Workshop Bank

If you conduct workshops, finding activities that relate to your themes can be a challenge. I have used one activity several times, first in Toronto in 2011. A while later, over a beer in Copenhagen, I met Nick Martin, who was beginning to develop a new website, WorkshopBank, to share ideas on ice-breakers and other workshop/training activities. He liked my use of the equilateral triangles collaboration exercise and it is now posted. In perusing Nick’s site, there are at least two new exercises I plan to try out.

Culture Triangle: A team building motivational activity that helps separate teams or organizations understand each other better with a view to improving collaboration.

Prisoner’s Dilemma (aka Reds & Blues): Prisoner’s Dilemma is a fantastic team building game which demonstrates whether people display win-win (co-operative) or win-lose orientation (selfish competitive) in a fun situation which offers the possibility of both.

TheWorkshopBankPodcastArtworkIf you have other workshop ideas you would like to share, contact Nick and join the community. I think this is a resource that many people will find useful.

Networked Knowing

I spoke at the UNL Extension conference in Nebraska last week. The theme was on the changing nature of work as we enter the network era and how learning is becoming integral to individual and organizational success. I noted how the period of 1900 to 1920 saw a significant shift in the American economy, with manufacturing replacing farming as the dominant economic activity. The resulting demographic shift was millions of men leaving farms and moving to factories.  The Cooperative Extension program was created in 1914 while this shift was taking place. One hundred years later and we are witnessing a similar shift, from the industrial economy to the network era and a creative economy. For a deeper look at this phenomenon, see Nine Shift.


Today, knowledge-based work is replacing manufacturing jobs. Robots and software are displacing routine work. Meanwhile, collaborative work is dominating both transactional and production work. The future of valued, human work is in addressing complex problems and coming up with creative solutions.

One major difference between the 21st century and the work shift of the last century is that there are no jobs waiting for displaced workers today. One hundred years ago farm hands could move to the city and get a job. Today, the future of work is not in the form of a job. This may be a shock to those already in the workforce but it is an accepted reality amongst many younger people.

With creative work, much of the knowledge required is implicit. It cannot be found in a manual or text book, and there is no training program to become creative. Informal learning, often with peers, is how how creative workers have learned through the ages. We need to take the best aspects of what the artist studios and artisan guilds offered and find ways to replicate these. Social experiments, such as co-work spaces and crowd-funded projects, are emerging in the creative economy.

Networks are beginning to replace hierarchies as the organizational model to get work done and exchange value. Jobs are relics of hierarchies. In networks, there is no need for standardized and replaceable jobs. Every node is unique, which strengthens the overall network. In a network, relying on standard approaches only erodes trust, as it does not treat each node as an individual. Knowledge networks are built on human relationships and trust emerges over time.

How can an organization like Cooperative Extension adapt to the network era? First, it needs to structure as a network because the initial design of the organization influences everything else. Creating the best, and most human, environment for people to get work done should be the only job of a CEO.

Social networks have to be supported so that people can connect to do their work better. Frameworks such as  personal knowledge mastery ensure that everyone takes responsibility for sense-making and knowledge-sharing. By practicing PKM, everyone can engage in critical thinking. All workers should continuously question the contexts in which they are working.

Active experimentation in the organization can be encouraged through constant learning by doing, as established best practices are useless in dealing with complexity. Everyone needs to be connected to the goals of the organization (network), not just doing their job.  Results will emerge from the entire network, when everyone is responsible in a transparent and open organization.

A networked organization is more resilient and flexible. We do not know what the future will hold but it will be more complex. The ability to learn by doing will enable organizations to actively engage their communities and societies. Freedom will not be in independence but interdependence, which is something we can retrieve from 19th century America.

The book, Democracy in America, is, I think, the most useful book I know to help understand who we are. And he [de Tocqueville] says, if I can summarize him in a rather gross form, that he came here and he found a society whose definitions and solutions were not created by nobility, by professionals, by experts or managers, but by what he identified as little groups of people, self-appointed, common men and women who came together and took three powers: the power to decide there was a problem, the power to decide how to solve the problem – that is, the expert’s power – and then the power to solve the problem. These little groups of people weren’t elected and they weren’t appointed and they were everyplace, and they were, he said, the heart of the new society – they were the American community as distinct from the European community. And he named these little groups “associations”. Association is the collective for citizens, an association of citizens. And so we think of our community as being the social space in which citizens in association do the work of problem-solving, celebration, consolation, and creation – that community, that space, in contrast to the space of the system with the box at the top and lots of little boxes at the bottom. And I think it is still the case that the hope for our time is in those associations. – The Careless Society, John McKnight

L&D and working out loud #wolweek

This week is Working Out Loud week, and I can’t but come out in support of a principle that I think is going to be key to organizational success. And, I think, L&D has a key role to play.

The benefits from working out loud are many. Personally, documenting what you’re doing serves as a reminder to yourself and awareness for others. The real power comes, however, from taking that next level: documenting not just what you’re doing, but why. This helps you in reflecting on your own work, and being clear in your thinking. Moreover, sharing your thinking gives you a second benefit in getting others’ input which can really improve the outcome.

In addition, it gives others a couple of benefits. They get to know what you’re up to, so it’s easier to align, but if your thinking is any good, it gives them the chance to learn from how you think.

So what is the role of L&D here? I’ll suggest there are two major roles: facilitating the skills and enabling the culture.

First, don’t assume folks know what working out loud means. And even if they do, they may not be good at it in terms of knowing how to indicate the underlying thinking. And they likely will want feedback and encouragement. First, L&D needs to model it, practicing what they preach. They need to make sure the tools are easily available and awareness is shared. Execs need to be shown the benefit and encouraged to model the behavior too. And L&D will have to trumpet the benefits, accomplishments, and encourage the behavior.

None of this is really likely to succeed if you don’t have a supportive culture. In a Miranda organization, no one is going to share. Instead, you need the elements of a learning organization: the environment has to value diversity, be open to new ideas, provide time for reflection, and most of all be safe. And L&D has to understand the benefits and continue to promote them, identify problems, and work to resolve them.

Note that this is not something you manage or control. The attitude here has to be one of nourishing aka (seed, feed, and weed). You may track it, and you want to be looking for things to support or behaviors to improve, but the goal is to develop a vibrant community of sharing, not squelching anything that violates the hierarchy.

Working out loud benefits the individual and the organization in a healthy environment. Getting the environment right, and facilitating the practice, are valuable contributions, and ones that L&D can, and should, contribute to.