A quick set of field notes from a retro we ran this week to talk about an adapted facilitation technique called Brainwalking. This approach is perfect for allowing all involved to have a say on issues without having to talk over one another.

Brain walking

Brain walking was introduced to me by my wonderful colleague Georgina Lubbe. The original technique can be found here: https://innovationenglish.sites.ku.dk/metode/brainwalking/

In person it involves providing a flipchart sheet for all participants and then getting them to explore the issue at hand individually. Participants then cycle around the flipcharts in order for a few cycles, until they are asked to return to their original station, review what’s been added since they left, and then share with the group.

Mad/Sad/Glad

We combined Brain walking with a technique from the Workshop Tactics card deck called Mad/Sad/Glad. This simply provides a structure within which people can come up with ideas because there is nothing as scary as a completely blank (virtual) flipchart.

Set up

This retro was to examine what we could learn from a recent bid for a piece of work with a Government department in which we were unsuccessful. In advance, the eight participants were asked to review the feedback document we had received back which was unusually detailed in that it also included information about the successful bidder’s submission.

I also created a Miro board in advance which had a station for each participant to begin the session at, with directions for where to go next.

Here’s one of the stations…

An example of one of the participant stations divided up into Mad, Sad and Glad sections

Here is the overall board…

And here is the session plan which was also placed on the Miro board for all to reference…

In the end, we did three iterations, by which people were starting to run out of ideas. The final session then started with a few minutes for people to go back to their original board, and to then come up with a summary point or action drawing on what they had seen throughout the session. In an hour we generated 13 actions to take forward (which I scribed on the board during the round-robin summary and discussion), with consensus around them.

Reflections on the process

Obviously, no one had pre-read the materials but given they were all to hand on a second Miro board, we devoted the first 10 minutes to a quick review. They were consumable enough for that to work fine.

Facilitating a silent technique can be disconcerting in the physical world, and personally I find it even more so in the virtual world. Without the in-person visual clues of engagement, you rely upon watching people’s mouse cursors and typing. That’s more my failing of wanting to fill in the audible gaps than anything else. It’s made me realise that there isn’t enough quiet reflective and working time in online meetings which would be much more natural in the physical world.

People don’t all have the same proficiency with Miro. Even now. Rigorously locking down elements that aren’t meant to be edited is a simple thing that makes things easier. Providing clues on screen to instruction really helps the flow too. But you’ll inevitably find someone who doesn’t know how to do something if you are doing more than the very bare minimum in a workshop.

Overall, it seemed to work well. And mixing up approaches to what are relatively regular types of workshop I think is valuable – some novelty helps with engagement when you have to work hard for engagement with all of the other distractions at hand in a busy working day.

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