A conversation with Dr. Dawan Stanford, president of Fluid Hive

“We’re doing all of our education right now remotely, using Zoom and thinking through, okay, how does learning happen there? What’s kind of uniquely possible—I like those words—with that medium? And how can we capture those moments? It’s not a replacement. It’s like, oh, it’s going to be just like things that happen face to face. Like, no, it’s different, but also good. And how do we get to that different-but-also-good place?”Dr. Dawan Stanford

In this episode of the Control the Room podcast, I’m pleased to be speaking with Dr. Dawan Stanford of Fluid Hive, a design-driven innovation company. As president of Fluid Hive, Dawan helps organizations to see, solve, and act on challenges that are complex, dynamic, and interconnected.

Dawan and I talk about pushing energy into a room, checking in with people, and his experience with remote learning as the Design Studio Director of Georgetown University’s Master of Arts in Learning, Design, and Technology program. Listen in to find out how Times New Roman ended his legal career.

Show Highlights

[1:30] How Times New Roman ended Dawan’s legal career
[10:33] What’s in it for the Participant
[18:39] Cut the Tools Some Slack
[24:56] Writing a Detailed Agenda, then Adjusting it
[28:36] Pushing Energy into the Room
[33:29] Checking in with People

Dawan on LinkedIn
Fluid Hive

About the Guest

Dr. Dawan Stanford, President of design-driven innovation company Fluid Hive, helps organizations to see, solve, and act on challenges that are complex, dynamic, and interconnected. He has experience in Silicon Valley and international business that he combines with design, design thinking, and academic research in his work at Fluid Hive.

Dr. Stanford is also the Design Studio Director and a Professor of Learning & Design at Georgetown University. His studio serves as a space where students integrate their core coursework in the program, develop as learning practitioners, and develop their leadership, collaboration, and facilitation skills.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a facilitation agency that helps teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings. 

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Full Transcript

Intro: Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.

Douglas: Today I’m with Dawan Stanford, president of Fluid Hives. Welcome to the show, Dawan.

Dawan: Hello. Thank you for having me.

Douglas: Of course, so excited to talk facilitation with you. And for starters, one of the things I love hearing from guests on the show is how they got their start, because there’s not really any college out there that you can go take a facilitation degree. And so most people find themselves in this work through many different channels, and there’s always an interesting story, and so I’d love to hear how you found your way into this amazing work.

Dawan: Well, I’m a designer, and my path into design started many, many years ago with some professional training and photography, and that led to looking at layout and then studying color and then studying graphic design. And as I progressed in that career, I had a legal career for a while, and I realized that I stayed late to design the closing binders for the client because the normal design was Times New Roman, centered, and you put some things in bold and underlined them. Like, oh, no. We can do something better than that. And after spending a couple hours designing closing-binder covers, I got a look from one of the partners: Maybe you’re not one of us. Like, maybe I’m not. So I found out like, no, I’m not one of you. 

And as I started doing more and more work, I was looking at more and more moments where it was design together, creating together, bringing groups of people together to understand how they need to work, how they are working, how they understand the context where they’re working. And so I began to take a very close look at my role in those moments, those conversations, and how to be very intentional about constructing them, because it’s a precious thing when you have a handful of people in a room, or more, focusing their attention on one endeavor. And to be offered that gift is something that I want to take seriously and treat carefully.

Douglas: Yeah, it’s interesting. I love this notion that it wasn’t that long ago when we started to have a plural form of priority. 

Dawan: Mm-hmm.

Douglas: I think focus is the same way, right? And so this notion that, hey, we can have more than one focus or more than one priority is very modern thinking. And I think it’s a disservice to us, and facilitation techniques can help us get back to that, like, and get everyone kind of aligned in thinking in the same way so that we can actually make some real progress.

Dawan: Yeah. Making those choices ahead of time and those tradeoffs. I often look at the situations where I’m leading a group through something and kind of start to think about all the different people involved, because often the person who’s sponsoring, has asked me to come in and help, isn’t necessarily going to participate. Sometimes they do. So you have the sponsor, you have participants. Then, there’s often someone that the sponsor is reporting to, which may be one or more organizations or maybe someone in their chain, and starting to think about how all of these people have expectations and needs. And there may be people downstream from the event or facilitated moment that need to do something with what was created. So how to think about what gets built and passed on and how that is captured and packaged is also a piece of it.

Douglas: You know, I love this. That’s your design background coming into the center, right? It’s like, how do we make sure to design in a way that considers and accommodates all these various people, because they’re all going to come from different perspectives, different roles, different needs, and how do we design for them?

Dawan: And so often, people will be asking for an event or a workshop or a moment, and I’ll hear a lot about the thing, and “We want people to do this. And we have this much time, and this, this.” “Well, what problem are you trying to solve? Let’s talk about sort of the thing that individually or organizationally you are hoping to accomplish. How will the world be different, how will your world be different when we’re done?” Then we can start talking about like, “All right, well, what kind of thing actually solves that problem? And maybe it’s a four-hour thing instead of a two-hour thing. Maybe it’s a two-hour thing instead of a four-hour thing. Maybe it’s something that we need to come back to over a series of weeks.” 

But one of the first conversations I often have is, number one, listening to how people are framing up the problem they think they’re trying to solve, because people don’t like to hear that they’re wrong about that. And so it’s how you listen. And I say, “Okay. How do you know?” Because what I want to know is, okay, here’s the problem you think you’re trying to solve. What evidence do you have about that? And sometimes they’re, “Oh, well, this is what’s happened in the past. Here’s what’s led to this. Here’s how we decided that this would contribute to this trajectory.” Okay, I can kind of take that as a given. But often I hear like, “Oh, well, we had some space in the schedule, and we were hoping to…” Then I want to dig for a meaningful problem for both them and the participants, for the sponsor and the participants, so that I don’t come and do something, and then afterwards people are, “Hey, wait a minute. That wasn’t a great experience for us. You didn’t do a very good job.” Like, “Oh, because I helped you solve a problem you didn’t really have.” So that’s a key first step in the conversation for me.

Douglas: Absolutely. You mentioned, how do you know? Another question that I think is similar to that is, how will we know? And it’s the, how will we know if we were successful, and did we actually get the outcome we were seeking? And if we’re not clear on the outcome, we can’t even articulate that ahead of time. So, you know, how do we design in some of these assessment points so that we can tell if we did a good job or not?

Dawan: Sort of following on pretty much on the heels of the, “what problem are we trying to solve?” conversation, beginning to map out high-level options on an experience and suggesting, “Okay, here’s where we might end up with this path,” and suggesting a couple of different paths so that the sponsor can start to have the conversation about like, “Okay, does this look like a win for you? We’re heading toward, we can achieve this, this, and this in this amount of time and with this level of resourcing. Is that going to be worth it? Is that going to be a worthwhile use of both time and money and energy?” And having those conversations explicitly on the front end makes things so much easier, because once you have clear objectives, once you have a clear idea of the problem that you’re trying to solve with the experience, then you can say, okay, I can get into design mode with what’s happening from minute to minute without having to sort of guess and hope, and, like, show up on a day physically or virtually, and say, “I hope this works out,” as opposed to, like, “I’m fairly confident that this is going to work,” barring the usual emergencies that we encounter during facilitation.

Douglas: Yeah. The thing that was kind of coming to mind for me as I was listening is this kind of scenario that you’re creating, where you’re allowing them to peer into the future, but let’s consider that this is the outcome that we’re at, and they can kind of sit with it, because you’re right. So many people get so fixated on the thing that they need to go do, especially if something becomes really hip and really, I don’t know, there’s really trendy. Like, for a while it seemed like everybody was doing hackathons. I think some people still do them. But when do you think to yourself, “I need to have a hackathon,” and your thoughts are so focused on the what that you’re not actually peering into, well, what’s that going to generate for us? What’s that going to…? What kind of new opportunity or a new position does that put us in? And I like the framing that you were sharing around, because we talk a lot about purpose and outcomes, but the way you were describing it was really about setting up this kind of vision into this future scenario, where it’s like, oh, this is the way the world will be if we do this. And how does that make you feel, or what does that create for you?

Dawan: Yeah. And it’s helping the sponsor articulate what is uniquely possible with this group of people in this moment, and how can we start to approach making that happen? because it’s, you’re just like, oh, insert hackathon here. Well, no. What is the thing that we need and this group of people needs from this moment?

Douglas: Also, earlier, you were talking about what I translated to be buyer versus user, at least that’s the language we would use in the startup world, the software world. In the facilitation world, I guess we would say sponsor or stakeholder and participant. And coming back to that design background you have, I think it’s really fascinating to think about, if we’re not considering both in our outcomes and how we structure the flow of the day or the flow of the event, then we could potentially design something that’s at a disservice or is not properly tuned for one versus the other. And often I think the sponsor is the one, or the buyer, is the one that gets a lot of the attention.

Dawan: Yeah. The sponsor gets a lot of the attention because they’re kind of in the room when you’re designing. But the participants have to have not only have a good experience, but you have to understand what’s in it for them so that they’re going to bring the energy. They’re going to be open to the flow of experience. They’re going to be open to doing hard work at an intense pace, because the pacing of the events that I build is really, really tight. It’s flexible, but tight. And we can we can talk about the mechanics of that, but it’s mapping out who all of the people are. And you could say stakeholder or user or customer, but all the people. And that includes sponsor, participant, any people upstream who will be using what you produce. Sometimes it’s also the people who are served by the people in the room who will be, perhaps, the ultimate beneficiary of some of the ideas that are put together in the room. And it’s, “Okay with all of these people,” and then you can start to map out, “Okay, here’s what this person needs out of the situation. The participants kind of need these things.” And you can also start to think about all the different relationships to the work, because sometimes part of the responsibility of the facilitator is to deepen relationships between participants or to help amplify ways people have connected in the past to do a particular bit of work.

Douglas: I love this notion of thinking about relationships or the interconnectedness of the group, or the lack thereof, and how that impacts the work to be done or how the work that is done is impacted, impacting the future states of those relationships. I think that way of thinking, almost, like, you know, it’s a micro social network, and you’re applying some almost network theory to it a bit and thinking about how you mend relationships or how you lean on existing ones. I think that’s a really powerful design tool or lens to apply, and I like that way of thinking about it. I hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective before.

Dawan: I owe many debts of gratitude to different designers and design researchers, in particular, Indi Young, and she really talks about the difference between the problem space and the solution space, and people like to race into the solution space without doing the hard work to understand the people and how people are making decisions and why people are behaving the way they behave. And if part of the work is getting into behavior change, to even more wanting to understand the people before you start setting up what happens in the room or what happens online, and especially her work around listening and how to listen well. I’ve taken that both into the sponsor conversations but also into the room, when I’m thinking about how to bring the deep listening that helps everyone really be fully present in the space.

Douglas: It’s amazing how much presence and deep listening could just have vast impacts across all meetings. And I often love to ask folks, if you could change one thing about any meeting, where would it be? And I think that might be—it’s hard for me to choose because we think about and work in this space so much, it’s like, oh, man, there’s so many issues. But I tell you, that’s so prevalent, this attendees just spending majority of the meeting thinking about what they’re going to say next, and a lot of it’s just because they don’t want to sound dumb or they want to say something impressive in front of leadership. But I think there’s a real missed opportunity to not worry about those things and to create safety for people just to speak however they speak and let the ideas flow. 

And so I guess I’m curious. That brings me to that thinking around these moments in meetings that could be so much better. What kind of things start to surface for you as you think about things that could be and people could just do in their everyday meetings?

Dawan: Oh, my gosh. Here comes the avalanche. Well, it’s starting off before the meeting, what problem are you trying to solve? What is it that can only be done by bringing this group of people together and being clear about that before people get in the room or on Zoom or wherever? And then it’s being conscious, like giving people space to think. And one of the things that I do in most of the events that I create and sometimes in meetings is give people a moment to write down what they’re thinking. And it’s just a few minutes, sometimes 10 minutes, depending on the length and depth of what we’re working on. But then you give everyone a chance to get their thoughts down. That says a couple of things. You have people who are reluctant to speak, and that’s because of power in the room, because of personality, because of relationships, because of trust, because of a whole bunch of things. So you have reluctance to speak. Then you have people who are—just need a moment to get a handle on sort of, “All right, what do I think about this? What do I really think?” 

And the other thing that you get when you do that writing, especially in longer events, is you’re able to capture some of those individual thoughts to process later after the event. So you’re setting up what happens after, depending on how you structure what’s captured. So that’s one thing. Make sure there’s enough space for people to think. 

And then there’s time and being disciplined about time, saying, okay, we have this list of things, and this isn’t necessarily an agenda, but it’s saying what’s most important for us to get accomplished and then allocating your time across those most important things. That way you can say, “All right, we’re confident that we’re going to get these most important things done. And these couple other things, maybe we can take care of those offline or in a different way.” Those are a couple of things. 

The other thing, and this is perhaps harder—can be harder—in meetings, depending on who you are. But it’s just looking at the energy of the people who are in the room and helping people come into this space well. And sometimes that’s taking moments so everyone can check in with each other. And those couple of minutes to reset and be human can help people attend to the business at hand faster and better. And I’ve noticed that when I’ve given people those, a little bit of a buffer and a chance to be human, it just made what follows really, really nice. And that’s one of the advantages if you’re meeting remotely and every everyone’s remote, you can put people into one-on-one conversations for a couple minutes, because often you have the meeting dynamics of, oh, my people come in and they sit by who they sit by, and they say hello to say hello. But, you know, people get patterns. They have people they’re closer to and people they know better. And you have the opportunity to force some of that mixing and build some of that team cohesiveness through those conversations, just with a couple of flicks of a switch in your favorite meeting software.

Douglas: Yeah, it’s interesting. Brings up two things we spoke about in the preshow chat. And the first is anytime we’re thinking about design, space becomes a very critical element, whether we’re talking about negative space or what have you. And I think in the virtual world, the tools we use can impact the space that we provide for our attendees and for people who are experiencing the design that we’ve laid out for the meeting and the session. And one of the things you mentioned was there’s just too much blame being pointed at the tools themselves.

Dawan: Yeah. Taking your in-person meeting practices and not changing anything and just dumping them into—I think everyone’s in front of a laptop. Everyone’s in front of a camera—probably not going to work so well. And there’s a decent chance that the meetings weren’t so great to begin with, and now you’re expecting that to work better in a different context, where you have different kinds of feedback, different kinds of interactions. 

I’ve been watching the sort of emergency online-education conversations play out. There’re lots of people saying, “See? This whole online-education thing doesn’t work.” Like, well, when people have three days to take an entire university online, I don’t know, who might want to cut them some slack on that because what can you do? But people are starting to see other deeper examples of designed online education where you have the instructional design team working with faculty. And these are conversations we’re having a lot where I teach at Georgetown in the master’s in Learning, Design, and Technology. And we’re doing all of our education right now remotely, using Zoom and thinking through, okay, how does learning happen there? What’s kind of uniquely possible—I like those words—with that medium? And how can we capture those moments? It’s not a replacement. It’s like, oh, it’s going to be just like things that happen face to face. Like, no, it’s different, but also good. And how do we get to that different-but-also-good place?

Douglas: That’s amazing. You know, so much of the work we do is about kind of accelerating innovation, and so people can get it in their heads that it’s about moving quickly. And just because we’re accelerating action doesn’t mean that it means that everything we have to do must be fast. And in fact, a lot of it is about taking the time it requires to design things carefully. But what we don’t want is analysis paralysis, where we’re just kind of spinning our wheels and just thinking about things. As long as we’re making progress and doing things, then allowing the design process to take the time it requires, that’s goodness. That’s good stuff. It results in better outcomes.

Dawan: And I like that, allowing the process to take the time it needs. Because I— in one way or another, I often said, like, listen, you’re going to kind of pay the price of this now, or you’re going to pay later. 

Douglas: That old analogy or that old saying of, if you think an expert’s expensive, try working with a novice. 

Dawan: Yeah. If you don’t take the time— I remember a conversation. It was like, “Well, we really don’t have time to really do this work you’re talking about around the problem we’re trying to solve, the problem space. We really need to just get in there and do this and that.” And I say, “Okay, well, I understand what you’re saying. How much time and resources do you have to do all of this over again?” And they say, “What?” It’s like, “No, no, no. I just want to make sure that if we’re taking this approach, that you can reinvest all of this to do all of this work again in case we get the problem wrong, because then we can just sort of jump in and guess because you have this huge stack of resources to burn.” And usually they’re like, “Oh, no, no, no, we don’t have extra money. We don’t have extra time. So, yeah. Maybe we should spend a little time increasing the chances that we’re solving problems that are worth solving.”

Douglas: Yeah. It’s always a Tilt sign for me when someone comes in and they’ve got it all figured out and they just want a price. It’s like, hey, I’m not selling cars here. I can’t just say, this is what it’s going to be. And, you know, it’s always, how much is it? And I think that mentality of innovation in a bottle on the shelf is something that would give the allure that that’s what’s happening, but it takes a lot of care and a lot of time to design and extract out where the there is.

Dawan: Well, I’ve learned to be very clear around the expectations of what’s possible within the boundaries of the work, because there is this—I think we’re past the moment a little bit. But there was this moment maybe five years ago when it was the design as magic. It was like, oh, it’s magic. It’s the Silicon Valley juice, and drink it. You will sprout innovation. You will sprout market cap. Like, it’s amazing. Like, oh my gosh, an IPO just fell out of my body. No. It doesn’t work that way, and there are some people who also, like, heard that, went out and bought some, it didn’t work. Like, oh, this doesn’t work. And it’s like, “Oh, yeah.” And it’s like, you probably said, “I will pay x,” and someone said, “I will take x,” and then you were surprised you didn’t get the results, as opposed to someone who says, “Well, what problem are you trying to solve? What are you hoping to accomplish? What are you looking to invest over time in doing this work well and building the skills of your team to do this well?” because ideally, after working with me for a while, people no longer need me. I hate to want to do that to myself, but if I’m doing my work well, eventually it seems like, “No, we’ve got this. We can build on our own,” or “It’s been built into the organization.” Sometimes people will just want me to come in and do. But those are the things that I get happy about. Like, “Oh, you want me to build something that will last longer than I’m there? I like that.”

Douglas: Yeah. There’s legacy. We’re making a difference in the world.

Dawan: Yeah. And it’s also seeing what good design can do once it takes root in a culture. It’s not, once again, going to be somehow magical, but I would say it will be better. And better varies from place to place. But I like to see that, or even just to see people taking away little things. 

One of the things that I do with all of my engagements is I create a very detailed facilitation guide, and I have it all the way down to one-minute increments for different things. And I showed one of the—someone I work with one of these. They’re like, “Are you crazy? People will be late for this, and this will run long, and that will…” I know. But now that I’ve thought through it at this level, I know that when something goes wrong here, I know where to adjust and how to adjust. And so once you have that problem to resolve in the outcomes, then you can say, “Well, these people are trying to get to know each other, so a five-minute break here isn’t really going to work. They kind of need 10 minutes. And how can we make sure the mingling happens? How can we make sure that people are in the relationship-building phase as opposed to a relationship deepening? So how do we build that into the breaks, or if there’s a lunch or whatever the moments are? And that requires getting really granular on paper so that during the event you can roll with the opportunities, whether it’s a tech fail or sort of one moment that is better than you expected. I don’t want to interrupt this, because the thing that we wanted to happen at 4:00 p.m. is now happening at 11:00. So I’m not going to get in the way of it. I’ll just have to redesign.” And it gives you something to tweak, something to adapt.

Douglas: And I love this mantra from, I think it comes from complexity-in-form thinking, and definitely heard it in the Liberating Structures community. But what happens was meant to happen. And it’s very much akin to what I heard you say earlier around embracing the uniquely possible. 

Dawan: Mm-hmm.

Douglas: So going back to this concept of participant energy and taking into consideration all the fatigue we’re all experiencing, and also someone could have had a crises, even though we’ve done some upfront research and exploration into where the team’s at and the dynamics, when we walk into the room, things could be quite different. So I’m curious to hear what you’ve done in scenarios like that or what you do to prepare for things and be ready for the unexpected.

Dawan: Well, I leave a cushion in every event of a certain amount of time, knowing that sometimes different things will run over. I design every break. So if I have a five-minute break in the schedule, and I tell everyone, “Hey, it’s time for five-minute break,” I have 10 minutes built into the schedule because five-minute breaks always take ten minutes. And those are some of the mechanics on the how I’m connecting with people. I’m assuming, and especially sort of now as we’re recording in the summer of COVID, that people are coming into the event fragile and burned out. And so one of the things that I try to stop and do is give people a chance to check in and talk. I’m assuming they’re, like, “Hey, your social interactions are kind of not happening the way they used to. Your coping mechanisms have all been broken and reshuffled.” So it’s helping people have just very human conversations and easing into the work, and I also find taking more breaks, not expecting people to sustain the intensity as long. 

When I’m in the room with people, it’s very easy to read the energy. And I find a lot of the work is me sort of pushing energy into the room. And you can do that to an extent. You’re like, “Well, what do you mean, pushing energy? Is this some sort of mystical, reiki thing? What are you doing?” Well, it’s making that eye contact, giving people the big smile, and getting the big smile back, and doing that with lots of people moving around in the space, giving people a different place to focus in. And when I’m doing that virtually, it’s a lot of time sort of scanning the faces on the screens, but recognizing when like, “Oh, you know, we need to do sort of an impromptu small-group thing,” and mixing up the types of interaction, the types of things people are seeing on the screen, so it’s not just, oh, you’re seeing other faces. Sometimes there’s going to be oh I don’t know, images, diagrams, but also using if you have any kind of whiteboarding or drawing overlay in the software that you’re using, I take it home to mark things up. One of the things I do in small groups, we’ll actually get giant sheets of paper and draw with each other, and that pulls people in. And you can do the same thing virtually. 

You know, those are a couple ways I think about just the energy in the room and keeping it going. And also, you have to recognize that there may come a point where people are just done, and it may come before you want it to, but there’s nothing you can do about that. The thing I do structurally is I try to put sort of the high-intensity generative things earlier in the schedule and the playing with, making sense with, tweaking of things that are sort of already out there later in the day so that it’s kind of organizing and making sense of and playing with so that you’re not being called upon to do the mentally intense things or the things that are going to rely on a lot of your interpersonal skills around negotiation and figuring things out late in the day. That tends to be, oh, if people are going to run out of steam, you start to see it in the outputs late in the day. So I try to push some of that earlier in the day so that by the time we are getting toward the end of things, it’s like, okay, these are lighter-lift activities and exchanges.

Douglas: Even during break times, I like to remind people to turn off their video and step away to remind them not to go, just jump in the email or whatever, because it’ll only contribute to the fatigue later. 

Dawan: I’ve had a sort of working-from-home career, so the adjustment wasn’t quite as brutal for me. I’ve done my share of time in the office, but I was just used to sort of having my studio in the house and doing everything that I needed to do with the short commute and managing the time and interaction and getting my people time in and having the energy flow. And when you’re having to learn those things and adjust those things, especially if it doesn’t suit your personality, that’s when it can be difficult. And in meetings, it’s recognizing that you might have some people who are very comfortable with the screen and the environment and how the technology flows, and other people may be just straining against it because they’re desperate to be within touching distance of another human being and get that high-fidelity interaction with micro expressions and scents and all sorts of things. 

Douglas: Yeah. The dynamic’s completely shifted. And in the in-person realm, you could have folks that are quiet and don’t ask a lot of questions. Those same folks might ask a lot of questions when they’re virtual because just that layer of glass and many, many miles of air is separation enough to where they feel more comfortable speaking up. And other folks, you know, like you say, are debilitated because they don’t have all the signals they’re used to having. I think it’s a great reminder that facilitators, we just have to listen, and we have to bring in as much data as we can from the signals we have. And you mentioned reading the room. I’m curious which signals that you use to read that digital room, because that can be problematic.

Dawan: Well, in some ways, they’re the same signals. I’m looking for, for example, give a set of instructions. I’m looking for the brows that are suddenly furrowed. And usually when people are sort of squinching their eyebrows together, that’s their way of saying, “Those instructions were unclear to me.” But people are reluctant to say that. They’ll sort of dive into it, thinking that they’re the only one who didn’t understand. And probably not. It’s probably that your instructions were unclear, and you need to try that again. 

And another thing is just actually checking in with people. The underutilized chat function, for example, in Zoom, there’s so much that you can do with that, because when you’re in a sort of face-to-face environment, you have kind of one channel in terms of, there’s like, yeah, there’s sort of visual cues and all that. But let’s just say that there’s, like, okay, you’re going to say something or make a gesture in some way. But if we’re actually going to talk, it’s going to be voices. Whereas in Zoom you have the voice, you have the chat feed. Sometimes there’s another backchannel if everyone is, say, in Slack. And so you have all of these multiple channels. And that’s a different kind of conversation because now you can have people dropping in web links as someone is presenting, asking questions that can be picked up later, and so you have these multiple threads going on. And if you’re looking for, oh, we want this to be just like our in-person meetings, that’s really distracting. Like, well, that’s a huge opportunity for people to just drop in questions as they think of them. And you come back and weave them in. You have if one person is presenting, you have someone else on the team keep an eye on the chat. So there are, I think, huge opportunities presented by that in the different channels. So the reading the room becomes kind of an interactive, participatory process. Instead of one person reading in the face-to-face contacts, you have sort of multiple people nurturing the conversation via those multiple channels.

Douglas: Yeah. And those things become elements you can design for, because I think in real life, we’ve spent years and years so it’s in a lot of ways just second nature, so we don’t consider it much like when we just walk into a room, because we can rely on our innate skills at relating. And sure, as facilitators we sharpen them, but we kind of have matured to a point, I feel, that it’s not always a consideration, but in the digital space, you know, thinking of how many co-facilitators do I want? Do I want someone on Slack or Zoom chats, watching that stuff? So to me, it’s really become a design consideration before we even enter into the meeting itself.

Dawan: And we’re still figuring out the opportunities. I like to say, okay, well, before I sort of add other tools, add other functionality, what are the ways we can sort of tweak what we have, twist what we have so that everyone’s like, “Oh yeah, there’s these simple tools”? Sometimes it’s as simple as “Okay, get a piece of paper and a pen, and everyone turn off your cameras and sketch out how you think this holds together for a few minutes. And then we’ll have the conversation,” so that you’re even having someone, they’re not stepping away from the meeting, but they’re stepping away from, “I just have my keyboard.” You’re like, “Oh, I get to draw for a minute.” And it’s using those simple opportunities to make the exchange extremely rich the same way it would be if everyone was in the room. 

And there have been a couple of instances where I was happy that everyone was online, because I knew that their interactions, we wouldn’t have been able to have if everyone was face to face. So like, for example, having 20 people have one-on-one conversations and doing several rounds of those, after you’ve done that and everyone’s had a chance to chat for a few minutes with three different people in the room, now you’re set up differently as a group for what happens later, as opposed to if you were sort of face to face in a room doing that and having 10 conversations all going on in a conference room, it’s just like, oh, you can’t really, like, having trouble hearing, and there’s overhearing, and you can’t just focus on one person. There’s all this distraction. So people are able to connect that way really fast, really deep, which is nice. 

So it’s finding those things that are the opportunities presented by the challenge of leading and collaborating as we sort of adapt to our world as it changes.

Douglas: Yeah. To use your words, we’re embracing what’s uniquely possible with these new tools.

Dawan: Yeah.

Douglas: Excellent.

Well, I think that might be a great spot to stop here on today’s show. But before we go, I think listeners will be really curious how to find you, how to connect with you. You’re doing some great work, and I know some people are going to want to know how to reach out.

Dawan: Oh, thanks. While I’m easy to find at fluidhive.com. If you search my last name, you will get a university. But Dawan Stanford, there aren’t many of them, so that’s another easy way to find me. LinkedIn and Twitter are good places to look. You can also learn more about the learning-design work that I’m involved with at Georgetown in the master’s in Learning, Design, and Technology at Georgetown University. And you can also check me out on the Design Thinking 101 podcast, where I am hosting that show.

Douglas: Excellent. Yeah, definitely check it out. And Dawan, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today. I hope we stay in touch and continue the journey together.

Dawan: Oh, well, thanks for having me. It’s been a ball.Outro: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together, voltagecontrol.com.