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I Asked a few Questions; Wisdom Appeared

Lessons Learned

Credit: Kathy Choh of Management HQ

As we develop NEWHAB, we’re using short cycles of doing followed by reflection to quickly try out strategies and either make them better or decide they aren’t the right ones for us. Six months ago, we started our second round of “work groups,” having learned from some struggles on the first set.

When I solicited co-conveners then, I shared a summary of expectations:

  • approximately monthly work sessions with work group members,
  • share agendas for work group calls prior to meetings,
  • share notes, relevant information, and deliverables from work group sessions,
  • identify specific outcomes or deliverables for the work group (shaped by co-conveners in partnership with the work group) in the first month,
  • in the sixth month, suggest possible next steps for the conveners who will follow you and sharing useful information with them.

At the end of the six months, to reinforce the importance of reflection and learning from experience, I also asked each pair of co-leads to do a short phone call with me. I had a short list of questions.

  1. What was the most useful thing I did to help set up your group?
  2. What is your most proud outcome?
  3. What have you learned? What tips would you share with future group co-conveners?
  4. What could we (the network supporters) have done differently to be more helpful?

The conversations were wonderfully rich — and offered bonuses beyond the learning (I’ll share more about those in a future post). There were four big themes that emerged in all the conversations.

  1. Ask strategic questions. That’s not the language they used — the example was, “When we asked ‘Who wants to X?’ that shut the conversation down, but when we asked, ‘What are you working on?’ that started a conversation.” This resonated with me, as it’s something I’ve been practicing with my coach, Beth Tener.
  2. Focus on talking about work rather than doing work. “Creating connections is a deliverable!”
  3. “Rein in your ambitions when you start.” All of the groups got stymied by wanting to deliver something bigger than their capacity allowed. Taking a break from white papers and reports to simply have breakfast together was what resulted in the biggest results. For me, that also means giving people permission to have small goals.
  4. Start off by making sure your group shares a purpose. That keeps people coming back, and focuses the conversations.

I’ll add a bonus theme of communication — with co-conveners, within small groups and between groups. It was critical to keeping groups on track, avoiding duplication, and finding back-up when life demanded all the organizing time.

Now, I’m taking these reflections (and others) to develop a tip sheet for the next group who will co-convene conversations. I’m also shifting the way I launch and support conversation groups. I’ve changed the name and have a better system for getting people signed up, I’ll host a group orientation/launch and we have a better suite of tools to make it easy.

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