Brandon Klein Brandon understands that better teams are fundamental to all of our success. As a global thought leader, ushering in the 'Future of Work' revolution, he paves the way using data + design to accelerate the Collaboration Revolution. Brandon is the Co-Founder of the software start-up, Collaboration.Ai and an active member of The Value Web, a non-profit committed to changing the way decisions are made to better impact our world. Jan 07

Collaboration Experiences: 1001

We are testing a new addition to the site: Collaboration Experiences. These are the reflection, learnings, discoveries, best-practices etc. of a historical collaborative session that one of the Collaboration King editors has been through, led or participated in. They usually had more than 40 participants in attendance and lasted at least two days. Many of them were written by expert facilitators (100+ sessions under their belt and 10+ years experience) Let us know in the comments if you find it useful. Here is the first one. More to be added weekly! 
  • Culture.  Company is operationally very strong.  Given a wall to knock down, they are second to none.  But which wall?  They got big on the strength of their operation, but are not strategic thinkers by nature.  We did an excellent job of introducing strategic concepts to them, but this was the largest attempt to make operationally oriented people think a step or two up the Vantage Points Model.  Their culture is very strong in other ways
  • Simulation.  We had a terrific simulation the morning of the second day.  Half the group set up shop front operations, choosing from a menu of things they could influence.  The other set of participants role-played a demographically correct group of customers, who had to choose which retail chain would get their business in each of five categories.  Learning-rich mayhem ensued.  Every bit of food and sodas moved into stores to attract customers, another group set up a VCR and movies, yet another grabbed the mic and broadcast ads in Spanish.  Ad flyers, coupons, wall drawings and costumes proliferated.  One set of customers portrayed 4 women in a PTA group and went around together to leverage their buying power.  We had a merger and a buyout.  And, five of the six key challenges they realized they had to overcome were really highlighted by the exercise.  As with all simulations, don’t attempt to write this the night before!  We had the engagement team and knowledge workers do three drafts and it took a lot of revisions to get it right.  It took 2 weeks, total. Some simulation thoughts:
  • Keep it elegant.  Set up as few rules as possible and as many ‘play aids’ that help participants know what to do.  You want them to wrestle with the decisions they have to make and not spend time trying to understand the game. We put scoresheets in each room, lists of options and costs, big places to clearly indicate what each store had to offer.  All the customer had to do to indicate a sale was hand over a pre-printed card. 
  • Take the time introducing the simulation to clearly spell out roles and explain what they will have to do, so the participants understand your intent.
  • Avoid the urge to throw a lot of sand in the system.  Mergers will happen without you needing to set them up.  We had an elaborate way of changing demographics over time that completely broke down.  Instead, we just had each ‘customer’ play a different demographic each round—that gave them several customer viewpoints.
  • Each successive round takes less time.  If people are looking done, end early.
  • Do a walkthrough with your knowledge worker helpers.  Do it well before 10 pm on the prep day.  Don’t assume knowledge workers can whip through net profit calculations or quickly figure percentages. 
  • Be ready to make snap calls if something new happens.
  • Expect the unexpected.  If you know what they will find, then you don’t need to do a simulation.  This can be a hard sell to clients, but usually not.  Frequently (afterwards), they cite the simulation as the genesis of many important ideas or discoveries.  We had more big aha’s from the customer group than from the retail stores.
  • Do a thorough debrief.  Just like Win As Much As You Can, the most powerful part of the program is the dialog afterward. 
  • Involved customers, vendors and analyst.  We had a bunch of visitors on Scan Day.  We kicked things off with the top analyst on Wall Street, who was primed to help shake them out of their complacency.  He did a great job (see a synthesis of his comments below).  If you use an analyst, make sure that the message to be other than nice comes from the client and not the facilitator.  We set up a vendor fishbowl conversation that was very powerful.  Finally, we brought in 12 customers and planted one in each breakout team as a live knowledge object.  We front-loaded all this into the Scan morning because the client is sensitive to having outsiders “inside” their discussions.  We had to get them in and out, which meant a lot of sitting for the participants, but it was worth it.
  • Weak Signal Research Pre-Work.  The pre-work was interesting.  Each participant got a reading on weak-signal research (adapted from Bryan Coffman’s piece on the MGTaylor Website).  Then they had to keep a log of any weak signals they heard.  This was processed in a dialog on the Scan Day.  As expected, some of what they came up with was more “trend” than weak signal, but there were a few good ones.
  • Participants leaving early—complacent over third time.  Just because the client had done two previous DesignShops didn’t mean we were free and clear on the rules of engagement.  If anything, you have to be more vigilant.  The CFO was great at heading off early-leavers, but this was a challenge for this event.  It was clear that there was a certain percentage of the group that really didn’t want to be there but couldn’t afford not to be.  This definitely changed the nature and tone of the session more than we thought it would have.  We had a Sr. VP announce the morning of Day 2 that he was leaving at 3 pm that day, so we excused him from the session before the day began.  Two others left early, as well.  Reiterating the rules of engagement early and often with repeat clients is important.  We did this and still had to deal with it.
  • Not enough focus on market share.  What gets measured gets done. What the client doesn’t measure, and realized they needed to, is overall market share.  This is the same kind of thinking that has Coke competing for the other 63 ounces of fluids that you consume in a day, instead of just against Pepsi.  That shift in thinking can open up a huge set of possibilities.  They need more work in this area, but the event got them started to think down that path.
  • Situations as scenarios.  The team identified over the last year 10 ‘situations’ that the client really need to figure out how to handle.  These were mega-trends that appeared to pose opportunities/threats to their business.  They were readily convertible to stress-test scenarios and served as Walk-about topics on Day One.
  • Pre-supposed answers, pre-supposed situation.  For all that the event sponsors had been through previous collaborative sessions, we found ourselves boxed in by several decisions made before the session.  The first were the situations referenced above.  They tended to be seen as the only things that could be encountered.  While they were reasonably rigorous, we had to work to get some additional things we discovered on the Scan Day included.  The second was more serious.  What the client was told they would get was strategies for each business unit.  That determined that each business unit had to work together in functional areas on Day Three.  The natural way things would have gone was to spin off a team to work each of the cross-divisional issues that surfaced over the course of the DesignShop.  We never saw so clearly the fork in the road of functional based teams versus issue based—and you can only go down one road.  Had we worked the issues on Day Three, we believe they could have really nailed them and generated action plans to address them.  However, at this company, nothing happens that isn’t owned by a business unit.  That, combined with what had been sold to the client, meant we had to go functional units.  What we did was to form the buckets of issues and then clearly talk about how each team had to evaluate and update/change their strategies in light of these issues.  Another solution (that we did not have the option of) would have been a Day Four:  work the issues Day Three, then build them into action plans for functional units on the last day.  A really robust Build-A-There would have helped (B-A-T was organized around the issues), but we had cut it short to include the simulation. We sound as if we knew this going in, but it really only became clear the evening of Focus Day.
  • Templates.  We made huge use of templates on Day Three.  Templates are a two-edged sword.  Give participants templates, and they fill them out, but tend not to think beyond them.  In this situation, it really helped avoid incremental answers and gave non-strategy people a good framework to use.  The risk was not getting big and bold ideas.  Also, we would include some kind of room for a graphic in templates in the future. 
  • Strategy template team.  And if you are going to use templates, make the participants design them.  One of the Build-A-There teams was tasked with creating the strategic framework template, and did a great job of generating a solid template for use on Day Three (and one that everyone had now seen already when it showed up). 
  • You can’t redirect a day three team.  Don’t try it.  Charter or form a new team instead.  The old team has so much energy/momentum for what they signed up to do that trying to redirect them is pointless.  Oh, and it goes against self-selection principles.
  • Check-in. At check in, they were only 70% of where they needed to be at that point of the day.  We got into a lot of Q&A that slowed the check in down to an hour, though the feedback from the rest of the participants to each team was the basis of a large leap in productivity several teams experienced later. But, still best to keep it crisp.
  • Shadowy Integration Team.  We had an integration team that tended to be a bit more shadowy than I have experienced before.  One facilitator style was to pre-select the members and not have others sign up for it.  A couple messages came out on Day three ‘from the integration team’ but it was not clear who they were.  The integration team was actually about half of the sponsors, who put templates together and roved and made sure that the teams were not losing focus.  This was OK, as the work did not need to integrate as much as many DesignShops, but it felt a little contrived.
  • Different facilitators, different styles.  It was very interesting for both of us to work with another lead facilitator.  One has a more active facilitation style, frequently challenging their reports (only needed with the first one, usually).  This followed on observations of how participants do really good work in the breakouts, but don’t report it out.  It certainly makes them pay attention, and sends the message that they can’t put up just crap.  Challenge the first one to make the rest better.  Another innovation was the Day three am sponsor meeting at about 7:30, to go over any final issues.
  • Quotes.  Rather than do the blank sheet of paper instruction at the end of the Focus Day, we had the participants grab a quote from the ‘quote board’ and think about it overnight in the context of the work that had to be done.  Same effect, but looks different and innovative.  It is especially good with the clients, because the usual trust issues and silo problems most clients have don’t really exist with these people, so the synthesis is less “how do you feel about things” and more “what do we need to get done today” in nature.
  • Strategy Template.  We came across a way to describe what is needed in a strategy:  Direction (a star to guide by), Discovery (not a ‘how to’ but leaving a sense that the group needs to figure out the how), Destiny (an emotional pull), Differentiation (different from the other guys), and Decision-Ability (can you make the yes/no calls from this strategy).  It is a model to use if you are working at a strategic level.
  • Arrogance versus pride.  This was an interesting discussion that erupted at the end of the model report.  There was a feeling especially from vendors that the client was too arrogant (a word that really got up their nose), but how was that different than having a lot of pride?  The discussion went on for 15 minutes and was important to have.  We turned it off once it had been worked through and before it could turn into a premature synthesis conversation.
  • Sponsor closing comments:  “This was our toughest assignment, because of our own success.  We can’t get complacent—we have huge opportunities left.  We achieved our deliverable. We are walking out of here in great shape.  And the big winner is going to be the consumer.

Straw Dog

SCAN - Monday

8:00 - 9:00            Introduction

9:00 - 9:45            The Analyst Speaks

9:45 - 10:30            Vendor Fishbowl Conversation

10:30 - 11:00            Post-Vendor Comments

11:00 - 11:45            Customer Comments ‘Live Knowledge Objects’

11:45 - 12:30            Dialog in Teams

12:30 - 1:30            Report

1:30 - 2:15            Weak Signal Report/Dialog

2:15 - 4:15            Three rounds exploring ‘Situations’ and one of Synthesis

  • Economic Downturn
  • Tight Labor Market
  • Home Office Retention
  • Manufacturers Sell Direct on the Net
  • Consumer Demand for Value Added Services
  • Growth of Ethnic Population
  • Aging Baby Boomers
  • Private Label Growth


4:15 - 4:40            Take-A-Panel

4:40 - 5:05            Share-A-Panel

5:05 - 5:45            Synthesis

5:45 - 6:15            Customer Video

6:15 - 6:45            Topical Reading - Read

  • Smart Gambling
  • Military Strategy
  • The Internet
  • ‘500-Year Delta’
  • Speed & Flexibility (Fast Companies)
  • Sports and Wall Street—predictions versus outcomes
  • Risk
  • Forecasting (prognosticators and weather forecasting)
  • NASA (faster, better, cheaper)


6:45 - 7:30            Topical Reading - Dialog

7:30 - 8:00            Model Shop

FOCUS - Tuesday

8:00 - 9:30            Model Report

9:30 - 11:30            Simulation

11:30 - 12:00            Debrief

12:00 - 1:30            Situations (Stress Test Scenarios)

  • Grocery and Discount Chain Merger
  • Growth of Ethnic Population and Baby Boomer Aging
  • Home Office Retention
  • Strained Vendors
  • Tight Labor Market
  • Manufacturers Go Direct on the Net
  • Value-Added Services
  • Private Label Growth
  • The Sacred Cow that Killed Us
  • Economic Downturn
  • No Capital Expenditures
  • Inflation Runs Rampant


1:30 - 2:30            Report

2:30 - 4:30            Build-A-There

5:00 - 7:00            Report/Why It Won’t Work.  This went long, but was necessary.

ACT - Wednesday

8:00 - 10:00            Synthesis Conversation

10:00 - 12:00            Work in Teams

12:00 - 1:00            Check-In

1:00 - 5:30            Work in Teams

5:30 - 8:00            Final Report/Close

culture, agenda, facilitation, collaboration experiences, departure, pre-judging, simulation, templates, two facilitators

Brandon Klein Brandon understands that better teams are fundamental to all of our success. As a global thought leader, ushering in the 'Future of Work' revolution, he paves the way using data + design to accelerate the Collaboration Revolution. Brandon is the Co-Founder of the software start-up, Collaboration.Ai and an active member of The Value Web, a non-profit committed to changing the way decisions are made to better impact our world.