The art of using tools is choosing the most appropriate one and modifying it as needed to move a group toward its goals. Whether developing a manufacturing process or a shared vision statement, these exercises can be interwoven to create powerful interventions for a group:
Stimulate New Ideas * The Tool: Brainstorming Affinity Exercise
* The Goal: This exercise elicits a full suite of ideas around an issue, then distills them into common ideas that the group needs to define to move forward.
* How It Works: Initiate an open dialogue around the issue at hand. While talking, have each person capture his or her thoughts about the subject on Post-it notes, one concept per note. Post all the notes on a wall and instruct the group to have a "silent argument," sorting the notes into categories. They're allowed only to ask for clarification about what someone meant on a note, not to discuss its placement. If someone believes a note belongs one place and puts it there and someone else disagrees, he can move it; if a note finds itself moving back and forth between two groupings, make a copy for each. At the end, have everyone give a subject name to each grouping.
* Why It Works: This exercise appeals to the communication styles of different types of people, from creative people for whom ideas pop up quickly to those who tend to ruminate. It also supports the basic concept of brainstorming: Get the ideas out quickly without editing, and evaluate them later.
Map a Group's Mission * The Tool: Visual Communication Aids
* The Goal: Teams of people are engaged in creating a collective snapshot of where their organization is and where they want it to go.
* How It Works: The "Mission Mapping" tools of Larry Raymond of the Visual Language Research Center, Boulder, Colo., are one example of this approach. These kits contain stickers of everyday icons, everything from bridges and islands to dynamite. The group places these stickers on a flip-chart-size piece of paper to map out their business environments (departments, customers, unions, etc.) and the dynamics within them. For example: A winding road connecting two houses might be used to represent poor communications between divisions of a company.
* Why It Works: This tool lets people convey information in a nonthreatening way; the icons can be used to represent the undiscussables that exist in all organizations. By confining the results to a single sheet of paper, the group is forced to distill the details to the most important. This exercise also works because it engages everyone, gets them out of their seats, and is just plain fun. The map becomes a powerful communication tool that can be displayed in the office and shared with coworkers.
Envision the Future * Tool: Guided Imagery
* The Goal: Tap into the creative energies of team members by having them focus on their personal visions for the future of the organization. Post-imagery exercises can be used to move from an individual to a collective vision.
* How It Works: Make the room silent and invite people to close their eyes. Meditation can be used in advance to put everyone in a reflective state of mind. Use a script to guide people through phases to some successful point in the future without telling them how they will get there. Ask them to visualize exactly what they will do to get there, and how the successful future will look. What will they be doing differently? What might customers notice?
Next, the group captures their images on paper. Divide into pairs and have people share their visions with their partners; then move into groups of four to six, again sharing visions and capturing them on paper, this time in a couple of sentences to share with the entire group. Have them capture attributes of other people's visions that are consistent with their own--again using the one-idea-per-sticky-note rule. Use these to jump-start the brainstorming exercise and to create a common shared vision for the group. This tool can also be used to start a vision-mapping exercise, to create a visual representation of their future to share.
* Why It Works: By creating an environment without distractions and tightly focusing individuals' thoughts on the future, this exercise taps into the power of people's subconscious--the source of their most creative ideas.
Give Everyone a Voice * Tool: Check In, Check Out
* The Goal: Ensure that everyone's voice is heard at least twice a day.
* How It Works: This is modeled after the American Indian talking stick tradition, where everyone in the group has an opportunity to speak about whatever is on their minds without interruption. Depending on the tone of the room, you can pass around an object that indicates a person's turn to speak. Set a time limit of 30 seconds to five minutes. This gives everyone an opportunity to express their feelings about the work that's about to be done, or what might have occurred to them overnight, and gives them a chance to articulate thoughts they might not have been able to express during the day.
* Why It Works: This exercise is a great leveler. Often, strong personalities can dominate meetings, but at check-in and check-out, everyone's ideas have equal weight. It's simple, takes very little time, and is extremely powerful for group dynamics.