"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

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Numbers have a whole world of information beneath them. Making decisions on numbers alone can get you into trouble.

At a recent meeting to evaluate and adapt the pilot of a six-week online course, my colleague Jeanette Romkema and I shared the numbers about level of completion and typical number of comments participants made each week. We used a simple line chart and recreated the chart on the wall using yarn and push pins. One participant suggested we add more data — the amount of time each person dedicated to the course work (both online and on the job). Each team estimated their time and we added a new line to our chart. That led to new comparisons and insights.

The group annotated the chart, filling in what was going on for each person in their work world, and in the course itself.

Some things, we already knew. We knew that Week 3, which had low levels of completion, was a shorter week. We did not know that for some people, that was the week where they invested a much larger amount of time offline, with their agency partners debating the direction they would take.

We knew that the closing face-to-face gathering created a pressure for participants to move through their assignments and be ready to share their work. We did not know that this meant they would minimize their “comment time” and that they did not feel ready to post their assignments online before the meeting.

Participants learned too. They said that some aspects of the work had not been fully explained. As they analyzed their own work in the course, they learned that they really had not done all the reading in the first weeks, and that created more confusion for them than others experienced.

As people described their own experiences, and annotated our wall chart, we ended up standing around the chart, and digging into the story that was emerging. The chart, which started as numbers on a wall, became a much fuller story and provided a rich backdrop to the decisions we took that afternoon.

What techniques do you use to fill in the story around your data?

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Christine Little is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

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From Head to Heart

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I was working with a small group of women executives in a peer exchange leadership development program. They had moved through two tumultuous and revealing days together, and had generated some real insights about their unique leadership styles. A capstone activity of the program was to meet with emerging women leaders from one of their institutions to share their learning. 

I walked into the room and was disappointed to see a microphone, a podium and 50 women sitting in rows. 

My disappointment grew as each of the executives walked to the podium to deliver a technical, formal and impersonal speech. It was so different from the authentic and informal exchange they had been having. 

From the podium came descriptions, numbers, and advice. From the chairs came polite attention, fidgeting, and silence. 

My quiet disappointment turned to panic when I heard my own name come from that podium. One of the executives, perhaps reading the room (or perhaps irritated at me for including this exercise in the design) was introducing me and inviting me to take the podium. I had nothing planned and about 20 seconds to figure it out. 

A phrase from Jane Vella’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, came to me: “I have to get them out of their heads and into their hearts.”

Here is what I did:  I said, “You have just heard leadership examples -- women who met considerable obstacles, and figured out how to move beyond those, to make big changes. Think about a time in your own life, when you exercised that kind of leadership. You met with a considerable obstacle, and you figured out how to move beyond that, and make a big change.”

I had no plan, and there was not much time, so I suggested they write a note to themselves and to share the story with partner. I predicted — and I was right — that the polite attention would turn into engagement. I did not predict what came next. 

For the next 20 minutes, one woman after another stood to tell a powerful story of personal leadership, stories that their CEO could not have known. Stories that inspired tears and laughter. For that 20 minutes, the women in the “audience” were not talking about leadership, they were leading. The podium — that symbol of power that suggests there is but one leader in the room — remained empty. The learning space was being led from those chairs. 

We don’t often deal in heart issues in business settings but they are always operating and leaders, facilitators, presenters, teachers do well to figure out how to get people “out of their heads” and into their hearts.

Three ideas for helping groups to “get out of their heads” and into their hearts:

  1. Use stories. A story contains so much more than mere statistics, advice and descriptions. The most powerful moments of that leadership exchange centered around the stories they shared. Stories convey information and they evoke emotion.
  2. Find a way for people to be seen, and to see themselves in the story. Change rarely comes anonymously. Organizations create too many opportunities for anonymity.
  3. Look for, and study, moments of accomplishment, triumph, and perseverance. Problems are interesting. Positive stories are powerful. They illuminate the assets we have with which to change the world. 

 

What stories do you have about getting groups out of their heads and into their hearts?

* * * *

Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

 

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An Action Package for Managers, Part II

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In Part One of this blog series we shared a story about how Global Learning Partners (GLP) and pro mujer collaboratively built the skills of managers in the context of their day-to-day work. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video about that process, enjoy it here.

In this post we briefly show how the structure and implementation of the learning program for managers reflect critical principles of adult learning.

To start, take a close look at the snapshot, above. The green paths are three, six-week periods of self-directed on-the-job learning. The red circles are four in-person gatherings, called “refueling stations.” Each of the carefully facilitated in-person gatherings:

  • is built on a concrete set of learning objectives that name what the managers will have done by the end of the time together;
  • balances action with reflection, allowing time for managers to exchange past experiences around a particular aspect of their work, and plan for how they will approach that aspect moving forward; and,
  • focuses on relevant content, prioritized through both self-assessment and outside perspective.

During the weeks of self-directed learning, managers used personal workbooks with a consistent structure to try out new skills on the job as exemplified in the box below. On the recommendation of managers during the rapid pilot phase, each workbook begins with a proposed timeline for pacing themselves through the self-directed learning.

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Key Skills

Step One: Reflect

e.g. Reflect on which leadership qualities you exhibit most consistently.

Step Two: Discover

e.g. Read this one page resource about feedback and select one strategy you’ll use this month.

Step Three: Try It Out

e.g. Select three staff from whom you would value feedback on your work. Adapt this draft invitation for their feedback and review these tips for how to accept their feedback well.

Step Four: Plan

e.g. Use this action sheet to capture one thing you will continue and one thing you might do differently as a result of the feedback you received.

________________________________________________________________

We congratulate pro mujer staff in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia for the collaborative design and implementation of a practical action package built entirely on the true meaning of “learning by doing.” This has been exciting work!

What ideas for “learning by doing” does this two-part blog inspire in you?

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

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An Action Package for Managers, Part I

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Do you sometimes find that training doesn’t stick? Watch a four-minute case study with a creative approach to taking new skills out of the workshop and into the workplace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbeMNxFubvA&feature=youtu.be

Keep an eye out for Part Two of this blog for a closer look at this work.

What ideas for your organization does this blog inspire in you?​

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

 

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Numbers Don’t Lie

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I had been working with a rural community in the Dominican Republic for several months on a housing program. The project relied on strong community involvement and it was frustrating. They were not moving as fast as I thought they could. I was anticipating significant cost overruns.  

Still, as I finished my pencil and paper tally (yes, this was before Excel), I was not prepared for such a big a cost overrun. 

I walked into the next meeting, armed with the numbers, my interpretation of their failure, and some righteous indignation. The community members were shocked by the information too, but they accepted it, acknowledged their failure, and agreed to the consequences. It was a rough meeting. 

But not as rough as the next one.

Two weeks later, I noticed my error. A simple math mistake. The kind that Excel might have protected me from. In fact, the project had come in under budget.  So at the next meeting, I came with new numbers, a tearful apology, and a big dose of humility.  

There are two easy lessons in here, and one very hard lesson. I want to focus on the hard one, so let’s dispatch with the easy ones first.

Getting the numbers right. Of course, when presenting data we need to be accurate.

Watching out for confirmation bias. If I had not expected to find a cost-overrun, I might have triple-checked my math when the data surprised me.

Here is the hard lesson, the one that stings.  

There is a dangerous intersection between power and data.  The lesson lies in the way I — the white, North American, development worker who is in charge of the money — took some numbers and used them to tell a whole community who they were and what their story was. The lesson lies in the way those community members accepted my “right" to tell their story in my way. My right to hold all the information in my hands, to unilaterally decide its meaning, and to impose the consequences. 

I may not have even seen this lesson had I not made such a mistake.

Many of us work in positions that require us to bring data to others – to a community, an organization, a team, or a client. In this work, we are frequently standing at that dangerous intersection between power and data.  Sometimes it is hierarchy, education level, race, but in every situation, access to information – in and of itself – creates an imbalance of power.

Here are a few insights from a learning-centered perspective, to navigate this intersection.

  1. Collectively fill in the story. They say that numbers don’t lie. Maybe not. But they also don’t tell the whole story. They are devoid of context. They are devoid of emotion. They are open for interpretation. A fuller story emerges when we put the data into people hands. When groups collectively explore, question, fill in the gaps, and extract insights, we share power. We co-create the story and co-own the actions that might follow.
  2. Be compassionate and authentic.  Compassion does not mean sugar-coating.  Rather, it means avoiding judgment and acknowledging the range of human emotions that the data might inspire. Authenticity is not the same as objectivity. Authenticity is the open and honest expression of any viewpoint that may have shaped your choices of data, and freely acknowledging what is known, and what can only be surmised.
  3. Use data as a witness, not as a prosecutor or jury. Insights emerge when people approach the data with courage and curiosity. For that to happen, we present the clearest picture we can of what we see and recognize that others may see something different. This is tricky if the data is bad news, but we make it easier for people when we withhold our pronouncements of guilt or innocence.

Question: What are some ways you have found to navigate this dangerous intersection?

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