The formation and group communication approach should vary according to the moment of the workshop and the style of each activity. In some situations, everyone needs to be involved in the same conversation, but in others, this is not effective.

On this page I share some techniques and tips used during the facilitation of the Lean Inception workshops.

Divide and Conquer

Large group activities can take a long time. In some situations, everyone needs to be present in the same conversation. But in others, this is not necessary: the whole can be broken down into smaller pieces.

Instead of a single group, working on the whole, divide the group into a few subgroups, where each subgroup works on a piece of the whole.

Therefore, each subgroup presents the results of its work to everyone. This is the Divide and conquer.

Tip for remote workshops: in Zoom (or similar VideoConference tools), use the breakout room functionality.

Everyone talks and contributes

 

Sometimes we want everyone on the group to speak and contribute. This is especially useful when we want lots of collaboration, when we want to foster that one person adds to a point raised by another person.

 

In face-to-face workshops, the best way to achieve that is through a circle formation, either standing  (as in the photo above), or sitting around a table.

 

The formation of a circle is a very effective way to seek common understandings, increasing the levels of listening and the participation of the everyone on the group.

 

When we are in a circle, everyone sees each other, and this avoids cross conversations or “back conversations”, when someone speaks with her back to someone else.

 

Remote solution: ask everyone to select the gallery mode in the VideoConference tool so that everyone can see each other. Combine a pair of words to indicate respectively beginning and end of speech, for example: PING, PONG.

 

PING I say this, that and that other, PONG (I shut up).

 

Anyone who wants to speak says a PING.

 

Sometimes more than one PING can happen at the same time. If that’s the case, let the involved people decide who speaks first.

 

Fishbowl Conversation

The Fishbowl formation is great for keeping a conversation focused, even with a large group of people. At any time, only a few people have a conversation (the fish in the fishbowl). The remaining people are listeners (those who watch the fishbowl conversation). Listeners can join the discussion at any time. But to do so, they must enter the fishbowl. Typically, if someone enters, someone else leaves the fishbowl.

 

Remote solution 1: Use a shared board. Place an image of a fishbowl and write the name of each participant either on a virtual post-it or on an image of a fish. Decide how many and which fish start in the aquarium. These can talk. If someone wants to join the conversation, they should put their fish in the fishbowl. In that case, someone must leave the fishbowl.

 

Remote solution 2: in the Zoom VideoConferencing tool (or similar), ask everyone to select the gallery mode view option, so they can see each other. Decide who will be the people to start at the fishbowl. These should have their microphones open, everyone else should mute microphones. If someone wants to join the conversation, they must make a gesture – decide the gesture that identifies the action of entering the fishbowl – and open your microphone (make the noise of jumping into the fishbowl). If a person enters the fishbowl, someone must leave.

 

Individual brainstorming

Brainstorming is the process of free thinking and generating ideas, coming up with alternatives and possibilities, discovering fatal flaws, and developing creative approaches. At times, you want to have an individual brainstorming before the clustering of ideas or the group brainstorming. In this setting, the individuals, on their own, must develop their own thinking before the group conversation. This is useful when you want to highlight or verify the various perspectives by the participants.

The individual brainstorming addresses a pitfall of a group brainstorming: the situation when someone does not bring a point because he/she feels that everyone else on the group has already reached unanimity. By following an individual brainstorming first, and then a group brainstorming, you avoid this scenario as the individual note is written and visible to all.

Person in the spotlight

Often during workshops, we need to focus on a person, who shares a presentation, a drawing, or an explanation – usually with some visual artefact – that everyone should follow.

 

In a face-to-face workshop, to achieve that – person in the spotlight – the formation of the half moon (images above) is the most recommended.

 

The formation of the half-moon provides two aspects: (1) everyone sees each other, avoiding cross conversations and “conversations behind the back”, when someone speaks with her back to another person; and (2) someone is at a central point of attention.

 

This formation reinforces the central point of attention (person in the center of the half moon). On many occasions, the meeting or workshop facilitator wants to be at the center or identify a person to be at the center.

 

In the remote world, we can’t position remote people in a half moon, but we need to organize ourselves so that one person speaks and the others listen. And we need to prevent people from talking to each other at the same time.

 

To this end, a solution for the ‘Person in the spotlight’ formation for remote workshops follows: On the VideoConferencing tool, everyone except the person who is speaking/presenting should keep the microphones turned off.

 

Everyone must be in gallery mode for everyone to see each other. When someone wants to speak (or doing the spotlight), open the microphone (if you prefer, open the microphone and shake your hands too).

 

Restriction: if one person opens the microphone, the other person must close her microphone, so that only one person has the microphone open at a time. The person in the spotlight must share some visual artifact to keep everyone looking at the same screen (use the share and / or follow options of the tools).

 

Pomodoro

 

Long sessions can be very tiring. A good option for reducing mental fatigue is to take short breaks. This is even more useful if everyone understands the rule for these intervals. Like the pomodoro sauce that my great-uncle taught me: 25 minutes of activity, followed by 5 minutes of rest. Repeat this as many times as necessary, until the sauce is ready. In that case, the expected result for the long session.

 

Tell and Cluster

 

Tell and cluster is an easy and effective way to place individual notes in affinity groups. Instead of asking everyone to write their notes and place them on a common canvas, and after that try to understand and group them, follow these steps:
  1. ask participants to take notes in temporary areas (these areas are for individual use or for subgroups of the main group).
  2. when the time for individual notes is over, ask a participant to read a note and place it on the common canvas.
  3. ask other participants if they have similar notes; in this case they must read and place them next to the respective annotation on the common canvas, forming an affinity group.
  4. ask a next participant to share a new note and place it on the common canvas, starting a new affinity group.
  5. go back to step 3 until you finish all notes.

 

Voting

Voting is a great activity for time management and prioritisation. It is typically used either (1) for focusing the conversation on fewer items with highest interest by the group or (2) for verifying the participants choice for a few given options.

 

For presencial workshops, Dot Voting is a very common form of voting. On it, each person has to place a dot (typically done with a marker on a post-it or a note on a whiteboard) to signal their vote.

 

For remote workshops, many tools have voting capabilities built in. One option is to use it; another one it to simulate the Dot Voting via adding marks to the notes or the virtual post-its.

 

You do it, I do it too, then we compare it

 

Sometimes we want to compare the different solutions to the same problem. For example: “describe how to make coffee.”

 

In some situations and activities, we don’t want to break the problem down into smaller pieces, such as the ‘divide and conquer’ technique. But, we want to compare different solutions or options for the same problem, same context.

 

In these cases, use the technique ‘You do it, I do it too, then we compare it.’, With the following steps:
  1. Describe the topic in question
  2. Decide which subgroups will work on the same topic
  3. Decide how much time each subgroup would have to work separately
  4. Let each subgroup work for its assigned time
  5. Compare the results and combine them in a single solution