Recently, a group of us spent the evening talking about leadership. The way we did it was this: we told one-minute “Leadership in Action” stories to each other (that is not a lot of time). Picture 25 leaders in small groups, 3-4 per table, each telling a story about an experience that impacted them and that stands out as an example of a leader leading. We kept a clock, keeping us to one-minute each. After we were done at that first table, we each rotated to a different table and the clock started again: we told our story to fresh faces and listened to several new stories. We did three rounds of this. By the time the “speed dating” was over, we had shared our story three times and had listened to at least 9 great stories. It was energizing and even inspiring. We came away from the experience fired up and plugged back into what we value most in a leader.
ASIDE: This can work as an ice breaker for new groups or an energizing experience for those who have been together for a long time. In addition to the learning around the topic of leadership, there are two skills that participants get to practice in this workshop: 1. The art of storytelling; 2. The art of engaged listening. As a facilitator, it helps to mention this. We like to interrupt the workshop after round 1 to talk specifically about how to be an engaged listener.
After round 3, we asked everyone to stand up and said: “Each of us is now going to put a hand on the shoulder of one person whose story really connected with us.” Picture the chaos. I have my hand on your shoulder, and you have to pull me across the room in order to get your hand on someone else’s shoulder. Big thanks to Nancy Dixon who shared this “shoulder touching” idea with us. Once everyone had their hand on one person’s shoulder, there were some participants who had many hands on them. We finished the workshop by asking these particular people to share their story one more time, this time with the entire group.
A week later, we did this again with a group of 27 Army lieutenants. We didn’t have time to do the full-blown version, so we introduced the idea and paired everyone up. Two minutes later, every person in the room had shared their story and heard a story. We closed out by inviting people whose buddy had shared an especially good story to “nominate” him or her to tell the story to the entire group. After five people shared their story to the entire group, we talked briefly about observations or insights that had emerged for people and, bam, we were done. Ten minutes incredibly well spent!