Navigation Center™ Systems
Proper Sponsoring Improves the Probability of a Session's Success


by Joe Sterling and Bryan S. Coffman

The sponsor holds a principal stake in the successful outcome of the session. The sponsor always participates in the session as well. In some organizations the sponsor occupies a managerial or formal leadership position among the group of participants. In other cases, the sponsor is the team member best able to set session objectives, contribute to the design, and help prepare the read-ahead. Such an ad-hoc sponsor assumes sapiential leadership and derives authority for his role from the team itself and from his vision of the team's work. Sponsorship is often unsuccessful when merely delegated by the principal stakeholder.

The sponsor fulfills several responsibilities:

Selecting the Venue: General Criteria for Using the NavCenter Environment
Every gathering of two or more people in an organization need not occur in a NavCenter environment. These environments are better suited for some kinds of sessions than for others. We do, however, advocate the application of the 7 Domains® model to any interaction in an organization. Here are the general criteria for conducting a session in the NavCenter facility. Each session request should be judged on its own merits:

  • A commitment to work with the NavCenter Rules of Engagement. The NavCenter system operates under a unique philosophy--part proven, part always experimental. A mix of ten such rules is currently being tested. The test is only made viable by applying the rules with rigor and consistency.
    • Stable relationship of three: facilitation from the front, middle and back of the room has been identified.
    • Straw dog design: the session has a design that includes outcomes, agenda items (content) and a process for bringing the group through Scan Focus and Act.
    • Stepping up: Sponsorship and facilitation support is voluntary.
    • Circle Up: A pre-session circle-up, or walkthru is conducted to establish or finalize the design (with facilitation team and sponsors in attendance), and a post-session circle-up settles next steps and provides feedback.
    • Invitation to work: Arrangements are made to prepare the space before the session to best support the design, and reset the space following the session.
    • Real artists ship: A system for documenting the session, filing it in the knowledge base, and distributing the documentation products within hours or a day of the end of the session is put into place.
    • Sapiential leadership: Within the context of the session, there is no rank. This does not strip managers and leaders of their responsibility or authority, but extends the responsibility for creating good problems and solutions across all of the participants. In healthy sessions, managers and leaders usually find that they must champion their ideas like everyone else.
    • Being there: All participants, sponsors, and facilitators agree to provide their full attention to the session during design, implementation and follow-up, without interruption. They also agree to strive for a level of candor during the process.
  • Five or more participants in the session. Smaller groups may conduct design work on their own in the NavCenter environment's smaller collaborative spaces but should still follow the rules of engagement.
  • A minimum duration of three hours--four to eight hours may be better. Many groups enjoy having a block of time in which to design--time unfragmented in the way that most of our work days are. This amount of time makes it easier for the group to progress through the entire Scan Focus Act model, discover options, engineer alternatives, make decisions by design instead of forcing consensus or invoking a zero-sum solution like voting. As a general rule, the broader the scan, the more time required to process the results and bring the group back to a viable design decision. Also as group size increases, the time required to synthesize information increases.
  • High leverage or content critical sessions receive priority. If the outcome of the session is likely to have a significant impact on the momentum or position of the larger venture, then a fully-supported session in the NavCenter environment is appropriate. Of course, chaos theory reminds us that it's sometimes difficult to determine what is critical and what isn't! Therefore, sessions that have interesting objectives and strong designs should be considered regardless of the nature of their content.
  • Team dynamic condition: While the use of the NavCenter environment is encouraged, it isn't forced--that would violate the "Stepping Up" rule of engagement for participants. Most people should have no problem suspending judgement for the first several sessions they attend. But it simply makes more sense to use the space for people who like working in the space in the first place and are willing to learn to take advantage of it.

Collaborating in the Design
A depiction of the 10-Step Knowledge Management model is provided for reference.

Sponsors and the facilitation team conduct a Walk-Thru for several hours a few days before the session to craft a design that includes clarifying the objectives and outcomes, identifying key components of the body of knowledge that need to be presented or made available as read-ahead or during the session (this is commonly referred to as the "agenda" or content of the session), and selecting processes that will allow the group to best fold the body of knowledge together to achieve or exceed the outcomes. Logistics such as set-up, provision for food and drinks, and the level of support are also handled during this meeting.

Written assignments accompany many of the processes, particularly those in which participants work individually or in small teams. Writing good assignments--formulating good questions--compels the designers to further their understanding of the vision and outcomes of the session, and makes in-session facilitation easier and more effective.

The sponsor also knows the participants better than the facilitator usually does, and aids in determining team assignments break-out groups will be used.

Levels of Facilitation Support for Sessions
The "stable relationship of three" rule of engagement requires that all sessions have support from the front of the room, the middle of the room, and the back of the room. The following table outlines the different roles that can be played from each position.

Facilitation Position Description of Roles
Front of the Room Scribe
Middle of the Room Sponsor (participating)
Back of the Room Written Documentor
Lap Scribe
Production Lead

It's possible, but usually undesirable, for a single individual to handle all three roles, and such sessions are strongly discouraged from taking place in the NavCenter environment. However, two people can handle the session with a video camera set on a still, wide-angle shot so that most of the activity and all of the dialog can be captured. One person plays the role of Sponsor in the group, and the other individual serves as a Scribe/Facilitator.

The Front of the Room
Always have a provision for facilitation from the front of the room--particularly wall scribing. Scribing allows the participants to focus on the issues displayed in a common format. If participants keep their own notes to the exclusion of scribing, then each records something different, and they may all agree about something for which they actually have no agreement. If the group uses the walls interactively (not simply having the scribe passively write or draw) then they'll be playing from the same sheet of music. The group should feel free to interact with the scribe--the sponsors in particular--not to deliver dictation, but to clarify, refer to, add to and work with the information. Often the scribe can also serve as a facilitator, although it's good practice to divide these two roles when resources permit.

The Middle of the Room
The sponsor occupies the middle position as a participant who is also fully aware of the design for the session. Since many sponsors are also managers or leaders, they can play a coaching role as a participant and can also promote or inhibit interaction.

The Back of the Room
The written documentor does not take sketchy minutes but records ideas and discussions in a time-based infologged database so that the information may be employed later as reminders or for the purpose of creating synthesis-style work products.

A lap scribe documents the session using techniques such as mind maps, flow charts, or diagrams similar to what a wall scribe would do. However, the lap scribe is more free to create at leisure during the session since his information is not directly accessible by the participants.

A videographer captures the session on video tape. A good videographer with quality equipment can even handle wall copy.

The production lead is an individual responsible for assembling, proofing, infologging, filing and distributing whatever work products are created during the session. For small sessions, the documentor or wall scribe is usually the production lead as well.

All members of the facilitation team should be familiar with the terms of art that the participants in the session may use.

Managing Knowledge Before, During and After the Session
The facilitation team--the production lead in particular--handles the logging, storage, and distribution of the design, read-ahead and documentation of the session. In a fully-functioning knowledge management system, feedback is routed directly to the K-base and the sponsor. The sponsor should still track the progress of any documentations throught the system as a check.

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