We > Me, but we still need all ‘I’s’ on board and on the prize…

Collaboration, engagement, the world of facilitated interactions, it’s all soaked in ‘we, us, the group, our society, the world’.

And for good reasons, because there’s enough egoism going on, and people focusing on just themselves.

And yet… for ‘us’ to thrive’ we need all ‘i’s’ on board and on the prize, ready to support the collective ambition. Perhaps there’s a hidden wicked question here: “How is it that in collaboration we try and focus on what matters for the collective, and at the same time we have to make sure that everyone, individually, finds their place in there.

If we don’t invite individuals properly in the group, we may remain in the cushy world of platitudes that give a fake sense of a coherent collective. Phrases like “we all know what’s best for us” (NOT, because what might be best for you might not be best for me) or “That’s your opinion, but that’s not what the rest of us thinks” (OH, and how do YOU know what ‘the rest of us’ thinks?)…

So we need to give proper attention to the individuals that are forming the group. It’s a matter of a) acknowledging who is in the room, b) appreciating our unique profile and qualities (and how they get to complement each other as in the S in STAR), c) understanding our experiences and deeper motivations, d) processing our own thinking, e) expressing our individual opinions on the way the group is going… so me is indeed totally meshed up with ‘we’…

(Photo credit: Dewey Ambrosino)

Here are some examples of how we can invite the many ‘I’s in our collective interactions:

  • By doing activities and exercises that draw directly from who we are (whether icebreakers or icemelters that reveal more of our own private world and personality) and help us reveal ourselves… to ourselves first of all (remembering who we are) and to each other. A spiral journal really helps in this individual grounding, among many other options…
  • By celebrating the diversity, complementarity and individuality in the collective, so we appreciate all the shades of the rainbow we are composing together. My comfort questions there are ‘what is your unique hidden superpower?’ or ‘what do you think you are best or uniquely placed to contribute to this gathering?’ etc.
  • By focusing on the experience of the other person, deeply, attentively listening to what they have to say, not interrupting them, not guiding them in our own thinking but staying with their train of thoughts. This could be as part of e.g. Heard Seen Respected, a celebrity interview, or simply any interaction where one person asks the other person to share some moment, experience, reflection…
  • By asking everyone to compose their thoughts by themselves (one of the go-to design decisions in Liberating Structures, starting for instance a 1-2-4-all with some time thinking alone);
  • By asking everyone to voice their individual opinion on a matter, whether in converging towards a possible solution, even further in a group decision making moment, or simply by organising for instance a structured go-around to hear everyone’s opinion, or inviting people to share their opinion in writing (even anonymously).

This stuff matters, because it allows us to find ourselves, our space and time, our thoughts, our voice, our confidence, our role, our energy as part of the wider orchestra that is the group we are interacting with/in. The orchestra is only as good and strong as every instrument plays its part -individually- well and is collectively supporting the whole. At the same time, paying attention to every individual in the group helps us move away from the ‘we’ language (who is ‘we’?) towards each individual person, which brings more strength and authenticity…

It makes all the more sense to pay attention to ourselves individually when we are change-makers and we know that every individual is actually contributing in big and small ways to any change process ongoing or desired.

This element of ‘meshing me in the we’ will be one of the themes that will no doubt surface and be unpacked at our upcoming Liberating Structures immersion workshop in November.

Come and explore this and many other aspects and structures mentioned above.

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Itinerary of a (meeting) change maker

It’s not easy to be a change maker, ie. to be someone who wishes to shake up the culture around them and stop the endless cycle of ‘business as usual’. Even when everyone agrees that ‘business as usual’ is broken.

The meeting about our meetings (image credit: The conversation factory / Daniel Stillman)

I am thinking here specifically about the kind of change maker that should actually be ordinary: someone who wants to change the culture, etiquette and rituals of bad meetings and collaboration in their company.

Someone who has seen too many bad meetings without clear purpose, without participation from most, without any respect for people’s time, intelligence and feelings. Someone who’s seen how taxing that is to everyone over time, leading to complete exhaustion, mental check-out (physical presence but mental/emotional absence) or cynicism…

That someone would want to host the one meeting that every group of people should have: the meeting about our meetings that Daniel Stillman encouraged us to have. And based on that, change the norms and practices around ‘meeting and collaboration hygiene’.

Along that journey, there are many ‘themes’ that would be likely to crop up. These themes encompass opportunities, challenges or obstacles, qualities that help, principles of success etc. And these themes are what can make or break the changemaker’s journey.

So let’s dive into those themes and see what matters about them… My little finger tells me I’ll get to unpack these themes with my friends later on this year…

Clarity / Intention

The first step is to be clear on what’s not going well in ‘business as usual’, and developing an intention to go against that ‘business as usual’. Because you see that people are getting stressed, jaded, cynical, exhausted, absent-minded. A change-maker has to be able to see it, describe it, and state what it is they want to do about it. And as much as possible, have that eye-opening conversation with other like-minded people that can join the movement of ‘let’s do something different here’, because change is not easy.


This is probably one of the most useful features of a change-maker at all times. Curiosity about ideas, curiosity about people. Not a fixed mindset, a liquid mindset, ready to accept different data and perspectives, curious to understand what tickles people in a different way, knowing that remaining open to deeply understand peoples’ deepest motives is the key towards mutual understanding. That also means not having a fixed idea about the exact itinerary towards the end result (or even what that end result is); instead, having some idea of where you’re headed but keeping open to anything that could make that path more strong and true. Like a bird builds a nest, picking up different twigs and items that show up along their flyovers.


This derives naturally from the previous item: it’s not just about a mindset of curiosity, it’s also about having the skills to be able to understand others, and that is through building listening skills. Active listening skills: paraphrasing, mirroring, everything that Community At Work and others encourage you to build up. It takes mindful practice to get good at listening, but that’s a non-negotiable skill to have, and it happens to be both an incredibly useful lifeskill but also seemingly the most important leadership skill according to many successful business people. So there: 1-2 flex your listening muscles 💪 !

Active listening (image credit: Normat)

Crafts (and arts of process facilitation)

Up next in the bag is having some command over participation formats (or structures, facilitation methods, work forms etc. however you call them). These ‘exercises’ allow you to organise collaboration and meetings. It’s the ‘toys’ that very often people think about when they think about facilitation. And usually the bit that people calling meetings might want to concentrate on. I generally tend to underplay these because they should always follow function and objectives -thus come quite late in the process- but I also recognise that not having any knowledge of these crafts is a real hindrance for any change maker to achieve their goals. It just takes some practice mastering some repertoire of these participation formats. Liberating Structures is one of many repertoires that comes in handy here.


If you are hoping to achieve long-lasting change, you can’t really dodge trust. You need to build it in order to make some of the change more acceptable. Trust is the truth as I’ve been saying all along… Trust takes authenticity, vulnerability, openness and open-mindedness, honesty, respect and no-nonsense… it’s about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels invited to reveal as much of themselves as possible… easier said than done, but this is one of the key differences between successful change and anything else that might look good but just doesn’t happen.


And of course it takes some braveness to challenge the status quo and to wish to establish a new norm. Because change does not feel good, even when you are the one initiating it, let alone when you are not so much involved in it. And here again I’m thinking about the courage it takes for our change-maker to bring it to their boss and colleagues that business as usual is broken and needs to be reconsidered. It takes courage to imagine a different practice, to share it with others (who are partly going to be skeptical about it)… but courage it is that drives every change maker to face being mocked by the mainstream because deep down they know there’s no other way.


And one of the main reasons why it takes courage is because the proposed change will meet resistance. For the change maker, this is the famous ‘snap back’ effect (that Brenda Zimmermann coined) which risks ruining all good will to change things for a positive result. Being aware of that resistance is essential. And not just that and quickly waving it off as an irrelevant ‘force from the past’. No, that resistance is real, and understanding its deep roots is of the essence. What is creating the cringe about change for some people?

(image credit: Biola University)


No matter what challenges are put on your way, no matter how much resistance you encounter, as change agent you don’t want to give up. Grit is what it takes: some combination of determination, resilience, learning and of social creativity to keep going at it. Indeed, it’s an attitude (not giving up and bouncing back no matter what happens), mixed with knowledge (based on what we learn works or doesn’t) and creative skills to try out other solutions. And perhaps it’s also about finding allies along the way, that allow us to nurture that determination. I remember one of the KM4Dev gatherings that focused on this notion of ‘keeping the fire alive’. That resonated strongly with me. We get inspired at times, but that spark of insight and willingness to change can easily get snuffed out unless we create a network of care around it that allows us to keep going, it’s that notion of keeping the fire alive.


And provided you have all the above in place, then you still need teamwork to make these new collaborations and meeting processes stick around. You need a distribution of roles, including the impromptu facilitator, the documenter etc. Especially for online meetings there’s even more need for additional roles (e.g. tech support, chat box or graphic platform steward etc.). So bring along your mates to show that ‘the new way’ works. Because if your attempts at setting a new norm fail early on, and more than once, you are dead in the water…


At some point – often even at various points – in the process the question comes up of ‘who owns this?’. Who is sponsoring this change, who has vested interests in it, who takes decisions, who is actually involved in thinking about and implementing this, and who is impacted by this new way of doing things? All these are facets of the ‘ownership’ issue and they all matter. At least all these questions deserve to be raised at least once. Getting this right builds up the trust mentioned above. And when it comes to setting new norms for meetings and collaboration, it’s pretty much everyone’s business, not just the concern of a few, so how to make sure everyone’s on board and feels vested in this change?


Finally comes the point of involving various profiles that cover all the bases. At least all the ones that matter in your ecosystem. If you don’t have that diversity, your change initiative risks falling apart because some ‘groups’ will call out their lack of involvement, representation, ownership, power in it. So make sure you have representative demographics of your group (whether the latter is a network, an organisation, department, team or whatever…). This is about having all points of view taken equally seriously and contributing to the conversations and solutions as legitimately as anyone else.

And here we complete our change maker tour and can conclude that though not exhaustive, the above themes will matter at a point or another in bringing about the change and getting it to stick…

Any obvious theme that you would add here?

Related stories

Feedback: How? When? And who for? A video chat with Nadia (2/3)

In the previous post and video conversation (which Nadia also covered with some additional insights here), we looked at what feedback is, wondered why it is so both intimidating, difficult to get started with, and simultaneously powerful and desirable.

In this second video chat on the single most important little learning practice we can do socially, we get a wee bit more technical, on how to give and how to receive feedback.

See Nadia’s latest post on this here: https://learning-moments.net/2021/11/10/how-to-train-your-feedback-practice-give-feedback-with-care-and-compassion. She rightly invites us all to give feedback with care and compassion, and in conversation.

And with that come the questions of who the feedback is given for, when it’s given, and to what extent…

(We know your time is limited, so we gave the timings of various turns in our conversation in the description, below the video. Go directly watch what is tickling your curiosity).

Who is it really for?

We have to be well aware of who we are giving the feedback for,

Is it for ourselves, to offload our chest and feel better because we really got annoyed, rattled, ruffled, rubbed in the wrong way by what someone said or did? Or just can’t help pointing ‘improvables’ to others?

Is it because we want to help the other person see their blind spots? Will they actually benefit from this feedback? Are they even eager to learn, in general or on this particular aspect of feedback? Is the relationship balanced enough or will the feedback hit the ‘relationship trigger’ that Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen unravelled in their seminal book?

Is it in order to contribute to a better relationship altogether? Is it perhaps even part of a well-oiled mutual feedback routine which helps sharpen each other and build trust for each other as ‘the other pair of eyes kindly watching my back’? Is there indeed a hidden invitation to reciprocate?

It’s never a bad idea to reflect first on who your feedback really helps – at this point, or on this point.

The timing, pacing and amount of feedback

And then comes another key element in the feedback dance: When, how long, how much?

Give that feedback too early, or uninvited, and you may clamp your partner, Give it too late and it no longer carries the same power.

Give too much of it and you might injure your relationship. Give not enough of it and the message may not be perceived well. It’s like this classical table of understanding the British art of understatement (a cultural point in case when it comes to feedback):

Image credit: The Independent

Answering the ‘who for’ question is closely linked to the timing and pacing of feedback. Indeed, some say that ‘wisdom’ is not about knowing the right things, but knowing when to share or apply them. We all live according to different biological rhythms, and though we all share the fact we live in a fast-paced world, yet we are affected by it differently; we choose to cope with it differently. Ditto with our learning. Effective feedback comes in the right measure, at the right time.

That means getting a good grip on the inclination for feedback of the receiver, and on their timing preferences.

And while you might have observed many things worthy of pointing out, the receiver may not be ready to receive all of that either. So perhaps choose according to the personal preferences of the receiver. And if your conversation invites it, you may be able to cover more, or most, or perhaps even all points of feedback. But double check how all of that information affected the other person.

Get feedback on how you just gave feedback 😉

With a sharp ‘feedback opportunity radar’, some measure of sound technical advice, and a perspective of caring, compassion and mutual learning, you will – together – go a long way 😉

In the third, and final video chat about feedback, we’ll elevate the conversation to the collective dimension of feedback: how to start, grow, and stimulate a culture of feedback.

Related stories:

Liberating monitoring evaluation and learning Structures? Two ‘why bother?’ interviews…

Now all posts related to specific (training) events will be posted on my company’s website ‘ProcessChange.net’. Here’s the latest, and it created a lot of fun!

Ewen Le Borgne

If you are a professional working on monitoring, evaluation, learning (MEL), whether in international development cooperation or otherwise, you might be looking for interesting ways to reinvent your profession in a COVID context that has made direct contact exceedingly rare and difficult and has thus made all that good MEL work very challenging… Here’s an interview that might be of interest, with a totally impartial take since it’s myself interviewing myself 😉

And if you want to skip it and directly get your tickets (I warned you arf arf arf), simply click here.

Bonus interview (with a mystery guest) at the bottom!

So you think MEL is in need of reinvention?

Well, I’m not the one saying this, I’m not even a MEL specialist myself (though I used to be). But my friends, former colleagues and the graduates from the last such immersion who operate in this field are…

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The enduring power of Liberating Structures, online, and outside of meetings

“The silent revolution in the making”…

That’s how I describe Liberating Structures (LS) because its open source nature means it is being unleashed across all continents, sectors, domains, communities and its simplicity helps to quickly get picked up. Great news, considering the amount of meetings and conversations that could do with more freedom, more structure, more balance between freedom and structure, less ego, more co-creation and collaboration…

Now, the natural – or rather the typical – realm of Liberating Structures is that of meetings. It applies to all group configurations that could do with more diversity, innovation, spice, fun, focus etc.

Interestingly, however, Liberating Structures also have an enduring power beyond meetings. They offer a lens that reveals different patterns of interactions, patterns of doing and of being.

Kindly invited to introduce ‘Liberating Structures for online work’ at a recent event organised by the DGroups Foundation, I have gathered some thoughts about what makes LS so interesting and powerful even when it’s not applied to synchronous interactions such as meetings.

Hereby are the key ideas and slides that I will introduce. With 10 minutes given for this, I am not really able to do a typical LS approach (do it and think about it later), as it would really reveal too little about the depth of LS. However I am inviting the audience to review these ideas and to practice with them any time.

The power of LS to liberate our online structures

Liberating Structures help us pay attention to everyone’s intelligence – they sanctify the agency of self-organising groups

Even outside of meetings, we need to keep an eye for inclusion, diversity (for innovation, among others), and everyone’s engagement in whatever brought us together in the first place. Liberating Structures breathe and live this through and through. Many of the LS start with individual reflection, allowing everyone to make up their mind, not just those that are quick to think and talk. And crucially, not paying attention to the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) only. This type of thinking, encapsulated by the principle ‘Include and unleash everyone‘ is a fundamental shift from all vertical structures that we have largely inherited from the industrial age, to this date. It’s time to flatten our world.

Liberating Structures challenge us to go beyond our comfort zone, to fail forward and creatively kill our darlings

The LS principle ‘learn by failing forward‘ is challenging us to try things out, experiment, in small, agile waves. Quick feedback loops, learn and adapt, fail fast and often. In the realm of meetings this means daring to crawl out of the ‘Big 5’ that LS erected themselves against (ie: Presentation, managed discussion, status update, Brainstorming, Open discussion). Outside meetings, Liberating Structures are still challenging us to reflect on ‘what is possible?’, ‘what could we try out differently’? They remind us there is no point in keeping stale and overly comfortable practices… No reason to stay trapped in our rigidity (think Ecocycle Planning).

Embrace ‘safe fail’ rather than ‘fail safe’…

Liberating Structures engage us to cultivate paradox as a source of rich diversity, rather than confusion

As a species we are not particularly inclined to seek confusion, ambiguity, opposition etc. We like things to be harmoniously recognisable and interacting neatly, or not intersecting with one another too much so that everything seems ‘pristine’ – probably a mechanism to cope with the chaos that is in our mind at most times. Keep everything in a separate box again. And yet there is so much value in recognising the fifty shades of grey areas in our life, in accepting that we are not ‘homo economicus’ but ‘homo sociologicus’.

In the Liberating Structures language, this is the territory of ‘Wicked Questions‘. And it’s a secret door to being more mature in our approach, embracing both ends of a spectrum and accepting that, in some mysterious way, these opposites might be combinable for a solution that takes into account a richer diversity.

Or indeed as a Wicked Question: How is it that we welcome and encourage complexity and at the same time we seek simplicity in everything we do?

Liberating Structures invite us to add just enough structure to have more choice

The term ‘Liberating Structures’ is itself a ‘Wicked Question’. It’s about embracing both liberating and structure. We might quickly understand that LS are emphasising freedom, liberation, but actually never without a certain degree of structure, without a certain degree of responsibility in the process. It’s about the ‘Minimum Specifications‘ that make or break what we are focusing on. Getting away with no structure is a recipe for disasters, so what are the non-negotiable minimum specifications that can really deliver? It’s another way of decluttering a la Marie Kondo, just focusing on the minimum to keep to get us to the next level (of harmony, productivity or whatever else we are seeking at a given moment)…

And in an ecocycle planning kind of way, LS invite us also to review our relations and activities dynamically, again to create more choice…

Liberating Structures make space for our whole personality and its quirks to be accepted as it is

Another – and hereby final, though by no means exhaustive – aspect of LS is in inviting our personalities in all our wholesomeness. Liberating Structures are not resorting to our intellectual self only, as too often is the case in the ‘serious’ workplace 😉

Here you are invited to bring your creative self (Drawing together), your emotional self (Heard Seen Respected), your musical and empathetic self (Back to back listening), your kinetic self (Flocking), your theatrical self (improv prototyping), your coaching self (Helping heuristics). Make way for what makes a person, all the different shades of our very own elephant (and we are its seven blind men)… And it is a delight to be able to use these many facets of who we are… It’s also put to good use.

How about some serious business?

Oh, did I mention ‘fun’? Think dancing with your tiny demons, talking with pixies about what you can change about yourself, embracing dystopia with TRIZ, addressing thorny questions with Mad Tea party… with Liberating Structures you are in the middle of serious fun, or fun seriousness, however you prefer looking at it 😉

Because indeed: why should we afford to kill our inner child when instead we can kill our darling ideas? Why should we settle for unimaginative business as usual when we can indulge in some serious transformation, together, while having fun?

How is that all too often, even outside of meetings, we are not giving ourselves the absolute minimum structure that we need and at the same time we are not seeking ways to liberate ourselves from the slavery of ‘office groundhog day’? How is it we are looking forward to this 2021 as the clean slate with a keen heart and at the same time we are trying to build on all the amazing stuff we’ve (also) learned in 2020?

That is a wicked COVID question!

Now here’s for the presentation…


Join us in either of these two upcoming Liberating Structures Immersion workshops:

Happy 2021 – and here’s to sharing many more conversations!

Dear you,

I have left you alone over the past year(s). Perhaps you’re even very happy about it ha ha. Perhaps I’m just talking to myself 😉

In any case, as this new year is finally with us, with a pretty dramatically iconic 2020 behind, here is to a happy 2021, hopefully a very different kind of year, though building upon the great experimentation and learning we’ve also done in this Corona year past.

For me, this is not a promise that my blogging will become a solid practice again, but I am really hoping to find time to do it on a more regular basis and to reflect on the beautiful, amazing, new, quirky, deceptive, crazy, stupid, enchanting stuff that lies ahead of my path.

I hope you tag along for a while, and help me make this blogging a shared experience, an enjoyable conversation space…

For now, I wish you health, love, happiness, success and whatever wild dreams you may have…

(photo credit: CTN News)

A meta look at resources to work and facilitate online more effectively

Sign of these times… everyone’s moving online indeed (with its positive consequences too). Consultants are becoming e-consultants, or online facilitation gurus. I guess I should follow that bandwagon (NOT) ha ha ha.


How to move from face to face to online most effectively? That’s the question on everyone’s lips (photo credit: startkiwi)

In any case, everyone else, who’s just getting to terms with the online collaboration world, is avidly looking for resources to make this transition work. It is a very crowded space already. Which is perhaps the reason why some specialists have preferred to offer their time to answer anyone’s questions and help them move their activities online, rather than share more resources. But if you’re still looking for some good resources, here’s my own selection of what I’ve found around recently:

So far, the very best resource I’ve found – warning it can feel really overwhelming – is this crowdsourced list of online meeting/gathering resources (shared by Nancy White): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NyrEU7n6IUl5rgGiflx_dK8CrdoB2bwyyl9XG-H7iw8/edit?ts=5e6fc9e3#heading=h.jb9co2l7jt1p 

Nancy also recently posted a few additional links that are great:

To which I’ll add a couple more resources from Michelle Laurie’s most recent post:

On KM4Dev (again), Karel Novotny also shared this guide:  “Closer Than Ever: A guide for social change organisations who want to start working online” https://www.apc.org/en/pubs/books/closer-ever-guide and Stacey Young shared this USAID resource on tips to work effectively remotely: https://usaidlearninglab.org/library/ultimate-tipsheet-working-remotely

A few online gathering fundamentals to consider (differently)

Finally a few meta reflections that I’m seeing as I’m really getting into that mode also:

As mentioned in my last post on this blog, online collaboration/facilitation actually follows a lot of principles of face-to-face collaboration/facilitation so if you have experience with the latter, that’s already a huge step ahead.

What is changing a lot and does require more careful consideration is a handful of practical, logistical, design and emotional points:

  • The nature of the gathering: fully online or blended with partial face-to-face group interactions. Given the general progression of SARS-COV-2 the former is more likely but still good to check;
  • The intention behind the gathering, with either mostly an intention to share information, pick people’s brains or explore and co-create solutions together (following Community At Work‘s seminal typology of Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 meetings). Behind this fundamental question (which should be asked for every conversation you want to have), comes the translated question of whether you want/need synchronous or asynchronous conversations…
  • Bandwidth issues and what is being done to allow the full participation of everyone in the gathering – what measures can be put in place for those that may not be able to access a video-conference at all times etc.?
  • The geographic distribution of participants and the amount of time zones that the gathering spans – this has important implications on the synchronicity of interactions;
  • What can be organised to break the ice among the people online – especially if they don’t know each other – and what do you have up your sleeves to pick up the energy etc. The potential risks of distraction are many more online…
  • What online system(s) is (are) being used, to talk/write/read/view – is any of these systems restricted only to ‘staff’? Are there any restrictions that again are going to make it more difficult for anyone to participate? What is the learning curve for people to be able to participate (and even more so to organise something on it?);
  • The role distribution to ‘hold the space’ – and this is where things might differ most from face-to-face gatherings: Who facilitates? Who chairs? Who attends to technology-related questions? Who monitors chat and other back channels? Who takes notes of the conversation etc.?
  • The best division of time, especially for gatherings which, if happening face-to-face, would take more than day. Online gatherings are potentially more tiring than face-to-face ones, all the more so now as they are multiplying like crazy;
  • How can you ensure you ‘read the crowd’ and people’s emotions as well as you might be able to offline? This is particularly important and difficult at the same time, so perhaps think about some feedback moments and breaks to check on people whom you suspect  might be experiencing difficult emotions.

And as ever, keep an open and fun approach to this learning. We are all in it together and no one can improvise themselves an online collaboration expert overtime. Let’s just keep it light, playful, focused, fun, and feedback-informed. There’s chances we’ll gather our 10000 hours of practice earlier than we might have thought…

When ‘going online’ invites us to rethink (also face-to-face) interactions – A new dawn for collaboration?

How do you approach the world, and life?

You likely tend to consider that things are either ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’. I personally always adopted the half full glass, as a guarantee for an easier life.

Yin and yang

A new dawn of collaboration through a double-lens perspective (photo credit: Eleonora Albasi / FlickR)

So there we have it, the bloody Coronavirus crisis.

Affecting, transforming, crushing, redefining, alienating, crystallising, metabolising our lives and perspectives.

Our social interactions have started to change. The result of social – oops, physical – distancing:

Screenshot 2020-03-18 at 21.05.11

My social stream is full of anecdotes relating to this new social reality. Amidst this novel situation, people are subtly taking notice of some interesting process aspects…

A small interaction that made me smile this morning: A team member who is based in a different country and thus always works remotely with our otherwise co-located team was excited this morning that: “Now you will all be here with me!” With “here” she meant the remote space. All of a sudden we are all at the same level and the hierarchy of “in the room” and “remote” is gone. Which also made me think of the way that we sometimes call people who call into a meeting the “virtual folks” or the “phone people”, as if we, the hosts, were the only ones with physical bodies in a real space and our own space somehow mattered more than theirs…

(Eva Schiffer, KM4Dev message)

In another recent chat I had to quickly pull together some good practices for online collaboration, one person mentioned that “online meetings take so much more preparation than face-to-face ones“. And that made me smile. For at least two reasons:

1. People are waking up to the ABC of collaboration and to process literacy

Many people are currently forced to move their meetings etc. online as they are struggling with frozen travel, frozen budgets, self isolation, quarantine, home arrest-type situations etc., people are indeed realising that it takes some effort to work together online… Like it requires:

  • some idea of the conversations you want to have
  • some idea of what you want to achieve for each of these conversations
  • some sense of what can realistically be achieved in an online meting without making people too tired or jaded
  • some thinking about the best process to involve everyone’s best thinking and to tap into the collective intelligence
  • some use of facilitation skills (in whatever configuration) to hold all of this together
  • some preparation by the participants to also make the most of their time together
  • some etiquette for people to be able to collaborate together (ie. showing your face, muting when you’re not talking etc. – hopefully more from me on this soon)
  • ideally, some level of familiarity, or even trust among the people present
  • and some thinking about the technology stewardship (who will take care of setting up the online platform, translating the process online etc.)…

Frankly this is great news, it means people are slowly getting a hang of what working with other fellow human beings actually means in practice. Here is the first half of this new dawn for collaboration: online (or blended with face-to-face) collaboration everywhere, all the time, with people that are actually more set up for success than they’ve ever been…


Hallelujah! (photo credit: Tone’o / FlickR)

Pity we had to wait for the Coronavirus to get us on this pathway but whatever it takes, the trend is very encouraging, even uplifting!


Err, wait, hold on… something’s funny here…

2. We have taken face-to-face meetings, workshops and conferences for granted for too long

It just dawned on me, when I heard online meetings take a lot more preparation than face-to-face ones, that we are discovering some plain truths that have been smiling at us all along in the face-to-face realm. We just haven’t dealt with this face to face (pun intended).

Because, let’s be frank, when we prepare face-to-face interactions, what it takes is:

  • some idea of the conversations you want to have
  • some idea of what you want to achieve for each of these conversations
  • some sense of what can realistically be achieved in an online meting without making people too tired or jaded
  • some thinking about the best process to involve everyone’s best thinking and to tap into the collective intelligence
  • some use of facilitation skills (in whatever configuration) to hold all of this together
  • some preparation by the participants to also make the most of their time together
  • some etiquette for people to be able to collaborate together
  • ideally, some level of familiarity, or even trust among the people present

The only glaring difference with online meetings is skipping the technological stewardship, though even on that account, the logistical side of prepping a meeting room has similarities to setting up a virtual gathering space.

We’ve been eating bad (face-to-face) meetings for breakfast, lunch and dinner for all these years. We’ve been force-fed so much that we don’t even see it any more. Not enough people think carefully about the conversations and outcomes they’re dreaming of. Not enough people pay attention to the processes that can get us there. Not nearly enough do people invite facilitation as a practice – whether held by one or two central facilitators or ensured collectively by teams and groups. Hardly anyone thinks about getting participants to actually pay attention to preparing themselves adequately for a workshop or meeting. And in a room where the facilitative capacity of the group is low or missing, the collaboration etiquette leaves much to be desired…

So here’s the second part of this hopeful collaboration dawn: our online interactions might just be the unlikely trojan horse to bringing back some sense even into our face-to-face gatherings, and giving us a well-needed sense of taking our interactions and collaboration a few notches more seriously than we have all along.

It may well be that we don’t get any opportunity to test this hypothesis for a while, as home lock down is here to stay for the next few weeks, but this new reality certainly brings new opportunities indeed!

I know, I’m a desperately optimistic fool, but that leaves me some more to drink ahead, and I cheer to that!

And if this turns to be true, well thank you Coronavirus…

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A daily dose of process literacy

In my quest towards developing people’s process literacy, I had an opportunity to make another small stride a couple of weeks ago. During an event where I was MC, I used a tiny bit of the air time I was granted to share one process tip per day.


Here are the ones I shared, and some others that I had planned to use (but didn’t get round to):

“What the heck did you mean”? Write coloured cards, flipcharts and other public writings with capital letters and full sentences. That will be a business skill useful for your future conferencing, and it will help the recording of the works.

The public stage fear not, young jedi”. If you fear public speaking, get to know the room/stage where you will have to perform. And get to know the audience by meeting as many people as you can. When speaking, focus on the people you know (your friends) and remember that no one wants you to fail, they’re all supporting you. And most importantly: rehearse!

Pop your mic up”. The art of holding a microphone. With mikes, you aim at a pop music effect, ie. easy listening. On the other hand you want to avoid the heavy metal stance (mic in your mouth – really not cool as an audio effect) and the reggae stance (mic by your hips because you’re too relaxed). The pop stance is about one fist away from your mouth.

Feed your feedback forward“. One way to give good feedback: Make sure it’s welcome (not unsolicited) – and btw the onus is on you as a collective to develop a culture that favors regular and quick feedback. Give it on the spot as much as possible. Be specific about what you noticed and what the impact was e.g. “When you did xyz, this is the effect it had on me”. “When you said abc, this is how I felt”. E.g. “when you said communication doesn’t matter, you made me feel invisible and useless, and resentful as a result”.

Read the colors” – the language of colors is fascinating. Including for flipcharts, Powerpoint slides etc. Some research shows that black is dull, red makes people upset, and that the most comfortable colours for core content are earth tones: dark green, brown, purple, dark blue. Use these in your slides and write-ups!

Remember me”. This is about your presentations. Use fewer words in each slide and more visuals to harness those words – make YOURSELF the focus, not the presentation. And see more at: https://km4meu.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/wow-public-speaking/

Make space for the ladies”. When you set up a ‘panel discussion’, first of all be aware that you don’t have to (there are many alternatives to panel discussions). But if you insist on a panel, avoid ‘Manels’ (all-men panels) or ‘womanels’ for that matter. And when it starts, most importantly, ask a woman the first question always, that will give them (and possibly other women on stage) more incentives to engage more.

Make it worth their while“. This is about sharing information, whether in a Powerpoint presentation, or more generally talking to another person. Think always about the other person – what’s in it for them? WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and drop all the details that are not useful (e.g. sharing your research protocol details to policy makers)…

Was giving this series of tips effective? Probably not in the sense of changing behaviour directly. And it happened in my spiel in the morning so at a time when not everyone was caffeinated enough to fully embrace these ideas.

Was it useful? Difficult to say again, but with behaviour change, I’m a disciple of ‘Bend it further, one little step at a time’…

Was it fun to do? For me, certainly, and I think for some of the participants.

And actually I did see some people embrace my chart writing tips, and I’m sure some of the 300 people present then might have picked up the general idea that there’s a whole process world out there, even if they only saw the tip of the iceberg.

And that’s one little way to honour my contribution to the world… More to come!

Learning never ends…

Getting to ‘wow’ with public speaking and presenting

I should have added this post a while back but here it is anyway, as it relates to the world of facilitation too…

Agile KM for me... and you?

Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR) Getting to wow with public speaking (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

My current work environment is academic. Which means people around me produce a hell of a lot of information. And presentations.

I would have thought their presenting and public speaking skills were very good, considering… uh uh… not quite the case. And there are many reasons for that. But I guess many people around me are actually busy undertaking their research, not spending (so) much time fine-tuning their presentation. “It only takes a few minutes to put together a presentation”, right? UH UH!!

This a real pity, because it means entire years of research can see their future use be wasted by one single badly designed, or badly delivered presentation (or both). So after thinking about this for a while, and encouraged by a couple of colleagues who wanted to get this kind of information out, I put together a presentation about what…

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