Million Dollar Smartphone
How is a phone worth a million dollars?
The answer is captured in one word:
Got your attention?
Good, you are present.
.I’ve been working with a large manufacturing company recently, helping the senior management teams improve their performance by exploring better ways of working together.
During these sessions an interesting phenomenon emerged. Some of the top management in the business have become heavy users of smartphones to the extent that they bring them in to meetings. Not a problem you may think. Not unusual too.
In one particular meeting the lead executive was attending a briefing about managing the product portfolio. A decision had been made to manage out one of the question mark products (see earlier post ) The lead exec spent the meeting tapping away on his smartphone during the briefing. A dispiriting experience for the team presenting.
- Later this same executive led the negotiations to sell the technology to another company.
- He thought the negotiation had gone rather well
- It had.
- It had gone well for the buyer rather than the seller.
The product had been sold for less than its true value and the lead executive’s company had retained the liabilities for product failure after it had been sold.
The cost of this mistake? you guessed it….. about a million dollars.
Attending meetings is not just about being there. It is about being Present.
Valuable work gets done in the breaks when running workshops
I’ve been running a large event kicking off the collective working capability for several parts of a multinational company.
There were people representing 4 organisations each of which had annual turnovers of several hundred million pounds.
I thought I’d share what happened. We had to think on our feet a lot….
- Developed the workshop bringing 20 or so people together to develop collective working capability over two days.
- Spent weeks planning the event
- Planned down to the minute (we had expected highly structured, task oriented types present)
- On the day the plan got busted within the first 5 mins when the client asked for something different than I’d been told – ok we fitted that in.
- Then these tasky, structured types started to get more creative and overran our timings, so we ran with the energy in the room and made space for this.
- Did more prep in the break re-planning on the fly (this was possible because we’d put all that work in beforehand)
- The end of the event we got real success achieved everything we set out to.
So why am I telling you all this?
In the feedback session we asked what had gone really well about the event, where the real value was
The answer – It was the tea breaks where we got the most value
My inner reaction for a microsecond – OH NO!
[for those of you that facilitate you'll know the mind works in the fast lane where you are stood up there]
Then it suddenly occurred:
- Yes they were right, the real value was in the unstructured dialogue when people were relaxed
- But if I’d just brought them together for a tea break :
- They wouldn’t have come
- Nothing would have happened
- So the structure is needed to get things started
- Then allow space for people to start to feel safe
- Then allow time for all that relationship building stuff to kick in
- Stand back and try not to interfere.
Learning for me..
- Build in longer breaks, let people talk
- Allow space when people in the room get energised
- Your plans can change
- It’s the result for the people in the room that matters
The event was such a success we’ve been commissioned to take it to other parts of the organisation.
I’m now busy planning more overseas trips
Funny old world isn’t it.
We are getting the hang of facilitating mixed virtual and physical groups.
We are innovating with small but significant incremental improvements.
Tick Box - created by Rawich
This group has people who attend physically, we also have people attending from all over the UK and also from Continental Europe.
Readers of this blog will know that we have tried video conferencing, and played with telepresence with mixed success.
We have come to the conclusion that the off the shelf technology (Skype) is not quite up to the task at the moment.
We still want to involve people and give them a meaningful two way communication between those present in the room
What worked this time
- We abandoned video conferencing and pre-prepared virtual attendees so they knew it would be voice only
- We used two facilitators:
- one to manage the room(F1)
- a second person managed the virtual attendees (F2)
- We used the Skype instant messaging facility for virtual members to communicate with their facilitator (F2) in the room
- At appropriate times F2 helped draw attention to comments made by the virtual attendees, then we turned up the sound on the laptop and let them speak for themselves to the room.
The benefits of this approach:
- This made the people attending vitually feel included
- The main facilitator (F1) could manage the flow of content in the room
- The backup facilitator (F2) was the virtuals’ champion in the room and as respected by everyone.
We’ll continue making improvements and will tell you how it goes..
As the meeting ended I asked the 15 or so consultants in the room ” A good use of time…?”
Waiting for Skype to work at the start of the meeting
Nods and grins, “Yes thank you”…….. “well, er…. No!…. it was awful at the start! …
“We were supposed to start at 9:30 but didn’t get going until 10:10 – 40 mins of precious time together wasted”
That got my attention.
Well, if you ask for feedback you have to be prepared to receive it.
So what happened?….
We were being innovative with our meetings – Using Skype for telepresence, bring ing in people from Germany, Scotland and the South of England to join a room full of people.
What went well
- The microphone and speakers are a definite improvement (see Pyramids and Starfish)
- We did get 3 people joining us remotely well,… for a while anyway
What did not go well
- Skype fell over again. Despite the fact that I had signed up for the premium version of Skype
- We switched laptops,… it worked for a while then fell over again
- I had to stop trying to fix it as I was interrupting the flow of the meeting.
- This is not low bandwidth, we had a 10 Mb line
- I’m coming to the conclusion that there is something inherently unstable about Skype for video conferencing
Continuous improvement for future meetings:
- Skype works well when we are all on Skype in a voice conference
- Mixed virtual/ physical meetings just don’t work with this technology.. so I’ll give up on that, for now.
I’ll be cancelling the subscription for Skype premium
One of the things about being innovative and pushing the technology is that things don’t always work!
Thankfully we have a group of people who are highly tolerant, so we must be doing something right.
It won’t stop me trying more new things, Life is far more fun when you introduce a bit of innovation.
A cryptic title for this post. Hopefully all will become clearer..
We’ve been reviewing our successes and failures in our mixed physical and virtual meetings.
We are testing a form of telepresence in our meetings because standard video conferencing with Skype isn’t quite good enough when it comes to meetings and workshops..
- When we are all together physically or virtually everyone has a similar experience and the workshops generally run rather well.
- We continue to experiment with mixed virtual and physical meetings – and follow-up the feedback with 1:1 discussions afterwards.
- In the mixed meetings the people attending virtually feel they have a lesser experience than those in the room
- This is partly due to the richness of the communication (more on that in later posts)
- Also partly due to the limitations of the technology we are using.
- the laptop microphones are simply not up to the task of picking up sound evenly in a room of 10 – 12 people
So we have made an excursion into some new hardware (thanks to John Fisher)
We have tested a new pyramid microphone
Pyramid Microphone for virtual conferencing
I added the pack of biscuits for scale, shortly before eating them.
The next bit was to see if we could connect several laptops to one microphone and also to one speaker.
We did this with a 3.5mm starfish connector,
starfish connector for 35mm jacks for microphone and speakers
We used two starfish connectors:
- one connecting four laptops to one microphone
- one to connect four laptops to one speaker
We tested the set up with four Skype videoconference connections and it worked!
The pyramid microphone worked far better than we expected, picking up voices from a distance of 4m
There was no interference and feedback.
So, the next step is to try this all out for real at our next virtual / physical meeting in a few weeks.
I’ll let you know how we get on.
Sometimes people can be less likely to be involved as a group than as individuals.
Have you ever been facilitating a meeting or workshop and getting people involved has felt like pulling teeth?
back to back meetings
I have come to realise that in certain situations the bystander effect can be responsible for people not engaging as quickly as you might expect.
But don’t worry, once you understand the collective psychology you can take steps to counter this:
- This effect only occurs in groups of people
- You notice it as an apparent reluctance to get involved in an activity
- For example – you may ask a question of the group and get silence.
- Or ask for volunteers and no-one comes forward
- What is actually going on is not true reluctance or anything to do with you as a facilitator
- There is a diffusion of responsibility in the room
- no one person is assigned or expected to do anything specific
- people may be waiting for others to have their say
- may not want to lose face in the group
- By recognising this effect you can deal with it more effectively
- make someone responsible by asking a group to select someone in advance
- you could pick someone to say something
- or you can fill the space by partially answering your own question
- reduce the size of the group by asking for a contribution from a particular table in the room
You as a facilitator may be in a position of some stress by being on your own in front of a group, however try to remember that asking someone to contribute in front of a group puts them in a similar position to you – with the exception that they havent prepared for this.
So prepare your audience in advance, tell them what they might expect, help them overcome their nerves and reduce their individual fear of contributing and you’ll be amazed at the response.
Senser or iNtuitor
A few people have asked me how you can quickly form two groups in a room, one with a preference for being a Senser (S-type) and another with a preference for being and iNtuitor (N-type).
This connects with a previous post for a group activity to show how people see things differently
Ask the people in the room to identify with one of two statements (mention that they will be able to identify with both but you are asking them to think about their preference, the one that they feel most comfortable with) :
(S) I Like having a well-established way of doing things and like applying existing knowledge. I tend to focus on the realities of a situation and the practicalities of how to move forward.
- I trust my 5 senses
- I like what is real, experiential
- Facts and figures
And the other group….
(N) I prefer to go with my intuition and flashes of insight, rather than by linear step-by-step reasoning I tend to be open-minded about new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things.
- 6th sense, hunches
- What could be, potential
- Visions and insights
Ask the people in the room to stand and walk to one or the other side of the room If you have pre-prepared this with a sheet of paper stuck to the wall with an S or an N so much the better.
(?) You may get some people who honestly cannot make up their minds which they prefer.
In this case don’t challenge them, just ask them to join one or the other group and see how it goes, if they feel uncomfortable in the group activity they can always change.
I have recently been facilitating a few virtual meetings using Skype and they have gone rather well.
For example in one meeting we had 15 people in the “room” from several locations in Europe and picked up on a few learning points I’d like to share:
- The first thing was not to assume that the time was the same for everyone, central Europe was an hour ahead of the UK and this needed to be made clear in setting up the meeting.
- If people call you on Skype while the meeting is in progress you place one call on hold while you answer the other call and this can confuse people.
- As facilitator, you can save a lot of confusion by making it clear that you will call everyone and bring them in to the meeting.
- The technology enables people to join in from smart phones such as the iPhone. This is fine but I have found that people are less likely to be aware of the background noise which can overwhelm the meeting – ask people to mute their microphone when not talking. This solves that problem.
- One of our members could not get the microphone to work. Keep an eye on the messaging facility (IM) because we brought this person into the conversation by asking questions on their behalf.
- Copy and paste the IM record into a word processor as once you have closed the virtual meeting call you will lose all messages. This helps the note taking.
- Oh and finally if you are facilitating make sure you have the latest version of Skype. you can tolerate version differences if you are a member but if you are the facilitator of the call it can cause call dropouts and interrupt the flow.
I was working with a successful international company recently.
The board asked me to facilitate a workshop for them to help them understand how to improve sales growth.
The reason they called me in was because they needed someone neutral to help them talk to one another.
This may sound surprising however when they hold meetings themselves they get distracted by the detail and needed me to help them stay focussed.
What did we do together?
- I was able to ask the basic questions that helped them share the facts
- We established the current sales and marketing pattern
- The board realised that they had lots of products in development
- Everyone had their own favourites
- We worked on a prioritising system to understand what was important for them
- Then compared all the different possibilities
- They then selected the top priorities
- All agreed on the focus
- Went back with renewed energy and confidence to work.
In this process I provided the frameworks and this gave them the permission to talk to one another.
I am amazed how often this type of interaction occurs – people who know one another well sometimes cannot talk about what is really important to the business.
Bringing in someone external they can trust unblocks the barriers.
The result of this focus is that sales have increased and they have a better balance between products and also improved communications between board members.
Many people might not understand the term Facilitation, so presenting facilitation in terms of what it can do for your business is a better angle.
We used a facilitative approach to help an organisation develop its strategic plans, in this example we focussed on the financial strategy
facilitated workshop for financial strategy
The workshop method is a popular way of getting people involved and capturing a wide variety of views on a topic
In this case we used an idea wall
- We developed ideas and actions cards prompting thinking
- Ideas written on the cards were placed on the wall
- Groups contributed new cards in rotation
- Encouraged everyone to discuss the ideas
- Clustered into themes
- Summary presented back to the room
This simple process is really powerful, for example one person put an issue down that was due to have an impact on the organisation.
- The rest of the room went quite when it was shared…
- Then various comments;
- ….”I didn’t know that!”
- …”Knowing this saves us a huge amount of hassle, time and money”
The person who put the comment up assumed everyone knew this!
They were able to incorporate this insight into the plans, there and then.
I am always fascinated by what happens when you bring people together with an outside facilitator.
Something as simple as sharing our knwoeldge helps us anticipate the future.