Friday, May 30, 2008

Games for 1000? Interactivity and Large Groups

Who created the "Wave"? Tens of thousands of fans working together to send a message to their team, standing up, joining the action, adding their voice? If a seated stadium of 50,000 people can be interactive, then a Congress of 8,000 can be too!

Well, we might not be able to do the Wave at our Congress, but there are plenty of other interesting ways to involve those thousands of people in what is happening on stage, in the many smaller meeting rooms, and in the hallways.

Our expert facilitation team has been coaching session organizers in the last 6 weeks to help them define, design, and refine their 90 minute workshops for the upcoming World Conservation Congress. Let's see what kind of interactivity they are coming up with...

Facilitators, can you let us know, what kind of things are the teams creating that is different (from the standard panel session)? What are some of your ideas for creating interactivity in large groups? Write us a few lines in the comments section below - thank you in advance!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Creating the Climate for Change: Raising Your Response Rates

We learned something rather counterintuitive this year about response rates when communicating with a virtual network. Our unit coordinates an expert network of communicators and educators with over 600 people particpating around the world. This network from time to time is asked to contribute their thoughts in planning and decision-making, so their response is important. You would think that interacting with a network of communicators would be a breeze. As it turns out, it is, if you ask the right questions in the right way - therein lies the learning.

Every four years this network gets a new Strategic Plan, a process lead by a Steering Committee of 15 people and validated by the network. Our first message to the group in this process seemed simple enough - the Steering Commitee had identified 3 options for a tag line for the Commission - pick your favorite one. That message went out to 600 people and one week later we had, wait for it, 8 replies. That is a response rate of 1.3% - not statistically relevant. So we did not have our tag line.

Our next challenge was to get inputs to the Strategic Plan itself - a 25-page text document. How could we possibly get a better response rate on a dense document, when only 8 people answered a one-liner? Well, what we decided to do was to NOT send the whole document as an attachment to the group of 600 asking "Dear Commission Members, please find attached a 25-page document for your comments". If you really did not want comments, that would be a strategic way to do it.

Instead, we wrote a short email that informed people about the draft document and asked for volunteers to read it and give comments. Now this was a very different question, and demanded a different response. People needed to write us back first explicitly that they wanted to read the document, and would send comments. This extra step, effectively a commitment statement, proved to be important in terms of getting people's involvement. What they got back then was a personalised email from me with the document, instructions, and a sincere thank you in advance. This time our initial response rate was over 100 people (asking to read the document) and of those over 80 sent in their comments, which were extensive, thoughtful, and significantly strengthened that important document. The final response rate was 13% - it might sound low, but when it's you that's incorporating 2000 pages of detailed comments to a document, it is quite sufficient.

What's more - on page 13 of the document, in the middle of the page, we listed the three tag lines and noted that the Steering Committee requested Commission members to vote for A, B, or C. This time amazingly everyone wrote their vote into the document, and we have our tag line (and most importantly some new learning about) - Creating the Climate for Change.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Insights in Design: Team Retreats

Earlier this week we ran a two day team retreat for one of our largest distributed teams. Attending the retreat was both the technical and admin staff, as well as HQ and outposted staff. That was objective 1 - giving people a sense of interconnectedness in a non-intact team, and at the same time explore the team's diversity.

The retreat also needed to bring up and sensitively deal with issues of growth and managing a larger team. In the last few years, due to their successes, the size of the group has more than doubled, with little turnover. As a result, some of the team practices (communication, decisionmaking, trust building, everyone doing everything him/herself) that worked before with a small, tightly knit team, are no longer as effective with a larger, more functionally diversified group. That was objective 2 - air some growth and management challenges in a way that everyone can feel heard and then make some decisions about how to change them.

Finally, the group needed to think together about what's next. So they needed to tap back into their goals, and also explore together what they needed to add or significantly strengthen in their current practice. This was more programmatic, however, they needed to bring the admin side of the team along so that any decisions made were completely operational. That was objective 3 - consider how to add some functionality to the group, but do so in a way that was realistic and feasible, and fit within the operational system they had and were building (or change it to fit).

With a mandate like that, and two days to work with, we had our work cut out for us. However, we did it, and the team was very happy with the results. Here are a few things we learned that worked:

  • We used systems thinking tools to help to guide and structure the discussions. People were delighted to use these new tools, which when applied to the operational aspects of the team's work, were able to integrate and value the inputs of everyone there, from both the technical and administrative parts of the team.
  • The systems tools created a safe space. The diagrams helped to externalise the conversations, so that people were able to focus on an object, diagram, that depersonalised issues. People discussed trends and cause and effect: pointing their finger at the flipchart diagram and not each other.
  • The tools are iterative, so they break down what seems like a process about everything into a set of logical steps and bitesize pieces. Also because of this structure, there was no anxiety from what might otherwise be a messy process. The tools gave clear boundaries to the discussion.
  • Finally, the format of working in parallel on a number of different operational issues allowed people to focus on the ones for which they had the most passion, yet still contribute through the summaries and sharing to the work of other groups.

The report that resulted from the event included the diagrams and captured the creativity of the process for next steps. It was actually a good read, a quality that all workshop reports should have. And it has spawned a number of processes around the outcomes that is making this team one of the leaders of change in our institution.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Learning Lessons from Systems Thinking

I see this pattern over and over and over again. What can one do about it? One potential intervention point is to set a standard/policy on the "attention per project" so that when there is not enough time to do it properly, you do not accept it, thus maintaining quality work and therefore reputation (so in theory the project pipeline never dries up). GTD gives us more time to squeeze more in. Zero-in box helps us comfortably manage our email blizzard. Systems helps us identify problematic patterns and potential leverage points for change. Where can one go to learn "How to Say NO" ?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Appreciating Heroism For the Future

"The new Al Gore presentation on climate change at Ted’s talk is an inspirational, bright and optimistic approach worth a look at" wrote Nicole Thonnard Voillat - and so I did online at World Changing.

I really appreciated his comments on optismism being not about belief but behaviour which goes beyond our choice of lightbulbs to active citizenship in our demoncracy, mobilizing political will and resources. Stimulating a hero generation with a sense of generational mission is an exciting challenge that I would like to hear more from him on - in terms of what he thinks it will take to do this. Reframing the 'terrible burden' on our generation as a fabulous opportunity which we should respond to with profound joy and gratitude is an interesting start...

I wonder how we might use appreciative inquiry to explore examples of past hero generations and learn about how best to leverage another for the future? Thought provoking. What do you think?

Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

My hopeful answer to this is "well, maybe." I get my evidence from a recent experiment that I conducted quite by accident.

Two month ago I took the Meyers-Briggs test and felt the results were accurate (self-validated). The instrument I thought had captured fairly my preferences on the four dichotomies. One of my preferences at that time was "P" - Perceiving rather than Judging. Perceivers are spontaneous, go with the flow, they make lists and lose them, they complete tasks at the last minute or late rather than well in advance.

Well, in today's world with no speed limits on the information highway, this particular species is likely to get run over. So I have been working on this. One month ago we invited David Allen to come and address our staff on Getting Things Done, an approach which (check previous GTD tags) provides a system to help you keep alive in the organizational jungle. Many of us after his seminar have adoped this appoach and it appears to be working.

Now back to my experiment, yesterday I went to an MBTI training course and for that I had to take the instrument again, just a few months after my first test. I was amazed at the change. Everything was the same, except that my preference on the "outerworld orientation" dichotomy moved from Perceiving to Judging - with unfamiliar words like planned, structured, decisive, scheduled, makes lists and uses them, as descriptors.

I can only imagine that this difference in such a short period of time could be influenced by the GTD experience, which is still very fresh. Hopefully this change will last. I wouldn't want to lose any of my spontaneity, and at the same time a little more structured follow-up and information management would not go amiss. Maybe just half of the spots could change? Would I then become a GMO? (GTD-Modified Organism?)