Archive for June, 2011

>Unfinished business


She’s a wonderful woman, my wife. I started a conversation with her that I should have started 18 months ago (well, I’m a bloke, okay?). She said: “Yes, I’ve been thinking about that,” and suggested 3 options to resolve the issue.

Suddenly, a potential problem was no longer a piece of unfinished business.

I have had another piece of business going on, which I didn’t even realise was unfinished. I was playing around with an article ostensibly about clever budget ways to get from the airport to the hotel, without spending big bucks on a taxi.

A client had managed to book me into a (modest) hotel on completely the wrong side of the CBD from both the airport bus terminal and the job the next morning. I found a free shuttle bus that went to even that hotel, patting myself on the back for having done so.

As I was writing, it sort of emerged that the piece was not a helpful travel-tip blog at all, but a lament for lost status. Life used to be like this:

  • A big black car would waft up to my front gate and Peter would whisk me in a comfortable cocoon to the airport.
  • Even when I was flying economy, my god-almighty but hard-earned frequent flyer status got me preferential check-in, frequent upgrades and very decent food and wine in the no-riff-raff lounge
  • At the other end, depending on the city I landed in, Spiros or another equivalent would collect me in a similar cocoon at the other end to take me wherever I was going.
  • If the plane was delayed or cancelled, I’d be flicked onto the next flight ahead of the other punters without even being asked.

I swear, when I first saw George Clooney in Up in the Air, I thought it was about me, right down to the slip-on shoes to get through security faster, and definitely the same status obsession.

Those were the days, I was telling myself too often, sitting on some shuttle bus or other and trying to feel virtuous about it.

The kind of clients I work for now I wouldn’t consider putting to that kind of expense, and I am certainly too much of a tight-arse to pay for it myself. I’m hanging on by a thread to some residual frequent flyer status, but even that is going to evaporate in a couple of months.

But I think I may finally be close to getting over the trappings of status, and finishing that piece of business.

Brigitte and I just did an overseas trip where we had no lounge access and check-in 3 hours ahead. Buying a drink at the airport bar. Finding the cheapest airport transfers and being pleased with ourselves for having done so. And hey, it was okay.

I guess the issue about unfinished business is recognising that it is actually unfinished. For me, that means usually means picking up the signals – little things that keep recurring like thinking or talking, with mild regret rather than fondness, about the good old days. Someone I don’t really want to talk to, or something I am reticent to talk about.

I have someone who has unfinished business with me, and it will probably always be that way. I have finished it on my side, and unilateral finishing can be a challenge, but sometimes it’s all that may be possible.

But gee, that champagne in the no-riff-raff lounge was nice. Even though I am getting close to qualifying as riff-raff myself.

>When less is more – facilitating on the run


I normally subscribe to the same theory about workshop sessions as the British Army SAS does for its clandestine missions: “Proper planning and preparation prevent piss-poor performance”. Last week I did a job where we just winged it – but only as a considered decision. And we came out the other end in reasonable shape.

Why would I take a punt like that? The important factors were:

  • A client with whom I have been working for a number of years, and with whom I have good chemistry
  • The previous form of this client in being difficult to pin down ahead of time, with their travel commitments and generally “fluid” way of doing business
  • Their commitment to intent, if not always to content.

I have to say it felt uncomfortable to turn up a blank page of flipchart, and say: “Okay, here’s the agenda.” The first thing we put down on the page was the finishing time. Then we agreed in very explicit terms on the purpose of the session – particularly important in this context – and co-created the rest of the agenda.

What worked in the session?

  • Prior agreement (admittedly only the day before when I finally pinned down the CEO) that we could evolve the whole thing in the workshop itself
  • A frank chat at the beginning where everyone shared, in turn, “How am I feeling right now?” and “What am I up for today?”
  • Letting the responses to those questions guide what we were going to create – which didn’t quite land where the CEO and I had thought it would, but ended up being just what the team needed to be clear about at this stage of their planning and execution cycle
  • A much higher degree of check-in with the group, as we went through the process, of how it was working for them; and necessary adjustments of the agenda as a consequence of the check-ins
  • A very conscious step at the end to see that everyone got to appropriate closure on the issues we traversed.

One thing I am not sure really worked: when the CEO said, about the timeframe we ended up facing, “… and David will keep us to time,” and I threw a small, but considered, strategic wobbly about everyone need to take personal responsibility about time.

Before taking on facilitation on the run, there are a couple of things I would suggest:

  • Be clear with everyone that you are operating in that mode, and engage them explicitly in the co-creation process
  • At the very least, spend some time ahead of the session reviewing what tools or models you might need to pull out of your kitbag to achieve a result. We ended up using a simple “what do we need to DO, STOP and CHANGE, to get to where we need to be by the relevant date?”

At the end of the session, I had a mild whinge about having had less time than originally scheduled for the session. Someone said: “How much better do you think the outcome would have been if we had that extra hour?” After a very brief reflection, I had to admit frankly that we would have had no less effective an outcome if we had spent that extra bit of time.

Sometimes, you really can achieve more with less.

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