Collaborative Synergy – Mapping team communication with Sociomapping

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Stephen Sillett facilitated a contextual drama activity with 5 brave and generous DwD volunteers to explore the theme of “team communication and synergy”. The drama activity also provided a safe opportunity to develop characters who could input data into a software visualisation tool called Team Sociomapping. Stephen came across Sociomapping in 2010 and contacted Pauline Willis to learn more about it’s potential application. In 2011, he visited the offices of QED Group in Prague, whose founder Radvan Bahbouh developed Sociomapping – during that trip, Pauline Willis provided an opportunity for participants from a Scenofest workshop, to visit the QED Group offices and unpack their group interactions using an early form of Sociomapping software. Since then Stephen has been looking at ways to bring Sociomapping and other visualisation tools into his practice, and learning from organisational development practitioners that specialise in team dynamics.

Background: thoughts on session theme

  •  How do we observe and intervene in the way groups interact?
  • How can we help organizations and teams improve their performance while relying less on top-down, command and control approaches?

When we look at dialogue between members of a small-medium size team, we may think that discussions are more about task type, resources, skills and goals. However, there are softer, less tangible group dynamics at play which can have significant impact on performance. The way that members of such groups interact, and the team dynamics at play, particularly when groups are separated by time and space, can be difficult to probe, monitor and make sense of.

The session

The Sociomapping tool, has key utility in looking at changes in team/group dynamics over a time frame of months. For the purpose of the session we will use participatory drama simulations of groups, so that we can compress time, and explore how dynamics of groups can change through a couple of scenario interventions that our actors will represent. Stephen Sillett led our DwD group through what I many think of as a simulation workshop in which a team of performers played out a ‘set of scenarios’ involving a project a corporate publication team was assigned to complete. Stephen referred to the scenario as in terms of being a Contextual Drama session, and asked those attending the workshop to imagine that they are looking in on the action much like a fishbowl. This contrast to the normal way we think of theatre, where we are an audience watching a performance that has been designed with the audience in mind. In this “Contextual Drama”, the team in the scenario comprised of a millennial junior designer (Patricia), an efficiency-driven IT Lead (Tim), a new production team team leader (Kelly), a perfectionist Graphic Designer (Lauren), and their hyper-competitive Head of Sales and Marketing (Geoff).

Session Reflections from Farzad Sedghipour

The first part of the exercise was for the audience to identify one of the characters in the scene and follow them on their journey, looking at their relational perspective. In doing so they would see ‘what was happening’ from an outsider’s perspective, and reflect what we might have done were we involved in similar situations ourselves.

CollabPlay

Photo by Farzad Sedghipour

What became noticeable for me observing the team simulation was how siloed and self-centered each team member was, and how in obsessing about their own interests and the project deliveries assigned, they missed the bigger picture and the relationships needed for the team to accomplish its collective goals. The story of ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ came to mind. This team was actually less than the sum of its parts – a team scenario I admittedly have been a player in more often than I would like to admit. This simulation reminded me that in times of such frustration with team (under) performance, it is important to seek to acknowledge my frustrations, take personal responsibility for having played a role in creating them, and to seek to understand the points of view of my other teammates’, instead of running to conclusions about their intentions and competencies.

Visualisation with Team Sociomapping

After the theatre scenarios were complete, every team member was asked to two questions: 1) to rank how ‘mutually positive’ their relationship had been with each colleague? and 2) how happy were they with the position they had at work?

These results were then visualized through the Sociomapping tool, which showed a sort of topographic ‘map like’ illustration of how each member connected with their fellow teammates, providing each member a view of how they themselves were perceived by the other members of their team.

Socio1

For us the purpose of the Visualization tool was not diagnostic per say, but as a sense-making tool; it was proposed that instead of analyzing the results, the team members stand up and play out the their places with respect to each other on the floor, as the Socio-map illustrated on the computer screen.

We found this approach helpful in taking us away from ‘analytical judgement’ towards opening the space for understanding and co-creation. For example, the IT Lead could voice “I really hate that I’m so far from the New Project Manager and wish we could have a better relationship together.”

This interest-led approach opened up the space for authentic inquiry into the obstacles that had created distances between team members, and how the team could overcome these challenges in the future – connecting each team member’s point of view to see the whole elephant. This process would enable the team to design ‘interventions’ from within the group itself that might benefit the group’s behaviour and dynamic, and run them for 1-month intervals before re-assessing to evaluate if the intervention had been successful at helping the team develop, with the goal of becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

Suggested areas of further research included ways to ensure team members felt safe in answering the Socio-mapping questionnaire truthfully, and ways to explore power dynamics and how they might be addressed with the help of this tool.

About the Host and explorers/actors

ssillettStephen Sillett is co-executive director of Aiding Dramatic Change ~ in Development (ADCID), and helps the organization research, facilitate and direct dialogue, drama and art processes for healing and community development. He directs InFusion Labs where theatre artists, therapists, scientists and social practitioners explore spatial approaches to exploration and discovery.

The actors in the team were Patricia Kambitsch, Tim Lloyd, Geoff Foulds, Lauren Stein, Kelly Okamura. Pam Patel stepped into the scenario as a disruptor character, but was not mapped as part of the team dynamics.

If you see potential for such teams development in your areas of practice please email Stephen.