Communication discussion starter

If communication was a vehicle what would it be?

When doing my workshops, I do like a good analogy. I find that likening one thing to another helps us process what we are talking about and create a mental picture. Because I see a workshop and the discussions that take place as a journey, something that moves forwards and gains momentum as it does so, I frequently use analogies that involve moving. These are often related to vehicles, roads, rivers, maps and journeys, so I have created a short exercise, a discussion starter mapping communication onto different vehicles!

How does it work?

Well, first have a think about communication, what is it, what does it mean, how does it feel. Try to visualise it. Communication means different things to different people, and that’s where things can go a bit awry. So it’s good to create space to discuss it. For some it’s all about clarity, for some it’s about speed, for some it’s about quality. Perhaps listening is most important. It may be the two way nature, or it may be the versatility, or maybe the depth and range of things we can do with communication. It will inevitably be a combination of things, but different combinations for different people. Think for a couple of minutes what it means to you.

Next imagine if your idea of communication could be represented as a vehicle, what vehicle would it be? Perhaps you see communication as something that is slick and efficient, but perhaps (particularly with all the different mediums available to us) it can be a bit high maintenance. Perhaps a high end car. But maybe you think communication needs to be something that glides along smoothly, that you like it to be simple and uncomplicated, maybe that makes you think of a boat gliding down a river. It’s completely up to you.

Then you draw your vehicle.

Communication discussion starter

 

There is no right or wrong answer. I did a workshop recently where someone drew a picture of a tank! They saw communication as a bit of a struggle, and they needed it to be like a tank to get through, to get their message heard. The point is to use this as a discussion starter, to use the analogy to explore what different people think, to gather opinions and to get everyone thinking. One of the things you might find is that actually a certain vehicle is great for a number of things, but that there are many things it cannot do. One mode of transport does not quite represent all the facets of communication. It is a multidimensional thing. This exercise is a way of starting to explore that. From this starting point you may go on to dig deeper into communication problems, challenges, ideas for improvement, setting goals to move forwards, creating actions. But that’s the real heart of the workshop. This is just to warm you up.

It can also be a bit of fun and can be good to break the ice. This analogy can be used for other things too, not just to discuss communication – you can make it about anything you want.

Have a go and I’d love to hear the results, and I’d really like to see some pictures too!

What vehicle did you choose?

Brainstorming the business of how to make your horse thirsty….. and more.

Do you remember me talking about the power of a group in my last blog? If you didn’t get a chance to read it it’s here.

By way of a little follow up of the event I did for International Women’s Day, I thought I’d update you on how it all went and how we used the Brainstorm Booth to move forward with a few problems.

Brainstorm

The mini workshops were designed to enable participants (women at The Enterprise Network‘s conference for International Women’s Day) to bring along a problem to solve. Each session was an hour, which in itself presented a small conundrum to me – that old problem of time. How do you brainstorm 9 different problems in an hour?

The answer is you don’t. And you don’t get a fully fledged start to finish problem solving session. For that you need a far longer time frame – one where you can unpick problems slowly, piece by piece and bring them together in a way that gives you step by step actions to follow. When I facilitate in house with a group, perhaps to brainstorm ideas to move forwards with a project, or to think of ways to add value to a piece of work, we have at least half a day (a whole day if I’m lucky). But this was a taster, a mini workshop and chance to see just what was possible in an hour.

So, in the first place, not everyone had a particular problem to solve. Some people had come just to be a part of the discussion. For those that did, we started by presenting the problems, and then taking a look at whether there were any that shared some similarities. By pulling them all together, we realised that there were indeed issues that gelled together and that would benefit from being tackled in a broad sense by the same small group.

So that’s what we did, we set out the issues then pulled them together, gave them a heading and cracked on with the discussions in small groups.

Our two groups in the first session had the problems:

How to make your horse thirsty

AND

How to grow our businesses.

The second session discussed:

Appealing to different customers/potential employees

AND

What was important to start up a business and create a strategy

I probably need to explain the thirsty horse…..one of the participants told us a story based on the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Just like running a business, you can give people all sorts of information and tell them that your product or service is amazing. But you need them to want what you’re offering to become your customer. You need to make the horse thirsty. So team horse, were discussing ways to attract new customers and have quality engagement with them.

I facilitated the workshop so the participants could work through a process that I had designed for them, enabling each group came up with some brilliant ideas which they distilled into a handful of top tips. The sharing of thoughts, experiences and knowledge and the collaborative working to generate ideas really made the discussion valuable. Everyone seemed invested in the process and there was a wonderful energy in the room. These elements are some of the key ingredients for a good workshop, whatever its size.

There were some wonderful top tips that came out of the session, including:

Building up face to face relationships, being persistent and keeping on touch with potential leads to make the horse thirsty. Knowing your market and starting with a vision in mind for starting up a business and creating a strategy.

But it was much more that the things that were written down. It’s the process of the discussion itself that was powerful. Those little nuggets of information that come up, those shared stories, that confirmation that you are not alone in your dilemmas, that acknowledgement that running a business is not easy, but that we can share our insights and inspiration to move forwards.

A good brainstorm though, should not end there. It’s not about throwing the balls in the air, talking about them and leaving. It’s about what you do next. I gave each of the participants a shiny lightbulb to write down their best idea from the workshop, something to take away on act on, to remind them of the discussion and to create some continuity of the hard work everyone put it.

Shiny idea

Thank you to all the participants in both my workshops. You invested your time and energy into the sessions and made them a wonderful experience to be a part of.

What are your tops tips to make your horse thirsty?

 

 

Have you tapped into the power of a group?

A problem shared is a problem halved as they say. By sharing your problem with someone else, it often seems smaller as you gain perspective by talking it through. Sometimes that’s all you are looking for, a chance to mull over something out loud, an ear to bend. Talking it through can help those intangible blobs of seemingly unfathomable problem take shape and start to become clearer. If you’re lucky, you might actually realise that the problem isn’t a problem after all.

Unfortunately some problems, puzzles, or concerns are more tenacious and don’t move along quite so easily. Sometimes you get stuck with a half idea that won’t budge, it will neither go away nor gain momentum. Often it’s not just about talking it through and sharing or offloading. Resolutions and ideas for how to tackle the issue are required. Outlining next steps, creating tangible solutions and developing practical ways forward are essential. To give that problem a bit of a kick, to unstick it and to move it from its prime spot niggling away at you, you’ll need some deeper thought on the subject. And there’s nothing like the power of a well facilitated group to provide some much needed mental energy to help you move forwards.

group facilitation

Why a group?

Each individual has their own knowledge, skills, experiences and ideas. As individuals we can draw on the information available to us to offer advice and support to others. But as a group, each person brings something that can be built upon by others, their initial contribution magnified and enhanced. Whether these are complimentary or contradictory the process of bouncing information and ideas around is an important part of working through a dilemma or difficulty. Different people will come up with different questions based on what they know, to dig deep into any ideas. Teasing out different elements, sharing creative thoughts, sparking new ideas and discussing new information are functions that a group can provide. The collective energy of a group, when harnessed in the right way can be invaluable for helping to unstick those sticky problems.

Capturing that energy is not always easy, which is why it’s good to have a Facilitator on the job! Problems and ideas can be like flies trapped in a bottle; they can go round and round in circles without really resulting in very much. But with a well structured process and some key tools to address the task, the group can be guided through the problem by managing discussions, unpicking and unpacking the issues and coming out the other side with some possibilities to take forward.

Problem solving

If you have a team or department at your disposal just waiting for a Facilitator to come along and work with you, that’s great! But what if you are a small business owner, or sole trader who doesn’t have a ready made group of brains at their disposal?

Well, for a start, if you are a women in business then I have some great news for you! As part of International Women’s Day 2017 on 8th March, I am going to be running the Brainstorming Booth at The Enterprise Network’s Women in Business Conference. There will be two sessions during the day for you to come along with your problem, stumbling block, query or idea. You can share this with others who can work together to help you solve it, move it forward or at the very least provide some clarity. By being a part of the group you will also be able to share your own knowledge and expertise to help with someone else’s conundrum. It’s all about sharing and learning from each other. Many problems discussed may be common to quite a few people, and you quite possibly might find answers to questions that you didn’t even know you had, or surprise yourself with a new idea!

This is a really exciting opportunity, and this year’s theme is #beboldforchange. Perhaps you have things you want to change in your business, but aren’t sure how to go about it. Perhaps the power of a group can help!

And if this isn’t for you, then watch this space as I have another exciting brainstorming event coming up later on in March…..

For more information about this or about in-house facilitation of this kind please drop me an e-mail on helene(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)jewellfacilitation.com

 

How do you create a communication environment that’s right for you?

I’ve just been trying to organise a night out with a group of friends – can’t be that hard can it? Well, Christmas aside, yes it is. And it’s not because we’re all busy (although we are, of course, isn’t everybody?) but because we’re all on different channels. By which I mean, everyone’s on Whatsapp except one person who can’t get into it because she’s forgotten her password. Not an unsolvable issue, but certainly one that might make you not really want to bother. Everyone’s on Facebook messenger except one person who doesn’t like Facebook. Everyone’s able to text but we can’t do a group text/reply and we all have different phone systems. See where I am going with this?

I do rather love a bit of technology, and I wholeheartedly embrace a whole host of Social Media. I am not one of the naysayers, despite my overwhelming love of face to face communication. But amongst the myriad of different issues the world may have with hi tech communication, it is the number of options available that often leave me frustrated. Too much choice can definitely scupper our chances of doing what many of these things are set up to do  –  allow us to communicate effectively.

When you are in a social group, the stakes are low. Someone may get a bit peeved that they didn’t get an invitation to something, and someone else will probably make sure they get the message a different way. But imagine this in a workplace setting. The stakes are far higher; frustration amongst employees, huge amounts of time wasted chasing things, and worse the haemorrhaging of important information. The possibilities for how to communicate are almost endless; Whatsapp, e-mail, texts, Facebook messenger, Slack, Skype, Snapchat, Yammer, the good old fashioned phone, and a whole lots of other things that I don’t even know about. There is rarely just one system, but there are always a lot of different preferences. We all like different things, and we all like to do things in slightly different ways.

So what’s the answer?

Well, one of the things that can be done in a proactive way, to prevent this discombobulated communication is to have a conversation. Get your employees together and create an opportunity for discussion. Whether this is a meeting, or workshop, or discussion forum, face to face communication is definitely the way forward if you want to alleviate misunderstanding and ambiguity.

  • Ask people what they think works
  • Ask them what they think doesn’t work
  • Tell them what the business needs
  • Find out what they need
  • Look for some common ideas
  • Consider some action steps and agreement use

By getting people to work together, face to face, person to person to share their views you will be providing everyone equal opportunity to get involved. That’s not to say you can’t use technology to hold a workshop or meeting of some kind, and how you do it is important. How you have that discussion matters if you want to get the most out of it. But the getting together of people and engaging staff in this way shows that you care what they think. It demonstrates that you want to find the best way of doing things for everyone. And this matters because they are the ones who will be using it.

The only sure way to make sure that you find out exactly what everyone thinks, is to ask. If you do this right you will have:

  • Had an opportunity to share with everyone the systems that are currently in place
  • Found out which ones are used most and which ones are disregarded
  • Deduced which ones work best and in what situation
  • Given everyone the opportunity to say what they think and to ask questions
  • Involved you staff in creating their own solutions, and to have a say in what happens next. This buy in is probably the most crucial aspect. You need people on board, to use the system in the first place for it to work.

If this type of communication conundrum sounds familiar then why not give me a call. I have been working with Gerald Crittle from GAcceleration, an expert in business communication technology to create some workshop packages. The focus of these workshops is internal communication, and more effective meetings, and both workshops have an employee engagement phase, followed by a technical training. The workshops are carefully designed to make sure everyone that needs to be is involved, engaged and on board so that you can create a communication environment that is right for everyone.

 

Ideation – capturing your ideas the hi-tech no-tech way

Whether you believe you are an “ideas person” or not, everyone has ideas. The trick is effectively capturing them in the first place, so they don’t escape or get lost. Then once they have been captured they need to be cajoled and coaxed, nurtured and guided from that germ of a thought into something that you can actually do something with.

If you have ever tried hard to intentionally come up with an idea, you will know it’s not quite as simple as just having a good think. Even if you are the kind of person that comes up with them readily they don’t always flow productively and have a tendency to go “off piste”. To be truly effective and to harness really useful ideas, you need a good process. And there is nothing like the power of a good group of people to get involved in that process. The collective energy of a lot of people all working at once to come up with some ideas is one of things I love about facilitation.

So, last week with the help of some fabulous participants in the shape of the chicklets on the Bristol Entrepreneurial Spark programme I designed and delivered an ideation workshop. This was for Rosie at Relax Bristol and the aim was to help gather ideas to change her business name. While I created and facilitated the session, this time I had a new tool at my disposal – that of the amazing iDeeter platform accompanied by it’s Director and Co-Founder Niall Jones.

This was a new thing for me – the combination of my more “analogue” approach to workshops – a range of different tools and techniques nicely wrapped up in a whole lot of coloured paper, card, marker pens and assorted lo-tech/ no-tech materials, and iDeeter. iDeeter is a digital platform (a website that you can access on your phone or computer) where you log in and share your ideas with the group of people all working on the same task. It works by asking participants for their ideas which they type them into a smartphone, in response to a specific question. Rather than say their ideas out loud or write them on a piece of paper, or have them scribed on a flipchart they type them into their phones, and then rate them. As you read this, you may get a sense if whether you prefer the digital or analogue approach to all this. The point it, that both are valuable, and the combination means that the session can appeal to all.

It was indeed quite a special session, a melding of different tools that complimented each other brilliantly. The process started with an individual, then paired brainstorm using my lovely Stickywall. This brainstorm was about words, words that were conjured up when people thought about Rosie’s business. Then the participants ranked these ideas using some sticky dots (dot voting).

 

Brainstorming workshop

 

Group participation

Then we started with iDeeter.

The participants we asked to reflect on the ideas that they had just some up with (still posted on the Stickywall) and work again individually, then in pairs to come up with new business names. They then had to use stars or a thumbs up (likes) to rate them. They were able to come up with over 50 ideas and after rating them, a top 4 emerged. We then repeated the process with slogan names.

I can’t reveal the final choices, they are Rosie’s. She is currently digesting and considering those ideas. For her, the next steps are deciding which of the incredible ideas work best for her needs. Or indeed whether none fit just yet, but have perhaps sparked off some further thoughts. But she has some wonderful material to work with. She has a plethora of ideas generated by a whole group of different people, working with both paper based and digital tools to get the best out of their creative minds. A process that, even though I say it myself, was a resounding success.

Ideation session complete.

If you would like to know more about the iDeeter platform then Niall Jones would love to hear from you http://www.ideeter.com/. We hope to be doing some more sessions in the future, so watch this space!

And if you would like to book me for an ideation or brainstorming session, or simply find out more about what I can do, please contact me. Don’t be stuck with no ideas, or perhaps worse – so many that you can’t see where you are going. I can design and deliver a productive workshop that will actually yield some useful ideas – ones that won’t run away or distract you.