Sunday, October 11, 2015

Take a Picture, It'll Last Longer (A Cautionary Tale for Facilitators)

The conference centre staff were confronted this morning with the following appeal - PLEASE DON'T TOUCH THE PAPERS - written in foot-high capital letters, and strategically placed in front of the door to our workshop room, the walls of which were plastered with flip chart templates, timelines, prioritised project lists with actors designated - the golden nuggets of our intense working meeting. 

Before leaving the room the night before I also took photos of everything, even though the next day we would work together again, further develop the ideas, layering additional information and meaning over our previous day's outputs.

In the past, I would have waited until the end of the workshop to take these photos, so as to have the final artifacts, organised and polished. But not any more.

At a 3-day workshop in Paris last month in a beautiful new hotel we were also working visually. The walls of our meeting room similarly featured the colourful results of our first 2 days of work and discussions, decisions and ideas. The outcome of this strategy meeting was critically important in the life of this group. We were excited as we left the room the evening of Day 2 to have the few hours on our third morning to carefully review our work, synthesize and prepare the outputs and ambitious work plan going forward. 

I guess you can tell where I'm going with this... for the first time in my professional experience, right in the middle of a 3-day workshop, we walked into the meeting room an hour early on the morning of Day 3 and were confronted with the brutal reality that the night cleaning team had taken down and removed absolutely everything from the walls, all our flipcharts posters, templates, papers from our tables and all of our workshop materials! It could have been any other empty meeting room in the hotel. In a very controlled, surprisingly calm and professional way we freaked out (then we got to work).

You might think that this was a bit of an overreaction, but if you are using a visual discussion methodology that collects and organizes outputs on flip charts, posters and templates, and a group of 15 people and the host organization has collectively invested 320 person hours (effectively 2 person months of time), tens of thousands of Euros in logistics costs (having flown in from all over the world), and the equivalent monetary figure for their professional time, then having these documents removed is a very big deal. 

We hurried to recreate the results from our handwritten notes and memories, the hotel having been quickly alerted about the loss. An agonizing 15 minutes later, we were relieved to hear from the hotel staff that a thorough search of the cleaning closet produced a bag of our flip chart sheets and materials - the new night staff member had been told to clean the room, had taken the instructions literally, but clearly had not felt confident to throw everything away. 

We re-posted our slightly crumpled flip charts, taking the opportunity to reorganize them, and were done 10 minutes before our participants arrived. I took photos again, and learned a lesson - make records as you go along rather than at the end, just in case!