Tag Archives: facilitation

How learning to draw can make you better at solving problems


By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th August, 2015

Why learn to draw?

Minerve in the Languedoc - an artist's delight!

Minerve in the Languedoc – an artist’s delight!

I’m a Francophile: I read French novels, my current favourites being Fred Vargas’s series featuring the detective Adamsberg. I spend my summer holidays in the Languedoc in the South of France, soaking up the sunshine, delicious fruit and vegetables, dramatic landscapes and ad hoc conversations with the locals. I’ve even started up a French conversation group for our local U3A, which will be kicking off this September.

The latest Fred Vargas book “Temps Glaciaires” has many references to Adamsberg, the self-effacing, daydreaming ‘Commissaire’ of his Paris-based criminal investigation branch, using his drawings to help him work out the current mystery.

Adamsberg’s generally more logical and analytical colleagues either find him intensely frustrating or absolutely revere him. Needless to say the combination of their analytical and fact-finding skills, and his day-dreaming, doodling and pursuit of apparently irrelevant clues invariably enable them to solve their crimes.

Last summer I also began drawing, experiencing a week full of discoveries of my up till then relatively underdeveloped artistic skills. (Cubertou art holidays.) I decided to continue this personal journey this summer with Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the right side of the brain”. To my astonishment her book referenced the value that the added perceptions gained from drawing can bring to solving problems in business environments! I could not wait to discover more and whether, simultaneously, I might gain more insights into Vargas’s portrayal of Adamsberg.

L-mode and R-mode thinking

We already know that parts of the brain are good at analytical and logical thinking, and others at creative thinking. These used to be referred to as the left and right sides of the brain respectively, at least for right-handed people, and vice versa for left-handed people. The distinction is no longer believed to be so clear cut. Edwards, who has had the benefit of consulting with neuropsychologist, neurobiologist, and Nobel laureate Dr Roger W. Sherry, refers, for convenience, to L-mode and R-mode thinking.

Edwards asserts that learning to draw stimulates and develops R-mode thinking and so is as important to our overall intellectual development as verbal and analytical L-mode skills. Yet our education system tends to focus only on the latter. As a result, many of us have drawing skills that ceased development in our childhood or adolescence, when we became frustrated at not being able to create anything that ‘looked real’. Edwards, who has documented her workshops in editions of her book spanning three decades, believes she can teach even the least confident amongst us to draw. What I’ve learnt from her so far suggests that she is right!

The five basic skills of drawing

Edwards takes her students through five basic skills or perceptions of drawing, skills that I’m part-way through discovering.

Edges define the boundaries between the earth and the sky, the side of a nail on a finger. The contour of one is also the contour of the other, like the connections of jig-saw pieces.

Contour drawing (edges) of hand

Contour drawing (edges) of hand

Spaces. Focusing on the spaces in between or around shapes – ‘negative spaces’ – can help us to define and draw, almost effortlessly, the actual shape (‘positive space’) of things. This is the stage of development that I’ve got to so far and, as Edward promises, I’m already getting a real sense of enjoyment from my new skills!

Drawing of a bench using negative spaces - Lac de Ravieges, France

Drawing of a bench using negative spaces – Lac de Ravieges, France

Relationships are about perspective and proportion: perhaps one of the strongest examples of how R-mode perception can overcome the bias of L-mode thinking. One of the strengths of L-mode thinking is in being able to create ‘symbols’ to represent what we know. A sort of short-hand so that we don’t have to think about things from scratch each time. So we know for example that a cube is represented by squares and right angles. All the legs of a chair have the same length. And so on. But of course when we start to actually draw a cube, or the legs of a chair to create the 3-dimensional effect, what the R-mode perceives is something quite different.

The other two skills are perceptions of light and shadow, and perception of the ‘gestalt‘: being able to see the whole as well as the parts.

Drawing of a chair - edges, spaces, and preliminary attempt at relationships, light and shadow!

Drawing of a chair – edges, spaces, and preliminary attempt at relationships, light and shadow!

The relevance of drawing skills to problem solving

I’ve written a few blogs, listed in the notes below, on intuition and problem solving. Our abilities to follow sequential steps, spot patterns and to set up and test theories are powerful tools, but they can also cause us to be biased, to focus on positive evidence, and be reluctant to shift to a new paradigm of thinking.

Adamsberg’s colleagues, without giving too much away, become stuck in a paradigm whilst he keeps on doodling and giving his subconscious (an important R-mode ally) free play.

Edwards suggests that the skills of drawing can give us additional ways to visualise and perceive a problem, as illustrated for instance by one involving a client and a service provider.

The edges can help us to define, for example, whether what the client requires and what the provider supplies fit well together. They might also represent how the cultures or ways of working of the two converge, or diverge; and how closely the finances available and those required are reconciled.

Similarly, the shapes made by any gaps between desired outcomes and current inputs might naturally define how these gaps are to be addressed, and so on with the other three skills of drawing.

I must admit I will need to do some more practising with drawing and R-mode thinking to understand this application more fully.

The five stages of creativity – another L-mode and R-mode model for problem solving

Edwards introduces another model in her penultimate chapter: the five stages of creativity, evolved from the discoveries of Hermann von Helmholtz, Henri Poincare, Jacob Getzels and George Kneller. Edwards suggests that these five stages might benefit from shifts between the two modes of thinking as follows:

First Insight – R-mode leads the realisation that there is a problem to be addressed and what the nature of that problem is

Saturation – L-mode leads the research for all the facts and information that might support the resolution of the problem (this is the bit that Adamsberg’s team supports quite well)

Incubation – R-mode leads the wordless, sub-conscious process of mulling over the problem and how all the facts and information might fit (Adamsberg’s forte). Edwards teaches us ways to ‘turn off’ the L-mode of thinking to make space for the R-mode. It results in a very peaceful ‘being in the zone’ style of meditation that I experienced in last summer’s art holiday as well as whilst working on Edwards’ exercises. Dave Hall’s Idea Centre also has exercises that do this (as referenced in my previous blog Facilitation – some new ideas?).

Illumination – both modes come together in an ‘aha’ of finding the solution: for many the most exciting and enjoyable of the whole creative process

Verification – L-mode led, planning out how the solution to the problem will be put in place

Adamsberg and his team certainly exemplify this five stage approach and how their respective skills support this.

What next?

Is this an area that you have some insights about?

Do you draw? If not, might you consider learning?

Do you play a musical instrument and if so what is the impact of that on L-mode and R-mode thinking?

For my part, I will continue working through Edwards’s book: to build on the excitement of developing my drawing skills, and my exploration of how I can help my clients benefit more fully from my and their R-mode thinking. I know that Dave Hall’s creativity workshops, that I am continuing to attend, will have more to offer in this space too.

Notes…

Here are some of my previous blogs on intuition, left and right brain thinking, and referencing Gary Klein and Malcolm Gladwell, that you might like to look at:

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

Facilitation – some new ideas?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 21st May 2015

The Ideas Centre – a great resource for creative thinking

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of Dave Hall’s workshops from The Ideas Centre. Dave regularly holds off-site and in-house workshops where he introduces delegates to principles and tools to stimulate their creative thinking, and so enables them to find novel solutions for their problems, issues, challenges and opportunities.

I found the workshop tremendously insightful, not only to reflect on one of my own business questions, but also to challenge my thinking as a trainer and facilitator. (See also one of my previous blogs – Reflections of a team facilitator.)

Using Lego for solution development

Using Lego with The Ideas Centre for solution development

The picture above represents the ‘solution’ I found to my business question. I would strongly recommend one of Dave’s workshops to help you explore how you can use Lego and his other ‘tools’ for addressing your own challenges.

In the meantime, here are three things I discovered and will be exploring further in my work as a trainer and facilitator.

Facilitators should take an active role in idea generation

One of the challenges facilitators often have is finding the right balance between addressing the content as opposed to the process of what they are facilitating. Whilst Dave is adamant about there being a clear problem owner for idea generation, and this person never being the facilitator, he does allow the latter to be more actively engaged in the discussion than might traditionally be the case.

So, for example, the facilitator is the one that holds the pen in the discussion. He or she will actively ask questions both to clarify the problem, and to generate ideas. So far this is not too unconventional.

Where Dave introduces a different element is that the facilitator is also ‘allowed’ to make suggestions that will help to shape the problem owner’s thinking. This is true whether the facilitator knows something about the subject area or not. In fact the problem owner will benefit from as much input as possible, and so the facilitator should definitely support this too.

At the end of the day though, the problem owner will be the one to select the final solution, and the facilitator has a key responsibility to enable the process for getting to that point.

Naive participants are invaluable for idea generation

Break-out groups are a core element of my work as a trainer and as a facilitator. They give participants the opportunity to explore new principles and tools in more depth, and to apply them to their own issues and challenges.

I have typically (up to now) encouraged participants in break-out groups, in both my off-site and on-site workshops, to work with people who are doing something similar to them, so that they can add their expertise to that of the problem owner’s. In fact some delegates have expressed anxiety when they have not felt sufficiently knowledgeable about the area being explored.

However, such content ‘naivety’ is, according to Dave, to be actively encouraged. Participants who are not familiar with the subject area are more likely to challenge assumptions, and to bring in novel ideas which, whether useful or not, will encourage the more divergent thinking that is critical to innovation.

This is something that I had previously only been subconsciously aware of.  Now I will make more active use of ‘naïve’ participants, whilst also ensuring that the problem owner has other subject matter experts to support him or her.

Emotions will support rather than hinder innovation

My courses on management skills, and on Lean and Six Sigma typically include sessions on continuous improvement. As Dave rightly pointed out, there is something of a gap between this kind of incremental innovation, which is obviously still useful and important, and breakthrough innovation. In fact delegates at my workshops sometimes want opportunities for more blue-sky thinking and, I do look for ways to enable that too.

However one principle that Lean and Six Sigma techniques strongly uphold is the fundamental importance of facts and data. Subjective or emotional problem statements such as ‘this process is taking far too long’ are strongly discouraged, and instead must be written for example as ‘this process is taking 2 hours longer than it should’. This then sets the scene for exploring all the root causes for the problem.

The Ideas Centre has its own methodology for articulating problems that paves the way for generating solutions, but what is particularly novel is how they encourage the problem owner to use emotional language. The impact in the workshop was startling. What was otherwise a dry and somewhat boring statement turned into something that grabbed everyone’s attention and committed them to finding a solution.

Using more emotional problem statements is definitely something I will be experimenting with when a client is willing to explore something other than the more purist approach to Lean and Six Sigma.

My courses also address how to manage change, where winning hearts as well as minds is such a critical factor for success. I will be experimenting with the use of emotional problem statements in this context too.

Notes

You can find out more about The Ideas Centre from their website.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the recently renamed Methods and Standards theme for the Enabling Change SIG.

 

De Bono’s thinking course. An essential facilitator’s tool?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th January 2015

Edward De Bono’s thinking course

One of the aspects of my local library that I particularly enjoy is the way I might serendipitously discover a gem of a book that the staff have either casually or deliberately put on display. One such recent discovery was Edward De Bono’s “Thinking Course: Powerful tools to transform your thinking

De Bono’s book caught my eye because the methods I’ve already learnt from him: mind mapping, and the “six thinking hats” have become an integral part of the way I work, and the tools that I pass on to others as a trainer and coach, and also as a facilitator. So I was curious as to what other lasting approaches I might learn from him in that vein.

The book proved to be a veritable treasure trove and I was delighted to discover that the term for another skill that I’ve enjoyed for years “lateral thinking” is actually one that he coined!

Facilitating workshops

One of the activities I particularly enjoy is facilitating workshops. This is when I create an environment where people have the time, the comfort, and the tools to really think about how they are approaching their work, and how they can do so in a more enjoyable and productive way.

De Bono’s “Thinking Course” is all about developing our skill in thinking, so that we are more conscious of which approaches we are using, how we are using them, and how we could use them more effectively in any given situation. As he says, it’s a bit like practising a sport where we might have a choice about which golf club, tennis stroke, or volleyball position to adopt to achieve the desired result.

The six thinking hats

De Bono’s “six thinking hats” (which incidentally is not mentioned, at least in the edition of the book that I read) is a good illustration of this more deliberate approach to thinking. It is somewhat of an introduction, and also a synopsis of some of the approaches in the Thinking Course, although the book also develops these approaches and others more fully.

Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats as they might be used

Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats as they might be used

The “six thinking hats” encourage us to objectively consider what we already know (the white hat) and to exercise creative or divergent thinking to come up with new ideas (the green hat). With the yellow hat we look for the strengths of potential solutions, before narrowing down or converging the options by considering what won’t work (the black hat).  The red hat allows us to  consider our ‘gut feelings’. The sixth, blue, hat is like the director of the orchestra or the facilitator. It enables us to consider how we are thinking and whether we might like to think things through further or differently.

Become a flexible and creative thinker

In “The thinking course” De Bono encourages us to move beyond the traditional ‘for’ and ‘against’ confines of critical thinking, and the natural limitations of our perceptions and to engage our creativity. He provides lots of tools and exercises for approaches in addition to ‘lateral’ thinking. He suggests a framework for how people might set up “thinking clubs”, which is intriguing in his assertion of how much people can achieve in sequences of as little as 2-6 minutes of thinking.

The more creative and flexible thinking advocated by De Bono, and the techniques he suggests should be invaluable for problem solving, decision making, innovation, and thinking in general. I will certainly be adding them to my facilitator’s tool kit.

How could you make the most of your thinking?

Are you a facilitator and/or interested in how you and your team solve problems, make decisions and innovate?  What approach do you take to thinking things through?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

Empathy – the magical leadership ingredient?


Empathy can make a difference in every situation that we find ourselves in as leaders or managers

I recently read Geoff Crane‘s chapter 55 ‘Empathy in Project Management’ in the ‘Gower Handbook of People in Project Management‘. It’s a very large book, with a wealth of fascinating information, so I’m dipping into it a chapter at a time, and giving myself time to reflect on each one.

I really enjoyed Geoff’s chapter, and believe our ability to be empathetic can make a difference not only in Project Management, but in every leadership or people management role that we may have.

As Geoff explains in his chapter, empathy is different from sympathy in that the ‘listener’ not only acknowledges another person’s (the ‘speaker’s’) emotions but actually connects with them by ‘vicariously experiencing’ their feelings, seeing things through their eyes, or ‘getting into their shoes’.  Empathy requires active listening, picking up things that the other person may not even be saying.

Active listening?

Geoff shares a ‘behavioural change stairway model’ adapted from Vecchi et al.(1)  In it he shows that whilst active listening is a precursor of empathy, empathy in turn leads to rapport and so influence and the ability to effect behavioural change.

So, whilst empathy required us to emotionally connect with the other person, we still need to retain our own sense of self, and this is what enables us, as leaders, to then take some appropriate action to influence the ‘speaker’ to achieve a desired outcome.

This is what I have been reflecting about since I read Geoff’s chapter.

The role of empathy in project and line management

When we are responsible for a project, or for a team, should we be task or people focused?  The answer is both.  But whilst we can delegate aspects of the task management to members of our team, ultimately, the responsibility for the people within the team rests with the manager.  If we don’t recognise and respond to the needs of the individuals within the team, and to the dynamics between them, then we will never achieve a high performing team, or see each individual performing to their full potential.

Some people may think this is ‘too touchy feely’, and that we are all independent grown-ups without the need for ‘molly coddling’, but what is the reality of what happens in teams?  Aren’t the emotions visibly there (or thinly disguised) on a day-to-day basis? So as team leaders, wouldn’t we do better to acknowledge that and work with the emotions rather than ignore them?

(By the way the next chapter I read will probably be number 53, Deanne Earle’s on ‘Emotional Intelligence in Project Management’.  Geoff Crane has put up pictures of all us contributing authors and the themes of our chapters on his website – The Papercut Project Manager.  I also wrote a short blog referencing my chapter on Team Development.)

Empathy in change Management

Our APM Enabling Change SIG committee are currently working on a glossary of terms associated with Change Management.  We’re having a bit of a debate around the definition of ‘resistance’ in Change Management.  Is it a barrier to be overcome, as is commonly described by Change Management practitioners?  Or is it something that, in our role as leaders, we should be helping to surface and understand, so that we can respond to what we learn about the ‘speaker’ and use this not only to influence the ‘speaker’ but also to improve on our Change Management plans?  Isn’t that empathy truly at play?  I take the latter approach in my book ‘The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook’.

A further thought: change agents recognise the importance of communicating the benefits of change, and of doing it in the context of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).  There is surely an emotional context to that which requires change agents to empathise with – hence the value of asking such questions as: “If this change was successful for you, what would that look, feel or sound like?”

Empathy makes for better facilitation too!

A recent client very kindly said that he uses me as a facilitator because I understand his organisation and the people within it.  We know that the most effective facilitators disconnect from the content of workshops and discussions that we facilitate, and focus instead on providing the right tools and guiding the dynamics of what’s happening.  We need to tune into the emotions involved, and judge when and how to intervene to help the participants achieve their overall goals.

Empathy also helps us to be effective trainers, mentors and coaches

A friend of ours recently died from cancer.  For a short while he’d taught my daughter to improve her guitar playing.  At his funeral service another student talked about how special our friend had been in effectively being able to empathise with his students and help them to achieve whatever it was that they needed – and it wasn’t just about learning to play the instrument – it was about wider aspects of their lives.  I recognised what he was saying from how I’d seen and heard him work with my daughter.

Isn’t empathy what distinguishes a skillful trainer, mentor or coach from a mediocre one?  Which of your teachers do you remember best?  Was it empathy that distinguished them from the others?

(I wrote more broadly about the qualities of trainers, mentors and coaches, in my RiverRhee Newsletters on the ‘coaching continuum‘.)

With empathy we as leaders can give the people that we work with some of the most valuable gifts in life: the time, the space, and ultimately the skills, to achieve what will help them to be successful as ’empowered’ individuals and as members of our teams.  Doesn’t that make empathy a magical leadership ingredient?

Notes

  1. Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J. (2005).  ‘Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution’, Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10, 533-51.

Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer,  facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also a Growth Coach with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.

Reflections of a team facilitator


By Elisabeth Goodman

HAVING FUN WITH PINTEREST

Summer is a wonderful time to reflect and play with new ideas.  I’ve been having a lovely time exploring Pinterest for new insights to inspire the teams I work with in workshops.

Reflections

Pinterest has only been going since 2010 and although it already has more than 70 million users it is still not widely used by people in my community, so I was surprised at how much I have started to find in the way of pictures, annotated diagrams, mindmaps, and increasingly popular infographics to inspire and illustrate some of the ideas that I use for facilitation.

If you would like to follow me on my journey of exploration, please see my “Inspiring Learning” board.

But is Pinterest’s use of visuals for everyone?  One of the posts I found is a mindmap stating that we all think in pictures.  And yet the NLP (NeuroLinguisticProgramming) representational styles are all about our different ways of representing and communicating information, suggesting that some of us prefer auditory, and others kinaesthetic (touch or feel) or auditory digital (‘self-talk’) representations.

Pinterest does include YouTube videos and audio files such as on this “youtube tips and tricks” board, but will that be enough to appeal to those whose preferred representational style is other than visual?  Pinterest statistics suggest that female users outnumber men by 4 to 1.  Perhaps we could get a demographic study by NLP representational styles?

Facilitating teams to help them achieve high performance

My colleagues and I have been facilitating a lot of team workshops – in fact that is at the heart of RiverRhee Consulting’s work for enhancing team effectiveness.  The goals and approaches that we use have been evolving as our clients ask different things of us, and as we’ve been developing our own expertise in the options available for helping teams to achieve high performance.

Team members benefit from additional insights on their own and others’ personalities.

Whether the team is relatively new, or has been around for a while, there is no doubt that gaining additional insights on people’s strengths and preferred ways of behaving will enhance relationships and build a stronger team.

A 1-hour icebreaker around the NLP representational styles, or a more in-depth 2-hour exercise based on MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) can be powerful ways to kick off ½-day, 1 day or longer workshops.  The overall event might be focused on team building, managing change or overall team effectiveness.

People enjoy finding out new things about themselves and those they work with, and take away insights that they continue to reflect upon and add depth to as they apply them not only at work, but also in their everyday life.

The importance of articulating the strategic context: vision, purpose and goals

Certainty and control: these are the two key enabling factors that team members identify when asked what would help them move more positively through their personal journey of change.  Understanding the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ – the strategic context of their work – gives them certainty about what will happen and clarity about what they can control or at least be involved with going forward.

Encouraging senior and line and managers to articulate their strategic goals in terms of key messages grounds them in the practical reality of what they want to achieve.

Sharing these key messages face-to-face with team members also makes the managers more approachable and opens up opportunities for dialogue.

I’m excited by how working with managers on their strategy is becoming an increasing component of my role as a coach and team facilitator, both independently and with the government sponsored GrowthAccelerator initiative for SMEs.

Facilitating discussions for improving team working

Managers often wish that members would take more of an active role in improving how the team works.  The answer is to give them the opportunity to have their say, and to then shape the way forward.  A pre-workshop diagnostic on the different aspects of team working, as described in “Team development, pre-requisites for success and temperature checks” can be very powerful for surfacing what’s going well, and what could be improved, especially with an outside facilitator collating the results anonymously into key themes.

It then takes only a little encouragement in a constructive workshop environment for team members to identify the priorities to focus on, along with suggested next steps and the roles they can play to address them.

Finding ways to make more of your team’s time and resources

Leaders and managers often approach us because they are looking for new ideas to address the nitty-gritty of how the team goes about its day-to-day work.

Their impetus may be a realisation that they need to do things differently in order to take on all the new things that their strategic goals entail.

There’s been a recent flurry of discussion in the APM LinkedIn group about the value or otherwise of Six Sigma and its focus on processes.  We use principles and tools taken from Lean as well as Six Sigma in our work with teams.  The opportunities these give for an open, constructive and fact-based discussion on how the team goes about its business has proved invaluable.  Contrary to what some protagonists claim, there is lots of scope for creativity, not only in the form of incremental improvements, but also for breakthrough innovation.  And yes, these workshops do make use of visual tools too!

More reflections to come

I’ll be continuing my explorations of Pinterest to expand my facilitator’s tool-kit.  I’m also looking forward to becoming qualified in MBTI Step II during the summer, so that I can further enhance team members’ insights into their own and others’ strengths.  Meanwhile, if you missed RiverRhee Consulting’s summer newsletter, and would like more food for thought, why not take a look at “Summer and the 3 Cs” now.

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is the owner and Principal Consultant of RiverRhee Consulting and a trainer, facilitator, one-to-one coach, speaker and writer, with a passion for and a proven track record in improving team performance and leading business change projects on a local or global basis. 

Elisabeth is an expert in knowledge management, and is accredited in change management, Lean Six Sigma and MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  She has a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Information Science, is a full member of the Chartered Institute of Information and Library Professionals (CILIP) and of the Association for Project Management (APM) and is also a Growth Coach with the GrowthAccelerator.

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ Pharma R&D experience as a line manager and internal trainer / consultant, most recently at GSK and its legacy companies, and is now enjoying working with a number of SMEs and larger organisations around the Cambridge cluster as well as further afield in the UK and in Europe.

Using consultants with purpose


Jokes about consultants abound, and, like all good jokes, the experience that provoked them is not hard to discern.  An excellent one-liner, quoted by Parcell and Collison in their book ‘No more consultants’1 is: “Consultants ask to borrow your watch to tell you the time, and then walk off with your watch!”2

As you would expect from a book written by consultants, despite the title, there is still a role for consultants, but the message is to use them with a clear purpose: when they can deliver real value that cannot be obtained in any other way.

A second message, reflected by most of the book’s content, is to focus on using and building internal capability, to increase an organisation’s self-sufficiency, and reduce its reliance on consultants.

As the owner of a business consultancy myself, RiverRhee Consulting3, this was a book that I had to read, and one whose two key messages I absolutely agree with.

First identify the issue

Although the authors don’t spend a lot of time on this point, it is something that organisations can struggle with.  I have helped clients to articulate their issue before even undertaking a piece of work with them.

This can result in them deciding that the issue is not as great, or of as high a priority as they thought, or that they can resolve it internally without the aid of a consultant after all.  In the long run such outcomes must be a good thing: leading to better use of an organisation’s time and money, and greater credibility of consultants.

When clients decide that the issue does still need the help of a consultant, they can then use the consultant more purposefully, with more clearly defined goals against which to monitor the progress and success of the resulting work.

Then assemble the internal expertise to analyse the issue

Parcell and Collison strongly advocate a workshop-based approach to addressing issues, with participants being closely associated with the work under review.  Not only will these people be the most knowledgeable about the issue and the opportunities for addressing it, but they will then be more likely to own and take a vested interest in implementing the solution.

This workshop-based approach and the close involvement of the people affected by an issue and its solutions, are at the core of effective process improvement techniques (such as Lean and Six Sigma) and business change management.

Again the role of the consultant in this situation needs to be assessed and, if used, clearly articulated.  It’s possible that the consultant is bringing some additional subject expertise, but only if this is lacking internally and cannot be found through some other form of external collaboration.   It’s more likely that the consultant is providing project management, methodologies that the internal team is not familiar with, or facilitation.

Build the internal capability

This is the piece that Parcell and Collison devote the most of their book to: how the internal team, and any external people involved, can define and build the competencies and knowledge needed to resolve this issue on a long-term basis.  They describe in more detail their “River Diagram” and “Stairs Diagram” knowledge sharing tools that they introduced in their previous book ‘Learning to Fly’.  They give poignant examples of how these approaches have been implemented all around the world.

Building internal capability is essential for embedding and sustaining any process improvement or business change activity.  A consultant could facilitate the definition and provide training in the development of capabilities, but an internal HR advisor might be able to do this, or the members of the team might be able to drive this themselves.

Implement and sustain the solution

This is often the point at which consultants leave their clients to struggle on their own, and it’s often the most difficult and time-consuming part of the whole process.  Parcell and Collison don’t say a lot about it, but they do suggest that a consultant could help if the team does not know how to go about this, or is short of resources.

Again, a good consultant will be working to mutually agreed, and clearly defined goals against which the progress and ultimate success of the work can be monitored.

A good consultant will help you to address the fundamental issue of why you were not able to read your watch yourself!

By working with you purposefully, a good consultant, rather than borrowing your watch to tell you the time, will help you to read it yourself, fix it, have your eye-sight checked, or swap it for a wall clock depending on the correct interpretation of the original issue that you initially approached them about!

Most importantly, a good consultant will leave you with a more effective team: one more capable of tackling future issues that arise, and better able to judge if and how to use a consultant again, with purpose.

Notes

  1. Geoff Parcell and Chris Collison.  No More Consultants.  We know more than we think.  John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2009
  2. Robert C. Townsend – author of: Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits (J-B Warren Bennis Series), Jossey Bass; Commemorative Edition edition (1 Jun 2007)
  3. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.
  4. Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell.  Learning to Fly.  Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organisations.  John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2nd edition, 2004.