Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four Elements of Strategic Value

MPI hosted a great webinar today by Mary Boone, Jack Phillips and Susan Radojevic on the strategic value of meetings. I filled up the marker board in the office with notes. Thought I'd share them here since this information is critical to what we're doing with Illumination Galleries.

Their argument in a nutshell, if I dare summarize. First, the financial crisis and negative press about meetings has put a lot of pressure on the meetings industry, but this pressure should be seen as an opportunity to transform ourselves from a cost center to a source of strategic value for businesses and associations.

Susan Radojevic introduced the concept of Portfolio Management. Companies organize a ton of meetings of all sizes. We generally measure them in terms of efficiency -- how much do they cost this year vs. last year? We should ALSO be measuring them in terms of effectiveness -- how are they impacting our strategic and business goals? Susan proposed a process called Alignment to identify the strategic goals of the company, to identify all of the meetings that are currently held by the company, and to develop and manage a strategic plan to prioritize the meetings that deliver the most business value. This changes the role of meeting planners from procurement experts to strategic players in the marketing function of an organization.

Mary Boone then explored the concept of Meeting Design - "the purposeful shaping of both form and content." First, the meeting designer works with the owners of the meeting to understand both the meeting objectives AND the business objectives behind the meeting. Then the designer culls through a wide range of tools, technologies and collaborative methodologies to craft a program that achieves both the meeting and the business objectives. "Connect. Inform. Engage!" (You will see the same themes all over the Illumination Galleries website as well, by the way.) Not every meeting planners needs to become a Meeting Designer, but planners DO need to learn to work with a much wider range of experts to pull off well-designed meetings, including meeting designers, "creatives", instructional designers, planning experts, social scientists, and interaction designers. We need to shift our 21st century meetings out of the 18th century "broadcast" mode, where "experts" merely talk at an audience. We need to create interactive experiences that get real work done!
Next, Jack Phillips talked about measuring the ROI on meetings. (Thanks SJSmith for the link!) He presented six different levels of measurement, from ___ to actual ROI (comparing the quantitative value of a meeting to the cost of delivery), and argued that only a few meetings require the highest levels of measurement. It is important to really quantify the value of these meetings, however, to improve future events, to engage senior executives better, and to get a seat at the table when strategic decisions are being made about your meetings.

Finally, the panelists gave a brief talk on Advanced Meeting Logistics. Logistics are critical to the success of a meeting. They define the constraints of the event, and they also enable everything that takes place in a meeting. Being flexible with logistics is critical when taking a meeting-design approach, because the form of the meeting may need to change as the needs of the participants change or become more clear. One of the webinar attendees then presented a great case study about the importance of logistics -- holding their first sea-faring event with 300 top executives aboard a cruise ship. "When life hands you limes, we at Baccardi make mojitos!" Love it.

Enjoy the illustrations!

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thank Doyle and Strauss

All you've ever loved and hated about business meetings can be attributed to Michael Doyle and David Strauss. In the 1970s, they published a book called How to Make Meetings Work. This codified the best practices of meeting preparation, defining an agenda, selecting a facilitator, taking notes, etc. Their distinctions between types of meetings (problem-solving vs. decision-making vs. information-sharing) is useful and helpful as far as it goes.

There's been an unfortunate assumption, however, that this is all there is to meetings. We have believed that small groups can have a variety of types of meetings (best managed by the Doyle & Strauss rule-set), but that once the numbers of participants grew too large, the only possible process was the "sit & get" model of interaction -- one talking head lecturing at an audience. Now, there's been tremendous innovation in this style of meeting - from transparencies to PowerPoint to full-on spectacles with pyrotechnics and the whole nine yards. But the model of interaction is the same - one head talking, hundreds of others listening.

The arrival of Open Space is pretty exciting because it breaks that mold. Using this technique, huge groups of people can have dozens of concurrent conversations to explore ideas, test models and make decisions. It's totally uncontrolled and unpredictable, it's wildly productive and engaging, and it scares the pants off of most people who organize events. We tend to like knowing exactly what's going to happen before it happens (seriously, why does anyone hold a press conference anymore when the content is broadcast long before the meeting itself?). Open Space allows people in groups to interact, to mix it up, and for fun, exciting and scary things to emerge from those interactions.

What the conference world is just beginning to wrestle with is how big the universe of conference models really is, and how to select the right model for the right conference? Bryan Coffman has distilled a useful model for understanding meetings. I referred to this framework in my post on Conceiving a Virtual Collaboration Process.
The entire CollaborationLabs.net site is an exploration of these different types of collaboration, defined by the two axes of "Facilitator vs. Agent Controlled-Process" and "Amount of Structure Created by Emergent Rules vs. by Design". The orange arrow designates the direction we seem to be heading in.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Process for Virtual Collaborative Design

Based on the inputs described in my last post, here is a possible model for a Virtual Collaboration Process.

1. Assemble a Core Team
Instead of gathering 50 or 100 or more participants for a multi-day session, we will start by assembling a Core Team of decision-makers. This might be 10-20 people, and should include some diversity.

2. Define Objectives and Outputs
The Core Team will work with us to define their objectives for this collaborative process and the output they want to receive at the end of the project. We will also define with this group the diverse perspectives that we want to explore through this process (stakeholders, time frames, models of solutions, etc.)

3. Distributed Model-Building
The Core Team will then distribute model-building assignments to small teams and individuals throughout the organization (and beyond). These teams will be asked to spend a small amount of time to build a model, document their work and send their outputs (models) back to the Core Team. This activity could be assigned to existing project teams or other groups. They could be asked by top management to spend an hour on this task during a regularly-scheduled meeting. We can engage a very large population with very little disruption to normal operations.

4. Processing the Models
The Core Team will then have to explore the models that have been created and use them in some way. The Core team would then send out the next round of assignments to the same or different teams throughout the organization. The outputs from these teams is again returned to the Core Team for processing.
This process can engage a huge population, but the primary transformation, insights and decision-making will happen in the Core Team. They are the only group that sees all of the divergent models being created. They are the only group exploring the ramifications of these different models. The Core Team will need to get together periodically during this process, but much of their work can be handled remotely as well. This will significantly decrease the client's cost for travel, lodging, etc. compared to large face-to-face meetings while at the same time increasing the breadth of participation and the depth of the exploration of divergent perspectives.

This process looks very different than a traditional face-to-face collaborative experience. But it uses the same core principles to achieve superior results through different tools and methods.

Here is a short video explaining the whole process:

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Conceiving of "Virtual Collaboration"

There are two possible approaches for exploring "virtual collaboration". The first is to add digital tools to existing processes or to recreate face-to-face experiences digitally. This seems to be the approach of most "collaborative technology" providers -- they want to create digital tools that make it seem like "you're in the same room" with people in other parts of the world. As facilitators of collaborative design, we know that most face to face meetings are highly unstructured and unproductive. Why would anyone want to perpetuate those experiences online in the first place?

The second approach to virtualization is to explore the core principles that makes a face-to-face process effective, and then to apply those core principles to a new, digital environment. The resulting process would leverage the strengths of the new medium rather than faithfully replicating the original face-to-face experience.

So what are the core principles of our face-to-face collaborative design process? What is it that we really do?

Approach to Facilitation and Design
First, there is a rather large universe of collaboration processes. Some processes involve a high facilitator presence (controlling the participants from the front of the room), and some involve a low facilitator presence. Some processes are designed in great detail in advance, and some processes allow the design to emerge through the experience. Plotted on a matrix, these two variable define four quadrants of collaboration.

Templates: Workshops
Most training and workshops fall into this quadrant with high facilitator presence and lots of design in advance. The agenda is established before the meeting and the facilitator runs the whole show.

Coaching: Doyle and Strauss
The traditional facilitation model involves the facilitator as a coach for the group. The group determines the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, and the facilitator focuses on managing the behavior of the participants (ensuring everyone's voice is heard, etc.)

Self-Organizing: Open Space
In this quadrant, there is no design and very little facilitator involvement. The group determines what it wants to do and how it will accomplish it. This is the realm of Open Space Technology.

Design-Intensive: Future Search, DesignShops, etc.
This is the high-design, low-facilitation quadrant where we have historically played and developed our expertise. The design is structured in great detail in advance, but the assignments facilitate the group's work. The facilitator plays a very light and occasional role in the process.

It is my belief that the core of the collaborative methodology that we use ("Collaborative Sessions", "DesignShops", etc.) is model-building. We ask participants to build models of a solution from a wide variety of perspectives, over and over again throughout our face-to-face sessions. An individual assignment asks the participants to build a model of a solution from their own vantage point. A "metaphor" activity asks participants to build a model of a solution based on a different system (a living system, for example, or another kind of lens). A "take-away" activity asks participants to build a model of a solution that does not include a component that is normally viewed as essential. They build models from the perspectives of different stakeholders. They build models of solutions in different time frames. They build models of solutions as if they were a competitor or a brand new start-up. Each of these models highlights new aspects of a final, workable solution. Our expertise is in identifying the right perspectives for building models and then sequencing those perspectives to explore new ideas and then converge on an excellent and innovative solution.

The Anatomy of a Model-Building Activity
Our collaborative sessions are a series of these model-building activities. Each activity is made up of several components. The assignment provides the context, process and instructions for the activity. The team defines the individuals working on the model. The template is the form for the team's final output -- a list, a graph, a flowchart, a diagram, etc. We may provide the team with some resources -- tools, information, materials, etc. Finally, the team does its work in some environment. These five elements combine into the experience of the activity, and the activity produces an ouput - some kind of model.

Types of Activities
There are a variety of different types of modeling activities that we can assign to a team. Orientation activities familiarize participants with the context of their work -- the objectives, the market, the landscape, etc.
activities engage participants in learning about new perspectives or new systems.
activities ask participants to create solutions.
activities ask participants to evaluate one or more possible solutions.
activities get participants to think about other things for awhile to allow the problems to simmer.
activities trade a model for some form of value -- a project plan, for example, might be exchanged for resources to fund that project. Again, our expertise is in identifying which types of activities are appropriate for a group and in what sequence.

So if we assume that the core of our face-to-face collaborative design process is "iterative model-building", then how can we create a virtual process to accomplish the same objectives? It may be valuable to learn from other successful processes for distributed, asynchronous change. Appreciative Inquiry is a successful change model that involves mostly one-on-one interviews between people throughout an organization. The process for creating "Implications Wheels" can engage small teams throughout an organization in a one-hour model-building activity that serves as very valuable input into a core team of decision-makers.

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