April 2, 2007

Canalizing energy and information in groups with post its

While working with groups I sometimes notice that complaints and problems are discussed in a serial way, one after the other. The first 20 minutes are used for a talking about a problem in purchasing; the next 20 minutes are used for problems in sales, and so forth. This serial way of discussing problems is often frustrating for participants in the discussion. Most people have to wait a long time before their problem or goal can be discussed and they disengage from the process. Often, at the end of the session little has been achieved. Is there an alternative? Yes. A solution that often works well is to make the process of identifying conversation topics parallel.

By asking good questions you can canalize the energy due to which everyone can mention everything which is important to them within a short time. In group situations I have often had good experiences with exercises that canalize the energy in the group. An example is an exercise that I often use in the beginning of workshops. It goes like this. I write down a few questions like the following on some flip over sheets:
  • what is already going well with .....…… (the topic of the workshop)?
  • what improvements are necessary?
  • how would you notice afterwards that this workshop has been useful?
  • what can you do to make it useful for yourself?
Within ten minutes or so the participants write down their answers to these questions on post it notes and hang them on flip over sheets. Next, we decide which topics should be discussed, when they have to be discussed and how much time will be taken for that.

The advantage of this way of working is that a lot can be shared within very little time. Positive and negative things can be shared and every member can input whatever he or she thinks important. Because of this, this is a great way of involving everyone at once.

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