Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek

This is the 6th and last of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting today! Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this week? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 6 – IABC UK, London

In May I facilitated a 2-hour evening strategy workshop with the UK Board of the International Association of Business Communicators. For more on my work with IABC, and my session at the recent IABC Europe MENA conference, see Facilitating transformation: reviewing the past to prepare for the future at #EuroComm17.

New IABC UK President Mike Pounsford is a keen ToP facilitator himself, and an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator. He had approached me to apply the Consensus Workshop method with the new Board of nine so that he could participate fully.  For an example of his own application of the method see Facilitation and Communication to lead ‘The Big Conversation’: Digital Transformation.

We quickly agreed that a ‘textbook’ Consensus Workshop process could help to meet the group’s needs well. These were articulated in terms of Rational & Experiential Aims as ‘to outline our strategic focus for IABC UK for the next 24 months, and what roles we will each play to help to deliver it‘ and ‘to build shared clarity, commitment and enthusiasm for the way forward together‘. The workshop Focus Question was to be ‘What practical projects & initiatives could help to deliver IABC’s mission & strategy in the UK in 2017-18?’.

The workshop was preceded by an opening conversation and a short presentation from Mike on the vision, purpose and philosophy of IABC as a whole, as parameters for IABC UK’s own strategy.

According to the textbook approach, Board members brainstormed their responses to the Focus Question individually, with the parameters in mind. They wrote ideas on half-sheets in pairs, which they shared on the sticky wall and clarified as necessary before pairing and clustering. The ‘adaptation in the moment’ came in finalising the Clustering stage of the workshop prior to Naming the clusters. It made no sense to the group to discern and name clusters unique to IABC UK’s 2017-18 strategy – what made sense was to map the brainstorm ideas to the three components of IABC’s global Purpose: ‘to advance the profession, to create connection and to develop strategic communicators’ .

So that is what we did. That allowed time then for members to self-select into three teams to to articulate the UK’s new strategic focus for each of the three areas, and to propose collective commitments.

I reflected to Mike, ‘I suppose we could have presented as a parameter that these [advance, connect and develop] would be the UK’s strategic focus, and we could have asked instead about collective commitments aligned with them. That might have saved a moment of doubt & confusion, but as you say perhaps at the expense of a sense of openness, possibility & engagement. A bit of challenge can be a valuable opportunity for a group to find its own way!’

Mike PounsfordMike replied: “I thought it was great, thank you for your help and for your agility in responding to the group’s needs. Most importantly we achieved consensus on a focus for our work for the next two years, which is to enhance the strategic communication capabilities of our members”.


Finally, in case you’re still wondering…

  • no group is too small for the ToP Consensus Workshop method – page 52 of the ICA:UK Group Facilitation Methods course workbook includes procedures for using the method on your own as an individual.
  • the method can work online as well as face-to-face, although like all online facilitation it will be different than when done face-to-face – see for example the Spilter ToP Consensus platform, specially developed to provide full digital support for the method, and see below a youtube video of an online ToP Consensus Workshop of ICA Ukraine using LinoIt with Google Hangout.
  • if you have nowhere to put a sticky wall, take advice from US ToP trainer Barbara MacKay of Northstar Facilitators, also in a youtube video below.

Start again from example 1…


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.

Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -1

This is the 5th of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 1 week from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 5 – Eurochild, Brussels

A good example of both customised design and adaptation in the moment was the General Assembly in Brussels in April of Eurochild, ‘a network of organisations and individuals working in and across Europe to promote the rights and well-being of children and young people‘. This involved around 100 individual members and member representatives plus Board members and Secretariat staff over two days.

One morning of the GA was designed as an opportunity to engage members in a year-long process to develop a new strategy for the network as a whole for 2019-21. The event had been preceded by an online survey of members, and was followed by a Participatory Strategic Planning retreat with Board, staff and a few key member representatives to develop the basis of the new strategy – for more in-depth consultation this autumn, with a view to final adoption at the next GA in April 2018. The Focus Question for the planning process as a whole was ‘How could Eurochild best mobilise and add value to the work of its members from 2019-21, to promote the rights & well-being of children & young people in Europe?

The design of the half-day member consultation began with an opening conversation and brief contextual presentations, followed by a 90 minute Consensus Workshop and then a series of ‘World Café’ style table conversations – to brainstorm and capture ideas for the Practical Vision, Current Reality and Strategic Directions stages of the Participatory Strategic Planning process respectively.

Participants sat at 13 pre-assigned tables of 8, each hosted by a Board or staff member. The workshop process was ‘super-sized’ as with ICUU, with whole-A4 sheets for writing ideas and all table hosts coming to the sticky wall at once to share ideas in turn and cluster quickly in columns under symbols as they did so. Cluster titles were drafted at tables and accepted without lengthy discussion or revision.

Also as with ICUU, it had been clear in the design process that a deep level of consensus would not be possible with such a large group in such a short time. It was also clear that such a consensus would not be necessary for this workshop, just one consultative element in a much longer and more elaborate process of consensus building over the course of a year.

The adaptation in the moment came in the Naming stage of the workshop. The Focus Question was ‘What would make us happy that the strategic planning process has been a success? (in terms of the new strategy & membership model themselves, in terms of member engagement in the process, and otherwise)’. The intent had been that the resulting ‘indicators of success’ would serve as guidelines and a means of accountability for the process of strategy development and member engagement over the year, and that substantive content for the new strategy would be contributed during the following World Cafe session.

What happened was that many of the ideas contributed in the workshop were in fact answers to the Practical Vision question ‘What do we want to see in place by 2021 as a result of delivering our new strategy? (how will Eurochild be different, and what difference will Eurochild have made?)‘. It made no sense to address the Vision question again separately, and it seemed to make more sense to accept that the group was ready to work on its Vision right away rather than to spend time first trying to name indicators of success. So what we did was to cluster the mix of ideas into 11 columns representing 11 vision elements, with just the original symbol to identify each. Then participants self-selected into 11 table groups to name the vision element on a flip chart, and also articulate relative to that element any indicators of success, current reality and practical projects and initiatives.

Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General at Eurochild, wrote in September:

“Great that we had structure, but also great that we could think on our feet to adjust the planning according to what we were hearing from members. All in all we got a huge amount of raw material for development of the strategic plan. The methodology clearly helped.”

Read on for example 6…


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.

Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -2

This is the 4th of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 2 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 4 – Oxfam, Gaza & Jerusalem

In February of this year I worked with Oxfam in OPTI to support its staff team of around 100, based in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza, to operationalise the new ‘One Country Strategy’ and ‘Country Operating Model’ that had been developed last year. An explicit experiential aim was ‘to help staff & teams to align with each other and with the new strategy & structures, and to renew staff solidarity, motivation and team spirit as One Oxfam OPTI’. However, travel restrictions meant that there would be no opportunity for all the staff from the three locations to meet together at once.

As in the earlier cases of Manchester Primary Care Trust and the Oxfam in Lebanon One Country Strategy process, we used separate Consensus Workshops with the same Focus Question to consult with different groups in series. In this case two ‘consultation workshops’ were held, one in Gaza and one in Jerusalem, each for all staff who could attend. A third ‘consensus-building workshop’ involved a cross-section of around 40 staff, who had been members of either or both of the consultation groups, to build consensus from the results of them both.

The Focus Question was ‘what can we learn from our survey responses and from our experience of recent years, internal & external to OPTI & the OCS process, to inform our plans for OCS operationalisation?‘. The result informed a further two days of review, learning and planning with the cross-section of around 40 staff.

Fabrizio Biondi Morra, Program Manager at Oxfam in OPTI , wrote in August:

“Following the workshop delivered by Martin with Oxfam in OPTI, the country team had a roadmap that laid out all the next steps sectorial working groups had to carry out. Also, through the consensus building process staff from across sectors and offices could come together and strengthen their relationships. These to elements together enabled us as team to renew our professional and personal bonds and work effectively.”

Read on for example 5…


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.

Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -3

This is the 3rd of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 3 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 3 – Girls Not Brides, London

Last year in August I worked with Girls Not Brides in London, a ‘global partnership of 700+ civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their potential‘.  The overall aim of the two day event was ‘to engage around 25 secretariat staff and the Board Chair in refreshing and renewing the Girls Not Brides’ partnership strategy, drawing on responses to the 2016 strategy consultation process and emerging themes, and on their own knowledge and experience’.

After a thorough review of responses to the membership strategy consultation in the first morning, we used the Consensus Workshop method that afternoon to draw together and make sense of all the merging themes. The intent was to identify a few key strategic goals that could then be elaborated in terms of SMART objectives, the respective roles of different actors including the Secretariat, members and others, and issues for the Secretariat to consider in order to play its own role effectively. The Focus Question for the Consensus Workshop was ‘What needs to be delivered by 2020, towards ending child marriage, that we can best deliver by working together in partnership?‘.

In this case, the key adaptations to the ‘textbook’ method were in the brainstorming and in the naming stages of the workshop.  Rather than brainstorm simply from their own knowledge and experience, participants drew their brainstorm ideas also from the current strategy and from the wealth of responses to the membership consultation that they had reviewed in the morning. Because of the complexity of the issues and the very large volume of data that needed to be distilled into a small, manageable number of strategic goals, we did not attempt to name the strategic goals in plenary within workshop. Instead the group gave quick, intuitive ‘tag names’ to the 11 clusters that initially emerged from the 50 or so half-sheets, and then we used the quick flip-chart version of the Consensus Workshop method (page 53 of the Group Facilitation Methods course workbook) to cluster the clusters to identify just six strategic goals. Participants then self-selected into six table groups to articulate the six goals more fully. The next day they developed SMART objectives and delivery roles for each goal.

The final 2017-20 strategy and a report on the strategy development process may be found at Girls Not Brides.

heather-hamiltonHeather Hamilton, Deputy Director, Girls Not Brides, wrote last October:

“Martin recently facilitated a strategy retreat for our team. It was a 20-person retreat that was part of a much longer, complicated strategy process. Martin was a partner in helping us think through how to successfully design the retreat to really get what the team needed, which isn’t an easy task when dropping into the middle of an existing process. And the team was impressed – after the retreat I emailed him to say ‘Thanks so much for your incredibly skillful facilitation – we have worked with a lot of different facilitators and many of our staff commented that you were the best ever!'”

Read on for example 4…


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.

Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -4

This is the 2nd of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 4 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


Example 2 – ICUU, Mennorode

In July of last year I facilitated the ‘”Essex 2.0″ Large Group Process’ on the first day of the 5-day International Council Meeting & Conference of the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists (ICUU) in Mennorode, the Netherlands. This was the culmination of a 9-month strategic planning process, involving also a series of online sessions and a Participatory Strategic Planning retreat in Boston in the spring with a focus group of around 25. The Focus Question for planning process as a whole was: ‘21 years since its founding [at Essex Massachusetts], how does ICUU need to change or stay the same to respond effectively to the global Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community of the century ahead?‘.

The original design had envisaged that we would use a large group process at the summer Council Meeting to involve the 140 or so delegates, of around 40 national member churches and networks, to consult on a draft strategy developed by the spring focus group. In fact the focus group concluded that there was likely not sufficient clarity and consensus on ICUU’s role in the wider movement to gain broad consensus on a new strategy so soon. Instead it was agreed to use the summer council meeting to build consensus on the mission and purpose of the global body, in order to consult further on strategy after that.

In the morning of the first day we used a series of ‘World Café’ style table conversations in changing small groups to discern learnings and implications from the strategy development process, following a few short presentations from those involved and drawing on documentation. In the afternoon we used a ‘super-sized’ Consensus Workshop process to answer the Focus Question ‘“What are key elements of the mission and purpose of ‘ICUU 2.0’, for the next 20 years?”

Participants sat at 16 tables of 8 by country and continent, in order to amplify the voices of regions less represented or otherwise less heard relative to others. Whole A4 sheets were used for sharing ideas on the sticky wall instead of half-sheets, for improved readability for the large group, and ideas were clustered in columns to make best use of sticky wall space with the large sheets. In order to keep the process fast-paced and engaging, all 16 table hosts were invited to come to the front at once and take it in turns to read their table’s ideas, and post them directly in the relevant cluster as they did so. Having a queue of table hosts waiting to share ideas helped to ensure that each was brief and focused. Participants then self-selected into 13 table groups to name the 13 clusters that emerged.

It was clear that meaningful consensus would not be possible with such a large group in just an afternoon, so the workshop was framed as consultative and the cluster titles were accepted as drafted unless any minor revisions could be agreed quickly in the plenary. At the end of the day volunteers were invited to join a working group to discern and articulate the emerging consensus concisely in a revised mission statement for approval by vote of the formal Council Meeting at the end of the week.  A team of half a dozen or so met that evening to do that, mostly members of the ICUU Executive Committee. Some of the 13 named elements they found to represent values and principles that were already agreed and articulated elsewhere, or elements of vision, strategy or implementation that could better contribute to those later stages of the planning process. Remaining elements were distilled into a succinct new mission statement to be submitted to the vote of the Council.

The final statement was strengthened further by some minor revisions suggested during the formal Council Meeting. Once approved, the new mission statement was verbally translated as it was read aloud in all of the 25 or so languages spoken by those present, to symbolise global consensus and commitment: “The Mission of the ICUU is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community”.

Read on for example 3…


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.

Responding to changing situations and needs with ToP Consensus Workshop – #FacWeek -5

This is the first of a series of six weekly posts to mark International Facilitation Week 2017, starting just 5 weeks from today. Drafted as I enjoyed a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect this summer, the posts share a series of examples of how I have applied, customised and adapted the ToP Consensus Workshop method in my practice over the past year. 

How will you celebrate and promote the power of facilitation this year? Please share online with the #FacWeek hashtag, or in a comment below…


So you have a great facilitation tool or method, and you’re keen to apply it. But what if your group is too large or too small, or you have too little time or nowhere to put a sticky wall, or you’re just not sure that it is going to be what your group needs?

Tried and tested “off-the-shelf” facilitation methods can be enormously powerful, and there is no point in reinventing the wheel if you have one that will serve the purpose. There are hundreds of tools and methods available in the IAF Methods Database and in online resource libraries such as Participatory Methods and Participation Compass, and in popular books such as Liberating Structures and the Handbook of Large Group Methods.

However, if the only tool you have is a hammer then there is a risk that every situation you approach will look like a nail – or at least that you’ll be spending more time and energy searching for problems in need of your solution than in crafting creative responses to real groups and their real and changing situations and needs.

The IAF Core Facilitator Competencies framework makes clear that good facilitation requires more than just using a great tool or method and using it well. To be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments, facilitators must be able to “select clear methods and processes that… meet the client needs” (competency B2) but also, among other things, be able to “design and customize applications” (A2) and “adapt processes to changing situations and needs of the group” (D3).

So what of ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) facilitation methods, my own speciality as a facilitator? Developed and refined over 50 years, by countless practitioners working with communities and organisations worldwide, ToP methods can appear at first to be somewhat rigid and inflexible because of the great detail and rigour in which they are demonstrated in training and described in writing. As a ToP trainer myself I advise less experienced facilitators to find appropriate opportunities to practice the methods first as they are detailed in the course workbook, before adapting or customising them, in order first to best understand the underlying principles that are key to successful adaptation. For skilled and experienced facilitators, however, the greatest potential of ToP and other facilitation methods is in their creative application in service of a particular group and its particular needs and context.

For an overview of the ToP Consensus Workshop method and its key elements, click on the image for an excerpt from the ICA:UK Group Facilitation Methods course workbook. See also Brian Stanfield’s ‘The Workshop Book and my own earlier and more in-depth case studies of applying the method – with Manchester Primary Care Trust, Connect In The NorthWigan Borough Council and, more recently in the context of strategic planning, with Oxfam Lebanon.


Example 1 – Initiatives of Change, Caux

A good example an application involving minimal adaptation was the annual meeting of the Caux Reference Group that I facilitated in Switzerland in June of last year. The group of about 35 included key staff and Board members of the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (IofC) Foundation plus diverse representatives of Initiatives of Change International, the global movement ‘working to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves‘.

The ‘rational aim’ for the afternoon session was to ‘share ideas and develop practical approaches for what it might mean for the Foundation and IofC internationally to address the root causes of violent extremism, at Caux‘.  The ‘experiential aim’ for the day as a whole was ‘to build shared trust, agreement and ownership, and gain inspiration, support and feedback from [our] diverse perspectives‘. Two and a half hours with a break allowed ample time for a Consensus Workshop with the Focus Question ‘What can we do to address the root causes of extremism of all kinds, and what role can Caux play?

In a minor departure from the textbook approach, the workshop was preceded by a short presentation from IofC International leaders on prior work and conversations that had led to this particular topic for this particular meeting. The opening Focused Conversation in the Context stage was used to reflect on that in relation to participants’ own contexts and experience, and implications for the group and the workshop. Participants then brainstormed individually at first, then shared their ideas at seven cabaret-style tables of 5 and and wrote some of their best together on half-sheets of A4 paper. In plenary I posted their half-sheets a few at a time on the sticky wall, and invited clarifications before taking suggestions to cluster similar ideas.

Nine clusters finally emerged, and were named by the group to represent their best collective wisdom in response to the Focus Question. The clusters were titled: Campaign for change; Offer/ become a space to explore root causes; Review & influence policy; Education & training; Engage ‘the other’; Faith in action; ‘Start with me’ – IofC approach; Create resources; Promote economic justice.

Barbara Hintermann, Secretary General at CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation, wrote this September:

“Martin facilitated our Caux Reference Group meeting in June 2016 held in Caux/Switzerland. The Caux Reference Group is an international advisory group to the CAUX-Initiatives of Change (IofC) Foundation, composed of about 50 persons from the International IofC network. Martin facilitated the meeting with the necessary calm and used various facilitation tools to engage the group actively. While there were some rather emotional moments, Martin managed that the participants delivered the key elements for a variety of changes that needed to be reviewed by the foundation. Martin was appreciated by the audience but also by the Foundation management.”

Read on for example 2…


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.

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.


See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

Register now on Eventbrite for my free facilitation webinars, and for my regularly scheduled ToP facilitation training courses in London and Brussels.