Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog

The power of collaboration or how to get traction in 3 easy steps


Have you ever found yourself struggling with a big idea, an analysis or a report?

As in: parts of it are clear in your mind but there are gaps and grey areas?

Sometimes I can get traction (make progress) by doing a “brain dump”, i.e. just get the ideas on paper or a white board then re-arrange them by editing. Sometimes I need a “jump start”.

Sometimes, when there are a lot of ideas which are not particularly well defined or prioritized that is more challenging (especially when I am under pressure to produce quickly).

My first “go to” approach, if I am working alone, is to find a thought partner, i.e. someone who thinks similarly (not the “same” but can flex between leading and following) and is always prepared to debate, extend and build together.

Once you have a team consider some of the following tips, tricks and techniques.  Do you have others?  Please share in the comments section.

Recently, I was asked to collaborate on creating a plan to develop an organizational capability.  We had some good data, some internal and some external, and we were sharing opinions and developing pieces of analysis really well BUT we were all over the place.  One of us wanted to discuss topic A, another wanted to develop a list, and some of the time I just wanted to review a piece of our research.  It was like we were throwing spaghetti at a wall and nothing was sticking.

Here is what we did to get traction faster:

  1. We set up a collaborative on-line workspace where we could upload all of our relevant reference files. This ensured that we all had the same documents (and same versions of documents).
  2. We agreed on an output and very high level data architecture, aka a PowerPoint and some key slides. We agreed on couple of similar presentations to use as a starting point.
  3. One of us volunteered to set up the Webex, one of us agreed to scribe the changes live on the call. (I have also done this live in Google docs where everyone could edit the document at the same time – now that is fun).
  4. We immediately began our joint “brain dump”:
  • Switching between the thumbnail view (so we could see all the slides in the template) and slide view (where we could see the content) we flew through and deleted irrelevant slides
  • We zoomed in on key slides and modified the content and structure to suit our ideas
  • We added place-holder slides for information (some we pulled from previous slide decks) we thought we would want to add or modify later

An hour later we had a reasonable first draft.  We loaded that into the on-line workspace and invited a few other colleagues to join us there and to review the first draft.  Now that’s a “mind meld”.

Another approach I have seen work (but everyone must be in the same “room”):

  1. Give everyone a set of large Post-it notes (say 3”’ x 5”) and have them write each idea on a separate Post-it. Let the ideas fly – capture every one (good, bad and ugly).
  2. Then agree on some main topic headings (everyone is a bit warmer now, having both thought it through and captured their key thoughts) and post these on the walls of the room.
  3. Ask everyone to add their own Post-its (ideas) under the more relevant heading.
  4. Walk the “gallery” of ideas just absorbing and understanding the ideas.
  5. On the second walk thru, invite people to group similar ideas (Post-its) together (still under the main heading). You might even be able to identify new sub-headings at this point.
  6. Solicit volunteers to take photos, scribe the content and compile a first version of the deliverable.

This works great for really big groups.

Of course these are the mechanics of collaboration.  It really does start with knowing and respecting each other.  And we have to develop the habits of (and comfort level with) speaking aloud, flexing to both contribute and to leave room for other people’s ideas, asking questions to “unpack” ideas, listening to understand, and a ton of other “soft” skills.

What works for you?

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Stepping into your voice―10 ways to get started (Liberate your voice series, Post 3 of 3)

Confidence Presentations Speaking“A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” Unknown

This is the third and final post in the series. “Your voice matters-liberate it” and “Find your voice―the power of authenticity” are below.

Sometimes learning new things is nerve-racking, frightening even.  Sometimes it pays to experiment a little before diving in.

This post is about the little things you can start experimenting with to build confidence liberating your voice.

Some may look easy to you.  Some may look irrelevant to you.  Fine, go on to the next one.  If these are too easy or too hard, modify them. It is easier for some people to talk and act publically.  Other people just want to “blend into the woodwork”.

We are all in different place in our journeys and our own reactions are entirely legitimate based on where we are.  The opportunity here is to stretch to make little steps that take us down the road.

Maybe think about it as three phases:

Be seen / heard

  1. “Like” an online comment, article or blog post
  2. “Share” an online comment, article or blog post
  3. Enter a status update in your social media
  4. Send a private note thanking a contributor and expressing your appreciation for their input

Speak (“Write”) out

  1. Submit a post in a LinkedIn discussion. Offer an additional resource. Share your experience. Ask a question.  Ask for clarification, additional resources, etc.
  2. Host a LinkedIn Discussion or co-write a blog post (contact me if you are interested)
  3. Deliver a speaking engagement, maybe a lunch n’learn for your colleagues.

Take a stand

This is a tough one. Here you will take a different point of view than others and will be open to their responses.  It might be as simple as “This is not consistent with my own experience.  In situations where abc, I found xyz.”  Here are a few

  1. Write an anonymous “Letter to the Editor”
  2. Write an open letter.
  3. Disagree with someone. This is tricky because live debate really speeds it all up.  The funny thing is that it’s not about preparing your argument or having great data.  It’s about accepting the flow.

Do you have other mindsets or techniques that have utility for you? Please share in the comments section.

Got more resources or ideas for how to stretch your voice?  Let’s hear them in the comments section.

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Find your voice―the power of your authenticity (Liberate your voice series, Post 2 of 3)
January 22, 2015, 8:30 am
Filed under: - Personal change, - Professional Development | Tags:

Collaborate Speaking Authenticity“There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a person being themselves. Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you.”―Steve Maraboli

This is the second post in the series. “Your voice matters-liberate it” is below. Here we continue to explore ways to bring your important views into the public square.

Finding your “authentic” ground

First let’s get clear about what “authenticity” means.

According to, the first meaning of authentic is “not false or copied; genuine; real”.

We all have our own “genuine” point of view.  It is shaped by our frame of reference―what we have learned through our experiences and it is shaped by our mindsets.

Our own ideas and opinions are unique to us.  Our own point of view is entirely legitimate for what it is: our perspective, our voice.

This should not be mistaken for authoritative; “substantiated or supported by documentary evidence and accepted by most authorities in a field” (  In the field of change management and strategy execution there are “authorities”: thought leaders who have built their opinions and recommendations on years of research and experience.  These are actually rare.

In between “novices” struggling to gain knowledge and “authorities”, there are practitioners who have acquired a wide range of knowledge and capability through experience.  In the second post of his blog series “Thought Leadership” Daryl Conner gives us a framework of five archetypes:

  • “Eager Apprentices”
  • “Solid Performers”
  • “Adept Adventurers”
  • “Periodic Contributors”
  • “Thought Leaders”

Which of these is you? I argue that regardless of which of these we consider ourselves to be – we have something legitimate to add to most any conversation.  It might be in asking smart questions.  It might be in repeating for clarification. It might be in asking about other applications.

Be seen and heard

For most of our formative years we are conditioned for the opposite: be seen and not heard.   Yet all along you’ve had something to say, haven’t you?

In your mind’s eye you can see yourself speaking in ways that people light up, in ways that make a difference. This is the way it should be.

You can make this a reality. It is about sharing your ideas and opinions, about knowing your stuff, about letting your authenticity show.  It’s actually not about setting out to influence others―influence is a side effect of adding value by sharing your perspective.

First, what not to do

I am not talking here about knee jerk reactions or stream of consciousness thinking.  The place for this is in structured brainstorming sessions where there is an explicit requirement to go beyond what we know or should have thought through.

Here I am talking about giving thoughtful analysis to an idea or point of view then expressing it.  Do your homework, know your stuff and be prepared to discuss it.  I am not suggesting that you have to have a speech prepared – no, far from it. Stilted, scripted commentary comes off awkward and usually lags behind the conversation flow.

When you know your stuff, as you probably do, you should jump in and trust yourself.  You might want to have a few phrases at the ready like:  “What I typically see is …”, “In x situation we found that …”, “Preliminary research suggests that …”, “Conventional thinking is x … here’s where I think our situation is different …”, “I have seen y succeed in similar situations.”

Begin by acknowledging others

When you are joining an existing team or a conversation or analysis in full swing, it is important to acknowledge the work already done. Actually, it is more than common courtesy―it signals respect and a willingness to collaborate.  Be sure to be honest.  Find some part of the discussion that you can appreciate or validate.  You can do this with phrases like:

  • “Thank you for sharing xyz”
  • “Your explanation of xyz really resonated for me.”

Recognition does not need to signal blanket agreement rather one can still follow from that starting point with: “My experience is different in that abc …”

The key here is recognizing, genuinely respecting, that each person in the discussion has a legitimate opinion.  Opinions may differ and this is what improves the quality of decision making.

Speak early

It almost doesn’t matter what the first thing you say is but you must speak in the first quarter of a meeting.  If you are catching up with new information perhaps ask a clarifying question.

 “You have two ears and one mouth” – listening is a part of the voice

There is a tension in a conversation.  A dialogue is about taking turns, listening and talking, about validating and expanding.

Listening is one of the most powerful ways to find your own voice. Really seeking first to understand the other party is the first obligation.   Not listening only long enough what to say next; rather hearing, holding and acknowledging those points and then clarifying with your own.

We all crave to be heard.  Never worry that you not saying enough rather worry that you are saying too much.  Understanding, alignment and commitment cannot be talked into others but it can be listened out of them. Sometimes the most powerful contribution is actually a question “Can you tell me more about that?”, “How does that play out for you?”, “What do you see happening next?”, “Would you find xyz helpful?”

Dialogue vs debate

As much as we crave validation and acknowledgement (it makes us feel safe and appreciated), it’s a pretty safe bet that the other voice in the conversation does too.  Giving this to the other “voice” establishes a tone of dialogue, rather than debate. Dialogue sets a precedent for building ideas and discussions together―a tone of collaboration.

This does not mean that we have to agree.  The ability to disagree civilly and productively might be one of the most advanced communication skills we can aspire to.

Some of the most powerful dialogue I have witnessed included “opponents” validating each other (this is gapping chasm in politics and some academic circles – don’t look for it there) then building on each other’s ideas.  The language looks like this:

  • “Thank you for raising that important issue. I appreciated your point of view. Here is how I have experienced that …”

“I respectfully disagree …” Although this tee-up looks like debate (and it can be) great teams don’t waver from disagreement they roll up their sleeves and explore it.

  • “If we factor in xyz where does that take us?” This is a more collaborative invitation.


All of these techniques work best when they come from deep inside, spontaneously.  And yet, many of us are unpracticed in the art of dialogue.  So, find a place to practice.

The discussions in LinkedIn Groups has been a great training ground for me.  The dialogue is in bulletin board format so it is slower.  You have time to draft up your thoughts and post them.  Others will respond and you can look it over and get a feel for the flow of the “conversation”.  Find a group that interests you and track along for a bit.  Then jump in and give it a try.

I am not a fan of presenting to groups however over the past couple of years I have committed myself and delivered several presentations.  I started with small community groups of professional associations and worked up to rooms of 500.  It has not been easy and I have lots of room for improvement.  What I hold on to, and encourage you to do the same, is that genuine sharing of resources and opinions has value.  What really gets me jazzed is learning other people’s questions, reactions and opinions, particularly from those who disagree.  This gives us both an opportunity to grow.

Where do you practice?

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Your voice matters―liberate it (Liberate your voice series, Post 1 of 3)
January 15, 2015, 8:06 pm
Filed under: - Personal change, - Professional Development | Tags:

Confidence Speaking Authenticity“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”―Marilyn Ferguson

What does it mean to “liberate your voice”? It means to speak aloud, in any room.  It means to share your observations and opinions.  Every one of us behaves on a continuum from “not enough” to “way too much”.  This post is for those who would like to move from “not enough” into the middle.

Of course narcissists (yes, those of you with a high ratio of “I”s, “me”s, and “my”s in your expressions) can stop reading now.

For many of us, speaking out is difficult.  We may worry that we are not qualified or that we are missing something.  We may be concerned about how others will view us – as stupid or as arrogant.  This is not an easy balance and I don’t claim to have it all figured out.  I have, however, experimented quite a bit and stretched my own comfort zone over the past 5 years or so.  These three posts are intended to share some of the techniques I have used. continue reading here

Strategy Execution is the business strategy of the 21st century
January 8, 2015, 8:00 am
Filed under: - People Change Management

Outperfom model Gail SeveriniIn May 2014 the OutPerform Model © was soft launched at The Conference Board of Canada’s annual Change Management conference and I shared it with you here in June.

This post elaborates on each of the 6 components.

Why is an integrated approach to strategy execution important? continue reading here

Change is coming

drop of waterChange is always happening around us.

The arena of strategy execution, and all of its components, is morphing rapidly in response to our changing market conditions.

At opportune times each of us has the choice to respond, or not.   A new year offers tantalizing timing to do re-set trajectory.   Over the next couple of months you will see a few changes around here. continue reading here

The Strategy Execution Mindset

“Where you stand depends on where you sit.”―Nelson Mandela

“The overall name of these interrelated structures is system. The motorcycle is a system. A real system. …There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. That’s all a motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it that is not in someone’s mind. I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this- that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon.” ―Robert Pirsi, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

The mindsets within which we approach any analysis of strategy execution approaches set up the criteria by we which evaluate them.  We all have mindsets and they usually function subconsciously.

What mindsets might underlie strategy execution success? Recently I sat down with one of my valued thinking partners, Brian Gorman.  Here is what we came up with: continue reading here


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