June 3, 2011

Sharing actual and desired success stories

Guest post by Peter Musschoot

A multinational client asked to facilitate an energizing one hour activity. The aim was to kick off the second day of a three day workshop with fifteen HR Managers, HR experts and Learning & Development experts from subsidiaries all over Europe. Some of them had met before; others just met for the first time that day. The client trusted my co-facilitator and me to come up with an activity where learning needn’t necessarily be the main outcome.
We decided to go for an exercise designed by Peter Szabo. I had the opportunity to meet Peter during a module on solution focused coaching, organized by my inspiring friends and SF colleagues Liselotte Baeijaert and Anton Stellamans from Ilfaro. I remembered this powerful exercise as a participant, and was curious what would happen when we would be facilitating it with two trainers in the time span of exactly one hour. Here’s what followed:

My co-facilitator and me welcomed the participants entering the spacious training room very warmly, presenting ourselves and asking them some sparkling questions. As some of the participants only knew each other by name, we paid attention to being good hosts, matchmaking between HR colleagues that had never met face-to-face. From the very first moment we helped to create an atmosphere where people felt heard and got to know each other (a bit) better.
Once participants were comfortably seated I asked them to stand up again and walk around the room. “Walk slowly and watch one another showing interest, with eyes of curiosity”, I asked, inducing tiny hypnotic interventions. “Who are these colleagues surrounding you? What good reasons would you have to get to know them better? How could they be of interest to you? How else...? And...how else?” Subsequently, they were asked to divide themselves into five groups of three.

1) Individual reflection:
When the five subgroups had taken their seats, I asked them to take some time to think and write down in key words two success stories: one success story that actually had taken place, another success story that participants would WISH to take place. Participants could choose stories from both the private and professional sphere. They were also encouraged to give a very descriptive title and subtitle to their two success stories. Something like: “Superman. How my neighbor and me managed to resolve our conflict about that darn fence.” A lot of laughter of universal recognition amongst participants...

2) Sharing one success story:
The three members of the subgroup decided together who would be A, B and C.
A started reading aloud the two titles and subtitles of his factual and desired success story. B and C then together selected one of the two stories A could talk about. Irrespective of whether A now shared the story that was invented or not, each A of every subgroup was remembered to recount the story with pride and conviction and as if their story had happened for real. Moreover, at the end of the story B and C asked the following four questions:

1) How did you do that?
2) What has helped you?
3) If I would do the same thing, what would I have to think about?
4) What are you especially proud of?

You can image the type of insightful answers A provided B and C with, making reference to his resources, outlining building bricks of success and complimenting himself. The exercise ended with A and C doing the same rounds with B, and finally B and A with C.

3) Debriefing:
No need to do too much as a facilitor during the plenary debriefing in a big circle: most participants were very eager to reveal how they experienced this exercise and on the ingredients that were useful to them. We explored on what and who specifically helped to make respective successes into a success, zooming in on some key factors of success: delayed gratification, getting constructive feedback, visualizing success and the impact of taking risks (“daring to fail”). Furthermore, most people discovered new aspects about the other, in terms of passions, talents, essential life changes or sheer funny asides.

We found out that a number of participants had shared their desired success story during the exercise - the one that they wish to be taking place, yet were asked to present to the two others AS IF it had already taken place. People testified how talking about their success in such a way gave them a clear view on next steps to start to accomplish that success. Someone said it felt like coaching himself to present a personal success story like that. We discussed about the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect and about how the effect of planning celebrations or self-rewarding in advance when the success will be reached, might be putting things in motion faster towards its achievement.

My co-facilitator and I continued the activity by collecting more stories on how this enthusiastic international HR group got to know each other better. The two of us then ended the exercise on a playful note, putting a sticky piece of paper to our forehead, mentioning: “APPRECIATE ME”. Wrapped it all up by envisioning a future where successes are analyzed and shared with each other in the future.

Very quickly 60 minutes had passed: we found ourselves shaking many a hand and getting smiled at intensely before we left the room, in order for the group to proceed with their workshop. Mmmmm... : “shaking many a hand and getting smiled at intensely...” That just might become the title of another brief Solution Focus exercise.

Peter Musschoot, Mind The Solution in SF cooperation with Ilfaro, pmusschoot@gmail.com

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