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Winning from Losing

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Roger Greenaway's Active Reviewing Tips ~ ISSN 1465-8046
Active Reviewing Tips is a free monthly publication from Reviewing Skills Training.

Don't just do it - actively review it!

  Active Reviewing Tips 17.5 - Winning from Losing


~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Winning from Losing 

~ 2 ~ EVENTS: Active Reviewing Workshops with Roger Greenaway

~ 3 ~ ARTICLE: The Losing or Demoralised Group

~ 4 ~ ONLINE TRAINING COURSE: Active Reviewing

~ 5 ~ TIPS: Six of the best ways to introduce Active Reviewing

~ 6 ~ ARCHIVE: Learning from Triumphs and Disasters



~ 9 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL:  Winning from Losing

When I first stepped on a windsurfer I fell in the water. I quite like swimming and I didn't mind entertaining friends on the beach with my continual falling off. But I really wanted to learn how to windsurf. At no point did I feel like a loser. I was enjoying the challenge of learning a new sport without a guidebook or an instructor. I was such an "early adopter" that such learning "aids" did not exist. Learning from experience was the only option. And I became a winner.

Juggling was a different story. I have made several false starts. I have always been disappointed with my lack of success. The difficulties overwhelmed my motivation to succeed and dented my confidence in learning new skills..

As a learner-windsurfer I expected to fall off a lot, but despite lots of setbacks I found myself learning the skill much faster than I expected. As a learner-juggler I expected to learn faster than I actually did and my motivation to learn soon dwindled.

Expectations matter. I once witnessed a juggler coaching session. A trainee juggler dropped one of her three balls. The coach said "Well done - you caught two!"  This seemed a bit odd to me at the time, but the intention was transparently clear: focus on achievements so that the learner can feel like a winner by bringing their attention to progress and to what is working well..

This appreciative approach can be extended to praise effort:

"Well done. You have just spent 30 minutes of concentrated and determined practice. New habits take time to develop and you are investing the time and the right kind of practice that will soon bring the results you want."

After a few days of falling off my windsurfer my friend said:

"I've been watching you. The gaps between your falls are getting longer".

I felt so good! I just wanted to make those gaps grow even more.

For more ways of applying the appreciative approach to learning take a look at the section of my website on "Reviewing Success".

For tips about working with a whole group that feels demoralised, scroll down to "The Losing Group".

'Six of the best' continues below with "Six of the best ways to introduce reviewing."

This is where you are just now - and a special welcome if this is your first issue:

Active Reviewing Tips is a free newsletter from Roger Greenaway that will help you to re-charge your reviewing and facilitation skills.

Typical contents:

  • a practical feature on reviewing tips
  • links to sites about active learning methods
  • tips, comments and ideas from readers
  • what's new in the Guide to Active Reviewing at http://reviewing.co.uk

Maximum frequency: monthly. Average frequency: quarterly.

"16 years of promoting better learning experiences."

I welcome requests for topics you would like to see included in Active Reviewing Tips, any questions you would like to see answered in a FAQ, and enquiries about trainer-training workshops (open or in-house).

Roger Greenaway
where you will find this month's blog on "Rethinking Experience Based EventsNEW

~ 2 ~ EVENTS: Active Reviewing Workshops with Roger Greenaway

The Calendar of Reviewing Skills Training Workshops
provides the most up to date list of open/public workshops provided by Roger Greenaway.

Active Reviewing Online
Have you taken a look at my new online training course on Active Reviewing?
Please let me know what you think of the free preview or of the whole course: roger@reviewing.co.uk

~ 3 ~ ARTICLE:  The Losing or Demoralised Group

The Losing (or Demoralised) Group

Which is the best strategy to use in this situation?

by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

The Losing Group is the third of a series of articles in which the starting point is a situation that you might have faced already or that you might face in the future - as a facilitator of learning.

[Previous articles were The Forgetful Navigator and We Just Want Fun.]

As you read through the article, please consider which of these methods would be your own favourite response to the situation. If your favourite method is not described, please write to roger@reviewing.co.uk and share your own favourite.

The sense of being "losers" may have come from events before the training programme (eg back in the workplace) or from events during the training programme. Perhaps there was an inter-group competition and your group came last. Or perhaps your group is the only group on the training programme but they have failed to complete a number of challenges, or they have failed to solve a number of problems and they feel like losers.

You sense that this is not the right time for a full analysis of the causes of failure because it might just become a negative spiral triggering denial, blame, defensiveness, despair - and not a lot of learning. You know that when groups support learning it can be a powerful dynamic. You also know that demoralised groups can be at least as powerful - in the other direction.

You wonder if active reviewing might help? Might it raise energy levels while helping the group learn and move through this low point?

Here are some choices for you to consider...

Option 1: Turntable

Turntable offers an opportunity for everyone to view the situation from different perspectives. So rather than getting fixed in one pessimistic viewpoint such as "We are losers", everyone moves through different perspectives, which can include "We are the real winners"..

To get best value from this exercise you need to choose the different perspectives with some care. But let's say you work with just two perspectives "We are winners" and "We are losers". You have a curved row of "winners" seats facing a curved row of "losers" seats. Optionally (and recommended if the group is more than 8) you can also have a curved row of seats where people are simply listening or represent "a balanced view". Let's say you have a group of 9 plus yourself. You would sit in the facilitator's seat. To your left would be a row of "loser perspective" seats, then a row of "balanced perspective" seats, then a row of "winner perspective seats" to complete the circle - meaning that the "winner" seats are on your immediate right..

When the conversation begins, participants are expected to represent the view that corresponds to their seat. Every 90 seconds the facilitator stands. This is a cue for everyone to move one place to their left. One complete circuit will take about 15 minutes. You can choose to join in the rotation or stay in the facilitator's seat.

At the very end of the discussion (which is a kind of role-play) invite everyone to stand behind the chair which they feel most closely represents their true perspective. In the jargon of role play this is "de-roling". There is no need to continue the discussion at this point, but encourage everyone to look around to see where others stand. This quick and simple final stage helps to get everyone out of their last role and back to reality.

Option 1 - with a focus on learning

Because the purpose of a training event is to learn, a more relevant and interesting discussion will arise if you focus on learning. For example: one side becomes "We learn more when we win/succeed", the next side becomes "We learn more when we have mixed success", and the third perspective becomes "We learn more when we lose/fail".

Option 1 - on the theme of resilience

Or you could make it a discussion about resilience with 3 or 4 positions/perspectives.

  • Position 1: Resilience means try harder next time.
  • Position 2: Resilience means be smarter next time.
  • Position 3. Resilience means focus on the positive.
  • Position 4. Resilience means keep the right goal in mind.
Would you try helping a demoralised group out of their low point by having them move through different perspectives in a Turntable exercise? Would this improve their mood and their learning?

Option 2: Missing Person

Rather than dwelling on the problem, Missing Person focuses on the solution - even if the solution is an imaginary one (to start with).

In Missing Person you ask groups of about 5 people to create a picture of a person who has the skills qualities and attributes of the kind of person who might help to bring more success to the group. You add that the person should reflect strengths that already exist in the group (but perhaps in greater measure) as well as bringing in new talents and powers that are not apparent in the group just now. You also ask them to give the new person a name as soon as possible in the process.

Indoors each subgroup needs a table top, a sheet of flipchart paper and a mix of coloured felt pens. Outdoors (ideally on a beach or in a forest) the subgroups scavenge for items that can be included in a sculpture of the Missing Person.

The subgroups then introduce their person and say why they would be a welcome part of the group. The audience states why they would also welcome them.

Sometimes this is a suitable endpoint. At other times you may want to ensure that the inspiration of these imaginary people is turned into action, by asking the whole group to share out responsibilities for monitoring specific aspects that they really want to see more of in their own group. These responsibilities will be reviewed in future reviews.

As soon as you introduce creativity into reviewing there is a risk that it may not take off in a useful direction (as well as the risk that it might!). In my experience Missing Person usually brings out humour, honesty, useful learning and future direction. If they have been failing as a whole group, rather than giving them a whole group reviewing task at which they might also fail, have them working in groups of around 5 - because it is generally easier to function as a group of 5 than as a group of 8 or more. Also, there is no pass/fail mark with a creative exercise. Most groups of 5 enjoy presenting the person they have created.

If there is a reluctance to get involved because it seems "silly", tell them that the amount of silliness is entirely within their control, and that the kind of person they create is their responsibility. Remind them that if they do the job well, it is a process that will help the group turn round and move on.

Would you try helping a demoralised group out of their low point by having them create and introduce a Missing Person? Would this improve their mood and their learning?

Option 3: Picture Postcards

A set of Picture Postcards can be used in many ways to help with a reviewing process. Whenever a picture is chosen and discussed it lifts thoughts away from the immediate situation and creates a fresh perspective from which to view it. Pictures can be used in this particular scenario to help a demoralised group plan their way out of trouble.

The initial stage is to have the group select pictures from a large pool of pictures. They are all looking for three kinds of pictures.

  1. Picture that represent our current state.
  2. Pictures that represent our desired state.
  3. Pictures that represent the kind of journey that might help us get from 'current' to 'desired' states.
These three groups of pictures are laid out on 3 separate tables, one by one as they are chosen by any individual. This part of the process finishes when there are 10-15 pictures on each of the three tables.

Divide the group in two. One subgroup meets around the "current state" pictures and is asked to choose 5 that best represent the current state ... while the other subgroup is choosing the 5 pictures that best represent the "desired state". When ready, each subgroup then presents their choices to the other subgroup.

Two new subgroups are formed by combining each half of the "current" subgroup with each half of the "desired" subgroup. Pictures from the "journey" table are randomly divided in two and given to each of the newly formed subgroups. Each subgroup works independently to create an illustrated journey that could help the whole group move from "current" to "desired". Allow people to include extra pictures if needed. When ready, each subgroup presents their proposed illustrated journey to the other subgroup.

Keep the picture on display or take photos of them because it will be useful to refer to these pictures in a later review - to see whether such journeys were attempted or whether the desired state came into view or was realised in any way (or even surpassed expectations).

Easy-to-remove sticky labels can be a useful extra when working with pictures - to remind people of the different meanings that have been assigned to each picture.

Would you try helping a demoralised group out of their low point by having them reflect, imagine and plan using picture postcards? Would this improve their mood and their learning?

Option 4: Doing Nothing

Doing nothing is also an option. I have found that most (but not all*) groups can readily bounce back without the aid of the facilitator. When they achieve this themselves without my help, I ask them to explain to me how this happened. And if their answer is short on detail, I explain that I am curious, but they should be curious too - because if they can establish and appreciate how they got themselves from "demoralised" to "energised", maybe that is a recipe they can use in future. So although I might do nothing to "rescue" the group, I do show a lot of interest in how they "rescued" themselves. And my favourite choice in this situation would be to use Storyline which can be a very revealing way of charting a journey of ups and downs - whether they are individual ups and downs or group ups and downs (or a mixture). Success Chart can be another good option.

But the key option here is "doing nothing" and letting the group sort themselves out.

Would you try helping a demoralised group out of their low point by doing nothing? (Even though you later show an analytical interest if and when they have succeeded.)

[* Although young groups can be highly resilient, the younger the group, the more cautious I am about  "doing nothing" as a deliberate strategy.]

Which option would you choose - and why?

Much depends on the situation and much depends on your personal style. But each option has its own risks (and merits!) - and there may well be better ways of dealing with this situation. If your favourite strategy is not described above, please write to roger@reviewing.co.uk and share your own favourite.

Further Reference
You can find other versions of the methods described above at reviewing.co.uk
See the Online Active Reviewing Course for a video-based presentation of Missing Person which is is one of the 8 methods in the course.

More Tips

Scroll down for "Six of the best ways to introduce Active Reviewing".

and for the archived pdf on "Learning from Triumphs and Disasters".

~ 4 ~ ONLINE TRAINING COURSE: Active Reviewing

Active Reviewing Online Course

Taking part in this online course will enable you ...

  • To engage your students' full set of learning skills so that their learning is rapid, significant and memorable.
  • To inspire long lasting results by generating immersive learning experiences.
  • To become an expert in facilitating learning from experience.
  • To master the Active Reviewing Toolkit (A.R.T.), a selection of versatile reviewing techniques.
  • To use tools such as the Horseshoe, the Activity Map, Action Replay and others in order to engage and empower your students.
You can view the full course content and sample the training videos for free by visiting ActiveReviewing.com where you will also find reviews of the course by Sivasailam Thiagarajan (Thiagi), Andi Roberts, Cliff Knapp and Ginette Biolan.

~ 5 ~  TIPS: Six of the best ways to introduce Active Reviewing

1. Just do it: demonstrate Active Reviewing
You can demonstrate Active Reviewing without first doing an activity. This is because participants are likely to have already had plenty of experiences that are relevant to your programme. And they can select an experience to share through Active Reviewing. You might say something like this:

"This course is about how to better deal with x. But none of you are starting at point zero: you have all had some success already in dealing with x. So I would like you all to think of an example that you are happy to present that describes an occasion when you were fairly pleased with how you dealt with x."

You then introduce Storyline and you ask participants to share their story in pairs or small groups using Storyline. Some stories can also be shared in the wider group if people are happy to do so.

After this session you can explain that Storyline was an Active Reviewing technique: it helped people to reflect, visualise and present their story as they walked along the ups and downs of their storyline.

You can apply much the same principle by using Spokes after a group's first group challenge. This Active Reviewing method takes people quickly into a visual, scaled and movement-based form of positive feedback. And after Spokes you can explain how this is an Active Reviewing technique.

2. Explain the value of Active Reviewing

Explain that learning from experience is often described as a cycle. One of the simplest versions is a 3 part cycle: Experience - Reflection - Learning. Explain that the Experience is often highly engaging, but that in many training programmes the other parts of the cycle are not as engaging as they should be. Active Reviewing is a set of principles and methods that aims to maintain high levels of engagement throughout the process of learning from experience. If, after the "experience", people switch off or become too passive or dependent, not much learning is going to happen.

You may want to add that Active Reviewing is also about switching on as much of our learning capacity as we can. That includes our senses, intelligences and skills. It includes divergent as well as convergent thinking. It includes critical and appreciative thinking. It includes reflecting and communicating using a range of different media. Not only does Active Reviewing help people learn from recent experiences, it also helps to develop their capacity to learn from future experiences.

And if you want to make it a little more down to earth, explain that the training programme is a practical one designed to help people do things differently. It is not about solving problems in an ivory tower. It aims to bring the worlds of action and learning close together so that learning comes from action and learning is turned into further action. Active Reviewing helps to bring these worlds of learning and action closer together.

3. Everyone shares examples of how they have learned by reflecting on experience

A set of Brief Encounters questions can help to bring out these stories in brief one to one conversations (or even in the wider group). Questions might include:
  • Has a setback ever increased your determination to succeed? And did reflection have any part to play in this?
  • Have you ever taken part in group-problem solving? What kind of reflection did this involve?
  • Have you ever experimented with a recipe or tried making your own music? What part did reflection play?
  • Have you ever taken on a challenge simply because it was a challenge? What did you take away from this experience? (and how?)
  • Have you ever received unexpected praise or more praise than you expected? How did you respond to this feedback internally and externally? 
  • How do you like to learn a new practical skill? What works best for you?
  • Do you ever gesture or draw diagrams or rearrange objects when communicating an experience to others? If so, is it more to help you think or to help you communicate?
Some of these kinds of questions might lead to conversations about the value of reviewing (which is OK!) and some may also include aspects of active reviewing (which is even better!)

4. Give evidence / examples of how Active Reviewing has worked well for other people

Your own examples (as a facilitator or as a participant) will have the most impact.

If working with managers I would give examples from their world, such as how the biggest impact for one manager taking part in an outdoor management development programme was a reviewing session in which he chose to make a finger painting about the balances in his life and how he would like to change them. I might share an example of how Action Replay has helped to repair conflict or how Future Walking has allowed managers to experience overcoming challenges that lie ahead.

If working with young people I might describe how an Action Replay was the highlight of an outdoor programme for one group I worked with. I might describe how the making and receiving of Gifts has been greatly enjoyed and valued. Or how a youth group reflected on life in their local community and created and performed their own version of John Lennon's Imagine. These were all powerful kinds of Active Reviewing.

5. Tell your own before-and-after story about why you changed from all-talk reviewing to more active reviewing

I might explain how I used Rounds, tried out some variations and then discovered Talking Knot which is a great alternative that keeps people active and lets people join in when they are ready, not when it is their turn and they don't feel ready to speak.

I used to despair of clichéd discussions about teamwork: now I am more likely to use Moving Stones because it makes it so much easier to talk about team dynamics with a dynamic visual aid  - a simple tool that readily enhances the quality of thinking and communication.

I used to try coaxing people to express their feelings, but now I will often choose Empathy Test because it is a game-like way into the world of feelings - that can be as gentle or as tough as you want it to be.

Or I might explain how (and why) I shifted from flipchart reviews to Missing Person:

"A long time ago - and before I had come up with the Missing Person technique, my typical-but-not-very-inspiring way of reviewing a "failure" was to collect two lists of words on a flipchart. One list was "things we did well". The other list was "things we didn't do well".

The merit of this approach was that it encouraged a balanced view rather than a totally negative one. The huge downside was that compiling lists is not a very stimulating or satisfying exercise and it readily brings out superficial labels and clichés that are soon forgotten.

By contrast, the Missing Person gets remembered and is a classic example of 'the more you put in, the more you get out'. This principle applies to the reviewing process as much as it does to the rest of life."

6.  When you present the programme outline, include the planned content of the reviewing sessions as well as the planned content of the other sessions.

Take a good look at the programme outline which you present to your participants. Does it mention reviewing and allocate time for it? Does it describe the likely format of each reviewing session? If you have been a reader of Active Reviewing Tips for some time, perhaps it does. But I have seen plenty of training programmes where there is substantial detail about the "content" but no information about the "review" or the "debrief".

One reason for keeping the review vague and open is that trainer-facilitators like to be flexible and responsive. But what flexibility do you lose by presenting your Plan A (for reviewing sessions) if you also reserve the right to change to some other plan if when the time comes you feel you can improve on Plan A?

So you can write in your (provisional) Plan A reviewing techniques into the sessions that currently have the one word description "Review" or "Debrief".

Then when you present your outline programme it can include examples of Active Reviewing Techniques that you are planning to use at particular points in the programme. This does not need to be a thorough or detailed explanation.

Just the names "Action Replay", "Turntable", "Missing Person", "Back to the Future"  or "Metaphor Map" arouse more curiosity, interest and anticipation than simply having the so-ordinary-it's-invisible word "review" in the programme.

But you may also want to mix in a bit of strategy 2 above and explain that:

"These are examples of “Active Reviewing” - an approach to reviewing which is not just an intellectual exercise. It involves thinking aloud with others. It includes physical movement. It involves communicating in ways that engage multiple senses and intelligences. It uses and develops a broad range of learning skills. And Active Reviewing also means testing out what you think you have learned which increases the chances that you will actually use what you are learning."

Choose you favourite from these "Six of the Best", try it out and let me know how it went. And if you already have a favourite way of introducing Active Reviewing that you would like to share, please write to roger@reviewing.co.uk and this "Six of the best" might even grow into a top ten!

Further Reference
Active Learning Video Introduction

~ 6 ~ ARCHIVE: Learning from Triumphs and Disasters

Download "Learning from Triumphs and Disasters" pdf  (8 pages)

The "disasters" section of this article provides you with more reviewing options for working with a "demoralised" group. I see "disasters" as more extreme than feeling "demoralised" but much hte same strategies apply across the whole spectrum of "disappointment".


What does it mean to be a great training facilitator?
This is a trainer-tools podcast in which John Tomlinson interviews Nick Eve who runs the Facilitator Development Programme. Nick uses a range of visual analogies (that make up for the absence of real pictures in a podcast!) - starting with the Iceberg and looking above and below the surface. His  emphasis is on the observation skills of the facilitator and how different kinds of observation make different kinds of facilitation possible. Sometimes it simply involves on drawing attention to  what you see "above the surface" such as "I notice that two people haven't spoken yet. How's that for the group?". Nick also takes the listener below the surface to interpretation and self-observation and how to make such perspectives available to the group

I found Nick's clarifications about content and process very helpful (even though I wanted to butt in and ask what happens when the process becomes the content). Nick's closing remarks have caused me to review my own practice because he advises people to sort out facilitation fundamentals before getting into tools and techniques. I generally like to mix these together, but I can also recall occasions when I might have done better to have heeded Nick's advice. If you want facilitation practice and feedback with Nick in a small group setting plus an ILM certificate, be sure to listen to this podcast and explore Nick's Elements website.

Thiagi has recently launched his TOLA platform of "blended eLearning courses on different topics designed and delivered by our colleagues who are experts in their fields." These are the first online courses to be published:
  • IMPROV for Business
  • Intelligent Group Decision-making
  • Presentation Skills: how to impact and influence your audience
  • SMART as HELL: creating smart goals that work
  • The Cost Challenge: understanding how costs work and can make your career
If you try out one of these courses, you are welcome to offer a review here. I have yet to review any of these courses but I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of any trainer-training resource with Thiagi's name on it.


See the previous issue of Active Reviewing Tips: "We Just Want Fun!"

Topics under consideration for future issues include:

  • The Active Reviewing Cycle: update
  • Making the case for active reviewing
  • Making reviewing a memorable experience
  • Reviewing as a takeaway skill for participants
  • Evaluating Active Reviewing: how well does it work?
  • Reviewing for different outcomes (using the same activities)
  • End of programme reviews
  • Co-facilitating reviews
  • The art of improvising
  • Remote Reviewing
  • Reviewing over a cup of tea (informal reviewing)
  • Readers' Questions about Reviewing (please feed me with questions for this 'FAQ')
  • Sample designs for learning and development
  • Integrated practice in experiential learning (when does an activity become a review? when does a review become an activity? examples of integrated practice - and do these
    challenge or demonstrate experiential learning theory?)

Please write to roger@reviewing.co.uk if you have any topics you would like to see included or put at the top of this list (which is not yet in any particular order).

~ 9 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

TITLE: Active Reviewing Tips for Dynamic Experiential Learning
ISSN: 1465-8046
EDITOR: Dr. Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
EMAIL: roger@reviewing.co.uk Feedback welcome
ARCHIVES: Index of back issues
HOME PAGE: Active Reviewing

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