Versus.

 

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Way back in November, I was asked to run some sessions for a personal development fortnight (see my post “Source”). Given the bespoke nature of the audience (a specific department) and the way the fortnight came together (it was arranged with a week or two’s notice), I didn’t have long to prepare and the sessions were all logistically different.

 

Normally I like that. Get in the room, experiment, see what happens. Each workshop is its own independent beast. For this fortnight though, the workshops were all linked on a narrative of the learning festival within the department. The first one I ran was time compressed (see my post “Modularise”). The next was the other extreme: a really big audience with the full 3 hours allocated to discuss how to effectively plan personal development.

 

I found out about the size a few days beforehand. At 35 people you are getting to an almost conference-sized audience, a volume a training facilitator guide is not built for. Your ability to get around a room is just not there, particular for less than half a day together. As I sat on the plane on the evening prior, I pondered my choices. Change the content? No, that was beyond my remit. Change the running order? No, that would just serve to confuse. Get some team captains to have the facilitation semi-delegated to? No, I didn’t have enough time to assess, choose and prepare these people. I looked out the window at the blood-orange sunset, dreamt for a few minutes and jotted down these ambitions for the session instead:

 

Encircle the people with everything they need to know before they start. Recognise the fears and hopes they walk in with.  Share the wisdom of those who do personal development successfully. Open their minds to new frontiers of thought. Give permission for everyone to share their stories and freedom to choose the focus areas for the session.

 

I pulled out my notebook and started to sketch a squiggly line.

 

The next morning I turned up early to the room. I was lucky, there was a beautiful 10 metre long whiteboard wall just waiting to be decorated. Here’s what I did to graffiti with purpose:

 

Encircle. I listed all the various aspects that I knew had come out of discussions in the workshop. Next to each one, I wrote the thematic polar opposite. For instance, ‘job .v. vocation’, and ‘self-perception .v. others’ perception’. To use the full whiteboard space, I drew each ‘versus’ as ribs of a wriggling worm; about 30 in total. It was a map of learning outcomes, the boundaries of discussion, the core concepts, where it fitted in the real world. The Versus Worm was born.

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Recognise. Within the Versus Worm, I listed many things that past workshop participants had shared as their hopes and fears. Things like ‘Life .v. work’ and ‘comfort .v. growth’. Unequivocally, if people read them, they at least would know thought and planning had gone into the 3 hours, for their world.

Share. Outside the worm I wrote up quotes relevant to development planning that had stuck with me. They were all from people within our company, and all ones I could share a story about if prompted. They were planted opportunities for authentically making heroes of their peers and leaders. I shared two such stories during the session when people pointed out a quote on the wall.

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Open. I drew up 2 other elements around the worm. First were some iconic images; a door opening, a person looking in a mirror. Secondly, a nest of words describing what led to everyone being in the room and organisational context to their self-focus on development; some examples being the annual employee survey, diversity, engagement the company being a preferred employer.

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Give. As people walked into the room, I handed them a whiteboard marker. My only instruction was to read the entire Versus Worm, and to tick whatever resonated with them, or what they wanted to explore further. I started this with the people who came in 10 minutes early and kept it going with those who arrived 5 minutes late. There was a hubbub. People were talking to each other, about what they had ticked, about what it meant to them.

 

In the opening frame, I simply walked the length of the wall and said “This is the breadth, depth and length of the next 3 hours, and what you have ticked a lot of, we will focus on.” The serious and appreciative nods told me I had earned the rapport needed to make the session count for them and the business unit. As I ran the workshop, I realised how much people were looking to the wall, and how much I walked over and pointed to aspects. As the session self-guided, I had more time to work each table. In fact I asked a question of each of the 35 people in those 3 hours. Unheard of!

 

Six months on, I still feel that workshop had particular punch. It had weight of opinion. It had momentum. It was efficient. Later feedback told me it also had spill-over like a volcano. Personal development plans were being done and acted upon. This is the value of a bespoke approach. Forward planning. Thinking of those people who need to learn something, backing your own ideation to take them there.

 

Footnote: The Versus Worm has survived. Despite becoming quite attached, I’ve shared him with an instructional designer colleague for the rewrite of the session I ran six months ago. It’s looking good.

 

 

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