AgileCamp-Logo240x72AgileCamp 2014 brought together people interested in applying Agile and Lean values, principles, and methods in their teams and organizations.  These ways of working, which have gained visibility in the IT sector and manufacturing, draw on nimble practices that many small businesses would recognize.  They also embody what is being learned about productive teamwork in today’s global business world.  Benefits of Agile and Lean include enabling greater creativity, ability, and learning in individuals and teams, increasing flexibility and adaptability, and maximizing value for customers while reducing cost, risk, and time to market.

AgileCamp 2014 was again held at the Paypal HQ Town Hall complex in San Jose, California.  The atmosphere was informal, with focus on learning, networking and play.  This year's theme was “Transformation:  Organization, Teams, and People”  with six tracks that explored different aspects and benefits of Agile and Lean transformation:

  • Enterprise Agility
  • Agile Leadership
  • Team Dynamics
  • Lean Innovation
  • Getting Things Done with Agile and Lean
  • Agile Coaching and Learning

Who Comes?

The AgileCamp website ( http://agilecamp.org/ ) notes:  “AgileCamp attracts professionals from various disciplines and levels who are interested in Agile techniques and gather to listen, learn, discuss and teach practices that help businesses succeed.  Moreover, a large majority of our attendees will be from technology companies such as eBay, PayPal, Yahoo!, Cisco, LinkedIn, StubHub, Ericsson, HP, Comcast, Twitter, Facebook, Salesforce, Symantec, Oracle, Visa, and many more.”

The 2013 and 2014 inaugural AgileCamps averaged approximately 200 attendess.

The Team Dynamics Track

We had the honor of chairing this AgileCamp track in 2014.  Those who joined this track explored generative elements in creating and sustaining collaborative, high performing teams.  These elements include how to:

  • start teams with orientation to meaningful purpose,
  • foster trust and grow relationships that lay the foundation for high productivity and innovation,
  • align teams internally, with customers and business goals, and synergistically with other teams,
  • establish commitment to needed action,
  • iteratively create and work the plan to foster continuous learning and adaptation,
  • achieve and maintain exceptional performance,
  • renew or sunset the team.

These elements build into each other, are themselves iterative, and shape the character and productivity possible in all teams.  Paying attention to each of these elements, and their dynamic interplay, can open the door to team effectiveness, individual satisfaction and growth, productivity, and bottom line gains.  Organizations and networks that are applying Agile and Lean have the added advantage of flexibility and motivation in exercising these under-the-hood team performance elements.

Sessions in this track included:

1)  How To Grow and Evolve With Agile Teams:  Reports and Strategies from Successful Companies  

Panel Discussion:  Victoria Livschitz, CEO Qubell,  Amir Gomroki, VP, Head Ericsson BNET DU IP and Broadband, Ericsson, Inc., Raymond Moffatt, lead North America Lean and Agile Coach, Ericsson, Inc., and Nicholas Muldoon, Agile Coach, Twitter.

How do top Agile companies foster the structures, leadership, culture and support that enable self-organizing teams to deliver their best?  Fueled by audience and moderator questions, panelists dug into their experience and understanding to provide practical insights, examples, and tools for fostering effective teamwork in an Agile environment.

2)  Boosting Collaboration and Performance in Teams

Presenters/Facilitators:  Susan Berry and Randall Thomas, Aligned for Results, LLC with Thomas Sibbet, The Grove Consultants International

The Drexler-Sibbet Team Performance Model™ (TPM) offers a systems view and framework for developing team performance in an Agile environment.  As you explore its seven stages, you may quickly recognize where your team stands, what is assisting or blocking its progress, and how to facilitate next steps.  Using the Team Performance On-line System (TPOS) can enable members and coaches of distributed or virtual teams to reap these benefits as well.  We shared about use of the TPM from with teams throughout the world, and Thomas presented a very valuable supporting tool, the Team Performance Online System (TPOS), which he helped develop.

Agile Improvisation Taster Workshop for Coaches and Teams

Presenters/Facilitators:  David Chilcott, Outformations, Inc. and Owen Walker, InsideOut Improvisation

As David and Owen described this session"  "What do successful Agile teams and theater improvisation groups have in common?   Both rely on trust, transparency, and clear communication.  Successful theater improvisers make strong choices without knowing the outcome, respond to circumstances that are constantly changing and collaborate with their partners to create an outcome that is wider than their own vision – all essential Agile qualities!  

This workshop invites you to learn on your feet, working in pairs and small groups, engaging and reflecting on the skills and ideas you are practicing.   As you make connections between Agile and improvisation, exercises will enable you to:

• listen and respond with greater acuity

• strengthen your ability to collaborate with others 

• increase your comfort in working with uncertainty 

• gain a greater sense of play in your work"

Retrospectives for Team Engagement and Continuous Learning

 Presenter/Facilitator:  Monica Yap, Solutions IQ

Paraphrasing Monica :  The retrospective is one of the most important tools for an Agile team’s self-improvement.  However you may have experienced a less than engaging retrospective – where the ScrumMaster (who is typing comments on-screen) asks each team member to give input on “What-went-well”, “What-didn’t”, and “What to focus on”, while team members are furtively performing others tasks on their own laptops. 

This session demonstrated several scenarios and participatory ways to make retrospectives fun, interactive, and effective.  Even with distributed teams, participatory methods can turn retrospectives into true learning and growth opportunities.  Participants in this session teamed up to choose and experiment with retrospective exercises useful to their work situations.

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The Previous Day

The previous day at AgileCamp 2014, Susan and Randy had the opportunity to presenti an interactive mini-workshop during the afternoon to introduce the Agile Facilitators Toolkit.  Here is a brief description:

Agile wisdom tells us that simple rules and tools promote flexible and effective response in complex situations.

This experiential workshop introduced simple facilitation tools that can help achieve desired results and high productivity with groups in a range of settings, from team meetings to organizational change initiatives.

Participants had the opportunity to:

  • Learn how to set up their meeting for success by

a) using OARRs (Outcomes, Agenda, Roles, and meeting Rules) to guide and propel the meeting toward its desired results, and 

b) designing their meeting space for collaborative interaction & team focus;

  • Consider the facilitator’s mindset and how this role differs from that of participants and leaders in the meeting, and from the role of Coach and Mentor;
  • Experience collaborative activities and discussion designed to build trust, foster innovation, and develop shared commitment;
  • Use questions, listening, and visual records to focus attention, encourage collaborative thinking, and document what the team has produced;
  • Meet a model of team development that helps in applying facilitation methods to clarify results and engage participation in a range of organizational change initiatives and contexts.

The session ncluded handouts to reinforce understanding of and experience with workshop ideas and exercises.

© 2014  Randall Thomas and Susan Berry, Aligned for Results, LLC

“Is it possible to delight the world with what is happening in this room?” asked our host, Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

As we momentarily pondered that question, we could sense that the people in the room were enjoying what they were doing. Could that affect or reflect customer delight?  Repeat and longer term customers and referrals would certainly be a measure of satisfaction (it is clear Menlo has those), but delight?  How or what would motivate their delight? How would one know customers were experiencing it?

Richard told us of one measure that mattered to him: people have stopped him on the street to express thanks for Menlo’s work.  He described projects that were making a difference in peoples lives and Menlo’s mission: “Ending human suffering as it relates to software technology.”  He spoke about a focus on producing joy at work and understanding its value, on creating software that customers found enjoyable to use, and sharing with others what Menlo has discovered about a work culture and process that supports joy.

A focus on creating joy at work, on enjoyment and delight among customers, fulfilling a mission of ending suffering associated with software creation and use.  This was not a mission statement we had heard before.  Yet we knew this firm of a dozen years was financially successful and well-regarded. Among a consistent stream of recognitions, the Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces had named it among the Top Small Workplaces in 2011.  Some consider it one of the best models of contemporary teamwork, collaborative principles and practices, and Agile methods at work (or “at play” in this case).  Over 2000 visitors, like ourselves, come each year to learn more.

This is an IT company inspired by Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory – team members work in pairs, and collaborate in teams in a large open space. Yarn, stickies, and paper story cards join keyboards and monitors as important tools of production. Ability to play well and share with others is a key criterion in hiring decisions.  This is an organization where team members are strongly encouraged to ignore their email when on vacation!

Walking around this workspace we were struck by a sense of lightness.  People were engaged alternatively with a point of focus such a monitor and in inquisitive, open-minded discussion, seeking solutions and the obvious next step or experiment forward.  There was clear engagement, the kind of thing you might experience when reading a favorite novel or web surfing a topic of significant personal or professional interest.

Reflectively, Richard shares his thought that many of those coming to work here want to serve something larger than themselves, and that they realize that accomplishing this requires a team.  Here, Richard says, they find a belief system they can share, where people care about outcomes, are focused on joy, and address real life challenges.  It is a culture, a purpose-driven way of working, which enables them to leave the legacy of a “world better than we found it”.

A key to creating this shared belief system, Richard says, is that the team owns the process.  At Menlo teams are both self-organizing and help each other out.

The relationship building process is systematized.  Within a project, people are assigned into specific pairs, which are rotated every 5 days.  The hiring process emphasizes cognitive diversity and the ability to share and get along well.  This, along with communication and collaborative skills training, sets the stage for strong benefits from pairing: productivity, scalability, and sustainability.  Project teams are not trapped when people leave on vacation.  None of the staff identify with a particular coding language, they are or can become multilingual from a software standpoint.

Another key to success Richard shares is “removing fear from the room”.  People need to be able to speak, to experiment, to be, and not fear retribution.  “Fear produces cortisol which shuts down the part of the brain I need” to do my job.

While we observe productive flow in and among the teams, unnecessary disruptions have been removed. For example, you do not hear phones ringing.  Events that do occur support creativity, fun, and effectiveness.  They include team-organized walk-arounds or other types of breaks, lunch and learn sessions, deftly-timed greetings to visitors, and a 13-minute daily standup which amazingly covers the past day’s progress, today’s planned work, and related requests for a group that can include more than 60. Babies and dogs of staff are welcomed and nurtured by team members (the nurturing appears to work both ways!).

Leadership roles integrate with, and support, the way teams work best.  Richard says that his role has evolved along these lines and that, opposite of what you might find in most organizations, “I am quite vulnerable”.  His sense is that “we are getting closer to the ‘truth’ “ in creating effective roles and relationships.  In the context of how Menlo teams operate, “we [the Partners] can go home and not be the bottleneck.”  Clearly (from our visitor’s perspective) he, his Partners, and the team leaders in the room are giving ample evidence of servant leadership.  “Alignment is so freeing” Richard says.

The journey in creating a joyful, purpose-driven workplace continues.  Success continues to flow from being “blessed with patience, persistence, and optimism” riding on, and inspired by, a treasure chest of effective business, teamwork, creativity, innovation and software success experiences and insights garnered by others over the past century (see http://www.menloinnovations.com/by-reading/recommended-reading ).  As Richard notes: “Growth is not the objective”, rather we aspire to be among “small companies that choose to be great and not big.”  A large part of that greatness is the message of joy that Menlo has to share.

“Is it possible to delight the world with what is happening in this room?”  Our visit yields a resounding “Yes!”.

You can learn more at the Menlo Innovation’s website https://www.menloinnovations.com/ and by reading “Joy, Inc.” due out on December 26, 2013.

Postscript: In addition to thanking Richard for the generous gift of his time and insights, we would like to thank Menlo Innovations’:

+ Jack of All Trades, Anna Flynn, who arranged our appointment.

+ Partner and Chief Architect, James Goebel, for comments on the synergistic work of client/team planning and deeply understanding client needs through High-Tech Anthropology,

+ Partner and Chief Financial Officer, Robert Simms, for describing Menlo’s transparent accounting system, and socially supportive and financially attractive business model,

+ Factory Floor Manager, Carol Sheridan, who made us welcome upon arrival and was gracious in her support as we concluded our visit, and

+ teams, who greeted us warmly and allowed us to visit with them in the course of their work. 

Our thanks as well to Pat Reed of the University of California at Berkeley Extension Agile Management Program and of iHoriz for her introduction to Menlo Innovations.

Randy Thomas and Susan Berry

© 2013  Randall Thomas and Susan Berry, Aligned for Results, LLC

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Earlier this year we visited Pivotal Labs, a software house based in San Francisco that is known as a leader in a new breed of highly productive, team-oriented IT firms. Our visit was a benefit of participating in the UC Berkeley Extension Agile Management Program, and of the gracious hospitality that Pivotal’s leadership extends to those interested in what is happening at the Labs.

What we noticed first was the openness and light of the company’s physical space. Cubicles are absent. The south side of the floor is filled with rows of workstations where programmers collaborate in pairs to create working code. Cooperation among pairs was evident in their body language and in the shared intent we sensed, as well as in the buzz of constant conversation we heard.

“Information radiators”, flat screens with updating color-coded status information, are strategically perched for all to see. The few bounding walls are open or hold patterns of sticky notes, with marker pen handiwork decorating panels of transparent glass.

Rotating on our heels revealed an always-available food and refreshment area on the north side of the floor, and reception, recreation, and conference room areas in the middle.

Our host, Davis W. Frank, explained that a core aspect of Pivotal’s mission is to consult, co-develop, and coach client teams in creating web and mobile software products, and even more importantly, help them do so in an on-going, Agile way.

The goal is highly efficient and adaptable production of working software, that is of significant value, tested as it is produced, and delivered without bugs.

During their time together, Pivotal and customer staff form an organic team. Client and Pivotal team members are matched together in collaborative fashion, working in pairs, side-by-side. Each person on the team rotates to a new pair every morning. In this way, independent perspective is maintained while taking advantage of two minds (following the pattern pioneered in XP – Extreme Programming), and other members of the team can be consulted.

Through this rhythm, the culture, values, principles, and practices associated with an Agile way of working are naturally embodied by client team representatives.

For this approach to work well, team members need to consciously apply or develop their one-to-one and small group communication skills, and their sense of empathy for others. Pivotal staff have found that if you can’t communicate you cannot pair effectively.

Pivotal believes that feedback is essential to creating value in all things. Team leaders need to know or learn how to create feedback loops. This includes eliciting information on what is working and what is not in a given process, and drawing out suggestions and consensus from individuals and the team on how to adapt and overcome obstacles.

Facilitating regular (e.g., weekly) team retrospectives is one of the most important means for enabling feedback and commitment to change in the coming work week. Opportunities to gain respectful and constructive feedback also occur at other times, including at informal group celebrations or gatherings.

Not surprisingly, feedback from Pivots about their colleagues is central in Pivotal’s mentoring and development of their skill sets.

True to Agile principles, Pivotal Labs applies an incremental approach to product development. An iteration may commonly span a week or two, and includes a planning meeting for that iteration, the pairs-based development work, product demonstration, and a retrospective. This cycle is accompanied by light daily-work planning that enables the client to weigh in on what will be accomplished each day.

At Pivotal Labs, process is light-weight and adaptive. Although a wiki exists, there is no reference manual for procedures. This is intentional: Through experience, leadership noticed that structure often builds up around a practice, and creates an unacceptable tendency to adapt the product in support of the practice. To minimize this, core practices and their embedded values are “stored” in action. What to do, how to do it, and why it is valuable to do it this way are learned and experienced in the pair work, and reviewed in pairs, in retrospectives, and elsewhere. Practices, culture, and the organization itself can change over time, based on results and feedback from across Pivotal teams’ experiences.

By working in this way, Pivotal’s Agile practices and their underlying values are transferred to client teams. To assist replication back home, the project may include a period of time when client/Pivotal teams alternate work on the client’s premises and then again back at Pivotal. The key to success, both at Pivotal and for the client’s team, Davis says, is not in the ideas per se. Rather success lies in organic growth when working in this Agile way through the execution of the ideas.

Randy Thomas and Susan Berry

© 2013  Randall Thomas and Susan Berry, Aligned for Results, LLC

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Facilitating Collaboration for Sustainability: Just Do It!

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What is the role of business in assuring sustainable resource use?  How can companies with a global reach influence responsible business practices in the developing world?  Is the bottom line benefit of these efforts worth the cost? When answers to these questions affect diverse companies, cultures, and countries, how can a single business support the […]

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Software and Soft Skills for Collaboration and Innovation

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Maximizing the Value of Brainstorming

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Facilitating Innovation

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A recent check of the phrase “business innovation” with the Google Keyword Search tool showed that over 74,000 people per month from around the world were seeking information  related to this phrase.  Many of these searches were likely initiated by people who recognized a need for help in generating and using new ideas, solutions, and […]

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Everyday Compassion and Organizational Development: Learning from Google and Chade-Meng Tan

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What if we were aware that being compassionate produced happiness, and could be fun and profitable and good for business as well?  Would we practice compassion more often at work?  This is what Chade-Meng Tan, a 10 year veteran at Google, invites us to consider.   Meng was one of Google’s early engineers.  He makes […]

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Collaboration Success (Part 6): Facilitating Resilience and Long Term Success

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Parts 4 and 5 of this series introduced the first six of nine principles underlying success of collaborative ventures.  These six principles involve your commitment to collaborate, your clarity about the customers you intend to serve and what specifically you will provide them, expectations about what you and your partners will bring to the venture, […]

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Collaboration Success (Part 5): Partner Investment & Communication

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Part 4 of this series introduced the first three of nine principles underlying success of collaborative ventures.  These involve your commitment to collaborate, and your clarity about the customers you intend to serve and the products or services you will provide. The following three principles Involve what you add to the venture, what investment you […]

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Collaboration Success (Part 4): Generative Principles or Conditions for Collaboration Success

May 23, 2011

In this series we present “under the hood” elements which serve as an engine to drive you to collaborative success.   These “Generative Principles” or “Conditions for Collaboration Success” can be used to assess and enhance your readiness for collaborative ventures.   In this post we’ll describe the first three.  Each has been distilled from […]

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Collaboration Success (Part 3): Get It in Writing!

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Creating and sustaining an effective collaborative venture requires your willingness to engage with your collaborative partners in the following five ways (described in the previous post in this series): Share one or more elements of a vision for your collaborative and explicitly agree on the collaborative's purpose. Interact/communicate frequently to define, agree on, and act […]

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Collaboration Success (Part 2): The Investment Required

May 3, 2011

Collaboration can produce benefits far beyond what is possible through individual action.  Whether collaboration is the best pathway for a particular purpose will depend upon what you and your colleagues want to achieve and how much you are willing to invest in working with others. The chart below illustrates what we have observed in the […]

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Milestone Moments, Memory, and the Shape of the Future

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Over the past few months, several of the leaders I consult with have moved to new positions.  Others have retired.  This change represents a turning point in our relationship, as well as in their own careers and lives. I like to honor these milestone moments with a personal card.  Writing a card gives me time […]

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Collaboration Success (Part 1): The Promise of Collaboration

April 18, 2011

We are big fans of Pixar, and enjoy the boundless creativity of movies like Wall-E, Up, and the Toy Story series.  Listening to directors and producers talk about the production of these movies is a great lesson in collaboration:  Each of them points out the vast number of people and talents that go into a […]

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Rapport and Results in Meetings

April 10, 2011

Have you ever attended a meeting filled with too many PowerPoints, irrelevant comment, and people huddled at the back of the room to check their email? Even if this kind of meeting is common at your place of work, your rapport skills can change the picture.  The Rapport Report includes seven methods that team leaders […]

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Using Rapport to Discover Shared Vision

April 3, 2011

As your practice of rapport becomes a habit, it may open the door to new business relationships or deeper engagement with people you already know at work.  How do you decide which of these possible alliances you would like to develop? Finding out whether you share a business vision can help you discover compatible collaborative […]

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Rapport Report Offers Tools for Building Productive Business Relationships

March 27, 2011

What were Marco Polo’s words when he first met Kublai Khan? Although there is no reliable historical record of this exchange, we must conclude that he developed rapport with the Khan, because he survived and prospered. Today, rapport tools are still essential to prosperity in the business world.  The Rapport Report, now available to you […]

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Using a Survey to Gauge and Improve Collaboration in Project Planning

March 16, 2011

Without effective collaboration, a multi-agency project is unlikely to reach its goals and potential.  Accordingly, when we facilitate cross-agency plans, we set targets for improved collaboration as an element of project success.  The case study presented here illustrates how to weave collaboration and project planning together for results that reach beyond expectations. Case Study: Collaborating […]

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Using Surveys to Identify Customer, Staff, or Community Member Needs

March 6, 2011

Surveys can be a valuable tool for researching customer desires, motivations, and preferences for products and services.  Other common research tools include individual interviews (see previous post), observation, focus groups, and analysis of existing data or statistics.  Each has its advantages and imitations, and two or more are often used in combination. When to Use […]

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Terry Gross and Organizational Development Research

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As we travel to client interviews, I enjoy listening to Terry Gross, the host of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air series.  Terry is a superb audio journalist:  Whether she interviews a jazz musician or a refugee politician, she treats the headliners she talks with as both intriguing and approachable.  And they open up to her […]

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How to Discover What Your Customer Values

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Once you have established rapport, the next step in a consulting conversation involves finding out what your customer wants. The order and sequence of questions you ask can increase the speed and utility of information you collect.  Your choice of questions can also increase the likelihood that your service recommendations will receive a favorable reception. […]

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Using Questions To Understand Customer Needs And Strengthen Relationships

February 20, 2011

Our previous blog post presented three basic types of questions to help create rapport with your client or customer, and to understand their needs. Probe questions can help you build on this foundation, learning even more about how to give your customer value. Probe questions enable you to move the conversation in a specific direction.  […]

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Using Questions To Strengthen Customer Relationships

February 9, 2011

Questions are a valuable resource in establishing long term relationships with customers as you gain an accurate understanding of their needs.  What makes a good question?  The answer will depend upon on your intent, the context, and understanding some “question basics”.  Let’s look at one important element of question basics. 3 Broad Types of Questions […]

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How To Facilitate Rapport In Groups – Part 2

January 31, 2011

When you act as a team leader or meeting facilitator, establishing rapport and effective communication with and between members of your group is essential.  Part 1 of this article described four powerful rapport tools to help you set the stage for achieving team or meeting goals: Establishing the purpose of your event; Creating a safe […]

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