There are patterns of offline and online collaboration which can supercharge your ability to run interactive meetings. Dig into peer learning as a collaboration tool with Bart Dooerenwert.
Here we get actionable, with specific format examples, and also suggestions about how to introduce this into a larger company, as well as what it can do to help break down silos.
Bart Doorenwert is a master facilitator, problem solver, and community builder. He discovered peer learning when building entrepreneurial communities on frontier markets. He is also the author of the Peer Learning guide available for free at:
Do you know which people are a bit more open to this type of thing to explore? And I think it’s just a question of getting those people together, maybe on a regular basis for a lunch meeting or De Beers on the Friday afternoon, that type of thing. And just put something on the agenda to discuss, to talk about, to reflect about. Also taking care a bit about the mix of people that they’re not like all in crowd. But you’re able to invite people from other departments to get a bit of a mix of perspectives and experiences, but have that very common human interest in each other to help each other.
You are listening to the online remotely podcast, the show dedicated to helping lead distributor teams under difficult circumstances. I’m the host Look Sharp and I’ve participated in a run distributed teams for almost a decade. As a practitioner, I’m speaking with experts on leadership, strategic alignment and work to help you navigate the issues start facing after you get. In this episode, we get a lot more actionable with Bart, we look at things like implementing within a larger company how this actually works in practice, details of formats that Bart suggests, how this can be used to break down silos or work across them, and also the social aspect of making things come together.
There’s quite a lot coming up. So let’s just dive right in. If you’ve got a very.
Outspoken expert in the group who also has significant authority in the company, what are could patterns or games that you could use to try and break that to create the safe space so that you don’t have one person or two people speaking and everybody else on mute doing something?
Those types of experts that I find, you can spot them up front before you get into the session when you’re preparing it with an expert there. There also always very linear. I’m going to talk about this and I’m not going to talk about that because I don’t know about that. So this is what it’s going to be about. And it already begins with breaking that attitude and preparation where putting those types of people that they have expertise which is legitimate, and you want to spread that expertise or that wisdom across the people, we need to figure it out.
Right. And this is a way of ease and massage these people into that is that you pitch them the idea of you have certain expertise and these people are working on cases or stuff that’s relevant to your expertise. So we want to hear about those cases from those people. And then we’re going to ask your advice in a certain way on what how they can use your expertise and those contacts and connections. So it doesn’t. The session or the education doesn’t revolve around what the expert knows and their ABC.
But just just through the whole slide deck, we’re going to line up instead of your slide deck group of cases or people working on stuff, and they want your input. So let’s do it that way. And it’s funny because experts learn new stuff as well. They also have anxiety, in my experience, of getting into an environment where they are not experts that needs to be calmed down a bit, just invite them to become part of that safe space.
There’s certain things you’ll know. And you actually doing are other things. No, no, it’s fine. We’re all here to figure it out together. I know. And I can guarantee you, the person who represents this particular group, there are certain things or conversation happening there or people will be able to benefit from your expertise. But the format in which we’ll be doing it is completely different. Any different is fun and educational. They learn new stuff, they learn and they’ll know.
My knowledge could be applied to that. It’s interesting. I learn something new.
What kind of formats are we talking about? You mentioned earlier on that we’re looking at formats that help. Things emerge from a group of people who would be some examples just to make it a little bit more concrete for people who are just coming across this for the first time.
There are certain more established or known formats you can use. But I think the concept, the format is pretty open. You want to design for that interaction that we were talking about before. You want to get some form of. Knowledge exchange between people. These people need to be talking to each other about particular topics. That’s the goal or the main heading you should have for whatever events or organizing formats you should start with, just the easier ones, the fireside chat format or a fishbowl format, for instance, the fireside chats is where you have somebody with an interesting experience or track record.
You just invite that person in to just give a bit of a talk about their experience. There’s no need for a PowerPoint slide. It’s just sitting and sharing about recent stuff. This person has done his or her experience, and then just opening up for questions or dialogue with the room and then guiding that conversation as a facilitator. The fishbowl I mentioned is like a or an open panel type of discussions, different formats. Where as you’re dealing with bigger groups, prevents sort of the chaos of everybody talking about everything, at the same time, you have an open panel discussion where you have the same expert in a chair, but then you have other chairs which are open for people from the room to participate in.
The only thing they have to do is to come up stage and sit on the chair and join in the conversation with a rule that there is always one empty chair. One person comes from the room and sits on the empty chair. Then the agreement is that one of the sitting people should stand down and go back to their seats, leaving that one open chair again. And it keeps an opportunity to keep the conversation flowing open. Anybody who has a question or something to share about something that’s relevant or happening on stage at that moment and just jump up and join.
Affinity mapping is a great format. It’s very simple. Let’s think about this topic when you give an introduction to a topic and then give people 30 seconds to silence rates on post, it’s what their questions or affiliations are with a topic. And you just get them to come up and put stuff on the wall in a synthetic cluster. Certain statements that are being made from that sort of clouds. Interesting patterns will start to emerge, affinities, seeing what sort of ideas or wisdom the crowd has.
Affinity mapping, I could see would work very well online and a whiteboard setting. What have the previous things that you’ve been trying to move online would have been your main takeaways about trying to do peer to peer and in an online environment?
From your description, it’s a decent sense of the kinds of formats you’re talking about and what you’re aiming for. How has that transition to online been in your work around peer to peer?
And what one thing you do not understand is that people need to get used to the tooling and become native tooling because it’s a very different way of.
You cannot discern online who is being shy and who does not know just how to use the tools. Yeah, if you’re looking in person, it’s different. No, there’s no constraint of the tool. So you need to onboard the group first into the tooling and just make them comfortable making artifacts, connecting things, chatting with each other, making jokes online a bit, having a bit of fun to see how you can use the medium to. Yeah. To make an impression on other people to to make yourself known.
Hmm. On such a playing field as a virtual whiteboard. That’s definitely one thing that I yeah. I still spend a lot of time on to get people up to speed familiar with just the tooling. Once you get them familiar with the tooling, then you can play with formats and rules of interacting and engaging and you start off very simple exercises and then you can gradually increase the complexity of the reformats and you’re going to apply the interaction that you’re going to create differently.
Had that experience with the software team initially, it took a good few weeks before people were used to dealing with the whiteboard and how to create things, move them around, select things.
And then once that a certain hurdle was cleared by the group, suddenly the activity exploded. People really just got it clicked that you can really use this to model anything as a group.
There’s a lot that you can do, even though everyone’s distributed. I think that was quite amazing when it happened, if this is being applied within. A larger organizational context. How does it work when you tried to apply it in the past? How do you create the safe space and. Make it possible for the dynamic to emerge, because that’s, I guess, the way that you’re thinking about it, it’s more of this kind of create the environment and then let whatever needs to happen.
If I were to organize this within my own organization or company, you know, which people are a bit more open to this type of thing to explore. And I think it’s just a question of getting those people together, maybe on a regular basis for a lunch meeting or De Beers on the Friday afternoon, that type of thing. And just put something on the agenda to discuss, to talk about, to reflect about. Also taking care a bit about the mix of people that they’re not all in crowd, but you’re able to invite people from other departments to get a bit of a mix of perspectives and experiences, but have that very common human interest in each other.
They help each other and in that context, just stimulate conversations first. All right, what are you working on? What do you think of this new strategic plan by the CEO? How does that work out in your department? And through those discussions, you’ll hear about interesting new. Crossover’s or ideas without the like, how would I go about doing this or yeah, shall we collaborate in some way on this project together, crossing certain boundaries within the organization that creates sort of a group where people come to check in and tap into through those types of conversations, practical things will emerge.
I’ve interviewed a company established by Henry Mincberg, A.
Peer to peer mentoring system deployed at corporates called Coaching Ourselves. And as basically people coaching themselves or in groups coaching each other, and it’s a diverse group of people brought together, they got some free time from the company, say one or two hours a month for coaching ourselves. Does that give them sort of case studies to read a bit and then reflect on how those sort of situations which are written by certain management gurus like Henry Mintzberg, but they’re Marfin, you know, and they then reflect on how that works for them, you know, dilemmas, challenges, personal or professional, a variety of things.
The process you describe, it gives people personal reflection, which makes and people have to take actionable points. OK, I have some ideas or some good points from my colleagues, and I’m going to implement those things in my work and I’ll report back next month, like how that went, for instance. And it’s a very basic level of reflection and interaction. But at a certain point they said if people have done that for a couple of months, if things become really serious, then there are certain new connections being made in the diverse meeting groups references are being made or introductions to other people in the company.
And people started solving logistical issues in novel and innovative way. They’re combining somebody from finance with somebody, from marketing, for somebody from processing.
They figure out like we should streamline our system or operations in this way. And those are discussions that would never happen otherwise because everything is siloed. It’s giving the opportunity just to start off with casual conversations and getting people to introduce to each other, but also stimulating some form of actionable things from those meetings. If you learn something new or if you heard something, you can apply it and then report back. We’ll meet again. And it’s also this component of meeting regularly that you need to have, if you trust the process, that the stuff will emerge from that from your discussions with people running these companies.
What are some specific things people can look at doing in terms of where should they start? How should they think about it? Who should they talk to? Are there any kind of people they would need to approach that kind of thing?
A commission? Well, I don’t know that particular one’s going to depend on the individual company culture.
Yeah, but yeah, I think I say that with tongue in cheek, if that’s a word, but. I think that’s that is a bit of a barrier for a lot of the program, I mentioned that coaching ourselves. It works because people are mandated to do it and they get those hours to do it and they have to know and they love it when they’re doing it, but then when the program is finished, so we’ve done all our sheets and our meetings, then it stops somehow that people then don’t have the time, get the time anymore from the boss and they get back to working together, as they would usually do.
And I think that’s a pity. Ideally, you would have a way of permission or an opportunity within your organization to organize such regular events, which are really low key, which don’t need to be heavy in preparation. They don’t need to cost lots of money and bring people together and spending time together, I think. But I think it’s important to get some kind of a waiver from your boss to be able to organize that. Otherwise it becomes like a pirate club.
And private clubs tend to have sort of their own. Yeah. Their own rebellious uprising. Yeah, I was a pirate at the university, I worked yeah, I built a substantial research portfolio, but in the end, it was also the reason why I left the company because I could not make it fit.
You’re running a little company within a big company, which is like really weird and hard to do. Yeah, well, no. So I think it starts with some kind of support from somebody a bit higher up that can give you the time to get to together people and to reflect and accept. And there’s always these. Yeah, when you’re doing the department meetings every quarter or something, there’s always, you know, what shall we do there? How do we talk about strategy or let’s think about new products we can bring to the market.
I think that’s the energy you can use and then say, why not do it differently in terms of spreading out these conversations through a biweekly drinks on the Friday? And that’s a very practical things, and let’s try to work on those, you know, that strategy emerge from that. Yeah. Using the same time, same amount of resources, but then spreading it all away, part of the value of this approach is that relationships that you form, especially if it’s across siloed boundaries or new people that you meet, which creates new possibilities, you go and you solve the immediate problem.
But also you’ve met this person so you can reach out to them. You know, they have deep knowledge about a particular topic ever in the future. You need to find out more about it. You can speak to them. That’s another side effect of doing it this way, as opposed to just one too many broadcast’s. The social context that’s starting off with getting people to connect on a human level, on their backgrounds, their interests, getting to know the person as a person and not about the meat of the matter.
If you want to discuss yet, you know, you have to ease people into a certain point.
A group of people will also get an identity of having great stuff on a particular topic. And people know if you want to. Yeah, an input and just join that group there and talk to those people. They’re great. That starts with building that group identity in that conversation. This mini community, then its reputation will emerge from that.
What our immediate next steps, specific tips, people that are listening to it could do in terms of trying to introduce this into their organization.
You have to be very much aware of what type of conversations would be really cool to have within our organization or what type of things could be combined and then actually organizing. First sort of light weight gathering with scope for doing that on a regular basis, so that’s just every month for the next three months, for an hour on Friday afternoon, I gather these people talk about. Subject X. Getting marketing and sales to work together at the corporate level communications department and the division level communication department or product level, they should figure out how to talk about what the company does in a more aligned way.
Tell us about the book. The peer learning guide, that’s been an interesting journey and writing that I think the main reason why this is for ourselves to be in. Talking about peer learning for a couple of years, we’ve been applying it and learning and we saw this shift in the way you do things with more matured, more advanced communities versus starting communities and. And we’ve got to think, OK, so how do we work, like how do we do these things that we do and how do we design programs of a week or two weeks, like how we do it, but how do we do it?
It’s available online. The website is peerlearning.is or is you can read all our writing, basically our whole sort of book. We have the idea of making a book out of it, but we did not get any further than a collection of sort of our chapters online. But it’s all there. There’s also a drip newsletter. It’s automated, you sign up and then every three days you get a little excerpt from the book, some explanation, some chapters to read to ease you into the matter of if you if you find it interesting and if you’re interested, then we definitely still like to hear from you and get feedback on what we’re working on.
It’s just the first sort of the Voyager probe. Maybe that’s just sending that thing out there and then seeing what type of alien mind will say, hey, I understand that, yeah, I’m going to use that or I want to get in touch with the originator.
Well, we tried to do is list formats, but give people which format to pick for which particular circumstance, you know, how do you sequence formats. That’s great. Bart, thank you very much. Even though the book and parts approach is based on these particular formats, which he detailed. So even those that he mentioned on on the episode are relatively well known within the design community. Ultimately, this is about inverting control and giving everyone the ability to contribute.
And that’s what really makes it powerful, particularly if you try to break outside of the traditional social context in which work happens within a company. So thank you for listening. And next time, we’re going to look in more detail at the results, how they’re generated, what it means to have a culture that’s focused on results and what that what it means when you don’t have that clarity that you’re. Thanks for listening to this episode of the online remotely podcast, if you enjoy the show, please leave a review on iTunes, Google podcast or wherever you get your podcast.
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There are patterns of offline and online collaboration which can supercharge your ability to run interactive meetings. Dig into peer learning as a collaboration tool with Bart Dooerenwert.