An implication of parallel work is that, during any work round, a team of people will focus on a subset of the work. At the end of each work round, the teams need a way to see each other’s work. Surfacing the work to the group means they will see how various components of the workshop topic fit together (or don’t). Besides seeing how the work integrates, it also allows the participants to give feedback on each other’s work.
This means facilitating the sharing of the work. You will need to take time away from ‘doing’ the work to ‘inspecting’ the work.
There are multiple ways of sharing work. The two I use most are the Report Out and the Scout.
The Report Out
The ‘report out’ (aka ‘report back’) is the most straightforward way of sharing work. At the end of the round of work, the participants return to the plenary area. Each team takes turns to share their work to the rest of the participants and get feedback on that work.
A Report Out allows the entire participant group to see the status of all the work. If you have the physical space, each person can see all the work within their field of view.
Another benefit is that a Report Out promotes ownership of the work by the participants. Within the work round, a team is creating the work. At the end, they’ll be standing in front of a large group of their peers and saying this is what we decided in that work round.
A decision you must make in advance is how long each team gets to share. In making that decision, you are trading off how much a team will cover against how long you want the team sitting in plenary not doing work. I try to avoid Report Outs that go for longer than 45 minutes. After that you’ll notice people shifting in their seats, potentially checking their phones 😣, and doing all the things that tell you they’re getting tired or bored.
The hardest part of the Report Out is when the entire group wants to debate a team’s work. This happens fairly often, and more so with controversial topics. Capturing feedback is a good way of avoiding the debate, and I will return to that topic in a future article.
Some facilitators like to use a Roving Report Out as an alternative to the Report Out. The big difference between those is that with a Roving Report Out the work stays in place and the people move from break out to break out. Often when using this approach, the group stands in the breakout while a team shares their work.
I avoid Roving Report Outs as it can often be hard to see a team’s work when everybody is standing. This problem gets worse as the group size increases. The other challenge is that it is hard to write standing up. That means it's hard to give anything but verbal feedback to the team.
That said, the Roving Report Out can be appropriate for small groups working in small spaces where you can’t spare the space for a dedicated plenary area.
Preparing to Report Out
As a group approaches the time to Report Out their work, it can help to give them additional instruction to prepare to share. The work needs to be at least portable as it needs to move from the breakout to the plenary area. There are additional reasons for a team to prepare to share.
As a team works in a break out the surfaces used to capture their discussions (e.g. their whiteboards) represent the journey of that conversation. You’ll see various concepts and ideas that were suggested, then abandoned. You’ll also see the thoughts and ideas that resonated with the group and became their ‘work’. As a result, those surfaces often have a low signal-to-noise ratio. Breakout whiteboards are not ideal for sharing as they bury the relevant content amongst the detritus of the conversation.
I ask each team to iterate their work onto a new surface (e.g. a sheet of Flipchart paper or Wall-Mags). Besides extracting the useful content from its surroundings, this also allows the team to update their thinking about their work and ‘polish’ it for presentation.
The first benefit of this iteration is a better Report Out from each team. The presentations are more precise and more focussed. The second benefit is that when the group returns to this work in the time following the workshop, they can more easily find and remember the work.
Another form of sharing is a Scout. The scout dynamic is like the Roving Report Out in that the work stays in place and the people move to it. The big difference is that instead of the entire group moving from breakout to breakout, the group divides into smaller groups and then disperses to the breakouts.
Something like this:
I often run scouts in rounds. Each round has a fixed duration, and I design the entire activity so that an individual doesn’t see all the other breakouts, but each team will get to see every other team’s work.
Of the methods described here, the Scout has the most logistics considerations.
Before the Scout
As you prepare to run a Scout, it can often be handy to distribute a ‘Scouting Sign-Up Sheet’ to each team. This helps the teams identify who will go where in each round. The first thing each team has to decide is who will stay behind to share the work of this team (I often refer to this person as ‘The Anchor ⚓️’ ).
In addition to signing up, there are materials the ‘scouts’ will need. They will need Post-it notes to leave feedback for the teams they visit, and system cards to gather notes for their ‘home’ team.
Once everybody has signed up and has gathered their materials, you can begin the Scout.
The Scout Rounds
I use music to start and end a round of Scouting (regular readers will notice this is like the logistics of Chatrooms). After the final round has finished, I ask the participants to return to their ‘home’ team.
Within a Scout round the Anchor shares the work of this break out’s team, and the ‘scouts’ listen and ask questions (told you it was like Chatrooms). The visitors leave feedback for a team they are visiting via the Post-it notes. They also capture information relevant to their ‘home’ team on the system cards.
After the scout
Once everybody is back in their original team, the instruction is to debrief on what they learned from visiting the other teams. They are also asked to process any feedback left for them.
Sharing via a Scout allows for far deeper conversations about the work than the Report Out or the Roving Report Out. The trade-off is that an individual participant will only see a subset of the teams and their work.
This highlights the greatest drawback for using a Scout as a sharing mechanism; the participants don’t see all the work. They do not get the complete view that tells them this is the status of the work. That dynamic means a Scout feels more like a ‘check in’ with the work. The expectation is that the work isn’t finished yet, and this is an opportunity to course correct. A Report Out creates a greater sense of working being ‘done’, or at least ‘done enough’ to review.
That sense of a Report Out being ‘done’ work is, mostly, an illusion. All the techniques of sharing are ‘checking in’ with the work. That said, the psychological responses are different. A participant group will feel that a Report Out is a milestone.
The three techniques I’ve mentioned in recent articles:
- Parallel work
…are three of the four essential building blocks I use for designing sessions. One more building block remains – feedback. That is a topic for another time 🙂.