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At The Jim Stengel Company, we help companies and brands discover their purpose and activate it internally–galvanizing employees–and externally to drive growth.  One of the principal ways we do that is through facilitated workshops, guiding leadership teams through a series of exercises and discussions.  Typically, we do the work live over the course of 1-2 days.  Obviously, the current landscape has put a pause on those in-person events.  So, in order to continue to meet our clients’ needs, we’ve moved our process onto virtual platforms.  As we’ve done so, we’ve challenged ourselves to maintain the quality of outputs and level of engagement.  After a few weeks of experimentation, we think we’ve hit on a winning approach.  Here’s some of what we’ve found to be working:

 

  • Serializing the experience.  When business travel was happening, a workshop was a little like going to the movies.  Everyone converged on a venue and settled in for an extended feature.  Rather than trying to replicate that experience virtually, we’ve turned our workshop into a “Netflix series”: multiple, shorter episodes over a few weeks.  While not as binge-worthy as “Tiger King,” this approach is helping to keep engagement levels high.
  • Getting intimate in one another’s homes.  We’ve long observed that the right physical setting can help to elevate the soulfulness of purpose work.  We’ve done sessions on the seashore, in historic factory buildings, and in founders’ homes.  Lo and behold, people bring more humanity to this work–more warmth and inspiration–when they’re in their own homes as well!  We try to cultivate this by inviting participants to give a virtual tour of their home office, display a lock-down meme that best describes their home life that day, or share the thing or person that’s most likely to interrupt them.
  • Encouraging side conversations.  While chattering on the side is a no-no in a live session, it actually adds to the virtual experience.  The group chat function creates a second, parallel channel for participation — one that helps to make the virtual workshop more efficient and robust.  By soliciting continuous chatter on the sidebar, we’re able to get simultaneous input from many voices at once.  We can see “trending topics” that need to be tackled, and at the close of each session, we have a ready-made transcript of the outcome.
  • Keeping the mic moving.  During our in-person workshops, we like to create moments where each participant adds their voice to a chain of conversation.  To ensure smooth discussions online, we’re doing more of this — calling on individuals in sequence and sometimes asking them to share pictures or content on their screens.  This helps to build the feeling of team and allows us to fully access the wisdom of the crowd.
  • Incorporating an unplugged set.  Don’t you love it when a musician changes up the vibe of a concert by giving the backing band a break?  We’ve found that some intentional “unplugging” mid-session helps to maintain the energy and productivity of the overall experience.  So, in addition to sub-group breakouts, we’re designing in periods of individual exercises that are conducted offline.  This allows people to recharge before dialing back in with more considered, focused inputs.

 

With those adaptations, we think we’ve been able to match–and, in some cases, exceed–the quality of our workshop outcomes and participant engagement.  In many ways, that’s been a delightful surprise to us… and to our clients as well.  Here’s a sample of some comments we’ve received this week:

 

  • “I wasn’t sure what to expect given the challenges of the virtual setting — but somehow you figured out how to work it to our advantage.”
  • “Thank you for a fantastic first session!”
  • “I thought the Zoom format actually made it a BETTER meeting than face-to-face as everyone can give their comments much quicker.”
  • “It’s really been so wonderful to work with you through this process.”
  • “Great stuff — looking forward to the next one.”

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