Tools vs Practice

Today is the last workout of this iteration of my bootcamp. Over the past three workouts, we’ve navigated an interesting tension between learning-by-teaching and learning-by-doing.

I’m trying to design workouts that are not reliant on my “expertise” to facilitate. This is partially because of my practical desire to see these workouts scale beyond these bootcamps, but it’s also very much philosophical. I think that changemakers are conditioned to seek external knowledge rather than foster experiential knowledge. I think that consultants (my former profession) feed into this vicious cycle in a less than healthy way. I think this balance is all wrong.

For example, our third workout was about power dynamics. Rather than provide a framework for understanding group dynamics, I had participants simply tap into what they already understood. I was rewarded for my trust. They were insightful and thoughtful, and they complemented each other’s knowledge. Practicing what they already knew, but maybe didn’t realize, created deeper learning than would have resulted if I had tried to teach them a framework up-front.

Our fourth workout was about designing group engagements. This time, my approach failed. Participants felt lost, and they didn’t quite understand what I was asking them to do. (You can read Renee and Lauren’s thoughts on our new Water Cooler, which is where we’re now doing our homework exercises.) My design was too ambitious, and it didn’t give participants ample opportunities to tap into their own knowledge.

Last week’s workout was about difficult conversations, and I managed to recover from the previous week. Once again, I didn’t provide a framework, but it didn’t seem to matter. A big reason for that was that this group collectively already has quite a bit of experience with communication strategies. What they needed was practice.

My participants are finding the practice valuable, but they seem to be wanting more content to balance the practice. I’m listening, but I’m not ready to make drastic changes. I think there are some lightweight opportunities — providing a handbook, crowdsourcing tools, etc. — and I’m anxious to see how they feel after they’ve had a chance to run through these exercises two or three times. My theory is that they’re conditioned to want external tools more than they actually need them. However, I’m open to be wrong, and I’ll keep watching and listening.

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About Eugene Eric Kim

Eugene helps groups learn how to come alive and collaborate more skillfully together. He spent ten years consulting with companies across different sectors, from Fortune 500 companies to grassroots movements. He’s now focusing his efforts on helping others develop the same skills that he uses to help groups.