Monday, 3 March 2014

The backstory of the unexpected success of structured chaos - better known as ICO speedgeeking #ifadgsm

If you’ve ever been on a blind date you probably have experienced the accompanying sense of apprehension and anxiety....

As you are getting ready to go on the date, you are thinking to yourself, Oh My God, what am I doing.... What if the guy or the gal turns out to be a psychopath... You are thinking, I must tell someone I am going on a blind date. And you may be contemplating to ask your friends to go to the same restaurant, so that they can keep an eye on you.....

As you enter the restaurant to meet your blind date, the sense of apprehension becomes panic and you start to consider turning around and leaving... That is when you start praying to all the saints in the heavens to let you come out of this experience unharmed.....

On 24 February 2014 at 2pm when my colleague Willem, stood on what a couple of minutes earlier was our nurse’s medical booth, we held our breaths and prayed to all the saints in the heavens to make the speedgeeking work. And surprise surprise, it WORKED.

It worked because THE PARTICIPANTS made it work. It worked because our country office colleagues gave nothing but their best by sharing compelling stories to engage the folks who visited them.

It worked because the stories were informative, fun and had the perfect blend of facts, figures and cultural aspects of their countries. It worked because the people visiting the various stations were curious and humble to learn.

It worked because everyone had put away their “I know it all attitude” and were wearing their “I want to learn more” garments. It worked, because it was a different way of interacting. It worked because it was of interest to everyone. It worked because it was a nice break from an orchestrated meeting - and was a structured chaos!

It worked so well that there was unanimous request for more of these things. Colleagues wanted the session to be longer so that you had an opportunity to visit more stations.  This comment on one of the feedback forms was music to our ears: “We have become a knowledge organization as we’ve embedded KM in all our processes”.

Thank you for making this blind date a pleasant and memorable experience. Hope you found your better half and that you’ll live happily ever after :)

Backstory of the ICO speedgeeking

In the spirit of knowledge sharing, here is the genesis and the backstory of this structured chaos.

The challenge: Give air time to 34 country offices to show case in 60 minutes three key characteristics of their countries, a challenge, and a remarkable achievement and learning.

The unknown: Number of participants showing up for the speedgeeking.... The million dollar question was how best to divide the participants so that all stations received and interacted with an equal number of colleagues.

The known: Given the time limit, participants could only visit a maximum of 4 or 5 stations

The moving goal post: Do all in the plenary hall.... Divide the speedgeeking between the plenary hall and the conference area.... Use the lounge and the corridor leading to the plenary hall..... If the weather is nice do it in the parking lot....... And you know what, we still had not completely made up our mind until 1pm.

The process:

  • Meet with focal points and brief them on what was expected
  • Ask our country office colleagues to respond to the above three questions
  • Follow-up, follow-up and follow-up
  • Organize briefing sessions with colleagues as soon as they arrived in Rome
  • Brief volunteers on how we were going to conduct the structured chaos
  • Discuss the structured chaos with security folks  to get tips on how to move people
  • Reassure the planning committee and management that it will work
  • Make sure the layout allowed for a seamless flow of the various groups (we had 16 stations in the plenary, 10 in the lounge and 8 in the corridor connecting the lounge and the plenary hall)
  • Ensure variety.... Mix the countries and avoid participants visiting countries from the same region
  • Give clear instructions and prepare a straightforward itinerary
  • Distribute people in such a way to avoid collisions and bottlenecks
  • Believe in the speakers
  • Rehearse the structured chaos
  • Pray that all the stars align in the best possible manner
  • Hold your breath when people start filing in through two different doors that you all stands have visitors

The moment of truth: No matter how much you’ve rehearsed, how many times you did your calculations and simulated the structured chaos you will only know it succeeds when it happens.....

As the people started filing in with their itinerary in their hands, we realized we had fewer people that the expected 600. This meant that the first stations had more visitors. Thinking on our feet, the volunteers jumped into action by going around and redistributing the participants. This allowed us to have a better distribution.

We managed the time in the best possible way, allowing participants to visit between 4 to 5 stations.

Our knowledgeable and extraordinary ICO colleagues did the rest....
The end-result was a memorable and magical moment resulting in people getting acquainted with different country realities, finding out that some of their challenges were already addressed by others, making new connections and learning from each other.

In other words - perhaps for the first time - we finally took a step to find out what we know by connecting with each other!

Lesson learnt:
  • Definitely repeat it
  • Allocate more time
  • Start with making your groups smaller. If you have more participants, enlarge your groups
  • Plan and rehearse
  • Have an intimate knowledge of your space
  • Leave somethings to chance, and think on your feet
  • SMILE and have fun
In closing,  thanks again our brilliant ICO colleagues, all the folks who played ball and participated in the speedgeeking, the GSM planning group in believing in this method and not micromanaging its deroulement, the volunteers who made sure it all worked and our facility management colleagues for reconfiguring the space in record time.

Now that people have seen how this structured chaos knowledge sharing method works and rated it as one of the highlights of the Global Staff Meeting, hopefully it will get replicated in other upcoming events.

THANK YOU for making this blind date a memorable one.

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