The idea behind this post is to outline a process to actively involve and engage a group of senior managers in the effort to elicit, share, discuss and ideally implement some of their best business practices. We had the chance to involve 8 different companies operating under one parent organization with the goal of improving teamwork and collaboration, but to really look to generate commitment to change.
General thoughts and ideas:
- The theme is the discussion of best practices and things that teams could implement after the session.
- The thought is that best practices already exist, and that these people have some new ideas to discuss.
- The reality is, seriously, that, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world” (John LeCarre) and that, “Nobody ever washes a rental car.”
- Learning best occurs when one actively interacts in a collaborative intellectual environment and that one needs to look at things from a different perspective.
My basic belief is that few things work smoothly and that there are always better ideas within the organization. People are working hard, often too hard, and seldom choose to step back and look for ideas for improvement. Fear is also an issue, in that people do not want to look stupid or be wrong. My colleague, Dan Stones, framed it up with this image and a solid blog post about overcoming the fears that are paralyzing teams (blog post is here).
One of Dan’s key points is that communications is critical to involving and engaging people for improved teamwork and the impacts on performance and things like innovation. And another is the fear is the mindkiller, that fear is what limits people from being involved and engaged and actively participating and thinking about improvements in their workplaces.
I’ve been playing with a metaphor about how organizations really work since 1993, using this in a wide variety of developmental situations globally. The idea is framed up visually and allowing people time to consider possibilities is very useful in changing thinking patterns, generating some behavioral flexibility and making it a reality that no one has all the answers, that the collective body of knowledge about how things work is what is important.
So, let me propose that people at a meeting like this take 20 to 30 minutes at the start of the brainstorming and best practice discussion session to look at an image and then do most of the following:
- Think. How might this image reflect on how things really work in most organizations?
- Allow thinking time for personal consideration of issues and perspectives.
- Change the language of continuous continuous improvement and best practices.
- Put the leadership and support people in a proper place for perspective – not doing things but stand there, observing.
- Share a metaphor and a simple language they can use with their people (and do a bit of train the trainer for their facilitation).
- Produce and use a language of innovation and organizational improvement.
- Model and teach an approach to facilitating discussions, and
- Set the stage for a great deal of interactive discussion about possibilities and thoughts on what represent current best practices or possibilities.
The Tool and The Process — The process is deceptively powerful but is also straightforward and simple to execute:
How might this represent how organizations really work?
Allow people to think for a minute without discussion and then have a discussion at the tabletops set for 5 or 6 people. To save time, instead of allowing each tabletop to share their key thoughts and ideas, you can give each table this image in the center of a sheet of easel pad paper and allow them 5 to 8 minutes to capture their ideas and post on the wall in one area of the room.
Someone from each table or the facilitator would then briefly summarize some key learning points and some main ideas, understanding that tables probably generated a lot more varied and different ideas, simply because each table and each person sees things differently.
Key points of the basic image –
- Wagon works to hold cargo
- Leader pulling efficiently
- Workers pushing efficiently
- Wagon rolling on Square Wheels, which work but not smoothly
- Round Wheels already in wagon
- Little communications, little perspective and everyone too busy to stop and LOOK at things
The next steps then become organizational, whereby the tabletops are asked to generate a list of some thing they consider Square Wheels, things that work but that do not work smoothly. A key here is for the understanding that, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world” and that they are typically VERY far from the hands-on experiences of the workforce; the reality is that they have a tops-view but not much actual knowledge of what can be addressed or done differently.
The goal is for each tabletop to generate THREE or four SPECIFICALLY DESCRIBED Square Wheels in a language that would leave no question as to what they were referring to if looked at by someone not at the conference 6 months later.
ALL those sheets get posted, all over the room (and away from the first sheets) and then we do voting.
- Every person is given four green-colored stick-on-dots and asked to vote by posting on what would have the BIGGEST IMPACT on profitability if addressed.
- Every person is given four red-colored stick on dots and asked to vote on what they think is the MOST IMPORTANT issue for the company over the next 2 years.
(The Rule is that they cannot vote on their own work)
Then, people are given a break time that is focused on “forced browsing” and looking at issues and opportunities and with a goal of finding something that they wanted to spend some time working on. They casually can individually review the thoughts or discuss ideas with others, un-managed and un-constrained. This can generate insight as well as continuing to enhance the ownership.
Then, when the group reconvenes, people are asked to self-organize into workable teams of no more than 5 to 6 people to play with ideas around the issues and opportunities they chose to work on. More than one group can work on the same problem. You can use SWOTS or other kinds of 4-frame worksheets or any other mode to capture ideas.
Each problem selected could be given a very specific hashtag (#sws-521-bxk for example, on the top of the final recommendation worksheet product) and people could be asked to post additional ideas as certain work is discussed on issues not their own or whatever. Thus, ideas could be shared through Twitter for later followup. (Note that there are lots of ways to do the back-end collection of information and to generate some collaborative team followup.)
But the idea is to teach them how to do an interactive facilitation of workplace ideas for improvement. The Big Idea here is to have them understand the process and for that leadership team to do a similar conference with their own people and organizations, with a broad mix of wagon pushers and pullers involved and focused on ideas for improvement.
Senior management facilitating ideas is a powerful additional way of Managing by Wandering Around, especially when they are facilitating and not forcing their ideas on the organization.
Basic Philosophy of all this:
A Desk IS a dangerous place for ideas to be generated, since front-end wagon pullers tend to be very removed from the hands-on operational reality of how best practices really work at the hands-on worker level. It is the exemplary employee who is using those best practices and who knows specifically how to optimize results and get things done at an operational level. We need more sharing at that level to make improvements in performance and to generate innovation.
- IF there IS a good idea coming down from the top, we often miss the opportunity to involve and engage the people in workplace improvement to support it AND that idea is generally resisted.
- In some workplace cultures, every idea from management will meet active resistance and sometimes even sabotage from the employees.
But, if that idea is from the employees, it is often pretty easy to support their ownership and give them what they need to manage roadblocks to implementation.
By involving people and gaining their perspective and ideas, we can go #morebetterfaster and increase motivation and engagement and drive down fear of contributing.
Let me end with my favorite quotes:
For the FUN of It!
– Tools for Training and Development
Dr. Simmerman is a Certified Professional Facilitator (IAF) and a Certified Professional Trainer (IAPPD)
Square Wheels® is a registered trademark and The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine™ is a trademark of Performance Management Company and all materials produced by PMC remain the intellectual property of PMC.
Additional information about improving facilitation skills and about using the Square Wheels image tools can be found at www.TheSquareWheelsProject.com
Dan Stones is the operational partner on The Square Wheels Project, a Udemy-supported course on facilitation skills and my general theme of Disruptive Engagement. (https://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2017/05/11/corporate-engagement-hasnt-worked-why-not-try-disruptive-engagement/ )
The url for Dan Stones’ blog post on “How to Overcome the Two Fears Paralysing Your Team” is https://medium.com/@dan_stones/how-to-conquer-the-two-fears-currently-paralysing-your-team-6becf1c13a13
Also published on Medium.