The Transition Manager in Practice:
Keys to a Successful Sponsor Meeting

Chip Saltsman's Log

from an E-mail dated August 18, 1996

(published 10/25/96)

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 responsibility.

Hi all,

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 reaction was.

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 us.

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.


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