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. 

Brainstorming usually sinks your ship

If you work in teams, chances are you use brainstorming, gathering face-to-face in groups so that everyone can share ideas. This technique has been around since the late 1930s and many in quality and excellence pursuits view it as an effective technique.

Unfortunately, the science I’ve read is not quite in agreement. A group of four people typically generates approximately half as many ideas as a nominal group of four does. Production blocking, and a few other problems, lead to some key deficiencies in brainstorming:

  •  When group members are waiting for turn-taking, there are high chances that they may forget the ideas that they had in mind, they may focus on remembering those ideas rather than listening, or they may decide their ideas are no longer relevant.
  • The competing demand for coming up with one’s own idea and listening to other’s ideas makes it difficult to build on the ideas of others.
  • As the size of the group increases, the participants might feel less identifiable or accountable which might lead to decreased social loafing or level of motivation.

Overcoming production blocking requires the use of additional tools, such as brainwriting. Brainwriting encompasses the sharing of ideas through pieces of paper – usually having people write their ideas out on post-it notes for example. This technique makes brainstorming effective by overcoming the problem of verbal brainstorming. Though their seems to be some worry here about social cues kicking in, and there may be more benefit in having folks write all their ideas on one piece of paper, or better yet on their own before the meeting.

Brain writing, to be truly effective, requires solid collaborative evaluation process to follow the idea generation phase this is the foundation of decision quality. The research seems to indicate we see results better than the norm with this combination.

This appears to be an area where more research is needed to examine different variations , the boundary conditions for demonstrating the superiority of brainwriting over nominal groups, the optimum size of the group, and the potential of mixing verbal and nonverbal brainstorming. If anyone knows of good studies in this area, please point me to them.

References

  • Coskun, H. (2005). Cognitive stimulation with convergent and divergent thinking exercises in brainwriting: Incubation, sequence priming, and group context. Small Group Research, 36, 466-498. doi:10.1177/1046496405276475
  • Cragan, J. F., Wright, D. W., & Kasch, C. R. (2009). Communication in small groups : theory, process, skills. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning – Academic and Professional Group.
  • West, M. A. (2012). Effective teamwork : practical lessons from organizational research. Wiley-Blackwell.

ASQ Team and Workplace Excellence Unconference

The Team and Workplace Excellence invites you to atted our Unconference on 29-Feb-2020 in Boston, MA.

An unconference is a wonderful way to address a problem by asking people who are passionate about the subject to drive the content, and by flexibly changing the day’s activities based on the interests of the people involved.

We are going to start with a back-of-the napkin exercise to start answering the question “What does Team Excellence look like.” This exercise is just what it sounds like, we will break into teams and write/draw an answer on the back of a napkin.

After this we will role up our sleeves and go from there. The unconference is an experiment, and we expect a small but committed crowd (right now we have about 15 people, if I get 30 I’ll be the happiest of organizers).

An unconference is a great process because everyone who cares about the challenge at hand (team excellence and quality culture) can accept the organizers’ invitation and is included with an equal opportunity to contribute. We are trying to make sure that our participants issues are raised and that there is a sense of responsibility for tacking the issues we care about. The “Law of Two Feet” governs the participation of all attendees in the various sessions: “Go and attend whichever session you want, but if you find yourself in a session where you are not learning or contributing, use your two feet!”

As an experiment, the unconference serves two purposes: 1. Try a slightly different way of working; and, 2. Drive the development of a body of knowledge for the Division and the ASQ.

We will start together in a large circle (or maybe two concentric circles depending on the space). The participants will suggest sessions and then away we go!

We will end the day by a call to action and an agreed upon plan. This will drive a lot of Team and Workplace Excellence activities for the next year.

If the experiment is a success, the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum has funds earmarked to hold 2 more this year. Ideally, I’d like to do at least one in a different region of the country.

The Unconference is free to all ASQ members. There will be a charge for non-ASQ members’ of $15.00 for lunch. This counts as professional development for those with ASQ certifications.

See the my.ASQ event page for details and register here.

Building Experts

Subject matter experts have explicit knowledge from formal education and embedded in reports, manuals, websites, memos, and other corporate documents. But their implicit and tacit knowledge, based on their experience, is perhaps the source of their greatest value — whether the subject-matter expert with decades of experience who is lightning fast with a diagnosis and almost always spot-on or the manager whose team everyone wants to be on because she’s so good at motivating and mentoring.

Experts, no matter the domain, tend to have very similar attributes. Understanding these attributes allows us to start understanding how we build expertise.

DimensionExperts Demonstrate
Cognitive
Critical know-how and “know-what”Managerial, technical, or both; superior, experience-based techniques and processes; extraordinary factual knowledge
System thinkingKnowing interdependencies, anticipating consequences, understanding interactions
JudgementRapid, wise decision making
Context AwarenessAbility to take context into account
Pattern RecognitionSwift recognition of a phenomenon, situation, or process that has been encountered before
Behavioral
Networking (“Known-who”)Building and maintaining an extensive network of professionally important individuals
InterpersonalAbility to deal with individuals, including motivating and leading them; comfort with intellectual disagreement
CommunicationAbility to construct, tailor, and deliver messages through one or more media to build logical and persuasive arguments
Diagnosis and cue seekingAbility to actively identify cues in a situation that would confirm or challenge a familiar pattern; ability to distinguish signal from noise
Physical
SensoryAbility to diagnose, interpret, or predict through appropriate senses
Attributes of an Expert

One of the critical parts of being a subject matter expert is being able to help others absorb knowledge and gain wisdom through learn-by-doing techniques— guided practice, observation, problem solving, and experimentation.

Think of this as an apprenticeship program that provides deliberate practice with expert feedback, which is fundamental to the development of expertise.

Do your organizations have this sort of organized way to train an expert? How does it work?

Unconference for ASQ Team and Workplace Excellence

The Team and Workplace Excellence Forum is excited to be hosting an Unconference, and I am excited to be able to invite you to the workshop at Masary Studios in Boston, MA on February 29th from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm.

An unconference is basically a conference without predefined topics. The high level structure and theme is team excellence and quality culture, but actual topics are generated by the participants on the spot, and breakout groups are formed dynamically based on interest and relevance.

We have a stimulating day planned. We will be discussing team excellence and quality culture and contributing to development of a body of knowledge for the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum. The agenda is here.

The Unconference is free to members of the ASQ. For non-ASQ members there is a charge of $15.00 per person for lunch.

Please RSVP by February 23rd, so we can reserve a seat for you. We are looking forward to seeing you there. If there is anything you will need or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know. The RSVP is here.

The my.ASQ.org event page is here: https://my.asq.org/communities/events/item/170/60/1568