Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage News Exercises for Leading Creative Collaboration

Exercises for Leading Creative Collaboration

Jens Hoffmann facilitated a workshop on leading creative collaboration to make ideas and people grow at the OOP 2015 conference. In his workshop he explored how we can lead ourselves and others. He did exercises with the attendants where they practiced collaboration, listening and using powerful questions.

After a short introduction about creative collaboration Hoffmann formed teams of 4-6 people. He gave a box with Lego to each team. Next he gave a “secret” instruction to every member of the team and asked them to read it but not tell it to other team members.

In the first exercise the teams had to build a structure with Lego. People were not allowed to speak, make sounds or draw, they had to collaborate in total silence and not communicate with each other. After 10 minutes Hoffmann said the teams should stop and he asked every member to read his or her secret instruction to see if they had met it.

People said that it was difficult to work together without talking, it was sometimes confusing. One person said he created a silo and ignored all other team members to focus on his goal, he didn't collaborate at all.

Some people had the instruction to coordinate the team. Not being able to speak they found it very difficult to do it. Hoffmann explained that this exercise can be used to show that it is very difficult to lead when you do not communicate with people.

Hoffmann talked about two leading styles: leading particles and leading space. Leading particles means that you are focused on the details and controlling outcomes by gathering information and telling and showing what to do. Leading space focuses on the natural ability to co-create, on what the team wants to achieve. In leading space leaders frame situations and support the team, they are focused on the why to let team members contribute themselves with the what and how.

The next exercises that Hoffmann did was a Chinese whispering game. The attendants formed lines and the first person whispered a sentence to his of her neighbor, who repeated it to his or her neighbor. The last person in the line had to shout out the message. The messages got distorted in the line, this is something what can happen when you have a long communication chain in an organization.

In the third exercise Hoffmann asked the attendants to form pairs. One member of the pair stayed in the room, the other had to go out of the room. Hoffmann gave the instruction to the persons in the room to think about a story that they are passionate about and to tell that to their pair when they got back in the room. The people outside the room were instructed to act as if they are not interested. After the pairs had done the exercise he asked how they people that were telling their story felt. Many didn't like it, they found it difficult to keep telling their story when the person to which they told it was ignoring them and didn't´t react. The person receiving story found it difficult and sometimes unnatural to act as if they were not interested. It turned out that the stories that were told were not remembered by most listeners.

Hoffmann talked about three levels of listening. Internal listening is when people are not paying attention, as was done in the third exercise. Tube listening is the second level, where people listen to the words only. The third level is global listening, where people not only listen to the words but also try to sense the atmosphere and the body language of the speakers. Hoffmann suggested a listening exercise that people can do at work with groups of three, where one person will tell a story, the other persons listens and third observes what is happening and gives feedback to the two persons based on the levels of listening.

The last exercise Hoffmann did is called creative aikido. In this exercise teams experienced working with constraints in stead of against them. Hoffmann mentioned four steps in communication: Accept, integrate, build on, and offer. Accept means that you listen based on the assumption that an idea that somebody is proposing is worth discussing. Using integration you can tell what you like about it to find common ground, which can then be used to build on the idea by adding things. Together you can agree on what to do to come to an offer.

Hoffmann asked the attendants to find a person in the room to practice creative aikido. After doing the exercise the attendants mentioned that great ideas came out of the discussions. They felt activated and got energy to do things.

You can use open questions to find new ideas, to go into new spaces. Curious short questions allow us to explore and learn said Hoffmann.

Rate this Article