21 July 2015

Accelerating change at Gurteen Knowledge Cafe with cultureQs

I had missed a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe or two thanks to my poor organisation and work commitments (I really must give up work soon!) so I was even keener than usual to get to this one. I even cut my holiday in York short to do so. The main attraction was that this was a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe, and all that means (i.e. process and people), with the secondary attraction that it was about Change Management.

One of the possibly over-simplistic statements that I often repeat is that the technology is the easy part and the difficult bit is the people. Change Management is often overlooked, especially by IT companies. I work for an IT company.

Being on holiday meant that I was travelling there from home instead of the London office only a mile away. I had had a quiet morning, walking very few steps, so I decided to leave the Waterloo train at Clapham Junction and to walk up to Westminster Business School from there. It was only 8km.

The walk was pretty uneventful, i.e. dull, apart from the Serpentine Pavilion that I took a quick detour into as I walked through Hyde Park. Despite having little to look at the walk was a success in that I got lots of steps in (around 10k) and was able to catch up on lots of podcasts.

This Gurteen Knowledge Cafe was slightly different in that we did not swap tables or form a circle at the end but it was essentially the same in that we had a facilitator, Eric Lynn, introduce the subject and then we carried on the conversation at our tables before summarising as a group at the end.

Eric introduced us to his invention, cultureQs, which he had developed over a number of years as a way of accelerating cultural change by getting people to share things about themselves. The game like format produced a neutral environment in which to ask and discuss some difficult topics.

I'll call cultureQs a game just because it is a short easy word and it looks like a game. In practice it is a technique with a tool.

Eric started by showing us his idea of the seven components of culture, e.g. ethnic, beliefs and organisation. I was surprised to see that he had age and gender in there but not class. Perhaps that is an English thing, but I doubt it.

After a brief introduction to the game we were left to play it on our tables. We had four people on ours only two of whom, Conrad and myself, knew each other beforehand.

The point of cultureQs is that the game format decides which questions to ask. We moved around the board using a die, as in Ludo or Snakes and Ladders, and the places we landed on determined which question was asked. The person whose go it was answered the question first and then the other three of us did.

There was lots of agreement on the first question about good managers, and so we learned little from this. There was less agreement on how to work with business partners and I was the odd one out here as my company has a very formal approach to this, partially dictated by fairness and anti-bribery legislation.

I felt that some of the questions were too formulaic, like answering a Prince2 exam. and others were on generic topics, like equal rights, and so did not reveal much about us as people.

I wondered why the questions were set as a game when they could, for example, have been asked randomly just by shuffling the pack and each person taking the next card. I also wondered what the point of the game was, i.e. how it ended. I was able to ask Eric this in the group session at the end and he said that the game format with the board gave the players a focus and that the game had no end, it would just be stopped after a set period of time, around 70 minutes, but being a game meant that the players stepped into game mode and were more prepared to answer the questions.

We decided that the point was to get us to find our more about each other and that the blue rootQs were best for those so we ignored the board and the die and just answered those instead.

The other tables liked the game more than we did which may have been due to the way that we worked as a group or to the questions that came up in the short time that we played the game.

As a way of learning about people, I was reminded of two questions that Robert Elms asks his Listed Londoners, You have a day off, what do you do? and Where would you take a visitor? If I was setting the questions then I would include these two.

I was not convinced by the implementation of cultureQs but I could see the merit of asking these sorts of questions when getting teams to try and understand each other better and of asking them in a controlled manner in a neutral space. It is also fair to point out that I played the game for about half an hour in an artificial situation (we were not colleagues who had to work together), that the game was developed over several years of use with clients and has been used hundreds of times since being published.

The Gurteen Knowledge Cafe again proved itself to be a good way to explore these ideas and it was also good to catch up with some Gurteen regulars (e.g. Keith, Conrad, Sally-Ann and Noeleen) as well as meeting some new people too. It was another good evening spent stimulating new ideas with interesting people, and that is what Gurteen Knowledge Cafes are all about.

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