1.21.2013

Create "Lean-Forward" Meetings to Boost Engagement

A big part of creating better meetings revolves around reading the room, especially people's body language. So what is it saying when people in a meeting slouch back into their seats in a meeting to observe someone else's PowerPoint?

It says "I'm checking out" and I hate it - I'm typically not much of a hater, but I hate meetings where people are expected to sit back and be passive observers. This is a symptom of stale corporate cultures that require the kabuki of the dreaded "deck" for any idea to break through. Send me the deck ahead of time, so we can spend the meeting talking about the implications and insights. Not interested in feedback? Just reporting? Great! Then we don't have to meet!!

Participants in a recent
"Think With Your Hands" workshop
demonstrate some extreme
lean-forward behavior
So I constantly advocate "Lean-Forward Meetings" where participants are engaged with each other and the subject matter. When people are leaning forward, they are engaged; when they are sitting back, they may be paying attention, but they are not actively engaged. Can we at last replace the war room with the play room, and then have conversations, not presentations? *Note: there is plenty to say about the general awfulness of Powerpoint, but nothing I could add to Edward Tufte's withering screed on "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint."

My processes use graphic murals; copious amounts of post-it notes, markers and paper; lots of LEGO; but above all, generous helpings of play, visual thinking and other processes and stimuli designed to activate alternative neural pathways and uncover new insights. These create the Lean-Forward effect, which re-programs the body language and brain function -- and that inevitably sets the stage for engagement (and thereby a better meeting).

So here is your to-do list for Lean-Forward Meetings:
- Send an agenda and relevant materials ahead of time (long enough for attendees to process purpose and background)
- Think through a series of questions to engage your team in developing a solution.
- If you must present, use a 7:2:1 ratio for each ten minutes of your presentation: 7 minutes of content, 2 minutes of small-group download/discussion, 1 minute of report-out
- Are you just updating the team? Then PLEASE spare everyone a meeting and just send the update!!
- Use processes and materials that invite people to lean forward and engage with each other and the topic: have the team work at murals and whiteboards, write on post-it notes with sharpies, play with hand-brain triggers like LEGO, and do anything to get people moving around.

Some of these are just common-sense "good meeting" tips - you can find lots more from Bill Jensen's Simplicity Survival Handbook.
 
What do you use to get meeting attendees to lean forward? I would love to hear about it! Please ping me at the coordinates at the top of the page.

7.20.2012

"You Learn More About a Person in an Hour of Play than in a Year of Conversation" - Plato


In the last dozen or so years, I have had the pleasure of playing with nearly 5000 people around the world - mostly with LEGO® Serious Play™. And regardless of the people, setting or purpose, I have seen the phenomenon that Plato (right) describes in The Republic unfold 100% of the time.
We did lots of other meaningful, valuable and cool stuff, too: craft strategy, build teams, uncover innovation, develop brand, articulate the future... But when teams are at play (or rather - IN play), you can depend on deeper understanding between the people involved.
What is in the secret sauce of this kind of adult play that makes it such an effective catalyst for pulling people together? There are any number of answers:
  • The Hand-Brain Connection is strong: the neuro-biology of kinesthetic learning indicates that using our hands heightens our senses, fires different synapses and brain chemicals, and embeds more deeply our learning about each other. The research of Wilder Penfield and Frank Wilson's seminal book The Hand explore this deeply.
  • Play for a Purpose: Adult play is not child's play - grown-ups need a reason to play, and researchers (Huizinga, Roos & Victor, et al.) have identified four primary purposes of adult play, all of which are integral to the success of the LEGO Serious Play process:
    • Social Bonding
    • Emotional Expression
    • Cognitive Development
    • Constructive Competition
  • Flow: adult play conjures up that consciously blissful state described by Csikszentmihalyi and creates a rich sense of well-being and accomplishment that is meaningful and indelible.

Creativity Moves
I recently facilitated my Think With Your Hands workshop (powered by LEGO® Serious Play™) for around 30 people at an event called Creativity Moves (this one was in Nashville), which is designed to bring together the creative and non-profit communities for mutual benefit.
The crowd was wildly mixed -- researchers, writers, designers, social entrepreneurs, musicians, non-profit administrators -- with no real agenda or output. But they walked away with a new language, some new plans together, and lots of energy. TWYH was the capstone to a day of provocative thinking, inspiring presentations and challenges to making a better world together.
And the medium of play enabled the people there to synthesize what they learned about each other, the cause/creative community linkage and convert it into the seeds of change and the first push of momentum. You get a sense of what the teams were able to conjure up through their LSP experience from this little movie:


To dig into a little more play, you can't go wrong with this remarkable TED talk by Stuart Brown, founder of the Institute for Play. 
How about you? What are your experiences with adult play - especially in the workplace?

1.20.2012

"Furious Activity Is No Substitute for Understanding"

- Rev. H.H. Williams, Bishop of Carlyle, 1861

This quote - from an obscure English clergyman’s sermon – rings true with most of my clients (family and friends, too, for that matter). For one client, I drew the good bishop at one meeting, and he became (and remains) a totem for the rest of the team's work together.
How many organizations are afflicted with this malady? Judging from the weary and knowing reactions to the Bishop's wisdom, it's prevalent. People acknowledge that it's real, but are they doing anything about it?
Is "understanding" that hard to get to? Not really, but it requires the kind of discipline that gets us out of a day-to-day rut, raises our line of sight above the weeds we're in and the fires we're fighting, to re-focus on our purpose. It is incumbent on leaders at every level to intentionally re-connect everyone in their organization to an understanding of a bigger picture of the enterprise.

Of course, this phenomenon is human and not limited to business. We’ve just emerged from the season where it is most apparent – too much consumption, not enough gratitude; too many parties, too little connection. It is easy to justify our “furious activity” as “life” or “work,” but shouldn’t the furious activity be a means to an end? That’s where the understanding lies…

10.18.2011

The Nurtured Trust Triangle

"Trust" is the number one issue in organizations and business today - trust between staff and managers, leaders and reports, customers and suppliers. But trust is a notoriously slippery and subjective beast; several years ago, my friend and colleague Mark Cappellino switched on a light bulb for me with a diagram I must have sketched 100 times:
Now, Mark didn't come up with this, but it was in the context of a leadership team that was really stuck by trust, and it helped break down exactly how trust between two people gets out of alignment:
- Can you actually do what we are committing to?
- Do you mean it?
- Can you do it over and over?

This little triangle seems to come up in nearly every organizational conversation recently -- or maybe forever, and we're just now realizing what it really is.

For a different model of trust, check out David Hutchens' fine book "A Slice of Trust" -- a slim, entertaining volume with lots of easy-to-digest insight.