I’ve been studying, experimenting, and practicing how to implement large group methods, like those described in The Change Handbook, in important meetings for years. To me, these methods are one of the keys to creating sustainable change, because they create the conditions for meeting participants to drive the conversation, and thus, the energy to do something when the meeting ends. As my friends in the change management field say, “people support what they help create.”
I’ve wrestled with how much deviation from a method is OK without compromising results. For example, I value Appreciative Inquiry as a method to be used in certain circumstances. The focus on powerful questions to elicit stories, examples, and insights can provide rich and meaningful data for all kinds of teams who are designing their futures. However, most of my clients don’t have 3-5 days to pull their staff offsite for a “full” AI Summit, as described in so many of the methods books. So the question becomes, how do I capture the spirit of AI (or any other method) within the time constraints of my client’s meeting?
Consultants don’t often have the option or luxury to practice a method in its “purest” form. I almost always start working with a client after they are well into managing a change program and the team has been working together for some time. That is certainly the case for a current project and an important visioning session a client has asked me to facilitate next week.
This particular client asked four sub-teams to complete a current state assessment, to be shared at the two-day meeting with the whole team. Part of the assignment includes having the groups identify opportunities for improvement. If I am an “AI purest,” the focus on sharing “problems” is not embraced in that methodology. So beginning the meeting with one philosophy in mind and trying to radically shift gears wouldn’t be fair to the participants, the clients, or me. I had to find a way to make what they already started work, with what I thought would help the group move forward in a productive manner.
The 2-Day Smoothie Design:
- Using my clients’ wish list of meeting outcomes, I designed Day 1 with a Mads-Sads-Glads activity I learned from my Whole Scale Change friends. The purpose of this activity is to 1) get people thinking about the current state and what is working well (and what isn’t), 2) begin building a common database among those in the room about what opportunities for change exist, and 3) create a safe space for dialogue and participation.
- Next, the group will move into sub-team reports. I chose to counter the “problem solving” orientation of the Mads-Sads-Glads and sub-team reports with group discussion questions that were more affirmative, such as “What do I like about what this sub-team is proposing?” and “What changes would I make to strengthen their proposal even more?”
- Later in Day 1, I plan to facilitate an organizational values clarification exercise I learned from change traditions rooted in anthropology and social psychology.
- Day 2 begins with the classic activity of “Taking a Future Trip” so eloquently described in Lippitt’s book, Preferred Futuring. The purpose of this activity is to imagine the possibilities for the future – both individually and collectively – and then work to subsequent iterations and improvements as a whole group. Preferred Futuring is really the root of so many modern change methods, including Whole Scale and Appreciative Inquiry, so it works nicely with the activities planned for Day 1.
- Next, participants will engage in a modified Open Space activity.They will have the option of joining one of two groups with two different assignments, depending on their interests and preferences. I plan to explain the “rules” of this activity to them, which includes the “law of two feet.” This classic Open Space law encourages people to move to whatever group where they feel they can add the most value, even after the activity starts.
- Day 2 also contains plans for the group to create organizational design criteria, or a list of conditions that any new structure they choose must satisfy, which comes from the organization design field.
- Finally, we conclude the two-day meeting by using a Total Quality Management technique – affinity diagrams – to create an action plan. Participants will brainstorm actions and next steps, and write each on a 3×5 card. Then, they will work to sort, categorize and label the actions on a board in the front of the room.
With this engagement, I have pushed myself further than ever before in mixing change methods. While throwing my fruit, protein powder, and juice in the blender this morning, I realized I my design for next week’s meeting was like making a “meeting smoothie.” Each ingredient for the two days stands alone, but hopefully the different flavors will work together harmoniously to produce a delicious result.