My final day has a singular focus. I’m traveling to a client location in the southeast to conduct focus groups with their leaders and staff. It’s been hastily scheduled and the day will be packed, but I’ve learned long ago to just go with these things.
My flight again is brutally early, but it gets me to my destination by 8:30 a.m. I meet a colleague who flew in from Chicago, we pick a car, and by 9:30 we park at the client location. At 10 were doing a session with a group of seniors leaders for a couple of hours. In the afternoon we’ll do two more two-hour sessions with staff. Because it’s a relatively small organization (fewer than 100 employees total), we’ve decided not to collect any quantitative data. Instead we’re using these sessions to try to learn how the organization works and how the business is changing. The goal is to shortcut to workplace opportunities and develop consensus around them at the same. We’ll use some focus group activities and pointed questions to tease out useful insights.
We’re learning how the organization works and how the business is changing.
The leadership session goes relatively well. We start with a warm-up activity that gets people to open up and relax. It also tells us a little bit about their culture. We then go through what amounts to an orchestrated group interview, digging into every aspect of the business that we think could be impacted by the workplace. We try to identify any aspect of the organization – how they work with customers, how they engage employees, how they team, etc. – that needs to change. We learn a lot, but overall the result seems a little flat. After two hours of prodding, a lot of what we heard was that they do all the important things well already. Change along the dimensions we looked at wasn’t deemed very important, which takes the air out of any case for workplace change.
The staff focus groups are more dynamic. They start with a little mix up. We provided guidance on how to get staff to participate, but they’ve inadvertently doubled the number of people we wanted in each session. When we find out, we have about 15 minutes to modify one of our activities so that it will work with the larger crowd, as we simply don’t have the resources for everyone. In a little burst of creativity, we come up with something we think will work. Then the session starts. With staff we do more group activities, each of which aims to produce specific insights. The modified activity we created works reasonably well. At the end of the first session we clean up and document the results and get ready for the next one, which starts almost immediately.
By the end of the afternoon, we’re exhausted. We’ve been on – essentially performing for an audience – for 6 hours with a short break for lunch. The first staff session was rough. A few participants expressed strong skepticism about any kind of change and redirected the conversation whenever something challenging the status quo came up. It makes me think we could do better at controlling the flow of these sessions. Ever the tinkerer, I think about how we could modify our activities to better work around preconceptions. The second of the two sessions went much better. We got into a flow to the point where the participants started recognizing the insights coming out of the activities as quickly as we did. We could sense their excitement at the end. I’m not a natural performer, but I can definitely appreciate the feeling that comes from clicking with an audience.
That’s it for the day and for the week. I coordinate a little with my colleague on the way to the airport, and then we head our separate ways for the weekend.