This version of the Glass Wall was a track session at the 2013 OD Network Europe Conference. We were lucky enough to have a group of sophisticated, enthusiastic and open practitioners willing to ‘have a go’ and join the experiment; an ideal participant group!
We set things up so that a group of five people in the middle of the room had a facilitated conversation about the how Organisational Development (OD) can help to more unleash human potential in organisations. Observing this conversation were the remainder of the participants – around another dozen people – many of whom were invited to tweet their comments about what they were hearing using the hashtag #C21L. For many of these people, this was their first experience of using Twitter, and we’d set up a number of dummy accounts for the purpose.
Outside the room, other interested parties were following the Twitter feed and making their own contributions. The feed was displayed on a screen in the conference room using ‘Twitterfall’ a website that that enabled participants in the facilitated conversation to see what was being tweeted. There was a “Twitter moderator” whose job it was to mediate between the conversation in the room and the one taking place on online. This was my job, and it was the first time I had participated in the experiment in this role.
We ran the activity for about 20 minutes, having done some initial context setting and preparations to help people get familiar with the technology. We then debriefed the conversation to make sense of the experiences of the various people involved from their perspective. More of these can be found in other blogs. Click here for a link to the entire collection.
Here are some of the themes that came out of the debrief session:
- Depending on people’s role in the activity, they had a very different experience of it.
- Everyone found it engaging in some way, however the people who were simply observing the activity without also engaging in Twitter were noticeably less energised about the experience than those who were involved. From their perspective, the experience was messy, hard to follow, disjointed and a bit pointless. (There may be some bias here, in that these people were generally self-declared Twitter sceptics, but then so were some in the other groups).
- By comparison, those people who had been directly involved found it engaging, energizing and interesting. In response to the challenge that they were surely missing much of what was happening in the ‘real’ conversation, they remarked that they had made a choice as to what they wanted from the activity, and what to focus on, and that this focus helped them choose where to look and what to filter, and where to focus their attention.
During the activity, it had quickly become apparent that it is not possible to take part in a live, face-to-face conversation, staying in contact and developing ideas together, while simultaneously following a Twitter thread. (As one participant pointed out, this has also been shown to be the case in recent research.)
We therefore quickly we evolved into a pattern in which we periodically paused to review what was happening on Twitter. This enabled more focus and more choice about where to direct attention. We talked about the possibility of using this kind of approach to enable teams to have richer and more wide-ranging conversations. This led to a discussion about what ground rules would be necessary to make this work in practice. We developed ideas around cycles of live conversation, reviewing of the Twitter feed, reflection and then more conversation. It was clear that well thought through decision-making and conversation protocols would be needed – a bit like those that have evolved for conference calls.
Those participants involved on the Twitter feed talked about experiencing reality on multiple levels – they reported that the experience of the Twitter conversation was just another form of reality.
What became clear was that if an approach like this was going to work in a real organisational setting, there would need to be very clear reasons and purpose and rules of engagement. In other words people would need to know and decide and articulate how they were intending to use the Twitter feed and for what purpose. They would need to design meetings in such a way as to ensure that that was the outcome that was produced. In this regard, the principles are exactly those of designing large group interventions and other OD work.
This led us to reconfirm the notion identified in previous Glass Wall experiments that actually in many ways the world of social media and the rules that apply to it are not dissimilar to the rules of good OD work. However, perhaps the need for clarity and sharpness of thinking becomes even more acute, when social media is involved.
We also discussed many of the similarities between the worlds of social media and OD. For example, the way in which they both undermine traditional hierarchies; are reliant on network effects; and are democratic ways of unleashing human potential. We believe they have a lot to learn from each other and to offer each other. We think is a fruitful conversation to look into further and follow up.
Our thanks go to OD Network Europe for allowing us to come to play at their conference, and to all the participants. Do take a look at the Glass Wall tweets by searching under #C21L. The conference as a whole has a rich Twiitter record that can be found under #ODNEU2013.
This post forms part of a collection about the Glass Wall experiment we developed with Training Journal into what the world of Social Media (SoMe) can teach the world of 21st Century Leadership and Organisational Development. The most recent run of the experiment was at the OD Network Inaugural European Conference. The iteration for ODN Europe was slightly different in its set up, and also involved different people. This collection – Looking Again Through the Glass Wall – reflects the experience of several of those involved, from their perspective.