Embedding Employability in an Academy – A Case Study

Recently as a member of the Telford ASE I was involved in the designing and facilitating of a Personal Development Day for Abraham Darby Academy. Capgemini, the company I work for, partners with the academy as part of Business In The Community (BITC) and are invovled in a number of projects to help build a stronger community. The ASE were brought in to help tackle a particular challenge that is quite close to the hearts of many teachers and young people in education today.

How can the academy better prepare young people for life at work?

I wanted to share the thinking that went into the session, if you’re interested in seeing how it ran feel free to view the video summarising the day on the Capgemini YouTube Channel here

The first thing i want to make very clear is that this session was all about enabling the academy and its teaching staff to better itself, to grow on what it already did and do more. There were a number of questions that needed to be answered in the session in order to break this challenge down…

  1. Why does it matter that young people are prepared for work?
  2. What does ‘prepared for work’ really mean?
  3. What can we as a group impact and change?
  4. How do we go about making these changes happen?

Before we began though we wanted to break down faculty barriers and we wanted people to remember why they got into teaching in the first place. We wanted them to remember what their first job was like, how scary it was and start thinking about what would have helped them. To do this we created pretend camp fires for small groups to share stories, we created an environment that they felt free to talk and discuss and meet new people they hadnt worked with before.

Why does it matter that young people are prepared for work?

This might seem obvious but when you put this into the context of a community, a school, a teacher or even a pupil it becomes less obvious as school life is based around results and results are curriculum, academic and subject focussed. This makes it hard to incorporate other elements into an already busy school day and certainly distracts from other goals. Whilst academics and the curriculum have a significant impact on a young persons readiness for the work place there are a multitude of other things that also have critical roles.

To help the teachers see through this typical lens we asked the teachers and the pupils to complete a survey in the lead up to the session asking them questions about the state of employability skills in the academy. These questions enabled us to share with the teachers a current state view that was coming from themselves and their pupils as opposed to an outside influence or statistics that didnt necesarily apply to them. We followed this up with a clip from youtube called ‘A pep talk for teachers and pupils’ created by Kid President, we wanted to ensure the teachers understood the importance of the work they do and the importance for teachers to inspire and enable pupils to achieve. The video asks some great questions including…

What are you teaching the world?

Look for the awesome. Teachers see things, they see when you run behind the hall, they see when you’re passing notes, but they also see the person that we can all become someday; a writer or a speaker or Martin Luther King.

It’s time to be more awesome

We wanted the teachers to have intent to make a difference in their day to day working lives and help pupils be more prepared.

What does ‘prepared for work’ really mean?

Again this seems like a simple question but when you overlay different careers and university and everything else it comes muddied and complicated. We wanted to make it simple and enable the teachers to determine what it meant for themselves and enable them to create a shared view of this same point. To enable this we provided the teachers with a lot of different collateral including…

  • online research into employability skills
  • information on the compentencies that companies like Capgemini look for
  • asessment processes including putting them through a phone interview and group exercises
  • a number of their ex-pupils who now work for Capgemini

This part of the day wasn’t about educating the teachers explicitly, it was about providing them with an array of information they could engage with and allow them to start thinking more about what young people need from their education.

What can we as a group impact and change?

The challenge with this question is that most people naturally work with what they know and in the context they are used to as this is much easier, what we needed to do was put them in a new context. The context we operate in has a significant impact on the way we operate, it can change our perceptions, limit our thinking and drive a culture. We wanted the teachers to think big, we wanted them to break out of previous perceptions of what is and what is not possible.

To achieve this we set the scene of a better future, a future where the pupils of the academy are leaving as impressive people who are prepared for what lies beyond. We asked the teachers to tell us more about what this future might look like and specifically how it differs from the present. To ensure they took ownership of these changes we invited small groups to pitch their ideas to the rest of the teaching staff.

We used MG Taylor’s vantage points model (I have spoken about this model before on a previous blog) to help us to create a range of questions that helped the teachers to put detail into their vision of the future. This ensured that the participant group will think about the possibilities holistically. Given the nature of education and teaching we gave sustainability a focus for the conversation to ensure that whatever changes were suggested they were maintainable.

How do we go about making these changes happen?

Given pitched ideas this is the moment of truth, the moment the ideas start to become reality, the moment you can tell if an idea has landed. The big questions here are around how the idea will work and what needs to be done to ensure it happens. The challenge for most people is one of understanding how they will manage this new work on top of what feels like a full work load already. By this point in the event, the momentum had built and it can sometimes feel like anything is possible so practical considerations can be overlooked. It was important for us to ensure the teachers considered the implications of each idea cross faculties with people who are most keen to drive the idea forward and then work it through in faculty groups to understand who will do what and when.

We wanted to make a social difference and based on the feedback we received we achieved this. I hope that you have found this informative, if you have any questions, comments or thoughts feel free to share


Changing the Smell of the Place

For some time now I have been trying to understand how a point intervention (such as a collaborative workshop) can build momentum in a group of individuals that makes change easy.

At a recent session with my ASE colleagues I was introduced to a YouTube video by Professor Sumantra Ghoshal called “The smell of the place“.

Professor Ghosal talks about how people behave differently depending on the context of their environment. The more stifling the context the more constrained the behaviour, the more liberating the context the more innovative the behaviour. He mentions 4 key things that provide a liberating context…

  1. Stretch – not constraining but creating an exciting sense of purpose and ambition which generates pride in the work being done.
  2. Self discipline – management by commitment not by assuming compliance.
  3. Support – rather than control people support them, genuine change can be achieved if people believe their management hierarchy only exists to story their success.
  4. Trust – rather than a contract, we have a common goal so I won’t force you to do anything I will trust you to do it.

I would like to thank Franc @tobefranc for introducing me to this video and altering my view on the balance between facilitation and ownership. Let’s start by understanding these two words and then go on to look at how these are affected by understanding the impact of context.

Facilitation being the act of making easy or easier.
Ownership being the right of possession.

So how has my view on these things been affected by watching “the smell of the place”? Since I started in this industry of facilitation I have always been of the belief that it was about making the work and therefore the outcomes as easy as possible. This includes capturing all the work, structuring any sharing required between groups and even distribution of the output after the event. But what if this belief is flawed?

What if the act of making work easy creates a context of compliance, control and contract rather than one of self discipline, support and trust?  What if by facilitating to such extremes we have taken ownership away from those doing the work?

To enable participants to truly own the work they do during an intervention and allow it to live after facilitators need to do four things…

  1. Create the stretch by bringing the ambitons to life for every participant
  2. Enable participants to have self discipline by giving them the space to deliver the work in their own way
  3. Support them to deliver the work by providing guidance and the required resources rather than controlling them
  4. Trust them to record, capture and diseminate the work they do rather than doing it for them

These four things are not easy and require a mindset change for both facilitators, managers and the participants themselves but if it seems hard just remember this question…

What happens to the work after a point intervention if we don’t trust the participants during the intervention?

8 Tips to Using Social Media in Collaborative Work Events

A short while ago I ran my first 3 day ASE event with twitter embedded as a crucial component to the design. Given that the topic affected a much larger number of people than the participants who were able to physically participate in the event we decided to incorporate a twitter element to the session itself. At the start of the session we were looking for twitter to provide us a platform to…

  1. Spread the work and messages of the event
  2. Enable insight to be generated from outside the participant group

Once we realised that twitter would form an integral part of the event we created a plan to use it which was broadly split into three parts…

  1. Before the event – we would run a campaign to generate interest and start to encourage people to follow the work that was happening in the event.
  2. During the event – we would assign one of our team the responsibility of posing questions that were being discussed by the participant group and of bringing any key questions or input raised on twitter into the physical space.
  3. After the event – we would pull all of the twitter conversations and messages into a consolidated story that would be shared.


Before the event

The most obvious thing for us was to determine a hash tag that would be easily recognisable and simple to follow (We used #GoodCareersGuide for this particular session) . With this created we needed to start spreading the word, we needed to start the event trending. To encourage interest in the event we decided that there were two important stakeholders to engage, each of which would need a slightly different approach.

Subject Matter Experts

During the design for the event a number of topics were identified as being crucial to the success of the work such as gamification and design thinking. Given the range of topics it was not practical to have all subject matter experts physically present for the whole event so it made sense to engage them in the work through the use of twitter. We identified those subject matter experts who we had personal connections with on twitter and invited them to contribute to the event. We shared the hash tag and informed them of when the event would be running. We followed this up by sharing the link to a website explaining what our client did and what they were looking to achieve.

Interested Parties

The second group of stakeholders we wanted to engage in the event were interested parties. This group included those individuals and organisational bodies who might end up using or being impacted by the solution. If you take a systems thinking approach to this group it is hard to identify specific individuals so we took a more open approach by asking prompting questions that would provoke people to think about the topic area and engage if they thought it made sense. Whilst doing this we actively asked people to retweet to their followers to widen the potential group. Lastly we looked to tweet behind the scenes photos and messages that would provide an insight for participants into the preparation going into the event and start to build excitement.

During the Event

During the event it is important to remember that there are a range of physical participants from the “I refuse to use twitter or any form of social media” to “I love social media and will use it at all times of the day”. Whilst extremes are not likely it is important to cater to the whole range and in doing so get as much insight and engagement as possible. For those who didnt want to or weren’t able to use social media we posted questions being raised in the event on our timeline, at the same time we took the most insightful comments and brought them into the physical space by scribing them up on a wall dedicated to thoughts and comments. To ensure that participants were able to see everything tweeted we had a number of LCD screens in the space with a twitter feed linked to the pre determined hashtag. Where appropriate we also looked to feed in comments to conversations that might benefit from the insight. For all participants we started the day by making it clear that we were using social media and informing people how we would be supporting it throughout the session itself. We used signs and graphics around the space to provide participants with twitter details and how they could get connected to our internet. There are well known difficulties of using something like social media in collaborative events as it can be a distraction to those who are engaged and an annoyance to those who are not. We tried to balance this by doing two things:

  1. Engage the unengaged using gamficiations and the subtle introduction of a twitter leaderboard. This was our first attempt at using leaderboards for such an endeavour and whilst we have definitely learned from the experience it it also increased engagement for the competitive participants.
  2. Highlight the distraction of social media. We looked to provide guidance to the participants as to when it was appropriate to use social media and when it was not. This is a difficult topic as it you first have to decide when it is and is not appropriate which isnt easy in itself. Do you allow it in small conversations where the work is less formal but as a smaller group the distraction is felt more greatly or do you allow it in plenary conversations with everyone present where the larger group can accommodate the distraction but it is more obvious to the whole group.


After the event

After the event, we wanted to share the whole event with both the physical and the virtual participants who were following our progress to provide one single point of view. To achieve this we created a story of the event that included the tweets from the participants, we did this using a tool called Storify which enabled us to embed tweets into a written story. In addition to this we have pulled together a marketting video that summarises the event. If you would like to see the Storify we created you can find it here.

8 Tips To Summarise

  1. Think about what you are trying to achieve with social media (spread the word, gain insight or both?)
  2. Plan your social media campaign in 3 parts (before, during and after)
  3. Identify a hash tag for the event and start using it as soon as possible
  4. Identify your audience and engage them on the media you want to use as early as possible
  5. Engage those unengaged in social media during the session (consider gamification tools such as leaderboarded)
  6. Determine when it is and is not appropriate to use social media during the event and tell participants
  7. Use multiple approaches to bring tweets into the event – LCD, ipad, hand written
  8. Summarise the event with a story to bring it to life for those not physically present

The 6 Things Everyone Should Know About Facilitating With Acoustics

In the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) we use acoustics to facilitate work during collaborative sessions. I recently read an article on Buffer about how music affects and benefits the brain, I have used some of their insights here and shared my thoughts about how music and acoustics can be used to support collaborative work.

Our perception of ‘neutral’ is effected by music

When a group meets each other for the first time there are lots of factors that affect how that group will work together for the day one of those is mood. Mood can have a profound impact on relationships within a group, the reasons for a  negative mood are almost limitless, bad traffic, an argument, poor weather, having to do other work before arriving.  This same negativity will effect their first impression of others they meet, for potentially the first time.

By playing positive music upon arrival we can attempt to mitigate the risk that mood can put on an event. Participants are more likely to see each other in a postive light with the presence of positive music. This will then enable them to form better relationships at the start of a meeting or collaborative session and work better throughout. Where we might usually perceive someone as being neutral, happy or sad music will cause us to view them differently.

Ambient noise can improve creativity, whilst, familiar music can significantly distract us

Whilst ambient noise can fill a background void that is itself distracting, people often become lost in their thoughts whilst sitting in a coffee shop with the hustle and bustle of conversations, cups clinking, the hum of machines amongst a multitude of other noises. This ambient noise creates distractions that make it a little difficult to focus on something, not too difficult mind, which “promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity”. According to research ambient noise needs to be at just the right volume too, too quiet and we wont be challenged enough to seek out the abstract, too loud and we narrow our thinking as we become overwhelmed.

Familiar music will cause us to become distracted from the task at hand regardless of the volume. The music triggers our brain to follow a new train of thought related to the music itself, it might be an emotion or a memory or just the song itself. We dont have the same triggers present for unfamiliar music so it doesnt affect us in the same way, in fact this acts in a similar way to ambient noise.

This knowledge can be used in a number of ways in a collaborative session to facilitate the work…

  • By separating different groups using distance or physical partitions you can change the amount of noise bleed between groups. Find the right level of noise bleed and you create an ambient background noise using the participants in the room.
  • By playing unfamiliar music at the right volume you can mitigate the moment at the start of any conversation where noone is willing to be the first person to talk because background noise makes akward silences less awkward. If you want less creativity and more focus then play the music louder as this will drown out other distractions in the room an enable individuals to focus on their work. Remember that it is a collaborative session and people still need to communicate, too loud and this becomes difficult.
  • By playing familiar music that is easily recognisable we can instantly distract people form their current thought patterns and get their attention. By doing this we can eaily get the attention of everyone in the room and direct them to what they need to be doing next.

Music helps us exercise

Research on the effects of music during exercise has been going on for years. Apparently listening to music does two things…

  1. Increases motivation
  2. Drowns out fatigue

This is critical to the running of any collaborative session, if you want to get the most out of any session you run then you want your participants fully motivated and working as long as you can without them tiring. Much like physical exercise, conversations can be extremely tiring and music has a similar effect when applied to mental exertion.

On top of this we can use music to regulate participant work rate throughout a session. The faster tempo (beats per minute) of a piece of music, the faster you see participants talking, writing and working in general. Obviously this has a limit, according to recent exercise ressearch after 145 bpm there is little motivation gain. This needs to be managed carefully or else you will overwork the participant group too soon and they will become less  productive.

So, in conclusion the 6 things everyone should know about using acoustics to facilitate work are…

  1. Ensure you start any session with positive music to ensure participants form positive relationships
  2. Position groups to create a good level of ambient noise in the room for all participants
  3. When participants are working play unfamiliar music
  4. Choose the music to gradually increase in tempo to encourage faster working throughout the session
  5. Choose music carefully to maintain energy levels throughout the session
  6. Use familiar music to get participants’ attention and distract them from work

A meeting designed with Flow


According to  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi the Flow model maps a persons mental state whilst involved in a task dependent on capability and complexity. The ideal state to be in is that of ‘flow’ where flow is the complete immersion into a task or activity, this implies complete motivation to ensure that the job is done. According to Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi flow can be defined by following 6 factors:

  1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Unfortunately ‘flow’ is not the only state an individual can find themselves in, where a challenge is perceived to be too complex they could find themselves getting anxious or worried and where a challenge is perceived to be too simple they could get bored and apathetic.

For any short collaborative intervention flow is the epitemy of mental states for participants to achieve during the session for three major reasons:

  1. More willing to share all ideas, even the perceived ‘bad’ one
  2. Accelerated delivery of work given the short timescales involved
  3. The flow state will create a desire to continue the work following the intervention

The question that remains is a simple one the the answer is somewhat more complicated. How do you enable participants to achieve this mental state?

To answer this question, let us first look at the criteria for achieving a flow state:

  1. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. This for me is the most critical, the challenge must not be too easy or it will be boring and at the same time it must not be too hard or it will be frustrating. The important thing to remember here is that it is the perception of the challenge not just the challenge itself. What might appear a simple challenge to one person is not always seen the same by another. A person’s perception is the real world distorted through a number of filters that have developed over time and as such is hard to measure and understand. To create a ‘flow’ challenge you must match task difficulty to individual capability.
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. It is one thing to match a task difficulty to soumeone with the right capability at any given moment in time but how do you determine when the challenge is no longer ideal? Clear and immediate feedback allows the system to self correct and adjust the challenge to align with the capability or to reallocate resources to shift the capability to make the challenge seem more achievable.
  3. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This provides structure to a session and enables the participants to understand what they need to achieve in order to achieve it. For me, this helps to contain the perceived challenge, ensure that it is attainable and make certain that the individuals involved know how they are progressing against it.

Having understood this we can follow some simple guide lines that will enable participants to achieve flow in collaborative interventions:

  1. Ensure you understand as much as you can about participants capability – knowledge, skills, training, experience etc.
  2. Ensure you identify an achievable yet stretching set of goals or objectives for the session, consider a number of stretch goals to increase the challenge if required
  3. Avoid complicating the process where possible to ensure that the participants dont perceive the challenge to be harder than it really is
  4. Once the session has begun ensure you monitor the participants mental state, keep watch for behaviour that might suggest boredom or frustration.
  5. Where you see boredom in a group of participants it is important to increase the complexity to stretch the participants as far as possible
  6. Where you see frustration and anxiety you need to understand what is making the challenge seem too dificult. Is it the complexity of the challenge or is it the lack of capability in the group? The work might need explaining again or the group might need a specific bit of information or skillset added to it

If you want to know more about flow see this TED talk video by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

A gamified meeting

Over the last year I have been engaging more and more with gamification principles and concepts. A while ago I was introduced to the Gamification User Types, there are 6 user types that I am interested in:

  • Socialisers 
  • Free Spirits
  • Achievers 
  • Philanthropists 
  • Players 
  • Disruptors 

For more information on these user types from a gamification perspective please see Andrzej Marczewski’s blog on these user types here.

A collaborative session (be it a meeting, conference, workshop or something more), like any IT system requires an understanding of the users (participants or attendees), putting these user types into the context of this you have some interesting characteristics. Understanding the motivation and behaviours of each of your participants will give you incite into how you run the session and how you get the participation you require. This knowledge could even be used in the middle of the meeting to redirect inappropriate behaviour.

  • Socialisers participate to engage with friends and colleagues, they want to network and talk about common interests, these individuals are less likely to be interested in the business challenge at hand. They are also the individuals who are most likely to forward invites on to other socialisers and people of interest as this will make the session most interesting for them. They are most likely to attend a meeting if there are others of interest also attending.
  • Free Spirits  want to create, explore and discover newness, they want to get down to the new not discuss what they already know. They are most interested in talking about innovative or new concepts that push the limits of what is currently possible, asking the ‘what if?’ questions. These individuals want to explore, as such they want to be doing rather than being told, they are most likely to test concepts and ideas in detail.
  • Achievers want challenges to overcome, they want to learn and develop themselves. These individuals are more prone to boredom and will need challenging to ensure they remain engaged with the meeting. If a task is perceived to be too easy achievers will not want to perform the task, in some cases it is possible for achievers to create their own challenge and take the meeting off in a new, potentially beneficial direction.
  • Philanthropists are altruistic, they want to improve the system and help others achieve. These people are great to have at any meeting or collaborative session as they are always looking to achieve the common good. They are often the voice of reason when others are looking to help themselves.
  • Players Whilst philanthropists want the best outcome for everyone, players want the most reward for themselves. When it comes to the real world and physical meetings or workshops I personally believe that everyone has an element of player in their personality. Everyone asks the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ at some point in every conversation, they might not even be aware that they asked or even answered it.
  • Disruptors will push for change, these are your early adopters, your trend setters. These individuals can help make change happen but they will not always care whether the change is for better or worse. Disruptors are great individuals to have on board when you are looking to make any change stick within an organisation as these individuals will push for the change without being asked to.

In general people are not one or another type of user, they will be a mix of a number of different types that will change over time and dependent on the situation they find themselves in. If you consider all the user types you can ensure your session achieves the outcomes you have identified.

When you apply this understanding of the user types to this you begin to realise that you can get more from a participant group. The session needs to be designed in such a way that all user types are appropriately motivated at all times. This creates a set of questions that you can ask yourself when running through how any session will work from a participant point of view:

  • Socialisers – who will I work with? who don’t I know? who have I worked with already?
  • Free Spirits – what space do I have to explore the topic? what am I creating?
  • Achievers – how is this challenging for me? what makes this difficult?
  • Philanthropists – how will this help others? what is the collective benefit?
  • Players – what is in it for me? what rewards can i receive for this?
  • Disruptors – how will this be different? how does this change my work?

These user types have helped me think differently about my meetings and events, I hope they will help you too.