Avoiding Deep Vein Thrombosis and Death by Powerpoint

Exciting and Engaging and Large Corporate Event are phrases that are seldom linked together. Put 200 people in a room and all thoughts of interactivity are gone, even though there are some simple and effective ways to involve and engage people that would be a big benefit for most organizations.

Time is Money. True. For a half-day meeting, you have the cost of salaries, transportation and lodging, meeting venue, meals and all that stuff. So that justifies punishing them with a lecture that they will not remember? And, is any of that information presented not available in some other format like a webcast or a podcast or a downloadable presentation of some kind that did not involve all of the above costs?

And sitting. Lots of research says that almost every one of us does it way too much. I sit at my computer a good bit, but I also make it a point to hit the kitchen for coffee, move about when on the phone, hit some pool balls, work on my other  computer on a stand-up desk, and similar. Heck, when I finish drafting this, I have a lawn to mow…

Big Company Cultures are hard to change, and many are very much into the stand-up lecture by a Most Senior Manager plus some Big Name Presenter, with a name like Rick Pittino, there to tell everyone how to manage people, not to really step back and see that he “manages” a group of elite athletes of 20 years of age who are all trying to make it to the Pro ranks in basketball. Better yet, get some comedian or comedienne so at least people are laughing and writing down some of the jokes.

My view is that these events are unique, and thus represent really unusual opportunities to do things that cannot be done through email or conferences. So, I will try to add some key thoughts about making these large events more effective. Frankly, there seem to be a lot of strange and sometimes seemingly irrelevant things done in the name of team building and organizational development. 

Death by Powerpoint is such a common concept that it must have a high degree of commonality and truth. Bing showed 177,000 results for “death by powerpoint” and google showed 266,000. One thread in one LinkedIn group had over 250 individual comments a while back around the issue and with examples of awful presentations — at least they were memorable for something, right?

Hang around the ballroom area of any large hotel and when the doors open up, you will see lots of people sitting, just sitting there inactive. It reinforces this notion of Death By Powerpoint, or at least death by non-involvement. One wonders why there are not warnings about deep vein thrombosis for some of these presentations!

Wikipedia showed one of the causes as, “inactivity and immobilization, as with sitting, travel, bed rest, and hospitalization.” I thought to go onto the site and add, “Large Business and Corporate Meetings” and “Powerpoint Presentations” to that list…

People at Onlinemba.com came across my blog while researching Team Building and sent me a link to one of their articles. The title was, “How the Top Companies Take On Team Building” and I liked the way it started, since I pretty much agree with this:

Few corporate-culture business phrases are as potentially groan-inducing as “team building.” Visions of cheesy performances and “inspiring” activities like coal walking and trust falls immediately spring to mind.

If you have a group of people, why not put them to work? Why not get them involved and engaged and giving YOU ideas on issues and answers, on problems and potential solutions? There are all sorts of questions that are  best asked through team-based conversations and that would benefit from open communications and group problem-solving. You can make people feel like their ideas are valued and that they can make impacts on how things are done.

Let’s take Fast Networks as a simple interactive approach. Set up the session with round tables of 6 people. This is so much better than auditorium style meetings or classroom sets that simply remind people of being in school, which for many is not a highly positive memory!

Ask  each table to come up with a question or theme or something related to why the group has assembled. This could be along the lines:

  • Best idea for innovating systems and processes
  • Best idea for a new product or service
  • Ideas for improving teamwork within the organization
  • Best ideas for improving collaboration
  • Ideas for increasing workforce motivation or decreasing turnover
  • Ideas for implementing a new strategy company-wide
  • or pretty much any general theme of some impact. 

You can tightly anchor this to some of your real business issues, where the ideas and involvement of all of the participants are of interest and benefit and where some level of engagement might make things better.Let each table come up with ONE idea to work on, to present to the whole group.

Then, announce the process of Fast Networks, where everyone will get out of their seat and move around the room for three minutes, asking at least three other people to share their thoughts on that tabletop’s main idea. Since each table will have something different, in all likelihood, the sharing of ideas among the people will occur and people would get some different ideas to bring back to their tabletop.

The tabletop then has 5 minutes to discuss all the ideas and come up with ONE or two recommendations to share with the group and to transfer onto some document for collection and review.

The time limits are not “tight” in that three minutes might become five if the energy is high. The tabletops should have enough time to do a good job of summarizing and prioritizing but they will generally take all the time you allow them, with most of the work being done in the last minute or so…

Then, allow them to select a presenter to share their ideas with the group.

This kind of activity gets ideas as well as involvement from the group and can be a way to get at information that few other processes will allow. The ideas tend to be non-political and innovative, also.

Elegant Solutions

I have used this Fast Networks process many times and it works great in any size group – the time limits force energy and focused thinking. It is simple and requires no accessories other than marking pens and paper to enable some brainstorming and idea collection, and we generally post the work on the walls as evidence of the group thinking. It can be fabulous!

Me, I will continue to suggest organizations use effective large group team building simulations such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Innovate & Implement — these are fun, controllable, inexpensive and directly link directly to workplace collaboration and performance improvement. We know that it has a lot of long-term impacts on participants and gets everyone involved and engaged. All of our programs are also designed for very large groups of 200 or even more.

Team building exercise, Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

We also suggest that our Square Wheels illustrations can be effective tools for generating alignment as well as new ideas for organizational change and improvement. They are an unusual and unusually effective way of generating divergent thinking and ideas for innovation or simple process improvement.
For the FUN of It!

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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