Facilitator Unconference 2017 with Design at Business

Deepa Iyer (SAP) and I (IBM) wanted to bring design facilitators in large organizations together for a few days to meet, exchange ideas, and make something together. So the Design at Business Facilitation Unconference was born.

Origin Story

It started with a conversation about running a coach camp in the United States, modeled on what Design at Business (DatB) had done in Germany over the summer of 2017. That week had been a “traditional” coach training where a group of new-ish facilitators practiced leading a workshop under the supervision of more experienced facilitators. We suspected there might be a similar desire for a coach training in America.

Deepa sent out an email to the America Design at Business (DatB) email list asking if anyone was interested in a coach camp. We pre-committed to this experiment by saying we’d move forward with the coach camp if 10–15 people responded affirmatively. We thought the program would run well with 20–25 people in total. We received about 15 responses and we invited all of these people to a one hour remote workshop to discover what people were interested in learning about.

Results of two one hour meetings to set topics for the Unconference

During this prep, we quickly discovered that our participants weren’t who we thought they were (new-ish facilitators.) Our guess was that people would want to learn the ins and outs of running a workshop. But it turned out the people who responded to the email and came to the prep workshop were already highly skilled facilitators. They were more keen on discussing the culture side of design transformation.

That led us to think everyone would profit more from an Unconference than a coach camp. The Unconference concept is to treat the conference participants as experts who teach and learn from each other. As much as possible we wanted participants engaged with the material that the presenter was discussing. And the presenters were drawn from the ranks of the participants!

Next we asked what would make this Unconference indispensable. What topics would they be most interested in talking and learning about? We then took those topics and arranged them into a rough agenda.

The guiding principle for the agenda was making over listening. People tend to learn better when they are engaged and actively doing something.

Last were some logistic pieces. Deepa at SAP arranged a space for us in the SAP offices. IBM and JetBlue contributed lunch for day 1 and day 2. Then we all arranged our flights and hotels and the Unconference was on!

Agenda going into the Unconference

A few last questions about running an Unconference

We had a few outstanding questions going into the Unconference.

1) Whether we would all work together in one single group or split into separate groups and work in parallel?

Answer: people overwhelmingly wanted to work in a single group. This was driven by a desire to “see everything.”

2) If people would want to spend the morning in conversation and the afternoon making?

Answer: we ended up predominantly alternating between high intensity making sessions and low intensity conversations.

3) Whether the participants would still want to cover topics we had decided on during our pre-workshops?

Answer: by and large we stuck to the agenda that we had pre-planned because of the applicable nature of the topics. A few topics we lost due to timing — there was interest in covering them but not the time to get to them. That’s in large part because I had expected people would want to split into smaller groups to cover the topics that most interested them (see assumption #1 above!)

Unconference conclusion

I found the Unconference to be an exciting, eventful, and educational experience. We covered a wide variety of topics at remarkable depth, particularly given the short amount of time we spent together. It was wonderful meeting so many talented and interesting people from a wide variety of backgrounds, roles, and organizations.

At the end of the of the Unconference each participant set one or two commitments for what they wanted to take back to their organization and their personal practice.

We also decided to pursue two separate activities as a group. The first is to host, as a group, a cross-organization facilitator training. This training will be run by Nestle and staffed by facilitators from many different teams. The second is to host another Design at Business Facilitation Unconference in 2018!

Thanks again to all participants and your organizations: the Federal Government, Fidelity, IBM, JetBlue, Johnson and Johnson, NCR, Nestle, Optum, SAP, and Wells Fargo.

Interested in joining the next Facilitator Unconference or other Design at Business events? Visit the Design at Business website to check for upcoming workshops and trainings and to sign up for the newsletter.

All of the topics!

We covered a lot of different topics during the Unconference. Here are the agendas and artifacts from day 1 and day 2.

Agendas for Days 1 & 2

During the Unconference, after each presentation, we collected feedback on the topic and the presentation. And on the 3rd/last day, we split up and drafted summaries of each topic/presentation. Below you will find both the summary and the feedback for each topic area we covered.

Improv for a creative mindset

See www.build.me/teachdesign for many more improv exercises, along with facilitator notes.

Scale my learning journey

Marissa presenting

Semantic zoom (synthesis tool)

Remote facilitation

4 step story guide

Rituals and culture change

Onboarding workshop sponsors and prepping them for workshops

How DT helps agile dev teams (user story mapping)

Facilitation anti-patterns

Unconference planning lessons learned

Final feedback board

What worked, what didn’t, what we can improve, and what we commit to doing going forward

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Eric Morrow is a Design Facilitator with IBM Hybrid Cloud out of RTP. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.