Friday, June 20, 2008

360 Feedback and 360 Participation – Part 1

As I’ll reference briefly in my write up about Taos, I’ve been part of an exciting but demanding project at work known as a PLT - Performance Leadership Team. The project is being run in parallel with 3 other projects, all of which have similar dual objectives: substantial improvement in our department’s effectiveness, and personal leadership development.

The projects were chartered by the senior management team in our department, and are following a facilitated approach as laid out by a consulting partner. The partner firm has used this approach at our company over the past few years with tremendous results.

The specifics of the project are not relevant to my blog, but the personal development aspect and the techniques we’ve learned are what prompt me to jot down the following thoughts.

360 Participation

In the course of getting our project off the ground, our team of 10 people had specific planning tasks to perform in a 3 day workshop. Most of the “real work” was initiated with the following technique, which I’ve labeled “360 Participation”. This technique can be used to analyze or plan nearly anything.

  • 5 to 15 minutes of individual analysis / idea generation, with each idea or comment written on to a post it note. Sometimes the notes were color coded for various purposes.
  • As a group, each person supplies one post-it comment at a time to a facilitator, who collates them into groups of related items (on a flip chart, white board, window, etc.). Exact duplicate comments are often just passed forward en-masse.
  • As each item is presented, it is explained, but not judged or discussed, along the lines of the traditional “brainstorming rules”.
  • Work around the table / room collecting one comment per person until all comments are aired.

Once the groups of ideas /comment are assembled, the analysis phase begins. This might be selecting the top N ideas, prioritizing all ideas or mapping out interdependencies – at this point it’s based on the topic and intent of the exercise.

The value obtained by this technique is powerful for multiple reasons:

  • Using written comments allows for more ideas, criticism and wild-ass fliers to be put forward without judgment
  • Everyone’s voice is heard. A strong personality cannot dominate the discussion.
  • No analysis is done until all comments are presented (classic brainstorming)
  • Duplicate submissions of the same idea create a kind of built in voting / prioritization system (in most cases)
  • The process is so simple it requires almost no explanation or preparation
  • And also – it’s FAST.
  • And it’s really (REALLY) effective

Right away I used this approach with one of my teams to analyze our first use of a new process - what went right, wrong, and so on. I can guarantee that the quality of the content produced was above and beyond what we normally produce in free form group discussions. Besides causing me to shut up, it brought the ideas out in an orderly fashion. We spent exactly 10 minutes to get comments written and organized, then spent 15 minute planning next steps. Very, very efficient, with much higher quality in our ideas.

I’ve since used it in other team settings, including in an executive level session related to hurricane response planning.

Summary - this is an interesting and effective technique that can be applied in many situations. All you need are a few sticky notes.

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