Re-imagining How Workshops Are Presented

Is there only one way to teach a workshop? Years ago I was advised to teach by first presenting the concepts and then helping the learners work with them actively; the learning cycle was completed with a reflective exercise at the end. A while ago I saw this turned on its ear to wonderful effect.

I had the opportunity to work with Chris Ernst who, with Donna Chrobot-Mason, authored Boundary Spanning Leadership. I had read the galley version and was struck by how many past situations their findings could have helped me with. I was totally hooked.

Chris and the Center for Creative Leadership had been asked to help a global corporation through transformation from independent entities around the world to a more interdependent way of working together. This large group of business unit leaders would work with Chris for a week, learning to expand their boundaries and connect with each other in new and productive ways.

As the group entered each stage of the work, they were only given instructions on what to do next; theory and concept were eschewed for the time being. They would spend their time doing "the real work" of transformation. 

To prep for the reflective aspects of the week, I was invited to graphically record the event but the norm for that was also turned on its ear. Rather than focusing on capturing the content of conversations, I was asked to capture the activity and what the group was actually doing. This challenged me to a new way of working, but fortunately I already had a firm grasp of Chris's process so I could focus squarely on making it visual.

On the final day, it was time to help the group reexperience the boundary spanning journey they have taken together. Chris would explain a phase of the work and then turn to me so I could use my large drawings to show everyone a different perspective of what had occurred. We repeated that cycle for each phase, showing and talking in tandem. It was a totally new way of observing and learning from intensive work for both the attendees and for me. 

There was much that I liked about all of this. Chris was direct about wanting a different approach to graphic recording, but then left to me the task of figuring out just how to go about it. It put us clearly in partnership, because his closing would be dependent on what I produced. Finally, for the graphic recorder to actually participate in an unrehearsed duet with the event leader was one of those rare in-the-moment experiences that make this work so worthwhile.