Do you suffer from acute ‘meetingitis virtuales’? Here’s some antidote


Does this sound familiar? (Original item here)

But then repeatedly, several times per week or per day even?

You are clearly a patient of acute meetingitis virtuales (or MV88 – 88 standing for infinity infinity), a modern virus that is affecting more and more people every week, far from the public attention it deserves…

How has MV88 become such a widespread disease? We are a globally connected world, where people increasingly pay attention to their carbon footprint and try to reduce their travels (look here to calculate, very very roughly, your carbon footprint).
That’s all very well… except we can’t suffer from that typical homo socialus affliction without doing something about it!

Here are some ways to deal with THE virus of our times…

Know your enemy (the symptoms)

All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services)

All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services)

Meetings are the mega virus of which meetingitis virtuales is only a sub-virus. We end up meeting everyone all the time, about everything. Do we have to? Certainly not!

There’s a lot of advice out there to eliminate useless meetings. The point is: feel free to kill meetings that are ill-planned, ill-prepared or that take too long (and for those you might use nifty little tricks such as this app to measure time and cost spent on a meeting).

Having lived in the Netherlands, where everyone is meeting – it was a matter of life and death for the Dutchies in their fight against Mother Nature’s over generous waters – I have grown rather sensitive to this MV88 virus and am now picking my meeting battles. No clear objective, no clear chair, no clear team, no clear commitment? I’m out of it… When all this is in place, let’s convene again 🙂

This resource could be of great help to help you decide whether or not a (virtual) meeting is appropriate.
Personally I reckon making decisions to attend meetings depends mostly on whether or not these are decision-making meetings. Of course there are many reasons to organise meetings but only when collective consultation and decisions are required is a meeting truly justified. Simple information sharing can happen through other means (and ahead of meetings).

Remember these tips ‘to meet or not to meet’, to decide whether to hold a meeting in the first instance or not…

Know your medicines (the tools)

Now that you have the basics covered and you know you will be having a virtual meeting, you need to select the tools that will help you cope with MV88 rather than make it worse: web-conferencing tools.

If you use Skype a lot, these guidelines to manage a Skype conference call might come in handy. If you’re rather in favour of Google Hangouts, then check these recent Google Hangout guidelines by Samuel Stacey.

But hey! There’s a whole lot more options beyond Skype, Google Hangouts or even WebEx!!!

Various discussions on KM4Dev have looked into web-conferencing tools, particularly for low bandwidth contexts:

And the ever brilliant ‘Knowledge Sharing Toolkit’ has an entry on web meeting tools too, but it’s difficult to beat Wikipedia – particularly for its great comparison table of web conferencing software. But I notice even ubiquitous Wikipedia doesn’t mention BlueJeans – perhaps that table should be updated, as this very recent (Feb. 2014) comparative review of three web conferencing softwares, within CGIAR, gives BlueJeans as winner, hands down.

Administer the medicines in the best possible way (the processes)

If you know why you’re having the virtual meeting, what platform you’ll be using, then the last step is to look at ways to organise the meetings in the best possible ways. This gets very close to meeting facilitation… And virtual meetings are not exactly the same animals as face-to-face meetings.

Here are some basics to manage all kinds of meetings…

Make meetings work (Credits: Zoho)

Make meetings work! (Credits: Zoho)

And here are my own tips for virtual meetings:

  • Split responsibilities among participants: chair / note-taker / technology attendant (to connect/disconnect people). It will greatly help a smooth running;
  • Don’t just rely on voice-over-internet-protocol. In a series of online peer-assists I was involved in, we took the habit of systematically using in parallel with VOIP) a simple wiki-like ‘MeetingWords‘ pad to capture the flow, so that anyone dropping out (and that happened a lot as you can imagine), could follow the conversation including the bits they’d missed;
  • Don’t focus on the time you have, focus on your objectives and what you have to achieve. Shorter meetings encourage all participants to put focus and dedication into it. In the 50-cent and 2-second immortality world we live in, it’s quite difficult to keep your virtual participants focused. If you planned to spend an hour and you’re done within 30 minutes, let it be and enjoy the extra time!

Nancy White has compiled this absolutely excellent list of conference call tips and tricks, so I think you’re in better hands with her than with me at this stage.

If you find other tips to beat MV88, let us all know, for I don’t think virtual meetings are likely to disappear in the near future. Ooops, gotta leave you folks, the next conference call is happening 😉

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Women, youth, disabled, minorities… learning and sharing with all that we are


Yesterday was International Women’s Day (8 March) – with the theme ‘Inspiring change‘.

Two years ago, on that date, I celebrated the natural inclination of many women toward sharing and learning (as well as caring to share).

Dealing with minorities... (Credits - Snorkel/FlickR)

Dealing with minorities… (Credits – Snorkel/FlickR)

This year, I want to use this occasion to reflect on all the minorities (hey, gender usually comes with equity), recognised as such or not, whether rightly or wrongly – and their capacity to deeply enrich learning and sharing… We all bring to the table some baggage that has not always been positive, but can be used positively to learn, share and inspire…

My wife is collecting life stories of people that deeply affected or inspired her (to be publicly available soon). One of the common traits of all these people is the deep struggle they had in their life, often as members of minorities or during ‘minority moments’ – when they are going against the main current – something I’m sure we can find in the (visual) shape of stories generally. We bear these life wounds in ourselves.

In my case, although we are not talking of any trauma at all, far from it, I have often felt sidelined in my work, misunderstood (the ills of working in knowledge management ha ha). I felt out of place for a very long time, until I found my professional family in KM4Dev. And then of course I was a minority Breton in France, a minority Frenchman in the Netherlands and now in Ethiopia… We all have these feelings of ‘existing without’… out of the mainstream.

Yet, as much as the gay community has appropriated the insults ‘faggot’ and the likes to disarm the words, we can all use our minority identities, moments and pathways to work to our advantage.

Here is a tour of the benefits of these minority moments to learn, share, inspire:

  • Going through such ‘minority experiences’ is the best way to rebound, to find the guts to look at life the way it really is, to reflect deeply on who we are, how different we are from ‘the mainstream’, on where and how we live – according to what principles;
  • It’s also the best way to realise who we live around with and who really matters to us – so it’s a powerful way to deeply engage, make lifelong friendships and relationships of all kinds. So, paradoxically, our minority pathways make us more unique and simultaneously more together, perhaps;
  • Reflecting through our minority pathways helps us gain self-assurance and thus deliver the most of ourselves on our good moments… Richer sharing, stronger learning, better inspiration…
  • The complex environments in which we work require a diversity of perspectives, with generalists as well as specialists, with men as well as women, with youth as well as elderly, with disabled or not disabled people… the more minorities in the mix, the better;
  • All these groups and minorities tend to work in isolation from one another, with their network that is by and large equally disconnected from one another. Bringing up our networks into a social learning approach of sorts helps connect learning communities and conversations;
  • At the same time, it is not only about perspectives and networks but also about skills and capacities that everyone brings to the mix. We all have special powers – combined, we manage to work much more effectively and synergistically;
  • The state of seclusion of the minorities we belong to is a good indication of the progress still to make in a given space – if we want to achieve universal sense-making we have to genuinely include all minorities, all secluded groups.
  • If people with quite a difficult pathway in life manage to make it through life – as is the case in the life stories my wife tells me about – there is all the more case for inspiration, and in many cases these people have managed to make it by learning and sharing with others… so it is inspiration to follow their principles of life… 

And I’m sure many more reasons come into play… the point is: let’s not just celebrate women on 8 March, let’s celebrate diversity and minorities all the time, everywhere, for true transformational social learning is all about bringing people together to learn, share, inspire and kindle change…

I leave you with a quote from Louis CK about minority thinking… which shows there is much left to desire when it comes to thinking, sharing, learning along with all minorities and majorities…

Minority thinking via Louis CK (Credits I.Imgur)

Minority thinking via Louis CK (Credits I.Imgur)

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Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning… Navigating fractal change through space and time


Change, change, change!

Going up the scale of change

Going up the scale of change

So many clichés about change, so much ado about a big thing, so many ways to look at it and so many barriers to it!

And just so it’s clear: I’m talking about social change (see some pictures about this concept), i.e. change that involves humans and their behaviour, as opposed to changes in e.g. engineering or information systems.

The much desired and (our most loathed) change is at the centre of a lot of agile KM and also development work. We want to understand it, track it, make it happen, or stop it. As a formula. In a box. 100% fail-proof.

The bitter deceit…

Perhaps because we may be overlooking one of the most important dimensions of (social) change: it is the bizarre fruit of the dance of time and space along various factors. There is no direct and pure causality between activity A and change X. Complexity theories have helped us understand this intricacy. But not necessarily helped us find ways to address this.

Here’s a shoot post about a change management toolkit of sorts: Using hidden dynamics to realise how to look at and work around change, with four lighthouses on our journey: scaling, pacing, staging and patterning.

Scaling

Social change has both roots and branches across space and time. Understanding scaling is a precondition to achieving change. What other geographic scales are at play in a change dynamics? What could be other beneficiaries or victims of change: other teams? Organisations? Projects? Communities? Districts? Regions? Think upstream-downstream, centre-edges, power groups/marginalised groups What mechanisms are intentionally or involuntarily titillating other scales? What are the tradeoffs and what is the aggregate ‘return on investment’ then?

Similarly, what could be long term as opposed to short term changes or effects? We tend to apply a tunnel vision to the scales we are focusing on, but understanding how a given initiative brings about change that affects people differently over time helps us get a bigger picture of the change we are looking at. This is at the centre of the reflection on time scales in social learning for climate change.

Of course we cannot predict all these changes, but joined-up thinking such as collective visioning exercises give us glimpses of these longer term changes… Don’t consider change without careful attention for scales.

Pacing

Time is of the essence in change, as we’ve seen above. Because behaviour change takes time, all the more so when someone else wants you to change.

Considering longer term effects begs us to examine the speed at which we hope change will happen and the one at which it really happens. As much as a common breathing pace brings people together, pacing activities according to the local context’s normal pace also raises chances for change – remember organic, civic-driven KM?. No need to rush, you might be leading the pack but no one may understand you. Going too slow on the other hand may jeopardise potential for change, time has to be just right. And our pace affects this…

Staging

No ‘intended’ social change happens overnight – unless by some miracle all elements are just ready for it and one extra drop takes care of it (ha! the results of edge effects Alice McGillivray is brilliantly talking about). So no change happens in a fingersnap.

And because of the complex interdependencies, no change is likely to happen at (extended) scale right on. Pacing helps us find the right rhythm of each activity, staging activities helps us align them. It gives us liberty to use effective safe-fail probes (more about that in the video below): We can thus explore how change happens in smaller iterations, using the feedback from each iteration to inform the next loop of activities. Like gardening, this is the key to let change grow and become part of the local fabric’s dynamics. Staging is the drip irrigation of change…

Patterning

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

Discerning fractal change from any pattern

The last but not the least dynamic of the four, and for good reasons: The complexity of social change requires us to sharpen our senses and (ideally collectively) recognise patterns that make up change. Both in the centre of our attention and at the edges… With patterning we can identify the fractals of change, and by continually doing so we can recognise where in the bigger picture of change a certain fractal belongs.

How do you do patterning? Through learning conversations around a theory of change of sorts, and whether formalised or not, continually exploring the ramifications of that change.

In a lot of agile KM projects – and more conspicuously in a majority of development projects – we tend to zero in on specific changes induced by a given initiative. But we are chasing a fish pack and the way the fish pack shapes and shifts, moves and mixes, appears and disappears tells us much about that ever elusive change. Scaling, pacing, staging and patterning are instruments at our disposal to understand the fish better and, occasionally, to fish it better.

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Navigating change: better do it with caution

Since change might look like a shark, we might as well be apprehend it better, don’t you think?

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