Here we’re deep-diving into what we think will be challenging and testing different ways that we can guide our participants through the process. We are considering what we should do together and what we should do apart. Putting thought into how we can maximise the time together and setting up to achieve the best possible outcomes.

This section assumes that you’ve already worked through the scoping and you’re ready to design the experience.

What will be difficult about this?

This question seeks to uncover not only technical but political/commercial, and cultural challenges that could get in the way of progress toward outcomes.

While the technical difficulties can often be addressed by bringing the right skills, experience and information into the engagement, political/commercial challenges require you to appreciate and navigate tension that could exist through competing, and possibly undisclosed, interests. Additionally, cultural challenges, including social norms of a group such as not challenging authority or not contributing through fear of judgement or persecution may stand in the way of achieving your desired outcomes despite the best technical design.

Taking some time to uncover these potential challenges and considering how you might address them will contribute to creating the environment for success.

You may want to consider:

  • Is there any information that cannot be discussed or shared during this engagement?
  • Is there any given information or background context that you need to assume?
  • Are there any conflicting interests? How may they impact the engagement? (i.e. will they limit the scope, depth or content of discussion?)
  • Are there any external factors to be mindful of (e.g. public holidays, time zones, etc.)?

How can we maximise time together?

Getting people together in real-time should always be treated as a luxury. By respecting the value of contact time, you pave the way for a productive relationship.

As you move through the design process below always ask yourself:

  • What is important to do together?
  • What can be done ahead of time to maximise the value of the live session?

For example, consider sharing background content before your active collaboration, leveraging mediums and channels that give the best chance of ensuring everyone has a chance to preview and digest it.

How can we structure and sequence the content?

To create the structure or sequence of your engagement consider the three frames of Scan, Focus, and Act.

  • Scan being the exploration of information including the perspectives of others,
  • Focus adding lines of enquiry (questioning) to make sense of and add contextual meaning to information, and finally we
  • Act through selected directions and decisions.

These three frames may or may not be sequential and are often iterative. For example, gaining feedback on a course of action could tell us we need to Scan more or different information, and new information may drive a different Focus to inform our next action.

Within and across these frames consider how people process information and make decisions differently. For example, people have different needs along the spectrum of preference for introversion versus extroversion. By design, we can allow time for individual reflection and small group discussions (introversion preference) followed by large group discussions and presentations with open feedback (extraversion preference). Designing for differences in preference and perspectives enables you to maximise the contribution of the group.

Your structure can focus and limit the possibilities. Use it intentionally. For example, consider how different the response would be if you asked one group to list the technical requirements for a piece of infrastructure and you asked another to draw a concept for a new piece of infrastructure without any text, while both may ultimately come together, each evokes a different cognitive process which, at a minimum will drive a more rigorous outcome though could lead to more novel concepts that were not previously thought of.

How will we maintain participant attention?

As we move to remote and digital engagement we need to rethink attention.

Where previously we may have brought people together for 1, 2 or more day intensive workshops to explore and align on complex topics, maintaining that attention in a virtual room presents an opportunity to rethink how we maintain focus and effectiveness.

Those who are deeply accustomed to physical (co-located) workspaces often have different habits associated with virtual engagement than those more accustomed to remote work. In co-located workspaces we become accustomed to periodic transitions between work desks and meeting rooms, short walks for coffee or a meal, chance encounters in the corridor, many opportunities to mix up our patterns in ways that alter our energy and perspective through the course of a day. When we move from this type of environment to full remote working, it takes conscious effort to do anything other than sit at your device for the full day.

We discuss this further and provide ways to change the energy in Mix it up – change the structure, change the energy 4.

Many principles that apply to in-person engagement are no-less relevant in the digital world , such as:

  • The right people in the room – Remember a time you were invited to a meeting and less than 5-minutes in you were asking yourself “Why am I here?” Perhaps you had no interest in the topic, or perhaps you realised one of your colleagues not in attendance was far more appropriate. This can lead participants to disengage.
  • Everyone has a voice – Creating an environment where everyone can contribute is the key to effective facilitation. While some participants willingly offer their perspective, others are less inclined. Whether this is due to dynamics such as hierarchy, the social fear of speaking to a group or something else, your role as a facilitator is to invite contribution from everyone.
  • Everyone’s voice is valued – When people feel their contribution is heard and respected, even if it isn’t the million-dollar idea, they are more likely to be engaged in the process and to contribute further. Conversely, if there is any sense of judgment and criticism it can not only affect the person contributing to the idea but can discourage others from offering new ideas.

Mix it up – change the structure, change the energy

Consider how you can mix up the ways you interact to change the energy and focus for your engagement, some examples include:

  • Coffee table conversations – simply by encouraging a group to move to a comfortable chair and to kick back a little rather than sit up focused on their computers, you fundamentally change the energy. This can work where you have no need to work through specific content and would benefit from having a more open and casual conversation.
  • Walking meetings – these can create golden moments of connection because we’re in a different environment, we’re moving our body (creating different biochemistry) and we feel like we’re winning the exercise imperative even if we’re not winning the conversation. These can also be useful if you need to break up a session, for example, prime your participants ahead of time that they will need to be ready to go for a walk outside at some point in the session (appropriate clothing and footwear) with internet access on a smart-phone, then have a 20-minute allocation in your session where you send people to digital breakout rooms of 2-3 with 1-2 discussion questions and a prompt to take their discussion for a 20-minute walk around the block.
  • Energisers – you’ve seen them in a room, there’s no reason why they can’t happen online.
  • Breathwork – breathing exercises are well known for their ability to change our biochemistry and focus our attention. Consider spending 2-minutes guiding a breathing exercise with a group as you transition into a different thought space or require heightened focus.

Facilitation

Connection Tools & Tips

Home –– Field Guide –– Designing Better Engagements –– Designing The Experience