Navigation Center Processes
Creating a Framework for Success Through Rules of Engagement
by Bryan S. Coffman
Over the last twenty years, MG Taylor has built and put into operation
dozens of Management Centers, many of which also served as NavCenter environments
for our clients. All experienced initial success, and some are still in
operation long after their conception. Others failed. From the successes
and the failures we have learned much about how to prime a NavCenter facility
to improve its ability to thrive in a challenging environment. We have
distilled most of this learning in our DesignShop® System Axioms,
the Modeling Language, and various manuals and workbooks.
This last year we embarked upon an ambitious project to create a Pattern
Language for the Enterprise. We look for patterns in the structure
of NavCenters facilities (for example) that seem to lead to a healthy
organism. We've hypothesized fifty-six patterns so far. From this list
I've extracted five, and added five others that seemed to apply directly
to the Center product line. Each pattern is associated with a glyph from
our modeling language (its name appears in parenthesis following the name
of the pattern). Clicking on the glyph will take you to a page on that
Stable Relationship of Three (process facilitation)
Every session in the center should be facilitated and supported by three
roles (which may be played by a varying number of individuals). More challenging
sessions should be supported by at least three people. All three are considered
facilitators, and especially in NavCenter environments, they may switch
One role is facilitation from the front of the room. This role can be
filled by a wall scribe or a combination of process guide and scribe.
In every case the walls should be employed as a group memory and aid in
synthesizing complex work in a non-linear format (two dimensions, as opposed
to text in documentations and notes which is linear and uni-dimensional).
The second role is facilitation from the middle of the room. Every session
must have a sponsor. The sponsor must be invovled in the ten-step knowledge
management process with the other two facilitators to evaluate feedback
from previous engagements, design the upcoming session, and prepare any
read-ahead materials if necessary. During the session, the sponsor, who
is aware of the design of the session, engages with the group as a participant.
There are occasions when the sponsor (or other participants) may become
wall scribes. This happens frequently in NavCenter facilities, and especially
with small teams of participants. Here's why. In large DesignShop events,
the process consciously assembles participants into large group for reports
and discussion and then divides the group into breakout teams or individuals
to either generate diversity or fast track designs. When a very small
team works for a number of hours, it may not be wise to subdivide the
group into smaller teams or individuals. Nevertheless, the phenomenon
of the breakout team still occurs. Usually a scribe is required for the
first portion of the session. At some point, it will become clear that
because of the nature of the ideas being presented, it makes more sense
for one or more of the participants to scribe their ideas directly on
the WorkWalls instead of filtering them through a scribe. When this happens,
the team is in "breakout" and it is appropriate for the scribe
to retire to the back of the room and wait. Eventually a demand for synthesis
will occur and it will be natural for the participants to take their seats
and for the scribe to handle the synthesis from the front of the room
The third role is facilitation from the back of the room. This individual
is free to document, work on work products,
adjust environmental parameters such as heat, light, and music, operate
a video camera, or provide an additional scribe if needed.
Straw Dog Design (design)
Every session is designed, as a part of the Ten-Step Knowledge Management
Model. This means that it has an agenda and a process design. The agenda
details the content and desired outcomes of the session, along with the
participants, logistics (food, supplies, information), and date and time.
The process addresses the mechanisms that will be employed to accomplish
the outcomes. There are two major components to the process: crafting
of assignments, selection of group mode of work. There are three modes
of group work: the participants can be together as a whole (as when reporting,
discussion, and working on next steps); the participants can be divided
into teams to generate diversity (each having the same assignment) or
to fast track issues (each team having a separate but interdependent assignment);
or the participants may be asked to work individually on some assignment.
For each mode of work, an assignment should be crafted before the beginning
of the session. It may change under the press of circumstances during
the session. A well-crafted assignment easily doubles the effectiveness
of the facilitation.
Stepping Up (conception)
No one is ever forced to sign up to work on the KreW of a NavCenter space.
Additionally, all of the work to be done in a Center is self-assigned;
never assigned by a boss (see sapiential leadership, below). This doesn't
mean that KreW members don't encourage each other to stretch and take
on greater challenges. The work in a center is so demanding, and the style
so different from traditional organizations that it can't be forced on
someone without disastrous consequences to the integrity of the team and
the center itself. A good KreW will provide cross checks, mutual support
and its own leadership. An individual who steps up to become a KreW member
in a NavCenter facility shoulders the incumbent responsibility to step
up to the work to be done on a regular basis, and to support other members
of the team to do so as well.
The NavCenter KreW periodically assembles in a circle-up. They should
not meet to share information concerning the status of NavCenter systems
and sessions. Most information sharing of this type should be handled
by networks of computer systems, physical displays and groupware that
track calendars, projects, processes, goal attainment, dashboard items,
financials, and basic organizational issues. Instead, KreW members meet
in circle-up to perform the higher-level activities of scanning and design
in preparation for sessions and the meta-management of the NavCenter environment.
Nothing can yet substitute for the type of high-frequency, low-magnitude
face-to-face interaction that creative design thrives on.
Having said this, most circle-ups do include some level of information
sharing, particularly exception reporting. Even the best of automated
systems cannot handle every contingency faced by the KreW. These exceptions
can be effectively and crisply handled in circle-up.
Most often the circle-up is a regularly scheduled weekly event. Sometimes
it is a daily event; perhaps a ten-minute stand-up exercise. In any case,
a team that functions using sapiential leadership must employ circle-ups
to aid in the sure management of the center.
Sponsorship for Knowledge Workers (entrepreneurial
Every new knowledge worker who steps up to work in a NavCenter facility
must have a sponsor--someone more experienced from within the center itself,
or better yet, from the broader ValueWeb Community outside the NavCenter
space. A knowledge worker from a knOwhere store in Cambridge may sponsor
another knowledge worker from a client-owned Center. Even though a sponsor
is usually more experienced, they are not necessarily mentors.
The sponsor should be a source of information concerning the facilitation
process, the modeling language, transition
management in general, and the operations of a Management Center or
NavCenter facility. The sponsor can answer questions and provide impartial
The individual being sponsored usually selects their sponsor.
Lives in the Center (management)
NavCenter environments are built for the purpose of effecting a change
in the way of work within an organization. Therefore, they frequently
come under scrutiny and sometimes attack. This is not necessarily malicious
at all--all living systems are built to resist the inclusion of foreign
particles or concepts within their tissues. In order to immerse themselves
in the new way of work, and to conscientiously represent the NavCenter
system to the rest of the organization, the management team should be
housed within the center. They may have other offices outside of the center
as well, but should spend a good portion of their time in the facility.
Senior management should be encouraged to use the environment to steer
their organization from on a regular basis. The actions of all levels
of management are usually scrutinized by everyone in the organization,
and the place and value of the facility will be clearly established by
the activities that take place or do not take place in the center.
Center Maintained as Invitation to Work (environment)
Never allow the environment to become disordered or "trashed out."
Once an session is finished, copy the walls and erase them, dispose of
trash, refresh markers and wipes on the walls, reset chairs and redeploy
tables, add toys, books and plants to welcome and intrigue, and set the
lighting and music in an appropriate manner for the next session. Never
allow a group of participants to enter and use a space that has not been
reset. The participants will undoubtedly rearrange the space to suit them
if necessary, but when they come in, the space should speak "invitation
to work." This is an art, and not something to be delegated to people
who are not on the KreW. Throughout the day, each KreW member should observe
the environment and adjust any element that is out of place.
The work spaces that the KreW use on a routine basis have the most potential
for deteriorating because of the demands of being a knowledge worker.
Such work spaces should be outfitted with furniture that allows multiple
projects in progress to be stored intact and be retrieved whenever time
allows for them to be worked on.
Most centers have benefitted from a rule that says the NavCenter space
does not close up at night until the entire space, including KreW quarters,
is reset and all products from the day are completed and awaiting distribution.
To adhere to such a rule requires flexible scheduling, but it makes work
a lot easier in the center.
Real Artists Ship (documentation)
Every session is documented in some way. Some combination of wall copy,
written documentation, work product, and video tape is required as a minimum.
Such products should be completed and distributed rapidly--within 2 hours
of the end of the session is a good target to aim for (this doesn't apply
to multi-day DesignShop events). Once product work is allowed to stack
up, the NavCenter environment can become an unbearable place to work.
Sapiential Leadership (self-correcting)
Simply stated, the person who can most clearly see the next step is responsible
for communicating this step and facilitating or leading the group through
it. In an age as complex as ours, it's unreasonable to imagine that any
one person has all of the questions and all of the answers. To invest
individuals with such responsibility creates unnecessary burdens and pressure
and debilitates the creative edge of other members of the team.
Nevertheless, a NavCenter facility will probably have a center Manager--usually
the champion of the center itself, and someone who can represent the center
to the rest of the organization with all of the proper cultural and hierarchical
cues and trappings. But within the center's domain, the manager facilitates
the healthy emergence of sapiential leadership from the KreW and a matter
Everyone associated with a session--participants, sponsors and facilitation
team--needs to follow the Four C's (taken from the US Army War College):
Candor, Commitment, Competence, and Courage. The NavCenter space should
provide a safe place to be honest. If it fails in that one aspect, it
fails abjectly in its mission. It's up to everyone to make and keep candor
alive in the center. Commitment means that participants, sponsors and
facilitators agree to attend the session for its duration, to engage without
interruption (other than emergencies), to present their ideas clearly
and firmly, to play 'spoze with
the ideas of others, and to seek good solutions through a superior design
instead of compromise. One of the DesignShop axioms reads that everyone
in the room possesses the answer: the purpose of this intensive interaction
is to stimulate one, several or all of us to extract and remember what
we already know. Often this knowledge is buried or has yet to be synthesized,
but it is there. Everyone in a session is responsible for engaging with
the ideas to help each other and themselves to employ their professional
and personal competence to the fullest.
All of this, of course, requires courage.
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