Dorothy Mingneau, Senior Innovation Designer at TomorrowLab, has already run countless workshops and brainstorming sessions. One important area of activity is the strategic conversions about scenario planning and innovation in its broadest sense. Important to know: it makes no difference what type of leader you are. ‘There are leaders with a very strong future vision. Their challenge is to get their staff on board. Whereas participative leaders work in a flatter hierarchical structure and they want to determine their future vision with their staff.‘
Our approach will ensure success for all kinds of leaders.
01. Change of location
‘We always organise our workshops and brainstormingsessions for companies and organisations, in-house at TomorrowLab. It helps to take people out of their every day context. Another advantage of using a different location is that people can’t wander off or be interrupted by colleagues demanding their attention.’
02. Take time
‘It is very important to take enough time. We work in three main phases: one to gain insight, two to generate options and three to make decisions. We work through these phases in various sessions. Moreover, the time between the consecutive sessions is very useful for allowing thoughts and ideas to mature in the minds of all the participants.’
03. Care about diversity
‘We try to involve people from different departments and sections in the process. This provides for cross-pollination of the different viewpoints within companies and organisations and leads to more successful innovations than if you stay within one business unit or section. Naturally, we also try to ensure there are diverse generations present and a good male-female ratio.’
04. Speak the same language
‘If people from different departments or business units take part, they don’t always understand each other’s language or objectives. We use a range of tools, such as scenario planning, to facilitate this. They provide a structured way to talk to each other about the company’s goals, or the areas in need of renewal. Everyone has a different vision of the future. Devising four scenarios for the future, provides a shared frame of reference.
05. Listen to the outside world
‘A lot of companies or organisations draw on their own strengths and opportunities. We do the opposite: we work from the outside-in. What do outside stakeholders have to say on certain topics? What do experts say about your organisation? What will you be facing? That often alters the way you look at your business and it is extremely valuable to view your problem or challenge from different perspectives.’
06. Give other people room
‘We always ask beforehand: what will be the biggest threat to the success of the project? What often comes up: the ability to speak freely. Staff are worried about offending the CEO, but this type of process has to come from all directions. If leaders come across too dominantly in a workshop it can freeze the process. Of course, we do ensure that there is room for the leader’s vision, but we also add other visions to that. We also use other ways to put them in touch with experts, customers and other CEOs, such as in our round-table sessions on particular topics.’
07. Care about neutrality
‘As a neutral facilitator, we ensure the process is managed properly. Everyone present has to be able to be themselves. Part of my role is to bring balance between participants. To achieve that, we sometimes make a concerted decision not to have a brainstorming session. Instead we may opt for brain-writing, a writing exercise in which people have to write their ideas on a Post-it individually and they are shared with the group afterwards. Or we create smaller subgroups around certain topics. They then get to pitch their ideas. This type of neutral role is not only essential, it is also appreciated.’
08. Don’t judge, reflect
‘For scenario planning, we work with a core team and a mirroring team. People who are very actively involved in the exercises are put on the core team. The mirroring team acts as a type of sounding board. We bring the two groups together regularly to give a report. The mirroring team’s job is then not to approve something, it is only allowed to reflect. That not only creates enough distance for reflection, it also creates an interesting dynamic between the two groups.’
09. Invest in embedding
‘People may be harbouring frustrations from past experiences. Staff may not want to participate, because they feel nothing will come of the results. We state clearly, that it is necessary to guarantee that this will result in a concrete strategy and vision for example. We also ensure the project stays on the management’s agenda.’
10. Broad communication
‘Ultimately the whole organisation needs to be on board. With scenario planning we create a concrete vision of the four scenarios from the exercises. That way we make them tangible. We try to concretise everything as much as possible with a vision, a strategy and a road map. You need that to be able to communicate the new story. You should also make use of everyone involved in the project as an ambassador to get all of the staff in the organisation on board.’
Understandably, business leaders have become obsessed with moving fast in a world that changes at increasing speed. But when you go fast without knowing where you are going, you could end up getting lost.