Hopping Between Notetaking and Backchannel Conversations

One of the practices that is part of my daily routine in communities and teams which use phone calls for meetings, is to take notes in a chat environment. I am really good at capturing notes so I’m often one of the note takers. I find typing increases my attentiveness and listening. Otherwise I’m prone to multitasking (email, checking twitter, writing blog posts. Should I admit I started writing this post while on a telecon?)

What I’ve noticed is that I’ve started to use the chat as back channel for voicing my own input and thoughts. This is more like the “backchannel” used by techie communities, particularly during face to face events. It is another layer of conversation that enables more than one person to “talk” at the same time. It is also useful in web meetings. Back channel, of course, has it’s risks too — fractured attention and a channel for mocking etc — but it is different from the note taking practice. One is a record, the other is part of the conversation. One represents the voices of others, the other IS the voices.

When I mix the two, I start wondering, am I compromising the note taking with my comments and input? Or am I adding richness and voice to the proceedings? Am I strengthening the conversation by adding text input and not interrupting, or am I undermining the speaker? All these are possible. So how does this inform my choices in my practice?

This duality reminds me of this “two hatted” feeling I get when I am in a facilitator role. I often feel I am not fully devoting myself to facilitation if I put my participant hat on. When I do, I do it explicitly. I am wondering, should I do that when I shift in chat, or does that just add more noise to a fast flowing chat?

What do you think?

Photo by Salvor

Yes We Can – the role of emotion in system change

I tend to avoid political commentary in my blog. (Lots of reasons – I’ll not bother you with that at the moment.) But today I was pointed to a video about Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign that appears right now on Dipdive.com that is worth sharing. Oddly, it is not (yet?) embeddable video. It should be. (The http://www.yeswecan.com website itself is down for me a the moment.)

EDIT: 9:09 AM – here is the embeddable YouTube Version

What this video does is emotional motivation. It uses words and music – two very emotionally rich media – to convey a simple point of hope. The emotional state it can engender – if it resonates with you – prepares you for taking action.

When we think about facilitating change, we often focus on our logic. Our goals. Our tactics. What this video reminds me that we also need to attend to the emotional and emotive context of our change methods and plans. Read the note of will.i.am (of the Black Eyed Peas) the creator of the video, just below the video (also here on his blog). Read about why and how he acted. Who acted with him.

I think one reason I have been so captivated lately by graphic recording and facilitation is that images carry more than “the facts.” They trigger more than the logical and important “next step.” So does the music in this video.

will.i.am, thanks for the reminder. Yes, we can.

And, on a side note. I sense this video could be a sea change for the Obama campaign. “We are not divided as our politics suggests.” Oh, I hope so, regardless of the outcome.

yes, we can

Thinking about systems change practices – letting go

Change Mind MapThis is worth repeating and pondering…

I don’t think there are cheap tickets to system change. You have to work at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off paradigms. In the end, it seems that leverage has less to do with pushing levers than it does with disciplined thinking combined with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.

Donella Meadows from Places to Intervene in a System

In my line of work, the task is often defined as “help us hold an online event” or “teach us how to work together online.” But in reality, it is always about change. Changing practices or habits. Changing the entire environment within which we work, play and live. Changing our perspectives.

People often ask me to tell them my “success” stories and I tell them two things. One, they are never “my” successes and often we have learned more and more profoundly through early failures so that we would be ready and resiliant to find ways forward towards success.

Change can rarely be dictated nor predicted in a log frame or business plan. So when I saw the Donella Meadows quote, I went ‘yessss.’ Change is as much about letting go as anything else. Letting go of old habits and perspectives. She calls for “casting off paradigms.” Yes.

“…disciplined thinking combined with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.” Look at that lovely tension. Discipline, strategy, and profound, mad, letting go.

So next I thought about my habits and practices in system change that try and live up to Meadow’s lovely suggestion. I used an image from a session at last year’s International Forum for Visual Practitioner’s session on facilitating community change to jog my mind. Carl Otter has a lot of great experiences to share.

1. Know how to fall down – and GET up again. If I can role model learning through my mistakes, I make the environment safer for my collaborators, clients and colleagues to do the same thing. This does not mean disavowing what we know, but recognizing what we don’t know AND at the same time, not letting either of those things stop us from learning forward into the change. Humility and confidence. And a lot of letting go.

2. Always, always learnto ask better questions, particularly around strategic intent. I used to be great at questions that opened up possibility, but realized I had a lot to learn about questions that helped focus on the strategic intent of change initiatives. I am one of those odd people who loves change and I can lose sight of the goal. In my practice this means being disciplined about not letting someone talking me into doing something with or for them without asking those strategic questions, particularly when it comes to using new technologies and methods. We have a lot of delusions that changing tools means we are changing our systems. Not often the case. I’m still working on this skill of better questions. I think this is more about the disciplined thinking part of Meadow’s recommendation.

3. Find ways to visualize the system. I am pretty new to systems thinking, or thinking about the system rather than just the short term task. But I find we get overwhelmed with trying to get our heads wrapped around the whole system, so anything that helps us sketch and visualize the system helps us then think about how we want to change it. I’m working on the visual practices right now, as well as the thinking ones. This is just simply a practice.

4. Elicit stories. Stories help us make sense of things. They give us lines of sight into others’ perspectives and widen our view of the landscape. They take time. We often want to go fast. I’m learning to design moments for story telling and meaning making into my practice. As a result, there is often less time for benefiting from other traditional learning resources such as papers, etc. There is some tension here, but stories seem to be paying off. I’m still looking for the balance point in any particular context. The corollary is take time for reflection, both personally and as a group. This blog is my personal reflection tool.

5. Bring the players into the room. We have this false sense that we know what is going on, for example, “out in the field.” We often don’t. There is a lot of wisdom to tap and honor.

What are your system change practices?

As a side note – Nexus for Change II is coming up where a heap of people will be thinking about whole systems change, if this is a topic that interests you.

Hat tip to Lilia for the link to the Meadows quote. Thanks, sistah! And through a bit of kismet and timing, a related post on Michele Laurie’s blog.

Roger Schwarz on Email Attitude

Roger Schwarz sends out a periodic email called [Fundamental Change] to let folks know about his workshops and such, but always includes a juicy gift. This month he has a great piece on how to use his “Facilitative Leader” approach in email. As I read the good advice I thought that this applies to any online media. Even voicemails left via Skype. Thankfully, Roger also allows reprinting of his material if it is properly attributed. He even tells you how at the end of the email. That is another useful practice to spread your work virally. Thanks, Roger. So here it is, reproduced AND linked back to Roger. By the way, unsolicited plug, Roger’s books are on the “core, easy to reach” part of my bookshelf. The Skilled Facilitator is a must have if you are a facilitator.

Now the good stuff. Please note, this has a different copyright than the rest of my blog posts. Please honor Roger’s choices!

Changing Your Outlook on Email

“How can I use the Facilitative Leader approach in email?”

This is one of the most frequent questions I get from people who attend our workshops. Most of us spend time every day on email and, for some, it’s our main mode of business communication. The good news is that you can apply the same principles and techniques in email that you use in face to face and phone conversations. Here are some tips for making your email communication much more effective:

Explain your reasoning. Just as you explain your reasoning in a face to face conversation, you do it in email. As I was writing this paragraph I received an email from a colleague who asked, “Will you need me to teach in the March public Skilled Facilitator workshop?” She then explained (I’m paraphrasing), “I can’t find any information saying whether my participation has been confirmed. I have another client who wants me to work on these dates. My preference is to teach in the workshop; I’m not trying to get out of it.” By explaining why she was asking, my colleague gave me all the information I needed not only to answer her question, but to avoid making inferences about why she was asking. By sharing her reasoning for asking, I can now give her an answer that speaks directly to her needs. Take the extra sentence or two to explain your reasoning whether you’re asking a question, sharing a decision, or taking an action.

Share your views and ask genuine questions. When you send an email, don’t simply state your views; follow it by asking a genuine question to learn. Instead of simply writing, “I think we should have the meeting off-site so we don’t get people drifting in and out,” continue by writing something like, “What problems, if any, do you think this would create?” By getting curious and asking a genuine question, you increase the chance that when people respond, they will be addressing your question and you will be crafting a solution that takes into account the range of stakeholders needs.

Test your assumptions and inferences. We make the same assumptions and inferences in our emails as we do in our conversations. In both cases they get us in trouble, when we act on them when they are not true. The first step is to become aware of the assumptions and inferences you’re making. To do this, read through your email before you send it, carefully looking for assumptions and inferences you are making. For example:

“I think we absolutely need to resolve this issue for the client before next Tuesday. I’m setting this as the deadline because I’m assuming that we are still planning to meet with the client next Tuesday and I want the issue resolved before we meet with them. Is my assumption still correct?”

Name your feelings, don’t let people guess them.
One problem with email is that the reader can’t hear your tone of voice, see your facial expressions, or watch your other non-verbal behavior. That means that sometimes the reader can’t easily tell whether your comment “I think this project took a lot of your work and didn’t bear the fruit we expected” is one of compassion, frustration, or something else. It’s particularly frustrating when your intent was to be compassionate and the reader interprets your email you complaining or being annoyed. Don’t make someone guess; tell the reader what you’re feeling. Write something like,”I’m not frustrated with you about this, I’m concerned that others didn’t share information with you that would have helped you better navigate the project.” If you are frustrated, say that and explain why.

Stop typing, start dialing. We have so many text- based ways of miscommunicating with each other: BlackBerrys and other PDAs, Skyping, IMing, text messaging, and the standard laptop and desktop email. I’ve noticed that messages I send from my BlackBerry are shorter – and explain less – than messages I send from my laptop or desktop computer. It takes me a lot more effort to type on my small BlackBerry keyboard than on my laptop. I’ve noticed the same pattern for those who send me email. But some messages aren’t meant for email in any case. When you’re dealing with an issue that involves testing a number of assumptions, explaining much of your reasoning or asking others’ their reasoning, or talking about feelings, stop typing and pick up the phone. It’s much more interactive, so you can better explain your views and understand others – in less time than it would take to swap multiple emails.

Productive emailing,

–Roger Schwarz

Publication And Reprint Information

Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Roger Schwarz, Ph.D. Copyright © Roger Schwarz & Associates. 2008. All rights reserved.

I invite you to reprint material from Fundamental Change in other electronic or print publications provided this copyright notice (“Written and edited by [Author], copyright Roger Schwarz & Associates, [year]. All rights reserved.”) and a link to http://www.schwarzassociates.com/ is included in the credits. Please send a copy of the publication along with a note referencing the reprint.

“Fundamental Change” is a trademark of Roger Schwarz & Associates, Inc.

Conference Call Practices for Learning and Knowledge

My friends John Smith and Shawn Callahan have put together a great resource for communities of practice, teams and other groups who use teleconferences calls. Conference call practices to generate knowledge and record learning

True to form in our informal network, Caren amplifies, and we continue to build on our old history .

Pretty cool…