The Wisdom is in the room

They say that the wisdom is in the room.  Never did this statement seems truer than what played out in a recent workshop I had the pleasure of facilitating. I was asked by a client to run a planning workshop for an arts group that had been operating for over 20 years but was in danger of burnout.  I was met with a group of cheery personalities, all clearly passionate about what they wanted to do but without a road map and destination. For them the answer was simple.  They needed somebody to get them a big grant to carry on doing what they were doing.  They didn’t have the funds to pay somebody to source or write grant submissions and they didn’t think they fit into mainstream funding criteria.  Perhaps the local council, which was already providing a couple of grants a year could increase their grant funding?  This was an impossible ask in a climate of reduced budgets.  They failed to appreciate that even a large grant would only bring temporary relief.  They would need diverse income streams to move forward. Every attempt to get them to adapt their thinking to be more creative and to think outside the box they had created for themselves seemed to be met by a wall of objections.  It was time to bring them back into the realms of reality.

Facing me were three challenges.  The first was to get the group to focus on a vision of where they wanted to be in five years’ time. They were full of ideas about what they wanted to do.  They wanted to carry on performing for the community.  They wanted a company manager. They wanted more time for rehearsals. The ideas were flowing about what they wanted to do, but without a vision, their ideas lacked justification and purpose.  With some persistence, we arrived at a vision – a destination that defined and positioned them at a point in the future.  From here, they were able to focus their wants on priorities to get the outcomes that would validate the vision. The second challenge was to get the group to agree on a plan of how to put their priorities into action.  They were still no further forward in their point of view than at the beginning of the conversation. Every idea they had was immediately followed by an objection.  I heard it all.  They needed money, but they didn’t have the time to look for it.  They wanted to carry on performing but needed more time to rehearse.  Wants were followed with reasons why not.  In interjection, I pointed out that this is what they were doing and asked them instead to consider what could they do.  How could they make things happen? And then it happened. The attitude shifted.  One person came up with a way to work smarter – how she could free up her time to work on planning and sourcing funds.  Not only that, she was also about to solve the third challenge – marketing.  She had already been successful with crowdfunding and social media. As one person unlocked the potential, others came forward with ideas about how they could use their skills and appeal to different markets with different products, new ways of generating income, better use of time and resources, and better use of social marketing.  They had overcome their blockages and were moving forward.  Marketing was now becoming an opportunity and not a question of rebranding as a reflex reaction to a perceived identity problem exacerbated by a lack of direction. Through persistence and structure, within a space of a couple of hours, this group had itself, solved what seemed like insurmountable barriers.  They had developed a destination (vision), decided what needed to be done to achieve the vision (objectives), prioritised goals, and had developed a plan to get things started. The solutions were within the group.  The wisdom was well and truly in the room.

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