Ancient Greek philosophers once met in open-air forums to discuss issues of philosophy, ethics, government and art. Part debate, part lecture, and part conversation, these symposiums were attended by serious scholars and social butterflies alike. Individuals would share ideas, anecdotes and experiences with a theme or topic in an ongoing process of first expanding, then refining concepts.
Humans are more likely to believe the "truth" of something if they are involved in its discovery, and work teams are no different. Whether trying to validate an existing assumption, construct a cross-functional work process, or adopt a new business strategy, it’s crucial for the team to believe that the best path has been uncovered. Only then will the team support its completion. Active Forum gives your people a voice in your organizational processes and policies.
To begin, the facilitator works with the team to develop a theme: for example, how to improve client communications or how to become a more effective team. Because the dialog will center on this theme, personal affronts or territorialism can be avoided. The comments arent personal in nature, but specifically relate to that theme.
Once the theme has been selected and agreed upon, the facilitator starts calling on volunteers to delineate some of the topics of the theme. They may be contributing factors to the issue at hand, parallel circumstances, solutions or resources. The only rule is that he/she who volunteers the topic, owns the topic for the duration of the exercise, earning the role of Convener. There is a reason for this: the Convener will probably have the most passion, interest and commitment for this topic.
For example: if the theme of the Active Forum is "improving our customer communications," then some of the topics (opportunities and issues) might be personalized emails, follow-up phone calls, or customer care packages. The Convener who owns that topic claims some space, mans an easel and prepares to lead a discussion around his topic, while other Conveners take their place around the room, equally equipped to lead a discussion of their own around their topics.
The rest of the teams gravitate from one Convener to another, engaging in those discussions most interesting to them, adding an opinion here, a story there. As the groups move from topic area to topic area, they "cross-pollinate," sharing information from one group with another. And should a topic area not be that relevant to a team member, he or she can simply move on. Interest speaks to knowledge and just how directly affected one is by a decision.
The robust dialogues typical during Active Forum are focused on those actions that can be taken in the near future, that will be supported by management, align with the values and culture of the organization, and use the resources and talent currently at hand. This is not "pie-in-the-sky" brainstorming, but a highly pragmatic yet creative process.
After the groups have exhausted new ideas for each topic, Conveners and their audience list the steps necessary to address the opportunities and issues discussed, then rank order the steps. The criteria for this ranking varies depending on the group: easiest to hardest to implement, cheapest to most inexpensive to implement, or step-by-step if there is a work process being built.
When the teams come back together, the Conveners briefly report on what they uncovered during their sessions. Others can ask the Conveners for clarification at this time, or further expand on their ideas. Individuals are exposed to all of the opportunities and issues so that they are aware of (if not interested or committed to) the whole picture.
These self-selecting committees are responsible for holding secondary meetings back at the office and expanding the circle of those involved, both to gain more ideas and to help spread out the workload. We stay closely involved during this phase to ensure that the ideas get implemented in a timely fashion. Many of the clients we have led through Active Forum express relief at being able to create a working plan in a few hours for an issue that had been discussed for years.
Our Active Forum workshop can span two hours to entire days to multiple-day retreats depending on the size of the group and the complexity of the initiative. Try blending a Team Sailing or Team Orienteering adventure to fast track your plan.