Facilitation and Communication to lead ‘The Big Conversation’: Digital Transformation

This article, co-authored with Mike Pounsford of Couravel and IABC UK, is reprinted with permission from the IAF Global Flipchart #9, September 2017.


If you’re a facilitator or communicator who wants to help organisations engage people at all levels to align behind a common strategy, read on – this article’s for you.

Common challenges you’ve probably noticed

Digital development is demanding change in the way businesses are run and how they interact with their audiences and their employees. No matter what sector you’re in, you’re likely to be facing at least one of these challenges:

  • Teams have less face-time as people share, work and interact more remotely.
  • Employees and customers are enjoying new relationships with employers and brands as we move to self-serving models: this creates the need to rethink communication and engagement with employees and how we structure customer service roles.
  • Employees want more opportunities to work with their employers to give back to society and the communities they serve.
  • Organisations want more agile approaches with empowered employees who understand both company strategy and customer needs.

A solution starts with a conversation

Solving these issues requires processes that connect leaders, managers, project teams and front-line staff.

The traditional top down approach is hopelessly inadequate, especially in large organisations. A cascade approach is too slow when there are multiple levels of management and a complex organisational structure. “Top down” also contradicts the message that organisations need to empower their people to take more responsibility for the delivery of satisfaction and productivity.

Achieving that kind of collaboration across an organisation puts a premium on the need for quality conversations – conversations that help people work out how they can support strategic direction. The kind of conversation that encourages people to challenge, work out what they need to do to support change, and feel a high degree of ownership of the outcomes of the conversation.

Exploring the visualisation of strategy

Couravel has been using Big Pictures to help leaders define strategy and then to help teams engage with strategy. The power of visual representation of strategic and market issues is well proven. It was first written about in the Sears case study in the Harvard Business Review which introduced the Service-Profit Chain. At Sears, groups came to a better understanding of the marketplace and what they needed to do to support competitiveness by addressing questions posed by a visual representation of the High Street.

To explore its relevance today we asked 15 leaders from different businesses how developments in technology would affect their business in the next five years. Using ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) Consensus Workshop approach, they grouped their answers into seven main themes:

  • Collaborative working
  • Liberating structures
  • Empowered customers
  • Dynamic skill sets
  • Disruptive markets
  • New world of risks
  • Big data.

Transformation challenges to address

We then invited them to draw these themes and use their insights and imagination to create a synthesis picture in real time.

The textual list below presents information related to transformational challenges, while the picture conveys the same information visually.

Textual:

  • Always on and changing working patterns – timing and geography no longer blockages
  • Feedback is instant and we have to respond instantly
  • Enable paradigm shift in service design and operation – focus on understanding and improvement
  • Creating new skills to cope with technology change
  • Using data to inform decisions
  • Defining and mitigating new risks caused by over-reliance on technology
  • Identifying and responding to new competitive challenges

Visual:

What this gives the organisation is a visual representation of Digital Transformation and what it needs to do to navigate change.

To involve people in a conversation about how to respond to these challenges, the visual route represents an engaging starting point because it:

  • Invites people to interpret what is going on
  • Is easier to access (you do not need to understand jargon like “paradigm shift”)
  • Provides information more quickly
  • Leads to a less critical and more curious audience (lists invite a more critical, sceptical response).

Conversations around the visual

What is more important than the visual are the conversations around it; and they must be well facilitated. The visual becomes the focus for a conversation whereas questions draw people out.

For example, questions we used following the ORID framework of ICA’s ToP Focussed Conversation method include:

  • What can you see in the picture? What else? (Objective)
  • How do you feel about what you can see? Anything surprising, confusing? (Reflective)
  • Where do you see yourself fitting?  (Reflective)
  • What could this picture mean for how we work with each other and our colleagues in other teams? (Interpretative)
  • What risks do you think technology creates for us? (Interpretative)
  • How might we be able to mitigate these risks? (Interpretative)
  • How could we use new capabilities to provide better services for our customers? (Interpretative)
  • What does that mean we need to do differently? (Decisional)

In the meeting in which we developed this image, we asked the people in the room:

  • What strikes you (remember they had just co-authored this picture)? (Objective/Reflective)
  • Can you see yourselves in the picture? (Objective/Reflective)
  • What does this mean for how you work in future?  (Interpretive)
  • How does this affect your relationships with others in your business?  Outside your business? (Interpretive)
  • How will this affect how you manage change in the business? (Decisional)

Using pictures to lead the conversation around Digital Transformation

This led to some penny-dropping moments for people involved in the leadership of change. For example:

  • It is increasingly difficult to define and think in terms of “visions” as these rapidly become outdated in the face of global and disruptive competition.
  • Consultants working with clients are experiencing their own journey of change through the digital landscape and the relationship between client and consultant needs to shift from the expert to the consultative model (i.e. where facilitators operate most effectively)
  • This is also true of the relationship between customers and suppliers generally, but the changes are complex.  In some respects, the relationship becomes more transactional and customers interface with technology to get what they want.  This scenario sees people losing jobs as machines and robots take them over.  But in other respects, the roles become more demanding and complex as the relationship becomes more akin to partnering: when customers want help it is because the technology cannot address more complex challenges (notice the bridge between suppliers and clients that is itself on wheels and constantly changing)
  • The value of tangible, visual outcomes that can engage people more because they are visual, different and not prescriptive and that can convey some of the nuances and challenges of change (notice the trolls waiting to sabotage change work)
  • The widespread application for approaches like this (see below).

Rethinking how we think about change

We need to rethink the process of change. If we want people to let go of past practices we have to pay more attention to the way individuals respond to change. To encourage people to collaborate to define new practices, here are a few “must haves”:

  • Fun
  • Novelty
  • Laughter
  • Celebration of past achievements
  • Reflection time
  • Generating our own ideas
  • Feeling valued and connected

Using the Technology of Participation facilitation approach and visual thinking tools such as Big Pictures, we can create the kind of approach to collaboration needed to support transformation.

This approach is valuable in most change situations including:

  • Introduction of new technology
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • New strategy
  • New strategy communication
  • Brand evolution or launch/relaunch
  • Design of new organisational processes
  • Defining cultures, behaviours and values

Michael Pounsford CPF (author) is the founder of Couravel, which works with clients to clarify and communicate purpose, vision and strategy, to design and deliver engagement programmes, and to develop the communication capabilities of leaders and managers. He is accredited under the NTL International Organisation Development programme and is the President of the UK Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators IABC (2017 – 2018). He is also an IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator.

Martin Gilbraith CPF (co-author) is an independent facilitator, trainer and consultant based in London. He is a Certified Professional Facilitator of the International Association of Facilitators, an IAF ‘Hall of Famer’ and former IAF Chair and IAF Europe Director. He is a former President of the Institute of Cultural Affairs International (ICAI), and an Associate and former Chief Executive of ICA:UK, the participation and development charity. He has been facilitating and training, specialising in ICA’s ToP facilitation methodology, since 1986.

Michael and Martin will be running a session on the power of visuals and ToP facilitation to encourage open communication at the IAF EMENA Paris conference on Saturday 14 October – see Leading the Big Conversation at #IAFEMENA17 in Paris and register now to join us!

They are also planning a session for members of the IABC and the IAF to learn from each other and gain reduced cost entry to each other’s events. See also When communicators become facilitators at IABC EMENA.


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Leading the Big Conversation at #IAFEMENA17 in Paris

Join Mike Pounsford and me for our session at the upcoming 2017 IAF EMENA conference Boosting positive change – the power of facilitation, October 13-15 in Paris! Our session Leading the Big Conversation will be on the Saturday afternoon from 2pm.

This facilitated workshop will illustrate the Big Conversation process, and help you to explore your future using visuals and conversations. The Big Conversation supports the implementation of change by enabling teams to understand strategic goals and translate them to local actions. It uses visual approaches that are memorable, accessible and relevant. The workshop will be experiential, and illustrate this approach using insights and ideas generated by participants thinking about their own futures.

Like me, Mike is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator and an enthusiastic user of ICA’s Technology of Participation. He is also President of IABC UK, the UK chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. For more on our efforts to promote mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators and partnership between IAF and IABC, and on my session at the recent IABC Europe MENA conference in London, see Facilitating transformation: reviewing the past to prepare for the future at #EuroComm17.

Register now to join us! I understand that IABC members are welcome to register for the conference at IAF member rates.


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

 

Adapt • Invent • Evolve: reviewing the past to prepare for the future at #EuroComm17

Thank you to everyone who participated in my plenary session Facilitating transformation: reviewing the past to prepare for the future at this year’s IABC Europe MENA conference #EuroComm17 in London today.

In the session I demonstrated a participatory approach for a group to review the past to prepare for the future, by applying the ToP Historical Scan method to reflect together on the journey of development of the communications profession.

Here I am sharing some links to some resources and case studies that I mentioned during the session, and perhaps some that I didn’t, plus (below) some some tweets from the session the timeline we created:

etf20

  • ToP Historical Scan (‘Wall of Wonder’) overview – pdf
  • The Art of Focused Conversation – book
  • Four steps to a universal principle of facilitation and learning – blog post
  • Facilitation case study: Celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation in Turin – #ETF20 – case study
  • Transformational Strategy: from trepidation to ‘unlocked’ – case study
  • Staff Away Day with George House Trust – case study
  • Reviewing the past to prepare for the future: #FacHistory in Copenhagen – blog post
  • #IAFEMENA17 conference, 13-15 October in Paris – IAF
  • ToP (Technology of Participation) facilitation training – blog
  • books and sticky walls – ICA:UK

Please share your own reflections in a comment below:

  • What can we learn from experience of the ever-changing and growing communications profession about how communicators might best adapt, invent, evolve and transform, as professionals and as a profession?
  • How might you apply this method, and facilitation more broadly, in your communications work?
  • What potential do you see for greater mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators, and for partnership between IAF and IABC?

For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Facilitating transformation: reviewing the past to prepare for the future at #EuroComm17

#eurocomm17

I am excited to be attending and presenting at this year’s IABC Europe MENA conference #EuroComm17 in London in March. It promises to be a fantastic opportunity for facilitation professionals to connect, learn & collaborate with their counterparts in the communications profession. Register now to join me, or contact me first to benefit from my ‘invite a friend’ discount code.

CCjkUYmXIAAZqK9.jpg largeIt seems that the time is increasingly ripe to bring our two communities and skill sets closer together. I was inspired by attending EuroComm15 in London two years to blog, in Power to the People, and the power of facilitation and communications in partnership, on the potential that I saw for greater mutual learning and collaboration between facilitators and communicators and for partnership between IAF and IABC.

#FacWeekChat 2015Since then I have collaborated with fellow IAF London member and past-IABC Chair Michael Ambjorn to engage members of both associations & professions on the question What does it take for people to align behind change? – first in a twitter chat and then in a webinar. Several IABC members have taken ToP facilitation training with me, joined IAF and even gained the IAF Certified Professional Facilitator designation. More recently IABC EMENA Board member Kasha Dougall has blogged on When communicators become facilitators, and IAF Denmark member Charlotte Ditloev Jensen has joined the EuroComm17 speaker list with her session Transformation from within: How facilitation techniques can expand the organizational impact of communication.

The theme of EuroComm this year  – TRANSFORMATION: Adapt • Invent • Evolve – is a key aspect of any ever-changing and growing profession. Presentations will cover everything from constantly reinventing ourselves as professionals, to keeping pace with technology, to navigating the ever-changing political, social and workplace landscape.

etf20In my own workshop, Facilitating transformation: reviewing the past to prepare for the future, I shall demonstrate a participatory approach for a group to review the past to prepare for the future, by applying the ToP Historical Scan method to reflect together on the journey of development of the communications profession. I will be joined by IABC past­-chair Michael Ambjorn of AlignYourOrg and Alastair Macphail of the European Training Foundation (ETF) to share a case study of the method in action “Celebrating 20 years with the European Training Foundation in Turin – #ETF20”  This project in 2015 won an IABC Gold Quill Award and an IAF Facilitation Impact Award. Participants will have an opportunity to reflect on how they might apply the method themselves. The session is adapted from my 2014 IAF conference session on the history of facilitation, in IAF’s 20th anniversary year, Reviewing the past to prepare for the future: #FacHistory in Copenhagen.

Register now to join me, or contact me first to benefit from my ‘invite a friend’ discount code. See you then!


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

Aligning behind change for International Facilitation Week

What does it take for people to align behind change?
It’s International Facilitation Week! I began the week yesterday by hosting the latest of my free facilitation webinars “What does it take for people to align behind change?” and the latest of IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London, a social & networking evening at Kings Cross. A recording of the webinar is below with links to futher details and other outputs.

iaf_logo_ifw2015_rgb-01International Facilitation Week takes place each year during the month of October. Its purpose is to showcase the power of facilitation to both new and existing audiences and to create a sense of community among facilitators and their groups worldwide. Since its launch in 2013 the week has become a spark that ignites activities around the world to highlight the benefits of facilitation, the gifts of facilitators and the comradeship of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).

To participate yourself in International Facilitation Week, simply follow and use the #FacWeek hashtag on twitter or other social media, and use it and the IAF global event listing to find and join an event near you or online.

This Saturday 22 October in central Birmingham I shall be hosting IAF’s first all-England & Wales, all-day free facilitation MeetUp – all with an interest in facilitation are welcome, IAF members & non-members alike.  RSVP now to join us there for networking & learning with other facilitators, and to help to celebrate & promote the power of facilitation worldwide!

In this session we explored what it takes for people to align behind change. This is the question that brought together 69 facilitation, communications and change management professionals over two one-hour twitter chats last October during International Facilitation Week 2015.

I was joined for this session by Michael Ambjorn, immediate past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and one of my London-based co-hosts for the twitter chats; and again by Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative.

We invited you to share some of your own experience and insights on what can be done to help people to align together to make change happen. We shared six top tips and tools that were shared during the twitter chats, and how the 4-level ‘ORID’ model of ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method was applied to structure the process. We shared examples of practical application including how over 1,000 IABC leaders were engaged, aligned and activated to extend the organisation’s reach and deepen its impact.

A particular aim for the session, as for the twitter chats, was to bring together facilitation, communications and change professionals, and all those with an interest in these fields, to connect with and learn from each other and to make connections and foster broader collaboration between our associations and between our professions.

Session materials & additional resources shared include:


Register soon on Eventbrite for the next webinar, and register your interests now on Surveymonkey.

For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Free facilitation webinar – What does it take for people to align behind change?

Are you interested to learn more about facilitation, and ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) methodology in particular – in a free, one-hour, interactive online session that offers an experience of virtual facilitation as well? Please join me for my new series of free facilitation webinars!

Register now on Eventbrite for the next session on October 17 (postponed from August 15) and register your interest on Surveymonkey for future dates & times and topics to be scheduled. To review past session recordings and other outputs, and for provisional future dates & times and suggested topics, see free facilitation webinars.


2 300x600What does it take for people to align behind change?

Monday 17 October, 13.00 BST 

In this session we shall explore what it takes for people to align behind change. This is the question that brought together 69 facilitation, communications and change management professionals over two one-hour twitter chats last October during International Facilitation Week 2015.

I shall be joined for this session by Michael Ambjorn, immediate past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and one of my London-based co-hosts for the twitter chats; and again by Sunny Walker of the Virtual Facilitation Collaborative.

We will invite you to share some of your own experience and insights on what can be done to help people to align together to make change happen. We will share six top tips and tools that were shared during the twitter chats, and how the 4-level ‘ORID’ model of ICA’s ToP Focused Conversation method was applied to structure the process. We will share examples of practical application including how over 1,000 IABC leaders were engaged, aligned and activated to extend the organisation’s reach and deepen its impact.

A particular aim for the session, as for the twitter chats, is to bring together facilitation, communications and change professionals, and all those with an interest in these fields, to connect with and learn from each other and to make connections and foster broader collaboration between our associations and between our professions.

Feel free to tweet with the hashtag #FacWeekChat!


Each session in this series of free facilitation webinars will be hosted in Adobe Connect for a highly interactive learning experience.

Each topic will be addressed by a short case study or other presentation, supplemented by links to further online material for later reference. Sessions will apply tools and techniques of virtual facilitation to help participants to engage with the material and the presenter, and with their own and each other’s experience on the topic. A short technical orientation directly before the session will introduce the features of the virtual meeting room and the tools to be used. A brief closing reflection at the end of the session will invite reflection and learning on the facilitation process and virtual tools as well as on the content of the session.

For full voice participation in the session for a more conversational experience, microphone rights will be available to up to 15 participants who are first to login and set up their audio. Others will be able to listen and interact via their keyboard alone.


Register now on Eventbrite, and register your interests on Surveymonkey.

For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.

What does it take for people to align behind change? Six top tips & tools from #FacWeekchat

#FacWeekChat 2015This is the question that brought together 69 facilitation, communications and change management professionals over two one-hour twitter chats on October 23, during International Facilitation Week. In this post I’ll share six top tips and some of the tools that were shared in response.

The twitter chats were co-hosted by Michael Ambjorn of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Faith Forster of the Change Management Institute (CMI) and myself for the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). Our aims were to bring people together to connect with and learn from each other on a topic of mutual interest, and also to make connections and foster broader collaboration between our associations and between our professions.

Participants were located as far afield as Canada, USA, Serbia, UK and India. Our experience of change included local and international work with large and small organisations in a variety of sectors and industries including health, education, IT, faith and international aid & development.

So what did we learn? What does it take for people to align behind change?

1. The context must be conducive. People align behind change “when external pressures have made the need for change evident”.  “The facilitator as midwife can only help a client that is already pregnant”!

2. High level vision and goals, and ideally values as well, must be clear and shared. Alignment happens when there is “a clear purpose… before a decision on what to do, a focus on energy & momentum for change”.

3. There must be inclusive and authentic participation. “Holistic participation in co-creating vision is the key to create buy in”.  “Co-design, co-creation, collaboration”. “Convene all with a stake in change”. “Everyone wants change, but no-one wants to be changed”.  Alignment does not happen “when when people forget that changes requires the involvement of others” or “when change is imposed from above without proper consultation or facilitation”.

4. Humility, patience and deep listening is required. “Be honest and transparent about the challenges that will be faced, otherwise when failure happens you lose people’s trust”. “Take time, constant process checks, take time, listen, take time, acknowledge resistance (did I mention take time?)”. “Come to terms with the antibodies in the system and talk candidly about them”. “The disruptive power of good listening skills”. “Pay as much attention to the intangibles amongst people as to what is explicitly being said”.

5. Be open to what needs to emerge, while remaining focused on the vision. “Start with possibilities rather than a project plan” and “be aware of groups emerging needs… [allow] the group synergy to flow”.  Alignment did not happen “when people didn’t respond to emerging needs, and when personal issues took precidence over common vison”.

6. Nevertheless, leadership must also be be clear, decisive and inspiring.  “Be a leader that makes tough decisions. The notion of change is disruptive, but strong leadership can mitigate people risk”. Make a “powerful invitation, expressed openly with integrity”. “Discussions about change are so often are negative, ie. about failure – we need to inspire people, enable them”.

What tools and techniques can help?

Favoured approaches to addressing the challenges of aligment and change included the Art of Hosting/Art of Participatory Leadership, Organisational Development, Quality Management, Coaching and Mediation, Graphic Facilitation (especially in multilingual contexts), the work of Perry Timms on ‘hacking adaptable organisations’ and of course ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP).

Some of the particular tools referenced were Story Boarding and Lead with a Story, My Goals My Action Steps, Power/Interest Matrix, RASCI, Ladder of inference, CSITO’s Constellation Collaboration model and the ToP Focused Conversation method.

What can we learn from each other?

What can communications and change management professionals learn from facilitation? “If you want to bring people with you you have to involve others, and facilitation is a great way to do that”. Facilitation “can help transform communications ‘from cascade to conversation'” – “communicators can learn from facilitators about how to structure conversations once people are engaged”. “Change management can get caught up in project management processes – facilitation keeps the focus on what is important”. “At a simple level, facilitation can help managers learn to run more productive and enjoyable meetings”.

What can facilitators learn from communications and change management? How “to get people ‘in the room’ for facilitation, to engage all those who will never be ‘in the room’… and to communicate the results”.  Also “good use of data gathering tools”, “ways to measure/evaluate the outcomes of their facilitation work” and how to “draw out stories as they relate to the task at hand, and use these stories for sense making”.

We could all benefit from each other’s professional standards and competency models – IAF’s Facilitation Core Competencies, IABC’s communications Global Standard andCMI’s Change Management Foundation & Master Competencies.

For more of what we shared, including links to many of the examples and tools referred to, see the edited highlights on Storify or find all 707 tweets at #FacWeekchat on Twitter.

Please add your own thoughts in a comment below, or of course on Twitter with the hashtag #FacWeekchat!


For more on my work, and what others have to say about it, please see how I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies – or view my profile and connect with me on LinkedIn.

You can connect with me also by joining my free facilitation webinars online, and IAF England & Wales’ free facilitation meetups in London and elsewhere.