Paper Dolls in Space

We had some people with offices in spaces that must be taken off-line, but marginal opportunities for replacements.

Rather than a traditional approach of someone developing a plan, selling and reviewing it on a door-to-door basis until some agreement is reached, we opted for having the involved managers come together to see what we could work out collectively and in real-time. It was not without some trepidation because it was possible there would be no universally popular solution to this division of fixed resources.

A key would be exciting the creative mind in lieu of defensive thinking, and to do that the session was designed to be as interactive as possible. We set up a large table in my office -- one of the more unusually decorated spaces in the school -- and stipulated that this would be a standup meeting. On the tabletop I had a graphic that combined a map of the campus and floor plans of the available spaces. Everyone was told to bring scissors and the camera.

Paper Dolls Table Top.jpg

We began by establishing the number of people involved, and to do this I asked each manager to cut out paper dolls from templates I prepared ahead of time. The templates were printed on  multicolored paper, intended to help us tell the units apart. Colored cards were also provided on which the unit name was written in the enfolded into a tent card.

When we began there was a slight air of “Are you kidding me?” in the room; one attendee began by sitting unhappily off to the side. Somehow that dissipated as soon as everyone started cutting out dolls; remarkably, this was especially the case for the one previously off to the side. We spent some time then letting everyone explain what their requirements, were using the dolls as centerpieces.

In situations like this there can be unexpectedly creative thinking. Different colors of paper were provided to indicate the different units but not stated explicitly. What happened instead was that people chose to use different colors paper to represent the different kinds of people in their units. This is an example of how the value of high engagement trumps that of original intentions.

Once everyone shared their requirements the ideas kicked off somewhat spontaneously. Things were moved around, thoughts explored, and it seemed as though everyone was talking at once. I shifted from facilitator to spectator, both to stay out of the way and to enjoy what was becoming a productive event.

As our allotted time approached its end I stepped in to help converge and summarize. We listed the next steps together and closed the day’s work. It was fascinating to see everyone taking pictures of what was on the tabletop.

I then asked for a quick evaluation by fist vote of what they all thought of the process, but they also wanted to also evaluate the results. I stepped out of the room while someone else made the tabulations shown here. Pretty neat!

What were some of the positives from this? Everyone was engaged, energized and doing something. Having so much data available on the tabletop made for very economical dialogue - there was plenty that could be pointed at rather than explained ad nausea.

What opportunities exist going forward? How could this approach be expanded and/or scaled up? Our task was essentially to make choices. How might we get such a spontaneous energy on the usual challenges with the usual people in academic medicine?

What issues merit more attention? There would be value in being more precise with the facts. For instance, one unit manager included positions that are planned but in doubt. I had originally intended to police this more aggressively, but decided to let it unfold on its own. As it turns out, we are working with that particular issue after the fact.

What new thinking is in order here? Why treat this approach -- lightly managed kinesthetic collaboration -- as something unusual? What additional value does it bring beyond just the resolution of the immediate problem?