Alignment of Powerful Teams Using Wallpaper
Once in a while it is very valuable to get the people in the organization back onto the same page. What is our vision, our mission, our greatest challenge, our greatest cause for celebrating what is indeed working great. What is the pulse of our team and our company? Standard methods include a survey, a vote or show of hands, or generating a list of items on a flip chart. For smaller companies, under 25 or so, employees, the technique I am about to describe can be used with all staff at once. For larger organizations this may need to done by sub groups. It is always recommended that representatives from CEO to entry level employee be included in each group. In some circumstances including customers, suppliers and other stakeholders can also be very helpful.
When we consider the form and structure of most staff meetings, where is the source of information? If the form includes long winded droning from the boss, well, how is that working for you? Some will use ‘brainstorming’ onto a flip chart to get ideas for better ways to do things etc. notice the level of engagement among the group. What is your level of enthusiasm for those meetings?
Imagine getting top of mind responses, anonymously, from all of those you work with. Imagine tackling even the thorniest issues, the ones that people avert their eyes about when brought up in a meeting of the form that you now experience.
Start with a well designed and short, set of questions that speak to the most pressing issues. Invite a confidential response to those questions which are sent to an impartial person who is not one of the employees. Sincerely invite candid responses. Ask for the truth. Promise that no one, except the impartial non-employee, will see the source of any of the responses and keep that promise. That impartial person will collate and group all the answers to each question together. Every possible way to homogenize the answers received, to hide the identity of the author is applied. Each question and each individual answer, is printed on its own page using big font, say a 72, so folks can read them from a few feet away. Then tape together sets of pages so they fold like an accordion, question at the top, all the answers folded down from there. If there are 10 questions you will have ten accordion stacks of question on top with answers below. No, do not look at them in advance.
Now, imagine having every person who responded in the meeting/retreat room.
And that all the group can see is the questions up on the walls because all the answers are folded up and taped so those can’t be seen.
No one is speaking.
Everyone is cruising the room, wondering what is about to happen.
They know they all contributed .
They hope the promise of confidentiality will be kept.
Some might wish they could take some of their answers back.
They don’t know what is to come next.
Imagine the level of engagement.
The Facilitator approaches one of the questions, unravels the answers. Which question to unravel is a part of the design of the process.
- Notice the silence, and again, engagement.
- Everyone wants to be sure their response was faithfully transferred to the sheets on the wall.
- Then they want to see where their answer fits into the whole suite of answers.
- If we stopped right there the group will have learned a great deal about the issue that is referred to in the question and about where they are with respect to the group.
A few big things
- One is that your answers (you as the boss) are up there ‘somewhere’ too, you get to have a voice, an equal voice.
- Two is that everyone gets to offer their top of mind, personal answer without any influence from another person’s answer. They answer on their own.
- Everyone is responsible for their own answers, no sliding by. Only people who provided responses are allowed into the room. No exceptions.
- All answers for a particular question are revealed in the same moment.
- You get the most unvarnished responses, the straight goods from every single person. And so do they.
Now, the Facilitator waits until ‘the moment’ has had time to settle.
And starts to process what just happened.
- ‘Mary, what surprises you about all of these answers?’
- ‘John what part of this has been around this company the longest?’
- ‘Candice, what is the hardest truth you see here?’
Etc The questions come from the moment and the mood and the answers.
And so on.
Notice the atmosphere.
Notice the honesty (and maybe nervousness too).
Notice the fabulous quality of the information that arises.
The information is not just from the answers but also from the questioning and verbal banter in the moment etc.
Notice that you, as the boss, have nothing to do but take note(s)
In my experience this kind of ‘staff meeting’ brings rocket fuel to the organization.
A ton of ’empowerment’ shows up.
If there are elephants in the room at your company, they get named pretty quickly.
Experience shows that as respondents get further into the written questions and answers they become more brave and strong and real. This shows on the wallpaper. The design of the question set and order of the questions takes this into account.
Powerful and absolutely priceless results. There is visceral connection to the topics that is simply not possible in the team meetings most of us are used to.
Thing is, all of it comes from the group, like some kind of instant consensus. Powerful because there is so much buy in from everyone. Everyone having an equal voice on that wall of answers can be a brand new experience for some.
- They all did this.
- They know it.
- And they feel honoured and love it.
- The boss wins, big time.
- As do they.
- Win, win.
Now do it all again for another question. The order that questions are processed is also designed for best effect.
From all of this, a list of things that the group (which includes you) agree to attend to, have a meeting about, solve, discard, discuss more, is easy to identify.
Once all responses are revealed and processed, we give each person a coloured dot and invite them to place the dot on things like.
- What is working just fine, don’t you dare try to fix it?
- What really needs some more discussion?
- What is it time to toss or radically change, not working?
Usually only four different coloured dots are used and what those dots represent is also co-designed with company representatives, could include the boss, does not have to. This is a way to vote without being too visible, like if we ask for a show of hands. Also, this way you, as the leader, get a pretty good picture of the lay of the land, where the group thinking is (lots of dots), and where it is not (no dots).
Design of the question set is very important. My suggestion is to only ask a very few questions, say, 10.
There are three kinds of questions.
- Those designed to help you learn more from the grassroots of your business (see your own blindside)
- Those designed to help your team to learn more about themselves (they get to see their collective blindsides)
- Those designed to help all of you to learn more about what your company needs from all of you
Too many questions wears people out. Keeping the number small forces the design of the questions to deal directly with the most important issues.
Never use this method to conduct a witch hunt.
From this we have, say, 8 questions, with about 7 to 12 answers cascading like a waterfall below. With that many pages on the wall it looks like wallpaper, so I call it Wallpaper. J
The Facilitator is best someone who is not from within your company. Could be someone on your Board, if you have one and if an objective, able Facilitator is among the Board members. It is important that whoever does it keeps the space of the meeting a safe, non-judgmental, even inviting.
I have done many dozens of these since I kind of invented it quite a number of years ago. The design of the questions and the caliber of Facilitation are the secret sauce.
Questions? Just ask
Want help? Yes, glad to
Joseph Seiler MCC
PS: there are other very powerful techniques I can recommend in order to promote team alignment. A separate article entitled, Alignment of Powerful Teams Using Line is also available. Want a copy? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for that title. Use of Line is very effective for increasing understanding among the team and on issues that don’t easily bend to a simple, or obvious, yes or no. Use of Wallpaper is best suited to development of less defined topics, like development of corporate vision or design of corporate culture or evolving strategy. It is also excellent for taking the pulse of an organization. I use both Line and Wallpaper at corporate PD days and Retreats. The Line is more invasive since everyone is always publicly declaring their opinion by where they stand. Some may become uncomfortable at such transparency. Wallpaper is not as transparent about who thinks what, so it can feel safer. I recommend using Line fragments to help process recommendations that arise from Wallpaper.
In any endeavour aimed at increasing trust it is expected that people participating are able and willing to appreciate and contribute to that goal. People with a mean spirit, who are non-cooperative and display disruptive behaviour can undermine or at least slow, any team alignment/building initiative.