Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Solutions Focused Contracting

When I’m facilitating workshops and improvement teams, I’m always delighted when team members tell me that they are familiar with the concept of team ground rules or a ‘team contract’. And yet it leaves me with some disappointment that the value of this powerful tool is actually used so infrequently – it’s almost as if it’s seen as too ‘soft and fluffy’ to be of value.
At its best a group contract can establish norms describing how the group will operate and what behaviours will bring out the best in the team.

I’ve recently been using an approach kindly shared with me by Mark McKergow, author of ‘The Solutions Focus’, which has been really helpful in creating solid useful contracts. This is how it works:

  1. At the first session or opening of a workshop, describe the purpose and benefits of a group contract
  2. On a flip-chart write the following questions:
    • Suppose we had a really productive session, how would we be acting?
    • What would be the tiny signs on the way?
  3. Split the group into threes or fours and ask them to explore and capture (on post-its) the questions raised.
  4. After 5 to 10 minutes draw out the key points from the team and record them on the flip-chart , paying particular attention to the ‘tiny signs’ part of the question.
  5. Check that the team REALLY buys into the contract and is prepared to own it’s existence in the team
  6. Bring it along to every future meeting so it can be seen and frequently check with the group what tiny signs they are noticing.

The value of using this approach is that avoids the group coming up with broad concepts like ‘trust’ and ‘openness’ as is often the case in building ground rules. Instead the group comes up with really specific behaviours.

For example, I was facilitating a leadership workshop recently and the contract included these statements:
How would we be acting: learning and capturing our reflections.
Tiny signs: We’d be turning to our action plan on page 55 and writing some notes.

When I checked with the group what tiny signs they were noticing, the group immediately reflected that whilst they thought they were learning a huge amount, there wasn’t too many ideas being captured on the planning page of their notes…..they corrected this of course.

Have a go and I’d be delighted to hear how you get on :)