Mischievous online experiments

🤷🏽‍♀️ Every now and then, clients ask us how we keep ourselves on top of learning. The expected response might be something along the lines of “we read articles”, “we listen to podcasts”, “we learn from other training”, “we have knowledge sessions”, etc. And of course we do all of these things too…

💁🏻‍♂️ What really makes the difference are real-life experiments with actual participants during deliveries. Bringing the lean startup methodology to the forefront in online workshops and sessions. If you’re thinking: “That’s not possible in our industry,” we would like to prove you wrong. We know (from this article) that we learn by failing and experimenting, but how often do we actually apply that mindset? Experimenting might feel risky when your current way of doing things works just fine. But we promise you’ll be happily surprised with how valuable experimenting can be; boosting resilience, creativity and that magic growth mindset.

🧪 We’ve tried out real-life virtual experiments recently when we delivered an online meeting training of five 2-hour modules for an international consulting firm. We started off by (A) downloading their current most pressing challenges and (B) uncovered virtual experiments linked to their challenges. This relates to what Steve Blank nicely advises us to do:

“Learn about customers and their problems as early in the development process as possible (A). Set up Hypothesis-Driven Experiments (B) to get to validated learnings ©.” (https://bit.ly/3esqhBS)

So, here come our favorite experiments and an explanation what happened, described by Miss Chief Merle.

🗣#1 UNMUTE? Yes really.

One of our standard online rules is to mute yourself as a participant, unless you want to speak to avoid any disturbing background noises. One moment I was thinking “what if we challenge the ‘best practice rules’ we’ve set for ourselves, and bend the rules and allow everyone to unmute during the session?”. This reminds me of a quote from Eric Hoffer about the distinction of being an active and open “learner” and being a passive, closed “knower”“In times of change the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” So, you can imagine, I convinced my co-facilitator to try it out and we went for it.

A full session with all 26 participants UNMUTE for 2 hours. We would lie if we would say it didn’t stress us out a tiny bit. We prepared ourselves to hear running water boilers, yelling babies or other potentially distracting noises. Funny thing, the opposite happened. By being able to hear all of the participants, a warm and cosy feeling arose. There was space for initial emotional reactions (laughter, comments, jokes, interaction) and it gave a more human feel in general (we hear our colleagues drinking tea in meeting rooms as well, don’t we?). We learned that if people had kids or someone popping up in the background that was very loud they would pop on mute while needed and switch back when possible. People’s awareness of actions, contributions and therefore self-responsibility grew by initializing the changed way of working.

🦾#2 Emoji Master

We came up with the emoji master through a renowned drinking game (no judgment + inspiration = everywhere). It goes as follows: It is a role that is assigned to someone in the group who has the power to control the emojis. At any point in time, he or she can put an emoji (👋🏾🏊🏼‍♀️☝🏻😎🎤🤘🤷🏾‍♀️) in the chat and mimic it in front of their cameras. The last person in the group to follow that cue takes over the role as an emoji master.

On the one hand, creative responses and laughter guaranteed. On the other hand, we honestly thought it was a bit distracting and interrupted the flow every now and then. So it’s not for everyone or every type of meeting, but what it did bring was a heightened sense of alertness and engagement. It meant people were keeping a keener and more reactive eye — technically it can catch out anyone drifting off in a playful way.

Just give it a chance, let the emoji master spice up your meetings and reflect. How did that feel? How did the group react? And most importantly what’s your stance on chaos versus control? Can you cope with that as a facilitator or meeting host?

👁‍🗨#3 Guiding questions

This third experiment is a somewhat more serious one. An important part of experience-based learning programs is leaving room for suggestions and requests from participants; living by the infamous Learning Designers mantra being ‘over-prepared and under-structured’.

After a particularly participatory session, with more open form discussion and practice, one participant expressed a need for the return of more structure. To meet this need, while still holding the ‘stretch zone’ of this hands-on learning — we introduced the ‘guiding questions’ experiment.

An article about the perfect meeting agenda in Harvard Business Review indicated that “research has found little to no relationship between the presence of an agenda and attendees’ evaluation of meeting quality. What matters is not the agenda itself but the relevance and importance of what’s on it, and how the leader facilitates discussion of the agenda items”. They suggest creating a set of guiding questions that outline your meeting structure. As you can imagine, we tried.

This brought us back to a fundamental realization that most meetings exist to answer a set of compelling questions in an allotted time.

For the participants it gave guidance, knowing where we were and what new topics they could still expect. For us, as Facilitators it brought some flexibility since it’s not so much about what we prepared, but about answering the questions. At some points the questions were rightly answered by a good discussion only.

We hope you enjoyed this read! Do remember, it’s all in the mindset and not so much in replicating these experiments yourself. Find the ones that fit your company (inspiration is everywhere) and let us know how it helped you get into new ways of working.


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