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RSVP Design - Learning under Lockdown Part 1

RSVP Design - Learning under Lockdown Part 1

Here at RSVP Design,  just like every other business, we’ve been learning new ways of working. We should be good at that, our whole remit is about supporting other organisations in developing their learning focused activity, but it’s not been easy. It’s this challenge that makes me think that maybe it’s a worthwhile exercise to share just what our learning has been. Perhaps you recognise some of the issues we’ve had to deal with from your own organisation?

The Covid-19 crisis arrived at our doors in a shockingly sudden manner. We went from ‘business as normal’ to an absolute standstill in a matter of days - days when it was hard to find many positives amongst the necessity for immediate action to secure the business. We said goodbye to colleagues, not knowing when, or if, we’d ever work together again. Tears were shed and, to a large extent, people wanted to be alone to grieve over apparently losing something that we’ve all worked so hard to build. None of us will ever forget those dark days.

But things did start to get better, much sooner than any of us anticipated. We re-engaged the team and cranked up the processes that would, we hope, give us a viable offering for the locked-down world and, importantly, beyond. This is where the learning comes in and I’m going to describe to you, over Parts 1 and 2 of this blog, what we’ve learned and how we’ve implemented that learning.

The first thing we recognised that we needed to do was to check that everybody was doing OK, and that the traumatic effects of the crisis weren’t causing anybody any immediate issues. Luckily we’ve got some world-class facilitators on the team so we could make the most of learning to work virtually over Zoom (we tried other platforms but got much better, relaxed participation on Zoom). Those early meetings were very much focused on the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid, we knew that there would be no positive benefit for the team or the business in trying to work on anything other than mutual well being. The on-line meetings felt like social chats, and that was exactly what they needed to be.

In the background our learning designers and business leaders were looking outwards at the developing ‘new normal’ asking what the learning landscape of organisations was looking like. This was a daily scan, talking to clients, reading articles, listening to podcasts and then sharing our learning across the team. At the same time we were looking inwards to our existing, physical tools and beginning the process of matching their purpose and process to the emerging business landscape we were seeing. We were conscious that we needed a progressive focus for RSVP Design, and something that would tell the team that a) we had potential solutions and b) there was some hope of survival.

Working on a very rapid experiment and review cycle we recognised that two very distinct sets of needs were becoming apparent. One was about maintaining team cohesion and the other was developing new tools to supply the marketplace. Interestingly this was seen to be a perfect demonstration of some very well established research by David Jacques that we had been using in our face-to-face work with clients for many years. Jacques recognised that, for a team to operate effectively, a number of functions need to be being performed effectively - some of them Task Achievement functions and some Team Maintenance functions. Recognising this we divided our on-line meetings into those whose purpose was Task Achievement - new product development and testing, brainstorming, etc and those whose purpose was Team Maintenance - check-ins, support requests, etc. This proved to be very successful internally and also gave us a clue as to what clients needed from our tools. (To monitor these types of functions with your teams consider using the Colourblind® App to record any group meeting interaction, or use the free Feedback cards in our Experiential Learning Manual).

We recognised that people approaching us to buy on-line versions of familiar tools were intending to use them in very different ways, and needed our experience and support to help them structure their intended sessions. We found that asking them whether they wanted to use the tool to achieve Task Achievement outcomes, or Team Maintenance outcomes was a great way to help them. 

Team Maintenance outcomes means that you’re using the on-line tool to achieve learning objectives like;

  • Encouraging contribution to teamwork.
  • Sharing information about personal wellbeing.
  • Checking support needs and availability.
  • Building comfort in using the remote meeting technology.

Task achievement outcomes means that you’re using the on-line tool to hit learning objectives like;

  • Promoting efficiency in using remote meeting processes and technology.
  • Developing and balancing interpersonal communication.
  • Building the ability to establish and implement a task-appropriate way of working.
  • Developing contribution and participation to whole-group and sub-group working.

Interestingly we’re finding that the same tools can be used to address each of these sets of desired learning outcomes, but it’s crucial that the facilitator is clear about where their learning emphasis lies.

In the second part of this blog I’ll be considering the tools that we’re using to support our own team, how we’re using them, and the recommendations that our experience has allowed us to make. Take a look at this short video of one of our team, Ann Alder, running a session using Images of Organisations, that was very much designed to address the Team Maintenance agenda.

In the meantime here are the tools from our portfolio that we have already adapted to the remote-working environment:

Virtual/Online Experiential Learning Activities

Each has been tested with our internal team, our international distributors, and representatives from our customer organisations so we know that they work and, as with all RSVP Design products, don’t involve too much stress for the facilitator.

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