My colleague Ron and I finished a brilliant workshop recently, teaching Facilitating TRIZ. This workshop is intended to give people trained in TRIZ the ability to practice leading others in the use of TRIZ tools in short exercises – we wrote the workshop as many of our clients go back into the workplace wanting to do TRIZ with colleagues who haven’t been trained, yet have never had the experience of facilitating anyone. We give people the opportunity to practice facilitating exercises in a “safe to fail” environment, and are given feedback from the ever wonderful and supportive Ron on how they can improve for next time.
At the end, we talk through general issues, and Ron gave a lovely example of what facilitation is all about. When we run workshops in Oxford, we take people on a short walking tour around some of the lovelier sites in the city. This has rather evolved by accident, as we always go to dinner with clients, but more and more of them are international and have never been to Oxford before. So on the Thursday night of our week-long TRIZ workshops, we tend to have a wander around the city centre, showing people pretty buildings and I dredge up half-remembered facts from my long-term memory (I grew up in Oxford) about the sites we’re seeing. Ron always teases me that about almost every building we see I talk about its acoustic properties – this is because one of the few things I really know is that I have sung in quite a lot of them – e.g. the Holywell Music Room, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Ashmolean Museum, Christ Church Cathedral – and they all have very different acoustics. In order to get the best sound, you often have to adjust how you perform to fit the acoustics.
Ron said very wisely that an important part of facilitation is understanding the acoustical properties of the room you’re in: i.e. what is the general context? What is the mood? It is one thing to learn to sing on your own; another to sing to an audience; yet another to sing in a cathedral. As a facilitator, you have to gain familiarity with the methods you will be using; you have to be able to enable others to use them properly, and you also have to be able to understand the wider context of what you are doing, and its impact.
It reminded me of a session I attended recently. It was an urgent problem – we had been called over to Germany at 3 days notice to help the team come up with a solution. It was important – if we didn’t fix the problem, our client could lose one of their most important clients. It was time pressured – we had a single day. The head of the whole product line (a REALLY big cheese) was there at the beginning to stress this to us and asked if he could introduce the session and give the history of the problem to everyone. “Terrific!” I thought. “Support from senior management for the team, how wonderful!”. Then he began. “This is a very important problem. If we don’t fix this, we are going to lose a major customer. We only have a day, yet we have been working on this for months. It is an incredibly difficult and complex problem – and we need a solution by 4pm” [it was 8.30am]. He went on this vein for about 10 minutes, during which I saw the engineers in the room slip further and further down into their seats and grow ashen-faced. He handed over to us to start, and left the room.
It was my task to introduce the session and I considered the slides I’d prepared, which are fairly typical for this sort of workshop: a short introduction to TRIZ, and the approaches we would be using, designed to get people feeling bouncy and energetic. I looked at the engineers, who were looking frozen with anxiety, and realised I was going to have to do something new. “TRIZ is a proven and reliable method for solving problems. When we use TRIZ, we can be confident we will come up with clever solutions – every time. TRIZ never fails as it is built from engineering success” I start, and continue, in my most soothing voice, the one I usually use for calming my 3 and 4 year-old nieces and nephews when they’re feeling distressed. It worked…and once everyone had calmed down a bit, we were able to get them working well on understanding and solving the problem. By lunchtime we had completed a couple of function analyses of the situation, which had unlocked their understanding, and generated some really novel new lines of thinking, and everyone started having fun and coming up with clever ideas.
By the end of the day we had about 120 solutions – which were grouped into 12 classes of concepts – of which 6 classes were regarded as being both high quality and practical to implement quickly. Everyone was incredibly pleased [I asked the chief engineer at lunch time how he felt it was going. “I am not happy!” he said “I should have done this 6 months ago!”], and it just goes to show what Ron and I always finish a Facilitating TRIZ workshop saying…you just have to “trust the TRIZ”…