Thoughts on Buy-in [or how to be collaborative before the collaboration begins]

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Sketch-notes by author. Excerpted from Facilitating Collaboration, Brandon Klein and Dan Newman.

Recently, I’ve started a Facilitation Community of Practice for museum professionals. With remote work, we needed to vastly/rapidly improve our work in a virtual domain. We can’t let our low literacy of virtual work practices detrimentally affect our relationships or projects. Enter Liberating Structures. A way to structure conversations that leaves everyone energized, engaged and uplifted. The reason is pretty simple, at its core, our individual time is respected and their voices are heard. In small conversations, we can all feel comfortable to participate. With a clear purpose in mind and time for self-reflection, we can all collect our thoughts and feel prepared to contribute. Liberating Structures is a game-changer for results and it’s deeply compassionate. I have been using Liberating Structures for a few months and I found that the best way to practice is by doing. To do though, gotta have other people. I wrote up a brief list of suggestions for how to sell new working tools. By no means comprehensive, I offer it to you and I’m all ears about your best tips for buy-in.

1. Consider inviting someone else to facilitate the session so that you and everyone who is a stakeholder can participate. Facilitation is received better when it is perceived to be impartial. This is one of the benefits that consultants get coming into an organization and internally we can do this by inviting colleagues not on our projects to facilitate so we can participate .

2. Don’t ever plan to use a collaborative structure or define an agenda without including your collaborators. Propose an activity that might support progress and describe how. Craft the invitation (that framing question we used in each structure) with them or at least have a short discussion (days before!) to confirm that it’s the right fit. You wouldn’t throw a surprise party for a friend and neglect to tell the other guests! Same communication applies here.

3. How this goes is not a reflection on you. Facilitation is all about communication and that’s a lifelong practice. If something isn’t working, a facilitator can respond in two ways: pivot in the moment to something new or remind participants that this is time bound and to remain engaged even though it is uncomfortable. Ask them to trust you and promise that there will be an opportunity to explain what didn’t work for them afterwards.

4. If you feel like you have to ask permission and that’s making you nervous, maybe you haven’t found the right structure. If you are results-oriented then the results will be relevant, know that. You don’t need to apologize for trying something new — especially when you are part of the project, team, or process.

5. When I mentioned that every voice is heard, I meant to add every voice in the room. Closing the door to some participation can create healthy parameters and conditions for intimacy. Everyone does not mean everyone in your organization or that every team member participates in every single decision. Who is invited is just as important prep as crafting the session itself.

5. What’s helped build my confidence and knowledge is practicing with others. And hearing their experiences with the structures. Let’s do that for each other. Find a group of like-minded people, make a Community of Practice. Or join ours.

6. Lastly, organizations/environments that have tiered decision-making need artifacts or documentation. How do we turn our insights from these structures into documentation that steps us forward? In-person we would have post-its, whiteboards, large visual aids. In a virtual context, we have to use scale-less tools like virtual whiteboards and google docs, etc. And then, we need to actually build from our outcomes. If we don’t use the results, we can inadvertently undermine the feeling of success that the structures leave us with. What was previously was energizing, can become conventional post-facto. Let’s keep talking about how to spring forward from one LS string to the next, using them like building blocks, not just sculpture.

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