Category Archives: Uncategorized

Group size

I’ve been doing some coaching work with facilitators lately and I found myself talking about group size. The short version is that I often find groups of over five people tend to have relatively stilted conversations, which at their worst become what I call a plenary vortex: the fight for attention starts to diminish the quality of conversation.

David Gurteen dug out a piece of research related to this, contrasting the conversations in five-person groups with the serial monologues in ten-person groups. It doesn’t prove that five is a threshold, but it helps make the general point about larger groups.

It’s also worth six minutes to hear Chris Corrigan on this topic, as captured by Nancy Dixon. He points to the value of groups of one as well as pairs and threes. Not sure about his ideas about odds and even sizes but worth thinking about. He also makes some points at the end about how smaller group conversations create a more active kind of engagement than just shoving ideas up on post its.

This shades into a wider point about the value of allowing lots of social interaction between people and not over-controlling or rushing it. For more on that, check out Keith de la Rue‘s article on the art of conversation.

Finally, I think that some really amazing things can happen in larger group conversations… but this usually requires breaking out of some fairly well-ingrained habits, and that’s a post for another day…

The experience of strategy

Chris Mowles has a great post about his experience at a strategy presentation. He highlights the contrast between the presenter’s idealised abstractions and what is actually going on in the room. This bit captures that distinction:

As he proceeded to explain in rather Jesuitical fashion how he and his team had worried about the order of the words in the vision statement, whether it should be ‘internationally renowned for being the leading X’, or rather ‘renowned internationally for being the leading X’ he failed to notice how many people in the audience, either literally or metaphorically, were sitting with their heads in their hands.

The whole thing is well worth your time. This is not so much a post about a dull presentation – we all know about those. The deeper point is about how management so easily gets caught up in abstraction and misses the actual life going on before it.

I feel another video coming on…

“Muddling through”

Chris Rodgers has written a couple of related posts, on management as “muddling through” and the “beautiful ugly truth” of management. As usual, I find myself nodding in agreement.

I’ve been thinking lately about the status we play when we use different kinds of language.  In management, there’s a tendency to favour high status language because it sounds more important. This creates the kind of jargon most of us secretly dislike. So on the whole, I’m in favour of more of the lower status language. In my own line of work I often realise there’s a lot of muddling through or “making it up as I go along”.

But supposedly low status language carries its own baggage too.

I may think by saying I make it up as I go along, I am merely being honest and not making myself seem too important. However, it can be interpreted as suggesting more than this.. perhaps suggesting I am just carefree, or flippant, or disrespectful of the participants and what is at stake. When I am muddling through as a facilitator, I hope I am not just being casual, but doing something sensible and considered in the light of all the information I am receiving.

It’s a tricky business, describing what you do…

 

Disruption debunked

Jill Lepore has a thought-provoking article challenging the thinking behind the Innovators Dilemma. She questions the glibness with which people champion disruptive innovation.

I like a bit of contrarian thinking, and this scratches a familiar itch I feel about many conversations about innovation. Lepore seems to argue that case studies about breakthrough innovation are ignoring some longer term things that don’t change so much.

We often think of continuity and change as opposites, each to be confronted or challenged or (unconsciously) denied.

Amsterdam workshops this week

Don’t know why I didn’t mention this before, but Viv is doing two workshops in Amsterdam this week.

Thursday’s is called Bring Your Meetings to LIfe – I think of it as the basics of Viv’s and my approach to facilitation.

Friday’s is called Survival Skills for Facilitators. This one focuses on what to do when things go wrong. To be honest, I think the essence of facilitation is the ability to live the stage fright, the feeling of being an imposter, and keep going when things appear to be on the brink of going awry.

Each one is 145 Euros for companies, 95 Euros for independents. In a last minute change of plan, I’m actually going to join Viv on Friday. But don’t let that put you off!

Blurb here. And big thanks to our friend Raymond van Driel for hosting.

Completing each other

These two posts crossed my path recently, and seem related:

First, Quinn Norton has a terrific essay called Everything is Broken. This is the central point:

It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire.

Computers, and computing, are broken.

In fact, she goes on to suggest that people are broken too. In the sense that we are easily confused, mistaken and not as rational nor as consistent as we’d like to think. A point made by Oliver Burkeman here: Everyone is just totally winging it, all the time.

I see a lot of relationships and organisations come to grief on unrealistic expectations of people. We set unreasonable expectations of others and blame their faulty characters for not meeting them.

I experience relief when I accept that of course things don’t go to plan. The alternative is to be yelling at my phone or computer many times a day. To say nothing of friends and colleagues.

We might, however, be mindful of language. To call someone “broken” could be seen as harsh, and since it applies to all of us, we might prefer to think of ourselves and others as incomplete. We then get the chance to try to complete each other, not in some perfect way but in the way humans do.

To me the amazing thing is that the technology, and even more the people, collaborate as well as they do, given how “faulty” everything is. And I think that while we may be “winging it”, as Burkeman suggests, we are often winging it more brilliantly than we give or get credit for, given the circumstances.