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Group Learning conference – an Opus Consulting training programme

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 26-Feb-2014 by griffter

I have just finished a 4 day course run on consecutive Mondays to get a better understanding of  how dynamics works in groups.  This blog post is a way of summarising my own learnings. I hope you will find it useful. I have posted this report on the waggledancers blog filed under motivation because the course is a really powerful way of thinking about how we influence colleagues and friends in small groups – a vital learning for a communications planner.

Let me be clear. I thought I knew a lot about groups – I run workshops with anything from half a dozen to 100 people, facilitate focus groups but the content of this course was entirely new to me.  It was all the more startling because the learning was experiential.  Each activity had an Opus consultant present who commented on the process but they didn’t teach. The only didactic content we got was from our homework – typically 3 papers written somewhere between 1930 and 1970. So compared to every other course I have been on this was off the scale in terms of weirdness.  It was intense too.

Every day 3x 90 minute sessions of group work where you’re only task was to try to work out what dynamics were going on in the room. 90 minutes relating this to work situations and 60 minutes discussing general learnings. But the raw materials were 18 hours of sitting and talking. Without a point.

And here if I can put it into words is the simple idea the course is teaching. Group dynamics are not evenly distributed.  When you work with a group of people you have a shared understanding of what is going on – the thoughts, the role playing, the emotional responses. You assume that everyone feels the same as you do. But they don’t. Roles and emotions are distributed around the group. In the jargon these are called valences. Are you silver tongued? Or are you a connector? The group projects a role onto you and you exercise that role for the group. It also means that different individuals carry different emotions for the group. They are not evenly distributed. One member gets angry – the others get more passive and project their anger and their disapproval through that individual.  Translated into a work situation – you have a difficult colleague? They are being difficult because you are making them do it. They represent the group not themselves.

This takes some getting your head around but its immensely powerful. Because once you are away of these dynamics you can work more effectively with these dynamics to make them more productive.  And critically you become aware of what valences you are expecting to act out as a participant and what the group will attempt to project on you. And you can choose to provide a different valence or at least to refuse the one being projected onto you. These dynamics happen even when you have job titles. And tasks to do. Ignore them at your peril!

That in a rather large nutshell is what I learned – in my head at least. What follows is a summary of the content of the different days of the course and what we did.

Day 1: small group work. A group of 10 people – no names introductions just start talking. For 90 minutes, then do it again two times over. Unlike a focus group which I know well and the dynamics associated with that, there was no requirement for people to co-operate. In fact some said they weren’t sure how much to share at all. Any who didn’t speak at all tended to be picked on by the group for non co-operation – the hostility built up.  Things got easier as we got to know each other and trust one another. But our consultant was quick to wind us up and point out the levels of anxiety in the group and the impact on how we interacted.

Day 2 – the large group. What I came to know as the death spiral. Chairs arranged in a spiral with the entire course (20 people) sitting on them and the consultants scattered around. Unable to see everyone or make eye contact with them. Those in the centre felt the pressure of expectation from the others. Those on the edge became spectators – it was hard to concentrate on what was happening.  Arguments broke out – attention seeking behaviours.  The group wasn’t that big – sometimes this exercise is done with 50+ people but it’s almost impossible to engage this number of people and get them to co-operate. Those on the course come from a variety of backgrounds so you cannot assume you know what they are thinking – but the basic coping mechanism is to fantasise about their motivation and experience and to assume it is like yours.

Day 3 – the intergroup exercise.  The 20 people were instructed to break into 2 groups and go to different rooms. We could break up in any way we chose. In the event we chose the randomisation of a 1 2 count. Then each group discussed how to engage with the other group and sent out delegates to explore ways of working with the other group.  Only the powers of the delegates were always unclear and as soon as they met with the delegates of the other group they formed a 3rd group to whom they felt a primary allegiance – double agents if you will.  What was fascinating about this 3rd week was the way in which the dynamics of the two groups became linked even though they were sitting in different rooms – one group was described as aggressive and conniving – the other was ordered and engaged.  Similar concepts were discussed.  Just to add fuel to the flames each group was allowed to send observers who could ask to spy on the activities of the other group or the negotiators.   As an agency person what I learned from week 3 was that the agency supplier relationship is closely tied together. We influence each other’s behaviour and thinking in ways we barely understand. And being a delegate is a dangerous occupation! Absolutely fascinating.

Day 4 – 2 small groups with a large death spiral group in the middle.  With the same people. So we knew each other better and were able to spot dependencies, fight/flight responses and pairings and how the group used them far more than we had been able to on the first day.  We were a lot less anxious but our hostility tended to express itself on the consultants – all the learning is experiential so worrying that we wouldn’t learn anything after 4 days tended to emerge in the form of ignoring or explicitly challenging everything they said.

By the end we had discovered what I termed a Fight Club – those who had attended the course twice previously  (who were very careful not to talk about the club in front of the rest of us!) The reason they had returned was because as far as I could understand it they were working on consciously adjusting their valences to be more effective in the discussion.

Now you can write a course like this off as the most bizarre form of psychobabble. Or consider that it would do you a power of good to take 4 days out of your life to think about how you function in different types of groups and to challenge your own assumptions about how they work and how you influence them.  This course was an ordeal – we were told in the strongest terms that if we couldn’t make all 4 days that we shouldn’t come. Which was why it has taken me 3 years to find the time to come on this course. Which is run by Opus Consulting once a year.  They run a range of courses but I can recommend this one. Tom Woodnutt tipped me off about it. Thank you Tom – now am I a serious contender for Fight Club I wonder? Here's a link so you can find out more.

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The difference between empathy and persuasion

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 20-Dec-2013 by griffter

a short and priceless lesson. Just as important with colleagues as with familes and friends. /Heres the url if the embedded code doesn't work.

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Good creative habits

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 10-Oct-2013 by griffter

Another useful article which I can link to here about creative habits

: the daily habits of the worlds most creative minds. Since August I have been a member of a circle of musicians run by Mike Monday called Start Now Finish Fast or SNFF for short. One of the challenges for digital musicians is that the price of sounds, instruments and software has been in freefall for the last decade.  It is possible to do just about anything in electronic music and that creates barriers - in a nutshell - you can waste a lot of time and never get anything finished. So the SNFF network is designed for musicians to encourage each other to finish music. But also to share hints and tips for good practice as a creative person. This is one of those useful links.

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Being persuasive

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 09-Aug-2013 by griffter

It has been a long time since I posted here - nearly 3 years but this is where I want to put content which is about how we motivate people to collaborate with us in shaping strategic ideas inside businesses.  This post of the 7 characteristics of persuasion is a great reminder that persuading isn't the same as winning but listening and enabling the person you are speaking to to align their interests with what you are recommending. And you can't do that without engaging them and understanding what their interests are. Terrific article by Kevin Daum.

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Waggledance - ANother

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 27-Sep-2010 by griffter

I've been alerted to the arrival of another Waggledancer this time Waggledance a startup in Manchester. They were nice enough to ask me first and I gather they will put a link on their site to Waggledancers so if there is any confusion people can be correclty routed. You can read abou the new agency here.

Apologies that it has been so quiet - I have a plan which involves published a list of techniques for building groups and getting everyone to vote. But right now I am a little preoccupied with Cloud of Knowing the open source group for discussing how to incorporate online content within research.

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Waggledancer - that makes you a supporter then..

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 08-Jul-2010 by griffter

I was an Innovation Fest this week organised by Brain Juicer and Ogilvy Innovation Lab. One of the speakers was Hanne Kristiansen who introduced us to 5 Creative Creatures each of which embodies a key creative behaviour. Hanne's point is that processes and skiills are not enough. It is the behaviours of creative people. And she has codified these. There is the stimulator, the spotter, the selector, the sculptor and the supporter. It is the supporter the last of these which caught my attention - because this is waggledancer turf - the ability to draw the best out of groups of people. High empathic skills. The ability to mirror and match to the styles of individuals in the team. And the ability to manage ambiguity - to hold different even opposing points of view in tension.  Hanne has invited me to one of her workshops next week so I can see the creatures in action. I also met Nicole Yershon who to me embodies the qualities of a great supporter. I blogged about her here. And you can read my blog about Innovation Fest here.

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Waggledancers: where do we go now?

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 15-Jun-2010 by griffter

Waggledancers has been a bit stop start this year. Firstly I was due to write a book about them. Then the publisher said stop. Then I thought I know I'll write the book on the blog one post a day. Wrote to the end of January. Stop.  Writing a whole book takes a lot of time and energy. And actually what makes Waggledancers tick is going out and doing it. Maybe when I have enough practical examples the book will come.

In the meantime I got very fired up at Incredibleurope - a gathering in Vienna organised by Selma Prodanovic which brought together creatives and social entrepreneurs mostly from inside Europe but actually from round the world. One of the most interesting was Gentry Underwood the head of Knowledge for Ideo the design agency. Ideo's ethnography cardset is one of my prized possessions.  It is a useful credentials deck for Ideo giving one casestudy per card. But the valuable part for me is the itemising card by card of all their user centred ethnographic techniques for solving design problems and generating insights. I talked to Gentry about making another set of cards. For social entrepreneurs. Now people who do this all the time ask Why would you need to do that? Its common sense. But it isn't. Its a combination of experience and hard graft. And a lot of talent. But once you have set yourself the task of understanding how to create and motivate groups then you realise there are a lot of things you can do to help them along. That is going to be the next project on waggledancers. What I propose to do is to set up a few pages where I am going to sketch out some of the tools. Till we have a whole candidate card list. Then we can have a vote about which are the most important. If you have ideas you want to contribut or want to write them up yourself and put them on this site then be my guest. You can read about incredible day 1 and day 2 here.

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Waggle19: Communications with suppliers

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 27-Jan-2010 by griffter

This is almost the reflex of the last post the difference being that being the one calling the shots you will usually be trying to construct a framework of everything you want. If your supplier is any good (and you want them to be) then they wll challenge you out of your mindset and the two of you will get to a better place as a result. One of the challenges when working with a supplier is that you do want them to jump when you say jump. But you don't want them to tell you only what you want to here. Encouraging them to ask frank and challenging questions is also an art. You could always ask them if there's a question which they'd like to know the answer to but which they're too embarrassed to ask. We need questions which don't allow the supplier to get away with whatever but which raise the bar - so they perform better.

Criticism ought to be constructive - for their benefit and not just because you didn't get what you were expecting. But I have had difficulty on that front where suppliers have taken great umbrage when I gently pointed out that they could have done better. Perhaps I should have lost my temper and shouted and that would have been all right. But win win means that both need to come out of a conflict situation intact and hopefully improved.

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Waggle 18: Communications with clients

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 26-Jan-2010 by griffter

Communication in marketing has been such a one way process we still regard interactivity as the novel exception not the norm. Actually apart from mass communications which are abnormal (let's remember) ALL communication is interactive. So this means that even when you are taking a brief from a customer or client, just because you are the supplier does not mean that they entirely dominate the conversation. Even if requests for proposal or RFPs as they are known for short) are far too common.

When I have been running a course for researchers to teach them how to generate greater numbers of insights one of the learnings played back to us is the importance of getting a good brief from the client. And this means asking good questions to find out what is going on.  One very large research agency we trained even told us that their takeout from what they had learned from the course was that they were going to write a discussion guide - for the client briefing meeting! Normally the discussion guide is only used to run the fieldwork interviewing research respondents.

By framing the interaction with the client as equally important and insightful as interviewing customers  you will find a valuable new source of information. More than that the way in which you ask questions will partly structure how the project is run. What you doing is constructing a conceptual framework. That's the point.

Here are some good questions to consider:

Who is the ultimate client? What are they expecting?

What have you done in the past? Are you looking for something different?

What do they think they already know?

What do they need to know?

What will they do as a next steps from this project?

What are the consequences of not doing this project?

There's something else which you should always look for. But you usually can't directly ask for. And that is What is the real brief? The one you can't tell us about? It may be personal, political, it may involve a damaging or humiliating admission. By the end of the project you will know it. If you don't it will probably bite you. But you will kick yourself and will gain so much more understanding if you watch for it at the start. There is always an aspect to the brief that the client won't want to talk about. And its the most important bit.

As a rule of thumb the individual will always tell you (not in so many words) but using hesitations and changes in direction. Just as an experienced researcher knows that people don't say what they mean or mean what they say so the same rules apply even at the briefing. Watch for it. I have focussed on the briefing in particular because normally the flow is all the other way.  And even a briefing is a conversation which takes two (baby).






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Waggle 17: Communication begins with a question

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 25-Jan-2010 by griffter

We've spent the last 2 weeks of January to looking at each of the components of waggledancing - Location, Motivation and now we come to  at Communication.  Which is not about what you might want to tell customers or the marketplace. But how to clearly convey to those who are going to take the idea to the next stage where it is and what to do with it.

And we start with a question. A hard lesson for marketing people to learn because mostly marketing is used to starting with a budget - and an audience is guaranteed. Which is why we set up long meetings to agree the message and then how we wrap up the message in a creative idea. And so on. This is not normal. Marketing has been like a division of artillery. And it isn't nearly as much about firing communication shells as it used to be. And the rest of the world doesn't work that way. So start with a question - what will engage those you are communicating with? What are they expecting to hear from you? Slightly more risk question - what do they think of you? You are not trying to inform them but to get them moving. And to do that you need to engage. This isn't a party political point about modern advertising. Its a fact of nature for all communication that matters. It was only the concentration of media in the middle of the 20th century that enabled those with a lot of money to ignore their audience and to stream messages at them.  For your closer audiences you will need to think about what they are scripted to do by default.

Its not all bad news - most are paid to produce - they are project driven. So give them the correct inputs and off they'll chug. That's how companies work. It may not be the most effective way of moving your idea along. They may merely transport it to the next stage and ensure it arrives on time.  The idea will be even better if they put some of themselves into it. But recognise by default they may not bother or freel they have permission to do so.  The reason for starting with a question or two is that instead of deciding who has to help and what they need to do you might want to think about the terms of engagement - if they were to do an outstanding job then what would that be like and how can you persaude them to do that. This is why brainstorms get tried a lot even if many of them aren't that effective - because they are capable of creating that sense of participation which draws individuals in.

To summarise this post. Communication starts with involving those with whom you're commumicating. The measure of your success is how involved you can make them. Through this week I will post about a number of different audiences - corporate customers or clients as they are often known, suppliers, team members, and bystanders.

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How you can become a waggledancer

By contributing to this site! Once you become a member you can contribute to the forums, set up your own questions. You can even add to the blog and links and postings to the other pages on the site. I may have to do some policing but I hope to do as little as possible.

Secondly you can copy the contents of this site, any or all of it and set up your own webjam - and invite your friends to that one.

In this way I hope we can build a hive of waggledancers each contributing content and comments and encouraging others to join. 


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Its not how much nectar you find - its how much you can persuade everyone else to carry

  • Hoddesdon
  • United Kingdom

About me:
Has been a waggle dancer aka communications planner and researcher for a quarter of a century now. Lives and works in the vicinity of London but will travel anywhere

check out for more

Running own planning and research consultancy 

10stepsThe idea for waggledancers originates in a book by Howard Wright called 10 steps to Innovation Heaven where he talks about the bee dance.


Visit to find out more about Howard Wright's work in making organisations more innovative.

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