Graphic recording supported facilitator extraordinaire Dawna Jones to help PWL Partnership team explore vision. PWL Partnership makes places that people want to use – they’re landscape architects with big, green, hearts.
One special thing stood out that made this day a success. It’s a very simple tool that any group can integrate. No special tools or equipment required. But without it, I can guarantee that your event or conversation isn’t going to have the desired outcomes no matter how many planning meetings or consultants you have. I’m basing this on my experience working at and facilitating hundreds of meetings, where way too often I see a jam packed agenda – and if the group “falls behind” in the timeline, the facilitator tries to speed everything up and get it all done, or even worse, get the group’s consent to work through lunch or stay late. It’s the worst, and when I’m the graphic recorder I can feel any momentum that’s left in that session just walk on out the door.
Instead, this is what I think you should do at a visioning session.
Spend as much time as possible on introductions.
Meaningful, relevant, introductions. I’m not talking 5 minutes with name, rank and length of service, I’m talking as much time as you need out of a 4 hour session.
Before you say that will never work, hold on, let me tell you why it did work.
To understand your vision, you have to know your values. And you have to give people a way to know each other’s values in their work culture.
Instead of an agenda that squeezes tons of group activities into a visioning session, then tries to come up with an answer in the last 15 minutes, flip it around. Maximize the best use of your time together – why it’s special to have all of your team in one place: let them build trust and meaningful relationships. Then leverage that trust into group work that goes deeper. Leave on a high note. Leave the wordsmithing for a visioning statement to a smaller group after the meeting. Arrange followup work for that.
A visioning session is not a time for the type of icebreakers where people roll their eyes at being superficial. It’s a time to learn about one another as whole, interesting, multi-faceted selves – with time to laugh and explore and be a bit more real with each other, away from the office. You’ve gone to all this work to pick a location, bring in a structure and outside facilitator and set up an important gathering – it’s not time to rush through the ‘soft stuff’ to get “down to work”. (I hear this a lot). And this tool is absolutely the best when there are new team members in the room, or a mix of senior partners/management and staff.
Dawna did introductions for almost an hour, with candy as prizes and keeping the group moving along, while I took this time to fill in the graphic recording chart with images based on PWL’s work – and engage with the team, too.
Then, at the end of this hour, they were primed for the actual work. Super turbo charged, in fact. Dawna gave directions for the task, people self-selected into teams (including number of members), self-selected locations to work in, and encouraged them to use props or toys to present their idea back, but it wasn’t a requirement. And off they went.
But here’s the thing happened:
Those report backs were amazing. They embodied many values of PWL. Thoughtful, passionate, funny, challenging and caring. In most meetings, you’ll see one person stand up holding a flip chart and reading the “top 5 priorities that we discussed”. Not this time. Some teams used skits, charades, paper plates with drawings on them and another thought Lego worked best to show their ideas. Above and beyond type of presentations. The serious messages were in there of course, and they delivered the messages in meaningful way. I was drawing at lightning speed to keep up with their ideas, which is a great feeling.
If the facilitation hadn’t enabled real introductions, they would be walking through those emotions and negotiations in the small groups, which gets in the way of the task at hand. The real work in the room was getting to trust each other – and also include the new folks. And a basis for all this was established during the introductions. So that meant the group work wasn’t about people tentatively discussing ideas in a polite way – they were ready to test new and bold ideas with each other. Taking mini-risks. (That includes volunteering to be in a skit in front of your colleagues, not usually the idea of an easy day at the office!)
A work culture is how the organization demonstrates and lives its values. So to set the course for the Vision – the group had to know their values, first. Values aren’t a list on the wall or something on the company website, it’s about how we act every day. PWL values places where people have amazing experiences, and where things are left a little better than they found it.
Watching PWL act out their values personally makes me enjoy that green roof, or that outdoor plaza, just a little bit more.