Last week I heard two examples of very similar structures (action learning and TEC/Vistage groups) that seem to generate a high degree of interpersonal involvement among participants. There is, I think, some learning possible for the design of Collaborating Minds. In each case, participants get together to get help on something they are doing and to help their colleagues. There’s much more helping of others than getting helped (directly) and the results make people feel quite connected. I’ll describe each and then note the common themes. Since creating this kind of interpersonal involvement among participants is important to Collaborating Minds, we can also see if there are any directions suggested for our project.
The first example was “action learning”. In action learning, people are put together in groups that have issues that they are (usually individually) addressing. When the group meets, perhaps 1/2 to 1 day per month, each member in turn talks about the problem they are addressing. The process, as described by one action learning firm is:
- Describing the problem as we see it
- Receiving contributions from others in the form of questions
- Reflecting on our discussion and deciding what action to take
- Reporting back on what happened when we took action
- Reflecting on the problem-solving process and how well it is working
People work together as peers helping each other. not based on specialized knowledge but mostly based on asking questions and holding each other accountable for taking action.
The founder of action learning, Reginald Revans, was apparently opposed to having facilitators, although some practitioners who use active learning approaches do recommend facilitators to improve impact.
The second example was TEC (The Executive Committee) groups. These groups (now known in the US as Vistage) are ongoing, facilitated peer groups of business owners. As I understand it, they meet for one day monthly, and membership also includes a monthly 2 hour coaching session with the chairperson. You have to apply and pay to be a member, and it isn’t cheap. Here’s part of a description from a facilitator’s website.
Business leaders from non-competing industries meet on a monthly basis to form meaningful relationships and share their knowledge and experiences to help and challenge one another to come up with better solutions for their businesses.
At the meetings, members discuss the pressing issues in their business. Again, most of the time is focused on other people, but each member does get attention. Holding people accountable for what they said they were going to do seems to be an important element.The result can be a very close community of people who welcome and support each other.
A key insight might be that this is not for everyone. The Vistage facilitator quoted above also says that of the people who contact him who have the right positions to be members, only 2 of out 10 become members. Many do not have the attitude and approach that would make them a good member.
What are the common themes?
The common themes seem to be:
- Small group of people
- Regular meetings
- Ground rules
- You get some attention for your own problem, but it outweighed by the attention you give to others
- Focus on accountability to each other for results on your individual project ( i.e., I, a member, hold you accountable for what you said you wanted to achieve) as well as on information exchange
Implications for Collaborating Minds
We do have ground rules for working together, and we do have some attention to your own problems (but it is outweighed by the attention you give to others).
We definitely don’t aspire to have a small group of people (rather to have a large group!) but we have included in the beta the idea that people should join with folks that they know. These people will form informal “small groups”, but maybe we need to think about having more formal small groups and roles for them.
The regular meetings are often missing, and some participants in the beta have already noticed that it’s a challenge to find a place for Collaborating Minds in the “rhythm” of their day. This is something we’ll need to pay attention to, and perhaps regular meetings are part of that.
Accountability is a tricky issue. I believe in accountability, but tend to think it is more something someone does for/to themselves. At the same time, I know I have benefited from others holding out to me the image that I have developed (perhaps with them) of how/who I could be. In Collaborating Minds, we asked people to make commitments about participating, but not about advancing their own self-interests. We could do that — we could insist that members share their goals and projects (rather than just making that possible). We could track how they are doing on their own projects, and be more assertively supportive of them. It’s something to think about.