The Transition Manager in Practice:
Keys to a Successful Sponsor Meeting
Chip Saltsman's Log
from an E-mail dated August 18, 1996
Editor's Note: A Sponsor is one or several representatives
from the client who are primary stakeholders in the outcome of the facilitated
event, in this case a DesignShop. The Sponsors collaborate with Facilitators
to design and prepare for the event.
Names of clients have been changed to maintain fiduciary
I am sending you a brief note with a long addendum concerning the initial
sponsor meeting. The head of the client's project came to our center,
along with some of our own folks for a total of 8 participants. The sponsor
session was facilitated by Matt Taylor and myself.
We designed the sponsor session to start immediately with a lengthy Take-a-Panel/Share-a-Panel
exercise to get everybody's viewpoints out on the table. That gave us
an extremely good set of ideas and understanding about the participant's
points of view. We spent the rest of the day in dialogue. We had intended
to do an Author's Module over lunch, but we had to bag it for lack of
time. [Note: an Author's Module begins with each participant in the session
selecting a book from a pile on the table. Some of the books may be related
closely to the topic of the DesignShop, but most of the books have an
oblique relationship. Authors may include R. Buckminster Fuller, John
Holland, Christopher Alexander, Danah Zohar, and others. Participants
read their books over lunch, and then the group reconvenes. Each participant
then must play the role of their author and tell the group what they have
to say concerning the problem to be solved by the group. I saw this used
really effectively with sponsors from another client.]
By the end of the day, we had crafted a first iteration for the design
of the three-day DesignShop.
We used the small Radiant Room and ran a demonstration of a kiosk setup
we will develop for the actual DesignShop.
I spoke later with Matt concerning what I felt coming from some of the
participants. One in particular, someone who had been a sponsor before,
was clearly ready to knock off what he perceived was all the extra talk
and get down to designing the darn agenda. (He is highly task-oriented.)
He was willing to go with the flow, knowing we would get the job done,
but I was interested in whether Matt had picked up on it and what his
Matt commented: The requirements of a sponsor meeting are not that the
sponsor understand the design of the upcoming session (though that is
a nice by-product). The true objective is that the facilitators understand
the client's situation from many vantage points. The facilitators strive
to get programmed for the event, generate lots of ideas and get their
thinking in line. They want to develop an awareness of the client's culture
and build some excitement about the challenge. This excitement creates
focus, increases energy, and helps drive the creativity. All this is required
in order to get to a good design of the DesignShop. This is why DesignShops
can never be assembled mechanically, using "plug and play" modules.
The participants will create and deliver the product. The facilitators
facilitate this creation and delivery. The sponsors support the facilitators--giving
them the information and stimulation to help them do their best work.
We as facilitators work for the participants and the sponsors work for
The sponsors are operating under the premise that their understanding
of the DesignShop process is important. What is more important is that
we as facilitators understand the process. Assuming that we do, then we
need to understand the problem at hand and get programmed and stimulated
to design for it--to unleash all of our innovation on it. The performance
specification of a successful sponsor meeting is: How good a DesignShop
are we able to create?
Use a sponsor session to collect information on their culture, intentions
and contradictions--use the walls in the environment to map this information.
Matt will often introduce really way-out ideas to a conversation to see
how they react to them, to know what they will or will not accept, and
what their blind spots are.
What is learned in the Sponsor session enables the one conversation that
truly matters: Synthesis. Done correctly, you will have ammunition and
knowledge to conduct it. You will know when to hold-em and when to fold-em.
So their understanding of the upcoming DesignShop is a benefit, our understanding
of them is a necessity.
copyright © 1997, MG Taylor Corporation.
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