DAILY INSIGHT: Creating, not criticizing, together

By Miguel Guhlin, CIO Advisor

About 12 years ago, I found myself facing a tough audience. The CTO for the district had invited me in as a consultant to introduce the design of a web-based system. At the time, he and I both knew that I didn't have the design skills for what he imagined; however, I did have enough to create a mock-up. The mock-up would be an opening gambit in a conversation he wanted to have but held a lot of potential for negativity… relationships matter.

When I unveiled the initial design of the web-based system to the packed room of 10 people—all of whom had their own agenda as to what they wanted to accomplish, often in disagreement with the CTO who had brought me in—I felt like a fiesta pinata that everyone would get a whack at!

About 10 minutes into the whacking of the design (which was starting to feel stressful, even though I have low blood pressure), it occurred to me, as I stood in front of the group watching the meeting going sour, that there was a simple way to turn the situation around. "Folks, thank you so much for your feedback about this mock-up design. It's clear that it's not what you had hoped to see, but it does gives us the opportunity to re-start the conversation. What I'd like you to do is take the sheet of paper in front of you and, with the person sitting next to you, make a paper design of what you would like to see in this web-based system."

Even now, when the CTO and I chuckle over that meeting, he'll look over at me and say, "You know, Miguel, that was the best thing you could have done, getting them to make their own design. That act changed the whole dynamic."

The reason it worked so well is that it helped focus us all on what they wanted to see, helped them recognize how difficult reaching consensus was, and enabled them to contribute to the design. The process of designing what they wanted to see together broke up the individual groups or cliques they had fallen into.

"Creating something together can be an excellent way of building relationships between groups. This is especially true when the activity requires talents, organizational ability, social skills, and contacts, which you cannot predict from group membership." —Nick Heap, Effective Relationships at work

Miguel Guhlin is director of technology for a 5A school district in Texas and past president of the statewide TCEA Technology Education Coordinators group. This blog is cross posted at Around the Corner.