actually takes the most effort to achieve.

Jay Cross talks about the 80/20 principle in informal learning - that 80% of our learning is informal and 20% is formal. My dangerous question as a learning practitioner is, if you put the two together, should we be skipping formal workplace learning altogether?

As a trainer and facilitator by experience, my first response would be "no"; somehow that does not feel quite right. However, it is a powerful question to consider if you are trying for increased efficiency. Also, I notice that professional development budgets in HR departments, no matter how small, are often linked to providing formal learning opportunities. Perhaps at least we could open those funds up to informal learning opportunities - like can HR help pay for Free Coffee Mornings?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Seeing Social Capital Work

A few days ago I received a thought provoking and relevant article from one of my colleagues who is in a very different department than I am. She is in such a different part of our organization’s work, in fact, that I probably would not have been on her radar screen normally, except that we have spent a few hours together recently co-designing a road-mapping workshop for an important external partner.

Last week she read this article, thought of my interests and sent it along to me. I had not seen it myself and probably would never have found it. Not only did it make my day, I also felt our institutional social capital at work. Among members of our own teams, we know many of the same people and read many of the same sources, newsletters, books etc. So our ability to bring radically different thinking into our team discussions is based mostly on our own efforts to connect with other audiences.

However, we can also spend a lot of time seeking this novel input, and we could still miss many useful things. What we have noticed is that when people from radically different “communities” start to understand our interests and learning goals, then they can also help bring us into contact with these new ideas and practices, cross-fertilize our learning, and make it an ongoing, continual process and much more refined than our own google-like searches. What does it take to encourage other people to help you with your work?

Many organizations talk about “silos” within them, to the extent that the lack of experience in collaboration, the lack of knowledge about what the other silos are doing and learning, and even the lack of relationships among people in those silos makes it ever harder to collaborate. When interconnections, collaboration and cross-fertisilation is the goal, even a little experience in successful collaboration, and a good relationship, can do a lot to help you share information and knowledge, and even find further opportunities to work together. This ultimately creates that flow of knowledge and information that is an important part of workplace learning and institutional knowledge management. Is this the body of work for a living, breathing learning organization?