Don’t retreat, embrace the future

A company conference versus a company unconference. An intern’s take on a future friendly workshop retreat.

Author: Malin Ekman, Intern — Future Friendly

So, my previous experiences of a company conference is basically that you go somewhere expensive, listen to a bunch of carefully chosen employees (or an overpriced external “know-it-all” kind of speaker) lecture on how your company used to work, how the company works today and how you, for the benefit of the company, should work in the future. If you’re lucky it may involve some kind of team building or similar get-to-know each other activity, such as collectively paint a painting by only using your left hand. But more often the conference is just an excuse for companies to go away, keep their staff loyal, get drunk and being able to write it off as a company expense. I’m exaggerating of course, but they are kind of predictable.

After spending a week at Future Friendly, hearing all about the importance of finding solutions by working collaboratively and how through adaptive planning and flexible response to change, find value in the process rather than to merely focus on the outcome — I was stoked to be able to join the team for a weekend in the Blue Mountains. Where they going to practice as they preached? The purpose of the weekend was to workshop Future Friendly’s future, figure out the higher mission, the core values and Future Friendly’s take on Service Design. All whilst exploring the wilderness of our minds with activities such as make fires and plant tomatoes. This may sound like the typical corporate conference I just ridiculed, only wrapped-up in more pleasant words — but I promise you, it really wasn’t.

We arrived at the little town Bilpin late a Thursday night, ready to challenge our way of thinking while surrounded by acres of vast highlands and eucalyptus trees. This weekend was all about finding the heart of Future Friendly through a series of group sessions with strange names like “Fish Bowl”. The team set the agenda based on outcomes, but anyone who wanted to facilitate a session that contributed to an outcome could claim the space and choose the way of facilitating it. We ended up with a range of different sessions, all of them participant-driven.

I’m not going to dig deep into every single session, but there were overall patterns. Each started with ideas and personal position on topics, which later were collated into the shared company vision and ended with actionable tasks for making these things happen. A step-by-step journey that added value and variation to the topics, by not going straight to a predetermined destination but by letting the route change its course along the way. What I found from all the different sessions, even though the topics shifted, was that they all touched upon enabling change and to help good companies adapt and scale to create a better future.

By including interactive and creative exercises, we were allowing the discussions to be processed from different angles and the matters to result in new conclusions and outcomes.

Another session was all about figuring out which companies Future Friendly should target. To be able to do that we had to work out which sectors we wanted to approach by listing potential ones and collectively grading them after the following questions partly focusing on change:

Does the sector need to change? 
Is the sector ready to change? 
Do we have a special advantage? 
Is there an immediate opportunity for us?

By doing the work in this kind of order we got results we probably wouldn’t have attained by just brainstorming this topic. The most interesting sector to approach, based on these important insights, may not have been the same sector we first thought would be the most beneficial for the company.

At one point during the weekend I got my proof on how Future Friendly cooperates. One person started to change the structure of a roadmap the group had just created. Another participant told him to stop with the explanation that he, by changing the structure himself, had taken ownership of the work we had accomplished together. Without consulting the rest of the group, this kind of interference may cause confusion unto the other participants or make them lose interest. This small episode, however trivial it may seem, in my opinion shows that Future Friendly really do practice what they preach by valuing all parties opinions and by making the most through collaborative work.

In summary, A company is only as good as its employees. Co-design is all about actively involving all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure the result meets the client’s needs and to make sure that the design is usable. In my personal opinion, this mindset could be applicable not only for design, but to all kind of client work and for internal agency workshops in particular. The fact that I, a new hired intern, got to participate in the sessions, my opinion and input being valued, proves that Future Friendly involves everyone. I would choose interactive workshops a head of the typical speaker + audience kind of conference any day.

Communication is key so we need to make sure every voice is heard and valued, and the more interactive an exercise is, the better and diverse you will find the outcome. On Sunday I left the Bilpin retreat filled with impressions, inspiration and ideas. The group had accomplished great things, we found purpose, we found value and we now know Future Friendly’s mission. The most important part; we came to these conclusions together. An individualised world is a uniform place. Together, we can create change.


Only go as fast as the slowest person / One conversation at a time / Switch off devices / Get involved / Idea or blocks — write it down and put it on the wall / Smile

This article is written for Future Friendly.

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