Friday, May 28, 2004

Convergence on Act Day

I am busy phoning the participants of a recent event (I have so far managed to interview 14 of them at length) and am surprised how many of them said that they personally found the event outstanding but they felt their colleagues didn’t feel the same. This is the logical equivalent of all the children of Lake Wobegon being above average. I think the explanation for this paradox can be found in a lack of convergence among the participants.

Of the various causes for the client ‘high’ at the end of a successful event, one of the more rational and thus manageable cause is a sense of convergence. Of course, not all participants agree with all the work done, but convergence doesn’t mean consensus, much less unanimity. Convergence means that people start to move toward a common space. It is that sense of movement that generates a feeling of satisfaction and sometimes, breakthrough.

Convergence begins with Scan and the development of shared language. It is also a principal benefit of multiple iterations (apart from improving the quality of work).

The two key moments for achieving convergence are, I believe, synthesis and Act check-in. Synthesis is obvious: Those participants who actively participate in the discussion stake out their territory, thus making it safe to begin their journey towards other positions. Less obvious is the Act check-in. We often do quick standing check-ins in order to save time. Often, this is adequate. Sometimes we need drawn out presentations to allow debate and disagreement. Apart from time management, the key factor in determining what kind of check-in to have ought to be
a) the need for convergence (a function of the parallel or modular nature of the work buckets) and
b) the level of convergence already achieved.

In this event, we had an outstanding Scan and Focus, one of the best I’ve been involved in in recent years. But the Act failed to come together and the enormous steps the participants made in Scan and Focus failed to compensate for the lack of sense of achievement in Act caused by a lack of convergence. Each Act team did an outstanding job, but they felt that they didn’t deliver as a unified team.

Of the various facilitation errors (most events can survive dozens of facilitation errors) my fatal mistake was abandoning the check-in, at the request of the client sponsor who felt that the teams were working too well to be interrupted. Not only would that check-in have added a useful iteration to each team’s work and added a sense of competition between teams, but most importantly, it would have offered the opportunity for each team to see how its work fit into the big picture. Without the check-in, there was no sense of big picture and thus no great sense of achievement at the end of the event.

Paradoxically, had I held a check-in, it would have been a quick standing check-in, which would probably not have been sufficient to create convergence.

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