Facilitation Planning for the Unconference

Some thoughts on how the agenda I pulled together for the 29-February-2020 ASQ Team and Workplace Excellence Forum Unconference.

Kick-Off/Introduction

A good session starts with pulling people out of their comfort zone and getting the energy level right. When building the Unconference agenda I planned for there being people I didn’t know (and I’ve been proven right!). As a facilitator I always want to get people on the right track, and for this introduction I want to go fast so I planned two activities:

  • Draw the neighbor and share. Okay I am the worst at drawing. Think of how bad you are, and I am worse – stick figures are hard to get right. But I love drawing icebreakers for the simple reason that they help get us in a fun place and out of day-to-day. The folks who come to the Unconference are giving up their Saturday and I want to let them at once know this will not be business as usual.
  • Ridiculous “How Might  We”: Start with the funny and ridiculous and you prime the pump and let folks know that we are going to be safe and creative today.

Back of the Napkin

Break into teams of 3 people and answer the question “What does Team Excellence look like” and write/draw it up on the back of a napkin. This allows us to introduce ourselves, and do some networking while at the same time starting to grapple with the core question of the day (and of the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum!)

The back of a napkin is already associated with Aha moments and inspiration.  This informal exercise helps combat people’s instincts towards worrying about whether they can draw, have the “perfect” solution to the question, and other worries that can crop up if we were to use something more formal. This game is meant to inspire conversation and ideation – two things I’m really looking forward to.

Open Space Technology

The heart of an Unconference. Harrison Owen described this methodology in his book Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. This process is a good match, and I’m pretty excited about this as an experiment. Owen set forth five reasons to use Open Spaces:

  1. There is a genuine business issue: I feel a real urgency around the ASQ’s Team and Workplace Excellence Forum (perhaps the ASQ in general). There is a buring platform of building better culture in our organization, and it is coupled with a person feeling that I have about 18 months to make this division relevant.
  2. A great deal of complexity: Workplace excellence and quality culture are not easy; they are not simple. I am fairly sure that any three reasonable people will find a lot of things to disagree on.
  3. Lots of diversity in terms of people and points of view: This was an aspiration when I chose the agenda. I hoped to be able to attract people from beyond my network. I assumed that given Boston’s size and industrial base we would get members from varied industries, and I hoped we would get participants from various points of their careers (students to grizzled veterans).
  4. Real passion – people care! To say that folks care about quality and how we build it in our organizations may just be an understatement. Does everyone care? No. Will 500 people show up? No. Which is a good thing because I didn’t get that large of a room
  5. Genuine urgency: This may be the weakest of the criteria for me. But urgency is subjective and I for me as an organizer there is a great deal of urgency. I need to get more people involved and empowered in the division!

25/10 Crowd Sourcing

I think it’s important to generate and sort the ideas for action so participants hopefully leave ready to get things done! 25/10 Crowd Sourcing is an excellent activity designed to spread innovations “out and up” as everyone notices the patterns in what emerges. Fun, fast, and casual, it is a serious and valid way to generate an uncensored set of bold ideas and then to tap the wisdom of the whole group to identify the top ten. May go lower with a smaller group.

Every participant writes on an index card their bold idea and first step. Then people mill around, and pass cards from person to person. “Mill and Pass only. No reading.” When the bell rings, people stop passing cards and pair up to exchange thoughts on the cards in their hands. Then participants individually rate the idea/step on their card with a score of 1 to 5 (1 for low and 5 for high) and write it on the back of the card. Again, we pass the cards around a second time and then “Read and Score”. This is done for a total of five scoring rounds. At the end of cycle five, participants add the five scores on the back of the last card they are holding. Finally, the ideas with the top scores are shared with the whole group.

From this – action plan! Agree on way to keep momentum and away we go!

Other thoughts

A key requirement is to record discussions as they happen. Hopefully, that is the case and we get a nice raw output from this.

I use Session Lab for most of my facilitation planning these days. The site is a wonderful way to quickly find activities and build blocks, and the agendas it spits out are very clean.

Food is so critical.  There will be a good hot lunch. I will also grab breakfast for folks on my way in.

This is designed to be an experiment. I have kept the price low, and then charged it to the Division for ASQ members as part of the member value. I want to do at least one more this year. It is important to experiment with content building and sharing, and this format is designed to draw on the expertise and perspective of the participants. I am thrilled to be doing this and going in I am very hopeful of the outcome. 

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