At Last, Make It Happen!
By Fernando Cardoso de Sousa
President of the Portuguese Association for Creativity and Innovation - APGICO
Thanks to Jeffrey’s inspiration and support, we (I represent a team in this research) were able to contribute with a different approach to creative problem solving, whose main characteristic is supposed to be its emphasis in committing the team to comply with action plan requirements. First, I wrote, based on our research, about the “WASNT” approach to problem definition and action steps; then some theoretical considerations and practical implications that might justify the approach, in “Problem-free, idea-free, creative thinking“.
Now it’s time to explain how a facilitator might increase the chances for the team to execute an innovative project as planned.
First, remember that you have already defined the problem and the list of steps needed to solve it. But how do you know when you have all the necessary steps, in order to move forward? You don’t! You (and the team) just feel it. Even if you, the facilitator, are not a content specialist, your experience and intuition “tells” you when you have all that is needed. Nevertheless, if you (and the team) are wrong, there are still more opportunities to confirm it, so let’s move on.
Start by asking the team how the first task should be done. List the valuable suggestions and don’t forget to ask for ways to overcome possible barriers, if pertinent. This is the creative part, where you will hear original and important contributions, but not forcefully in the first task. Why not? Because the team is not committed enough. What can you do?
When you have a considerable list of the “how to’s?”, it is time to ask for volunteers. When you do, you will most likely hear silence again (remember when the team was silent after you asked for concrete tasks for solving the problem, instead of just ideas?). At this moment, the team realizes that this is not just for fun, and that someone will be responsible. Either by individual offer, team suggestion or client designation, you will have a sub-team executing the task. Note that task responsibility should not rely on just one individual. Ideally there must be two people, but there may be more, depending on the proportion of team members to number of tasks. When you have a sub-team, ask the sub-team leader (the first to volunteer or the person designated) when the task will be ready. With this requirement you probably started another discussion, between those who think it will be quick, these who are ready to work on a 24/7 hours basis, and those who do not plan to give much extra time. After some discussion a balanced period will normally win, especially after you call the subgroup's attention to the fact that the tasks must be done without neglecting routine work and the client has stressed the need for the project to be accomplished before a certain date.
To finish the action plan for the task, the team still needs to designate who or which unit will be responsible for determining if the quality standard for the task to be achieved (normally an external consultant will do the work), and if there is any sort of return on investment (ROI) involved (i.e. the evaluation of the task’s quality standard might have some costs, which can be compared with the costs of the whole task if done by that external consultant).
In the second task, the team has finally understood the process. Everything will go smoothly and fast, until all tasks have been planned in detail and all team members have been assigned to sub-teams in a balanced way.
However, the job is not over yet. You must still designate the communication sub-team who will update all members about the project’s progress. Also, if the client agrees, this sub-team will deal with internal marketing and external advertising. Ideally, the more people know about what “this people” is doing and why, the less resistance the team will face and the more pressure it will receive to comply with deadlines and quality standards. Do not forget that there is no pressure like peer pressure.
The next step is to establish milestones (e.g. in a three month project at least one milestone will be required). You also need to set dates for the whole team to meet together and for the final deadline, when the team must present a formal debriefing about project accomplishment.
Give special attention to the designation of the project coordinator (it is advisable to set this in advance with the client, although it must look like an entirely improvised designation by the team). The coordinator will be responsible for the interface between the team and the client and for leading everybody to comply with the requirements, especially the deadlines. If there is a need for a creative leader, this is it.
Do not go away! There is still work to do. In the last 30 minutes you should let the team relax and reflect on the learning that has taken place. The final debriefing must be planned (we will deal with it at next opportunity) and provide opportunities for every member to make insights about what has been learned in this session. This way, although not planned to be a training session, meaningful learning might take place.
After no more than 150 minutes (the first part took 60 minutes and the break another 30), the session is over and you can all go home. The real work has just started, and we will talk about it at the next opportunity. Remember that we dealt with a small group session. Sessions, with more than 15 people or with a majority of members external to the company, deserve a future text.
As a sort of closure to this text we would still like to ask you not to fear the action plan. It may happen to you, as it happened with us, to ask yourself how can you be sure that all pertinent tasks have been designated, and its distribution has been made in an accurate and balanced way to every team member.
Fear not, as we can tell you, in scientific terms, that miracles happen, and these are just some of them.
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