Workout: June 26, 2013

Design Goals and Principles

  • Reframe group work around power
  • Practice recognizing power dynamics
  • Practice shifting power dynamics

Workout Plan

What Happened


This particular workout really tested how much I truly believe in this bootcamp model. My inclination was to give participants a framework (Kantor) for how to think about group dynamics. This is exactly what you would do in a traditional training. But my hypothesis around this bootcamp model is that it’s not about content, it’s about giving people opportunities to practice with feedback, exercising the muscles that they’ve already developed over the years, whether or not they’re conscious of them.

What I wanted to do was simply raise the questions, and let them tap into their own and the group’s intelligence. I wanted to get them thinking about their own relationships to power, which is critical, because everyone’s view of the dynamics in a room are biased by their own frames. Then I wanted them to practice observing power dynamics out loud and come up with ideas for how they might shift those dynamics.

At worst, my participants were going to get to have a grounded conversation about power for two hours. At best, the workouts were going to help them become aware of their muscles for observing and shifting these dynamics, so that they can continue to develop them.

Overall, I feel good about the outcomes. I liked the video review for a lot of reasons. I’m glad I didn’t offer any content, although once again, I found myself talking a lot, and I continue to wonder how much I should be pointing things out, and how much I should be holding back. I am actually holding back quite a bit, but I wonder if I should be holding back more.

The design was very rough, and I didn’t do the best job of executing it. (Lots of details below.)

Logistically, I had a participant drop out of bootcamp entirely this morning, and I had one participant who was going to miss the first hour, so I only had three participants the first hour, four the second. For the first time, I got to test a “pair” exercise as a triplet. (More on this below.) We started on time, but we ended 15 minutes late.

Group Counting

  • Kind of a small group for this exercise.
  • Would have been better standing.
  • Nice observations from the participants about different dynamics (e.g. people’s effort to be equitable, which actually would not have been as noticeable with a larger group). Good preface for the day’s exercises.
  • Spent some time relating it to teleconferences, our assumptions about visual cues, presence. I think the participants appreciated the content, but I would rather have had the time for longer debriefs from the other exercises. Prioritize exercise over content delivery!
  • I need to better incorporate breathing, getting present into the exercise. More of a checkbox the way I do it. I need to better incorporate breathing into my own facilitation overall!

Reflections on Power

  • First chance to experiment with a threesome instead of a pair (a necessity when you have odd numbers for pair exercises). It went okay, but timing will be an issue. It’s basically three different pair conversations as opposed to a three-way conversation. This is unavoidable if you want to do reflect-back exercises, but it makes explaining the exercise a bit more challenging.
  • This was the right first exercise conceptually. Need to ground any power discussion with people’s own relationships to power.
  • The question is very deep for such a quick exercise. The participants got muddled in their explanations, which is understandable, given how loaded the question is. You could imagine doing a whole half-day or even a whole day on this question alone. That made the reflect-back more challenging, because you’re reflecting back people’s confusion. Participants did a good job of asking clarifying questions.
  • I ad-libbed a 1-10 assessment in response to the reflect-back. Everyone rated each other almost perfect — 9.5-10.5 (!). I’m skeptical of this. I’m wanting to incorporate more listening / synthesis exercises, maybe do a whole day on listening, because I think we’re too generous in assuming that other people understand us (or even that we understand ourselves), and that problem is amplified as discussions get more complex.
  • I ended up scrapping my synthesis. We were running way over time, and we weren’t going to get a useful collective synthesis from such a quick exercise with only three people.
  • In my design, I conflated listening / synthesis / self-awareness exercises. When I do this skillfully, it’s awesome. This time, it was not skillful. I may be trying to exercise too many muscles in this single exercise, rather than focus on the content / self-awareness aspect, which is complex.

Video Review

  • Great, thoughtful insights from the participants! Validated my decision not to start with a framework.
  • Was already 15 minutes over when I started this exercise. Should have scrapped the Dodgeball clip.
  • Should have had pens along with the templates.
  • Thought the Dodgeball clip would be self-explanatory, but it wasn’t. Should have set it up. Did set up 12 Angry Men.
  • While scrapping the Dodgeball clip was the right thing to do given the constraint. Conceptually, though, I liked starting with it, because it was short and light, and it was good warmup for the much heavier and nuanced 12 Angry Men clip.
  • I emphasized observation versus analysis in my setup, but I should have started with a pre-canned example. We also didn’t really get to leverage this, because our debrief time was so short. This is an argument for only doing two or even one clip, even if not pressed for time.
  • I’m glad the group voted to watch the clip of themselves even though we were way over time at that point. In retrospect, I wish I had not even offered that choice (offering too much choice is another commonly made facilitation mistake). Watching yourself is a very good exercise, and in fact, it’s a capacity I’d like to see people incorporate more in their every day work. High-performance athletes watch video of themselves. So should knowledge workers.
  • Loved the individual practices people came up with. Wish I had had more time for this reflection piece.
  • My own power practice: In debriefs, I found myself responding to almost everything everyone was saying. I was enthusiastic about all the teaching moments, and I could have spent 30 minutes riffing on every point made. But, I don’t think the value I was adding outweighed the value that would have emerged from just giving people more time to discuss things on their own. Overwhelming people with more insights makes the learning overall less sticky.


  • I think the homework is straightforward this week, but I’m worried about people posting at the last minute again. Posting something is better than nothing, especially if it happens once a week, but I want to see more online engagement. I’m almost certainly going to replace blogging here with P2 for the next session; only question is whether I should start that shift earlier with this group.

Lessons Learned

Went Well Could Be Better
  • Validated the basic premise of this exercise. While my design and execution was rougher than normal, I think this workout shows a ton of promise. Looking forward to iterating.
  • The room had a clock in my line of sight. That works better than a watch, because I don’t have to look down to check it. Perhaps I should use a portable clock instead of my watch?
  • The printed templates work really well. Not only do people have something to write on (versus scrounging around for their own paper), but the instructions are written there, which is helpful. When they don’t have written instructions, participants end up writing them down themselves.
  • Forgot my watch. I need to add that to my equipment checklist.
  • Did not find out where the bathroom was before the meeting. Need to add that to my checklist.
  • The space had thin walls, and there were children playing very loudly next door. I was able to tune them out, but I was also very conscious of the noise.
  • The projector from the space was horrible, and there was no way to cover the windows entirely. The group was small enough to have people watch from my computer, and using my external speakers helped a lot. In the future, if you’re going to rent a projector from a space, test it first.
  • No physical movement. Definitely could have incorporated some standing in the opening exercise. Need to figure out ways to incorporate some movement in the middle or end.
  • Went 15 minutes over. I could have cut one of the video clips. Potentially need to revisit the design of the opening power reflection.
  • I used the folding table for the video review, which worked well for a variety of reasons. But it would have been good to have had clipboards as a backup. Need to buy more of those flat clipboards!
  • Bring pens.
  • Talked too much. It’s not that what I said wasn’t valuable, it’s that the value was outweighed by the unintentional negative side-effects: creating more space for participants to talk and think, and not overwhelming people with intricate insights, which makes the overall learning less sticky.
  • I need to find other ways to interact with participants. I’m noting individual patterns that I want to spend some time with, but not at the expense of the group work, and not necessarily in front of the group either. I’d ideally like to do it on the blogs, but may start reaching out to people individually.
  • I want to incorporate a persistent dashboard into the process, so that participants can track their practices.
  • Didn’t take any pictures today.
  • If I’m going to show commercial video clips, need to ask permission.

I'd love to hear what you think! Please leave your comments below.