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Stories of insightful conversations

About the blog

These stories are about facilitated conversations that provide better insights to aid problem solving for organisations, teams and individuals. Our workshops focus on strategy, organisational development and communication, using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, conversation cafés and other facilitation methodologies. Spacemaker is specialised in creating inspiring, insightful conversations that make a difference for organisations, teams and individuals.

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LEGO®, SERIOUS PLAY®, the Minifigure and the Brick and Knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this website.

Community building for single parents

Conversation cafés Posted on Wed, January 30, 2019 16:31:12

Single parents face many challenges that whole families can more easily tackle. These challenges range from needing help for small household repairs to finding affordable childcare to getting the time for social occasions.

The Single Parents’ Centre in Budapest is an NGO helping single parent families with a range of services: from legal advice to temporary childcare, from coaching to tutoring kids. The centre works with lots of volunteers: lawyers, psychologists, coaches, etc.

Single parents are turning to the centre not just for help. Many of them also want to help others and to contribute to the community.

Following several previous community building events and a survey, four topics have emerged on which single parents wanted to collaborate:

1. Setting up a self-help club.
2. Creating a system of services in-kind.
3. Advocating for financial stability.
4. Setting up a database of handymen for domestic repairs.

What they needed at this stage was the space and time to discuss how to move these projects forward.

The Single Parents’ Centre asked Spacemaker to facilitate a community building event with the intention to clarify the way forward for these projects. It was also clear that not all participants were interested in all the subjects but some of them did not really know which topic they preferred to contribute to.

We worked with the Pro Action Café format, setting up four discussion tables for the four topics. Participants could choose which table to join and they could change tables in-between the three discussion rounds. This way, they could connect to more than one discussion and decide where they wanted to contribute more in the follow-up.

We had a coach at each table who was briefed about the format beforehand. They were the table hosts and reported on the discussions to the newly arrived participants at the beginning of each discussion round. At the end of the event, they reported to the whole group on the next steps that were agreed at the tables.

The feedback from both the participants and the centre was very positive. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room to go on with the projects. The centre offered the space for further meetings in smaller project teams to discuss implementation.

Thanks for the conversations, thanks for the opportunity!

Strategy for a human rights NGO

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Posted on Wed, January 30, 2019 12:56:02

Making the time for self-reflection is a frequent issue in many organisations. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights NGO asked Spacemaker to help the management team set up the time and the space for a purposeful discussion on the challenges they face. Besides, the new management team wanted to get to know each other better and connect in a meaningful way to improve the understanding of each other within the team.

We used LEGO Serious Play to facilitate this workshop. Although working with LEGO bricks is always more time consuming than just sitting down for a conversation with a question, we believe that LSP allows for going deeper in the conversation and will bring about better ideas and improved understanding among the participants. And it is also more fun.

During the workshop, we started with a skills building that involved building towers and building a dog from 6 random LEGO pieces.

Following the skills building part, we asked participants to create individual models about how they see themselves in the team. These individual models were put in a landscape, exploring relationships and how those relationships could be improved.

In the final part of the workshop, participants built a shared model of the organisation and agreed on concrete tasks and common principles to take their work forward.

At the end of the workshop, the team agreed that using the LSP method kept energy levels up during the entire workshop and they had an open, dynamic and insightful discussion which would not have happened otherwise.

Thanks for the discussions, thanks for the opportunity!

Sustainable teamwork for sustainability

Conversation cafés Posted on Wed, January 30, 2019 12:27:46

Teams get busy at work. So busy, that team members dealing with their own workload don’t have spare time for frequent conversations with their own teammates. Although checking some of the issues they work on with others might give them new and better ideas, it often seems just faster to get on with it by themselves.

Recognising this anomaly, a leader of a business unit dealing with sustainability issues asked us to set up a team building event to look at how they could make their own teamwork more sustainable and effective.

The team had just half a day to get out of their offices and have a meaningful discussion about their own working methods. Here, we faced a challenge of how to design a workshop that would allow the team to discuss all the issues they wanted to tackle: relationships between team members, working practices, team consultations etc.

Our team of co-facilitators have proposed a workshop that combined several facilitation methods. We started with a circle to speak about the expectations of the participants. Then we went on with a constellation exercise to look at relationships within the team.

Finally, we had a World Café with the question: “How can we exploit our synergies better?” During the final harvesting of the ideas that emerged during the conversations, we also visualised these ideas using 3D note taking with LEGO Serious Play.

Thanks for the conversations, thanks for the opportunity!

Aligning a retail network on business objectives

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Posted on Wed, January 30, 2019 12:03:56

If you ever worked in a decentralised organisation, you will now how challenging it is to communicate organisational objectives and to align all parts of the organisation on those objectives. Building a common understanding on the objectives is a good step in the right direction, but ensuring delivering on them would be the desired outcome.

A franchise based retail network poses an even bigger challenge. These are independent companies operating under the same brand and they usually feel being far from the corporate centre. However, they are the ones that need to deliver on business objectives.

How about trying to co-create those objectives with them? This will improve their understanding of the goals that the central management tries to achieve, ensure their buy-in and set them on a path to delivery.

Using LEGO Serious Play, we acted as part of a group of co-facilitators, led by BricksMagic, a Hungarian LSP consultancy, at a business conference for Shell Hungary’s retail network. This was a large group process and since LEGO Serious Play requires time to build, we had to fit a relatively short time slot with the workshop design.

We started with the usual skills building to enable participants to get comfortable with working with LEGO bricks. Then they built models about their individual contributions and about their retail partners’ contributions to the business.

The most exciting part came when we asked them to build shared models of their business objectives. That’s when the conversations really started to become insightful, energetic with everyone around the tables 100% engaged.

Thanks for the conversations, thanks for the opportunity!

Effective communications for leaders

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Posted on Wed, January 30, 2019 11:11:52

How do I express authenticity and authority
as a leader? How can I develop my communications skills to enhance my career?
What skills do I need to develop to best present myself in my professional
environment and improve my interactions with colleagues and external

These are not easy questions and there is
no one single ‘silver bullet’ answer to them. Through self-discovery and
creative exploration, the most successful leaders investigate and develop their
own answers and solutions and refine these skills to a tee over the course of
their careers.

Together with Women@, a Brussels-based network of women leaders and Ellwood Atfield, a headhunting consultancy, Spacemaker organised a 2-hour lunch-time
session for 40 women leaders of EU associations and Brussels-based consultancies.

Using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, we guided the participants to explore ways of improving their communications skills and to gain insights into how they convey their skills, knowledge and expertise in a professional context.

It was a self-coaching exercise with a peer-coaching element, as we paired the participants to discuss the models they built.

During the session, we did four exercises of building, using LEGO Windows Exploration Bags:

1. Build the model of a great communicator. 2

2. Build the model of a challenge to being a
great communicator. 2 minutes.

3. Build
a model of a challenge or challenges that you experience in the way you
communicate. 4 minutes.

4. By
changing your previous model, show how you can overcome the challenges you
experience in the way you communicate. 2 minutes.

In-between the building rounds, we harvested a list of qualities, challenges and solutions for communicators. The participants left with insights and ideas about how they can improve their communications in a professional context.

Thanks for the conversations, thanks for the opportunity!

Co-creating a new document management strategy

Conversation cafés Posted on Wed, January 30, 2019 10:52:57

I know some people get excited about document management. But many don’t. When you have the intention of creating a new document management strategy, you need to involve both kinds: people whose everyday job is to make sure that documents are archived at the right place and are easily accessible to users, and people who are kind of “outsiders” but they must be involved because of their expertise in other domains, even if they find the subject itself boring.

So, how do you, as a facilitator, create a conversation that makes the “outsiders” just as excited about discussing a document management strategy as the document managers themselves?

In this case, we opted for Pro Action Café. In Pro Actions Café, the subjects of the discussions come from the participants. In this case, however, the subjects that needed further development were identified by a study. Therefore, we did not have to dedicate time to find emergent topics.

We created four conversation tables for the four topics. In three 20-minute discussion rounds, the 30 participants could decide which topic could they best contribute to and join the appropriate table. They could also switch tables in between the rounds if they wanted to.

The meeting space conditions were not ideal. We had to work around a large fixed table in the middle of the room and pull the chairs around to create the conversation groups. People did not seem to mind this. Many of them opted for standing and found extra energy in doing so.

In Pro Action Café, each conversation table requires a table host. In this case, the sponsor of the workshop asked colleagues in advance if they were happy to take on this role. Before the workshop started, we gave the table hosts a short briefing about what they were supposed to do during the conversations.

At the end, we had a series of energetic and insightful conversations with very concrete ideas and next steps to take the development of a new document management strategy further.

Thanks for the conversations and thanks for the opportunity!

Pro Action Café Brussels – 11 October 2018

Conversation cafés Posted on Sun, October 14, 2018 09:03:50

Pro Action Café is a format for peer support conversations where participants come together to help find answers to burning questions that some of the participants might bring with them. These questions emerge on the spot. I have observed many times how these questions define the energy and quality of these conversations.

At the Pro Action Café Brussels on 11 October 2018, four questions were put on the agenda. Before revealing them, I have to note that there was a degree of shyness in the room about bringing up some of the questions. It is ok. Participants do not necessarily think that they have a question before they arrive to a Pro Action Café. Some questions emerge while going through the group process. As one participant noted at the end: “So much came up on a question I did not know I had.”

The questions discussed were:

– What makes people vote for someone they don’t know

– How to convert fans into clients?

– How to be hosted more often?

– How to be more engaged in Brussels?

The novelty at this Pro Action Café was that we used LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to visualise the conversations. What we did is called 3D note taking. Here is a model that we built about the conversation that discussed the local election campaigns.

The model expresses (from left to right) how top politicians stay on top, how the voice of citizens can (or cannot) be heard, what goes on during the election campaign and how candidates are involved, what can candidates do to reach out to the electorate and what motivates people to vote for candidates and (on the right hand side) what a specific candidate can offer in the political process should he/she get elected (or not).

Pro Action Café Brussels is not just about conversations. It is a networking space where participants can feel and hear the support of others. It is a testing ground of new ideas and place for insights and deeper learning.

You can join Pro Action Café Brussels on Facebook and on Meetup. And of course, please join us at the next Pro Action Café Brussels on 22 November. For now, save the date and sign up on Facebook or Meetup to get the updates about the next events.

Improving teamwork: identities, team roles, relationships – and sugar

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Posted on Mon, June 25, 2018 14:48:08

Designing a team building event with LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is as much fun as running it with the participants. The request for this half-day team building came from the manager of a team in the European Commission. It was a small team working in a highly specialised and complex field and their work involved a lot of multitasking, human interactions, working across different technologies and looking after procedures.

The team was a mix of different nationalities with different professional backgrounds and level of experience. However, as part of the team, they were all supposed to perform similar tasks, back each other up and show high degree of flexibility. In a sense, there was no hierarchy in the team, although all team members clearly acknowledged and appreciated the special role of the team leader in this flat setting.

We started the workshop with an ice-breaker. The purpose here was not to help participants know each other better. They knew each other already. The ice breaker was designed to introduce them to working with LEGO® bricks. During the introductions (which were done in a circle) at least one participant voiced her concern about working with LEGO® bricks. She was unsure how she can handle them and concerned that her models might be inferior to those of the others. I reminded the team about a key point from the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® etiquette: it’s not about modelling. Nobody was going to be judged about how sophisticated their models were.

In the ice breaker, each participant was asked to build the tallest, yet most stable tower possible.

Following that, we built models of ideal team mates. The participants were surprised about the similarities of their models and the common patterns that emerged: complexity, multi-tasking, flexibility and having fun.

We continued the workshop by building a model for each team member, expressing their identity in the team. The stories were about workload, preferences, office space and relationships with stakeholders. This exercise was followed by putting the individual models into a team constellation and looking at relationships within the team. What are those relationships today? What could be changed to make improvements?

For the connections in the constellation, we used five different kind of connectors: fixed and inflexible, fixed and flexible, flexible and fragile, soft and organic and sugar. The idea of using sugar came during the coffee break when team members talked about the general loving and respectful atmosphere in the team. So, the small packets of sugar lent themselves to be added to the connectors.

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