Sticky activity 1: Describe your data in three attributes

This is hopefully the first part in a series of posts where I share some of my favorite group activities for workshops or group facilitation.

The scene:

Imagine being in the middle of a conversation with a team trying to grapple with complex data, and the folk at the table are explaining their project.  You’ve heard from each and are having a problem putting all the pieces together.  You would have thought that they were all working on different projects given their answers, but you know that isn’t the case.

The problems:

  1. You (as a facilitator) aren’t seeing the whole picture and are having a hard time organizing your thoughts around how to help. You need more information but need to ask for it in an orderly way.
  2. The team is having a hard time discussing data flow because they are describing with details of their perspectives and responsibilities, often times talking past each other.

Here is an activity that I like to deploy in these situations that help me get a better sense of the team and internally help members of the group better understand each other.

The setup:

  • Sticky notes of any size or color, have about 3-5 for each
  • Pens/pencils
  • Large board to write on where the group can see or a large paper easel
  • Encourage everyone to put away their laptops and turn their phone screens to face the table while completing the exercise

Group size:

Ideally this would be a small group of 2-10 people.  This can be adapted to larger groups if you have multiple facilitators or having smaller groups self-facilitate a mid-point review and report out.

The script:

Hand out a stack of sticky notes to each participant.

“Everyone lay out 3 sticky notes in front of you.” Pause and let them do this.

“Think of your data and try to describe how you see all in three attributes or categories.  You can add 1 note if you absolutely must.  You’ll need to think really high level here. Write down one name or category on each note.”

You can provide some relevant examples if you have skeptical faces in the crowd.  Such as, “Size, status, processed, unprocessed, business, operations, etc.”  Try to not be super specific, because you don’t want to prime them into a single thought area.

You may also want to provide some reassurance.  “There is no one right answer here, so do your best. We’re using this to better understand your perspective, so whatever comes to mind first is likely what we want.  If you want to make a correction, these are just sticky notes.  Toss out the old one and make a new one as many times as you need.”

Give them several minutes of silence.  Check email on your phone or review your notes if you don’t want to stand there awkwardly.  After 2-3 minutes, wander around the room and glance over answers.  Gently correct anyone back on track that you need. Do so softly and positively.

Prompt them for 1 more minute of work time.  Use this time to get you white board or easel set up.

“Let’s start at one end and go in order.  Read off your categories in order, and give me time to write them down.”  Ask them to reiterate their job/position on the team if introductions were a while ago or not done yet.

As they read off the names, write them down in a vertical list on the board.  Make a + or tally mark next to any repeats.

Go around the room in order, don’t take volunteers or ask for hands.

The group may tell you that there are no more unique values to read off, and that’s fine!  Go ahead and add the tally marks when you hit repeats, but it’s ok to be done with it if you are running short on time or you feel like things have been covered.

This is a good time to allow a quick bio/coffee/email break for the participants.  Take care of yourself first, and then return to the board.

The discussion

This is where your knowledge of the team needs to come in.  Use your best guesses to attempt and cluster synonyms or synthesize what you’ve heard from the group.  You may have heard things related to workflows, processing categories, storage locations, data types, etc.  Pay close attention to the job roles the clusters seem to be coming from.  This may have started a good conversation in the team that you should assist in keeping on track, but otherwise don’t interrupt.

Should you need to get them talking, ask the participants to…

  • weigh in on their interpretation of the values and clusters.
  • report if they learned anything new from hearing their team mates.
  • confirm or alter the clusters that you made.
  • decide on specific language or labels for things that may have come up as synonyms.
  • create category groups for specific topical areas, if relevant.

This is usually enough to give you a better idea of what’s happening and allow you to start a nice transition to other activities.  This may yield an important piece of documentation for the team, an important first step as team building, or even a nice ice breaker for the start of a full day of activities.


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