This is Part Two of our series on the ‘Explore’ phase of The U Journey to guide an organisation through a transformation.
In Part One we looked at how to set up the Foundation Workshop for success. We considered its purpose, where it fits in the overall U Journey and some social processes required to have the kind of rich conversations which support powerful movement towards the desired future. Now we dive into the activities themselves.
The Foundation Workshop works best when run over two nights and three days. Starting immediately after lunch on day one, the first order of business is to get everyone deeply present in the room. This is helped enormously by careful consideration of the venue. Being close to nature and filled with natural light serves the intention best. For deep, relaxed and productive thinking to occur, it is of the essence that the participants slow down dramatically from the frenetic pace of their regular work and job. As the first activity, a guided meditation provides a useful means of delivering this outcome.
A paired dialogue walk around the gardens can have a similar effect, especially if the pair are sent on their way with powerful questions such as: ‘Why is this workshop important to you? What is the biggest contribution you are hoping to make?’ Ten minutes outbound with one of the dyad talking and the other listening, and ten minutes back with roles reversed is enough to shift the expectation that this will not be a workshop conducted exclusively in the head. Heart and hand must also be present.
The opening circle
When everyone has come back together, it’s time to sit in the round and invite each participant in turn to talk into the centre of the circle about who they are, why they are at the workshop and what’s alive in them—meaning what emotions are animating their being.
These simple steps create a real difference in how the later conversations will be characterised. A good analogy is to think of conversation as being electrically charged. Your aim should be to create a positively charged field that allows both ideas to flow freely and deep listening to occur—the empathetic kind of listening that comes from the listener standing in the shoes of the person doing the talking.
The World Café
A very powerful social process I use extensively in the Foundation Workshop is the World Café, which encompasses seven design principles:
1. Set the context
2. Create hospitable space
3. Explore questions that matter
4. Encourage everyone’s contribution
5. Connect diverse perspectives
6. Listen together for patterns and insights
7. Share collective discoveries
A number of people from the group are nominated as table hosts, each table ideally seating four people. Thus, in a group of 24 people, there would be six tables. Each host is equipped with a powerful question, the design of which is often more important than the answer, on the basis that ‘more than half of a good answer is a powerful question’.
The hosts facilitate the conversations around the question at their tables for 10-15 minutes, using beautiful artist-grade coloured wax crayons and good quality flipchart paper. At the sound of the gong, the hosts instruct their groups to break apart, sending them as ‘ambassadors’ to three other tables, to apply their best thinking to the range of questions being asked. At the end of a round of questions, the whole group assembles to hear the hosts talk about what they heard at their tables, how the conversations evolved, what ideas were weak and fell over, and which gained traction and carried the conversations forward.
This whole process has several advantages, including:
• Everyone has a chance to be heard in a conversational ‘café style’ format
• No one can grandstand and ‘hog the floor’
• Everyone takes a turn to be the host and thus gets to practice their facilitation skills at drawing out the best from their colleagues, who usually have diverse career, academic and experiential backgrounds
• Good ideas are captured and built upon whilst weaker ideas are left behind
• There is fruitful crosspollination of ideas from people coming from different parts of the organisation with differing perspectives
• The participants are invited to access the creative part of their minds by encouraging them to draw their ideas onto the paper in front of them
• The outputs of each round represent the collective learning and wisdom of the participants. When hung up around the walls of the venue, they provide a source of energy for all to move deeper and further into the direction of the goal and show visual evidence of the progress being made.
A useful, evergreen question to get people used to the whole process is, ‘What question, if answered, would provide us with the most forward momentum towards our goal?’
The individual and the collective: Personality and Culture
Equipped with the results of a personality survey Strengthsfinder, DiSC or even the Big Five OCEAN, as well as, for example, the OCAI culture survey, we take a step into exploring the diverse personalities in the room and how this group of people rate the existing culture of the organisation, as well as what they would like it to be. This is a useful way to break the ice before commencing the more arduous work of scrutinising the logic trees. It also provides a way to get people used to the process of the World Café.
The Goal Tree and Current Reality Tree
The draft logic trees are printed out in A0 size, one for each table. Participants are given a brief introduction to the Logical Thinking Process and how to use it to scrutinise the logic of both the Goal Tree and the Current Reality Tree.
I recommend starting with the Goal Tree as this lays out the aim of the collective. It also makes more sense to understand current reality insofar as it diverges from the goal rather than as some abstract expression of a collection of bitches and moans. The work around the Goal Tree is usually very positive, as it is quite easy for people to get carried away with the enthusiasm they have for a future they have not yet earned, and which doesn’t pay too much attention to the unvarnished truth of where we are starting from.
Good ideas are captured and built upon
whilst weaker ideas are left behind
Scrutiny of the Current Reality Tree is usually quite draining as people come to realise the deeply systemic nature of the root causes (there are usually several) constraining them and their organisation from accomplishing what is contained in the Goal Tree. One of the constant themes I find is that the leadership regularly works at the wrong level of work. They are locked in the minutiae fighting fires rather than thinking about what systems and processes have to be put in place to eliminate the need for firefighting. The process of scrutinising the trees—interrogating the cause and effect connections—reminds the leadership team of the level of work appropriate to their role in the organisation. They also start to take ownership of the language used in the trees, adopting or adapting phrases as they see fit. This exercise also reinforces the idea of the Foundation Workshop as practice field for the future.
Creating a Vision for the Future
Having spent several hours in the proverbial woods, the team is ready for a change from the heavy use of left-brain thinking. We revitalise the team with a fun exercise in envisioning the future. I usually kick off this activity with a video by conducting maestro Ben Zander called ‘Leadership and the Art of Possibility’. In his inimitable way, Zander brings to life the idea of the future being a possibility to live into—rather than an expectation to live up to—and introduces useful concepts such as ‘Shining Eyes’, ‘Rule #6 – don’t take yourself so *!&% seriously’ and the like.
I then invite each of the tables to imagine themselves 3-5 years into the future, their goal now accomplished. I tell them that the most senior executive layer of their organisation has asked them to present what happened. I provide a list of prompting questions and instruct them to draw their vision, using the pastels provided. That way, when they present, they speak naturally rather than reading off bullet points. A bonus benefit comes when we hang these drawings on the walls of the workshop room, bringing to external life what was until that point invisible.
Intermediate closing circle
As important as the opening circle is the closing circle. Rather than simply dismiss the participants at the end of the day and leave them alone in their thoughts and feelings, it is best to provide an opportunity for them to share together what they have learned and what they believe is the work that still needs doing. This is helpful for the facilitators, too, as it provides some feedback into any course correction that may be required. It also provides a useful indicator as to what points have landed.
Planning the work
Through the activities undertaken in scrutinising the logic trees and developing a shared vision, there should by now be a strong enough alignment to explore—at a high level—the work of the coming days, weeks, months and years. Once again, using the World Café as social process, the planning of the work can take place. What is the program of work the transformation demands? What are the vital workstreams that align with the critical success factors of the Goal Tree, or solve the issues in the Current Reality Tree?
I recommend you make the potential leaders of these workstreams the hosts of the tables. Once the team has agreed a set of criteria to determine how different initiatives will be scored, the table hosts are asked to collate the list of all initiatives currently underway so that the team can examine their relevance, timing, resource requirements, benefits and governance. You’re not expecting definitive answers to these questions. At best a rough first cut will do. A key benefit of doing the exercise is to determine the scope of the projects to be released into the execution pipeline, and the sequence in which they will flow. No less important is for the team to realise what they must stop doing in order to release capacity for the prioritised projects. They will also start to think about how this prioritising will be governed.
Communicating the change
Once you know what the work is and why it is being done, it becomes essential, as a part of effective change management, to spend time determining the communication strategy for the change. This aspect of the program should help the Foundation Workshop team develop a deeper insight into the fundamentals of communications. This includes the development of an aligning narrative, use of brand principles for change management, development of key communication artefacts, and the rhythms and routines of communications. And, of course, how to make all of this relevant for all stakeholders—from the shop floor to the board room.
The final closing circle
The distance travelled over the course of the Foundation Workshop is enormous—both cognitively and emotionally. The end of the Explore phase of the U Journey is, to steal a line from Churchill, ‘the end of the beginning’. Before launching into the Design phase with the Learning Journeys, the team needs to reflect on what has happened. All around the room, and contained in all the documents brought into the Foundation Workshop, is a representation of the past and future of what they are set to change. It is worth asking again, and having each share in their own way, ‘What have you learned about yourself, your team and your organisation?’ And: ‘Starting tomorrow, what is your work?’
There’s much more on Theory U in my own book, More Than Just Work, which distils my thinking about three decades of managing work into a manageable framework. It’s edited and proofed—and looks gorgeous—but my editor and I are calling it the ‘advanced reader’s copy’. Soon, I’ll incorporate a few suggestions from some early trusted readers and make some changes based on new ideas I’m discovering.
You can buy the book here (with free shipping anywhere in Australia). If you do so now, I’ll send you the next edition for FREE later this year, bundled with the ebook and audiobook versions.
[Background photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash]
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