I ran an exercise last week with a group of designers at a meet-up. I used the Rotating Flip Charts technique, a brainstorming technique where you place a number of flip charts around a large room, each with a single question. You then divide the large group into smaller groups (1 group per flip chart), give each group 5 minutes per flip chart to answer the question and then rotate the groups to the next flip chart. We asked 3 questions:
- “What is a User Interface designer?”;
- “What is a User Experience designer?; and
- “What is a Customer Experience designer?”.
When the group move to the next chart, they must review the answers of the previous group and indicate whether they agree or not.
Facilitating these sessions and watching the debates and conversations as the groups rotate between the 3 flip charts brings great insights. Yes, there are insights in the answers to the questions, but for me those are almost secondary. What I find fascinating is the process the groups go through to communicate and get to a common understanding.
There’s the initial storming when each person in the group tries to make their point to the others in their group and there’s energetic debate while they try to come to a consensus. They will write something down, then discuss further. The words written down usually don’t convey the exact meaning of what the group is saying but because they’re verbally discussing the ideas it feels as if it’s close enough. This point becomes important once the groups rotate, because when they do, the next group reads the answers with only the words to guide them.
This is where the fun starts. The groups rarely agree wholeheartedly with any of the answers given by the other groups. More often than not, they either completely disagree or they feel the other group missed something. The groups are usually not aware that their answers are also being as savagely critiqued by the other groups. If they do realise it, they start to become clearer with their written answers.
By the third round the answers start to normalize as the groups have tweaked and pruned the answers of the previous groups as well as added their answers, taking more care to articulate themselves as clearly as possible. You can end up with some well articulated answers that most of the participants agree with and everyone has had a chance to participate, something which is tricky to do in larger groups.
Clear communication is difficult. We need all the help we can get and exercises like this one can certainly help.