Hush your inner critic!

Have you ever introduced a new tool in a facilitated process, and it didn’t go well?  What did you do?

A month ago, I was facilitating a 2–day business process redesign, in which the team had to change a business process from a rolling to an annual basis; there were a lot of moving parts, and this was going to be a difficult change – but they were working diligently on mapping the process.  Some people were enthusiastic about the change, which would ultimately make the process easier to carry out for all the stakeholders.  Others were skeptical – so we had a range from adopters to resistors.

In planning the session with the director, we decided to include DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in the process, in order to generate innovative thinking.  If you’re not familiar with it, each hat represents a different attitude: optimism, skepticism, someone who wants neutral facts, someone who tends to decide by gut instinct.  When you put on a hat, your task is to try out a different kind of thinking than your go-to mode, and express an opinion related to that color.   So if I’m someone who tends to be skeptical, I would put on the yellow hat for sunshiny optimism, and express why I think this new process is a good idea.

So, I introduced the 6 hats, which were greeted with skepticism.  I asked the group what they’d like to do next, and a young woman said:  Something better than this!  Oh no, I thought, what was I thinking?  Why did I think I could introduce something creative and fun?

I had to leave early the first day, at 3pm, and they continued to work.  When I came back the next morning, guess what?  Turns out that after I left they got into it, and started donning the hats and trying out different attitudes!  They also became more playful with one another, which was an unanticipated outcome – and actually helped improve their working relationship.  So, turns out it was ok to present this tool after all.  Of course, that was after I had chastised myself for introducing the hats.

Lesson learned?   Maybe new things take a while for people to adapt and we shouldn’t judge too quickly.  Maybe my leaving early and not watching them allowed them to play with the hats.  It also provides data about the culture of the team – are they serious with each other? can they be playful? – which would inform a potential growth area for the team.  In fact, when I followed up with the director one month later, I learned that they were using the hats in their team meetings, and their playfulness was improving the way they worked together.

For myself, I probably shouldn’t be hard on myself when things don’t go as expected.  I had discussed it with the 2 directors who thought it was a good idea, so I didn’t have to own it.  It was a creative approach, and I get credit for that.  So if something doesn’t work in the future, that’s fine, no harm done – as long as I’m/ we’re not attached to the outcome.

(photo credit: http://strangekangaroo.deviantart.com)

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