“Want great ideas? Leave your people alone.”

I just returned after completing a two-day workshop for a client. Here are a few points from the closing comments shared by my client and some of the participants.

Client 1: “I thought that my product category is so a boring, people will have nothing to say. I am amazed at what they have done.”

Client 2: “Frankly some of the ideas we have decided to go ahead with, are the very same ones we would have normally rejected outright. However, today they seem exciting and possible.”

Participant 1: “I like the way we worked. Our ideas seemed to matter. We listened to each other to understand how we could build and collaborate.”

Participant 2: “I am glad that we did not allow debates and discussions in the beginning. It saved so much time.”

“What is this – a plug for your workshop, or your blog?” Prasna Rao** came in with his wry comment.

“Prasna, are you always so cynical?”

“I ask the questions remember?”

“OK, I recounted these comments because they were fresh in my mind. Let me continue.”

I listened to the various views that people expressed after the workshop. As I listened to them, it was evident that the climate of the workshop had indeed made a huge difference to the output.

There were three key players in the workshop. My client had asked for ideas to crack a major business issue. We had carefully put together a set of participants – our advisors. I was the facilitator. My role was to manage the climate that was relaxed, supportive and encouraging. People were happy and comfortable. Even the client displayed no tension or stress.

I ensured that the climate was not threatening or aggressive. Instead, everyone listened to each other, looked for value in every idea and had no inhibition with experimenting with new ideas.

My client was outstanding. Once he finished stating his task, he declared he was just another participant and let his hair down. He participated whole-heartedly in every step of the process and was present throughout the two-day workshop. He read every idea sheet (a little over 1000 ideas) looking for value.

“So what do you think worked?” I asked my client, as we were walking towards his car.

“You really want to know?”

“Yes, of course.”

“It is I who made all the difference.”

I was not sure what he was leading up to, so I kept listening.

“First, let me say this. The role you played is significant. However, that is what we expect from a good facilitator. The participants gave good ideas. That too is not a surprise, because they are all very smart people. I did the unexpected thing.”

“Go on, I am curious.”

“I did not play boss, I played team member instead. More importantly, once I defined the task I demonstrated complete faith in their ability to find an interesting solution. For the first time they have seen me listen with so much interest, support and encouragement. For the first time I left them alone. That is what worked!”

**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms.  You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach


Picture by dr_vaibhavahuja  available under a Creative Commons Attribution- licensed for commercial use.

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