Join me for ToP Group Facilitation Methods and Action Plannning training in Brussels!


Get the skills to needed to align groups who want to work together:

Originally posted on Martin Gilbraith:

MG ToPBOOK NOW! ToP Group Facilitation MethodsEventbrite ToP BOOK NOW - AP15I am excited to announce these two new public courses in Brussels, repeated this November. Please join me if you can, and share these details with friends, colleagues and networks who might be interested.

These courses are scheduled in partnership with Social Platform, the largest platform of European rights and value-based NGOs working in the social sector; and provided under license with ICA:UK, the participation & development charity.  It was following an earlier course with Social Platform in Brussels that I blogged Three dimensions of the facilitator role – a focused conversation with video.

“I would recommend the course to others as something that can easily be used in practise for leaders, facilitators and participants of group meetings” – Pierre Baussand, Director, Social Platform, Brussels.

Group Facilitation Methods

Introducing the foundations of the Technology of Participation (ToP) approach, two powerful techniques for structuring effective conversations and building group consensus

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2015 #11ways #insightsandresults - 65 percent - bike

Does communication really make a difference?

Guest post from #11ways co-creator Stephen Welch:

Billions of dollars a year invested in communication by organizations around the world in an effort to improve how they communicate, and make an impact with their target audiences.

Does it really make a difference?

Well to those billions and millions, we can add thousands. Thousands of minutes invested by communication professionals around the world to participate in the second version of the #11ways survey. And what do this year’s results reveal?  Does communication make a difference?

It seems the answer is “yes”.

Our research – covering over 100 organizations with over a million employees – tells us that there are some clear differences between high performing organizations and others in terms of their communications.

  • 89% of high performers align communications and strategy, but only 58% of average companies do.
  • High performing organizations (HPOs) are 3x more likely to rate their communications as excellent or very good.

Of course, correlation and causation are two separate things but a clear theme emerges in high performing organizations – a theme which is absent from the others:

They think about impact, not just output.

The high performers, for example, are more likely to keep their language simple, make emotional connections, and think about communication from the audience’s point of view.

In these organizations, we also see stronger connections between the communications team and the rest of the business:

  • In a HPO, communicators are over 2x as likely to claim that they have strong business know-how and operational understanding. Less than one in five communicators in an average organization would say this.
  • In an average company, only 12% of communicators rate the communication skills of line managers and business leaders as excellent or very good. This figure is 3x higher in a HPO.

However, despite these indications that there is a connection between being and HPO and being a good communicator, there is still some way to go if communicators want to really make a difference:

  • Across the whole sample, only a quarter of communicators would rate their organization as excellent or very good at communication.
  • Almost three in ten admit that some of their communication is not aligned to strategy and goals.
  • 53% keep their language simple and jargon free. Too bad the other half obfuscate.
  • 34% still measure their success by their number of twitter followers or facebook likes; and less than one in ten links communication to sales, profit or productivity.

Communicators still struggle to make an impact, it seems. Especially in a world where 96% of senior managers think they are good communicators. And when a communicator does come along – to give some advice or coaching – it is hard to make an impact if you only have a one in four chance of having business knowledge or operational understanding. As a business leader, why should I listen to you if a) I think I’m quite good anyway, and b) you don’t understand my business?

There are some hopeful signs, though. Since our 2014 survey, we’ve seen some positive trends:

  • While less than three-quarters say they align communication strategy and goals, this is at least significantly up from the 2014 figure (from 54% to 71%).
  • The number who aim for simple and jargon-free language has gone from 32% to 53%.
  • Almost half (47%) have processes for creating great stories, up from 31%.
  • 53% claim to regularly make emotional connections, up from 34%.

So there is hope, but still a long way to go.

Note: this is the preliminary report from the 2015 #11ways research, conducted April-May 2015, across 124 organizations. For fuller details, data and quotes, please get in touch.

For more information or detailed analysis, please contact:

Stephen Welch | Dana Poole | Michael Ambjorn

A study in simplicity with takeaways for any organisation that involves people

Book Cover: Organizational Innovation by Integrating Simplification: Learning from Buurtzorg Nederland (Management for Professionals) Hardcover – by Sharda S. Nandram (Author)A brief book review:

If you’re involved with any kind of complex organisation – and quite possibly complicated ones – you’ll find something to take away from this book.

What do I mean by complex/complicated? Any effort that draws on more than a few dozen people trying to achieve an overarching goal often has bureaucratic elements that override effective delivery in the interest of efficiency. In the complex organisation it can be a blocker, in a complicated one it can hold back delivery of the intended outcome altogether. Basically, the work put in is not aligned with the vision of what should come out of it.

This comprehensive case study of a Dutch care organisation (Buurtzorg) delves into how they managed to create self-managing teams, encourage on-going problem solving through a clearly articulated ‘intranpreneural’ model, and ultimately deliver better, cheaper and more reliable care – and I’d venture that many of these approaches are transferable to other fields.

The book also has a useful section on the potential limitations of the overall organisational model which is refreshing.

It is priced as an academic title – and laid out as such which makes for slightly less accessible reading. Nevertheless, worth a run through. You may also want to check out the talk that the founder of Buurtzoorg, Jos de Blok, gave when he accepted the 2014 RSA Albert Medal, (incidentally how I first came across this work). Enjoy.

Michael Ambjorn is Founder@alignyourorg |Vice Chair @IABC | Director-at-Large @NearDesk

P.S. Want to more reviews (or simply want to vote this one up or down) – go here.

How engaging can a large facilitated online session be?


Worthwhile blog post from // Align Your Org advisory board member Martin Gilbraith.

Originally posted on Martin Gilbraith:

Economics of climate change mitigation options in the forest sectorThis was the question that intrigued me when I was first invited to work with with the Forestry Economics team of FAO, to design and facilitate an online conference this month on the Economics of climate change mitigation options in the forest sector.  The answer, as it turns out, is pretty engaging!

FAO approached me last September for my experience with the Adobe Connect online meeting platform, with which they are also familiar and which they had chosen to use for the project. Their aims for the conference were to connect researchers, practitioners and others to learn from each other on the costs and benefits of various mitigation options in the forestry sector in different countries, to gather data for a forthcoming FAO publication and perhaps also to establish a community of practice among participants for further learning and collaboration in the future.

The team had not before…

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Your ABC Checklist for Conference Success

2015 #IABCLI Hashtag Reference Card handheld back

Next week I’m heading to a leadership conference and I thought I’d share my basic high-level pre-attendance checklist in case it is useful to anybody else:

A is for Align

Take a moment to clarify what success looks like.

Think of it like a countdown:

  • 3 for the organisers
  • 2 for the people you’re representing
  • 1 for you

Confused? Read why Venn anyway.

B is for Briefed

You only get out what you put it. Arriving well informed tends to help. Here’s apractical example.

C is for Connect

Tap into the community.

Most likely people have already started the conference well before it kicks off – say, via Twitter. Check out the hashtag for the conference and get stuck in.

D is for Develop

Conferences are all about developing what you’ve got into something more. A great way to do that is through sharing your insights and learning (hint, refer to C above).

E is for Engage

Engaging without a purpose is pointless. Right?

Be sure to follow through: say thanks to the organisers (they’ll appreciate it), as well as any speakers you found inspiring. Also, connect to relevant people you met via LinkedIn and otherwise follow up on any actions you agreed and promises you made.

In conclusion:

A for Align
B for Briefed
C for Connect
D for Develop
E for Engage

What does your checklist look like?

Michael Ambjorn is Founder@alignyourorg |Vice Chair @IABC | Director-at-Large @NearDesk – and next week you can find him at #IABCLI.

P.S. Hat tip to Jane Mitchell for the 3-2-1 thought – and Sharon Hunter for always constructive copy-edit assistance.

What’s Your Endgame? The 1% conundrum for the non-profit sector

1.2% of UK charities turn over 68.9% of the cash cycling through the sector. So never mind Oxfam’s predictions for individuals – it is already true for the sector that often says it is out to change the world for the better. Are they doing enough though?

A recent Stanford Social Innovation Review webinar grappled with the way organisations think about scaling (specifically to achieve wide-ranging and lasting change) – the authors, Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern, focus on non-profits, but the thinking is useful for any organisation trying to change the world.

Having an end in mind is essential for aligning your board – and other stakeholders – yet, many organisations omit this from their planning.

One example cited is the formation of new charities – and whilst the authors focus on North America, it is relevant elsewhere too. Quoted in The Independent, Sam Younger (recent Chief Executive of the UK’s Charity Commission) sets this out in stark numbers:

In the 2013/14 financial year, the Charity Commission received 6,661 applications for new charities in England and Wales, a 16 per cent rise on the previous year. “There are more people coming forward to establish charities than is really desirable, in the sense that I think some of those people might operate better not by establishing a new charity but by collaborating with, working with and associating with existing charities,” Mr Younger said.

Let’s connect that to the bigger picture for the UK:

Charity Register as of 30 September 2014

Annual income bracket Number of charities % Annual income £bn %
£0 to £10,000 67,972 41.4 0.227 0.4
£10,001 to £100,000 55,207 33.6 1.945 3.0
£100,001 to £500,000 20,940 12.8 4.618 7.2
£500,001 to £5,000,000 8,358 5.1 12.580 19.6
£5,000,000 plus 1,990 1.2 44.680 69.8
SUB-TOTAL 154,467 94.1 64.050 100.00
Not yet known 9,630 5.9 0.000 0.0
TOTAL 164,097 100.0 64.050 100.0

Do you serve on the board of one of the start-up non-profits mentioned above? Or perhaps on one of the minority large-scale players (only 1.2% of UK charities turn over more than £5m). Either way, you owe it to yourself and those you serve to seek clarity.

And let’s be direct: it is perfectly valid for a small charity to serve a niche need and never seek to scale. Just be clear about it.

My main concern is in fact the 1.2% who sit on 69.8% of the income. Especially if we’re to take the figures in this table as transferable to settings beyond North America (heckles welcome):

The Stages of Organisational Growth and Social Capital Chasm

Figure by Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern from What’s Your Endgame? – Winter 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review

What to do?

With apologies to Voltaire: ‘with great resources come great responsibility’ – so whether a charity turning over just a few thousand, or one of the 1%ers:

  1. See the top five take-aways from the webinar in the Tweets below (RT as relevant).
  2. Look at the Stanford Social Innovation Review brief survey (in the last embedded tweet).
  3. Review “Plotting an Endgame” in the last visual and ask the “What is our Endgame?” strategic question at your next board meeting.

The six options laid out by the authors may help – and don’t forget to think through the resource implications.

Need help aligning your thinking on this issue for your organisation? Get in touch.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of @alignyourorg. You can follow him @michaelambjorn

Full SSIR article: What’s Your Endgame

Plotting an Endgame: Six Options - Winter 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Figure by Alice Gugelev & Andrew Stern from What’s Your Endgame? – Winter 2015 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review

‘Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing’

VMA Group's UK/SA Communicator's Network banner… so said Oscar Wilde … and I’d add it to it that you can’t get solid experience without engagement – and that was the topic I was asked to cover at this morning’s South Africa / UK Communicator’s Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Wannell at the VMA Group HQ in London’s leafy Bedford Square.

Specifically, I shared insights from the recent #IABCafrica14 conference in Cape Town. The attendees at the VMA session were from a range of corporates; agencies; freelancers – and also a senior communicator with experience of the workings of the South African government.

To suit the time of day I was asked to keep my brief talk easy-going and accessible – which I hope you’ll find is what follows, set out in an A-Z format (of sorts).

South Africa is a unique environment, yet good practice knows no borders if you adjust for context – there’s a lot to learn and plenty to get on with!

Here’s what I took away on how to engage on the original continent:

  • Global LinkedIn statsS – is for Social – and it is still growing – for example, 3m people are now on LinkedIn (vs. 17m for the UK) [for context, compare population counts of 52m vs 64m ].
    • Tip: if you’re looking to operate in South Africa, get ahead of the curve and be sure to have a social presence. The LinkedIn Executive Playbook may come in handy if you want to lead from the front.
  • U – is for Underground – who knew De Beers have coal mines too? (To be fair, they have a point: it is all carbon – some of it is just more dense).
    • Tip: more to the point, there are some real good practice gems out there to be picked up – not to mention an opportunity for yours to be recognised:

Tortoise on the loose #IABCafrica14

  • A – is for Alignment – something that is easier to arrive at if you use the IABC Global Standard: Ethics, Consistency, Context, Analysis, Strategy, Engage…
  • F – is for Friendly – where else do you get such a warm welcome?!
    • Tip: read why venn anyway? – and then mark your calendar for #IABCafrica15 coming up in Johannesburg in 2015! On the road a lot? Then these two may also be of interest: #Eurocomm (London, April ’15), #IABC15 (San Francisco, June ’15). Last but not least, if you want to attend a future UK/SA Breakfast, reach out to Lisa Wannell.
  • R – is for Recognition – South Africa punches well above its weight in terms of Gold Quills.
    • Tip: who doesn’t want to be introduced as ‘the award winning…’ – so to be fair, the bar is high, but that never puts off the best:
  • I – is for International – South Africa really is at the global forefront on thinking about corporate governance, specifically through the ongoing work to implement the recommendations from the King III report.
    • Tip: want to boost your understanding of governance and help lead an organisation at the highest strategic level? Learn how, here.
  • C – is for Connectivity – 3G/4G/WiFi can at times be a challenge in South Africa. It is most definitively not evenly distributed – but then again, neither is it in the UK. It is easy to be misled by the relative bubble that is London.
  • A – is for Action… ask yourself: are you doing what you love?
    • YES: great! Glad to hear it. Now is the perfect time to update your CV. Build your network before you need it. Need help? Work with your recruiter – and get out there and share the good practice you’ve built up (links galore above!).
    • Maybe: that’s entirely normal – build your network before you need it. Get a perspective from a recruiter – and get out there and network. There are a panoply of links above to get you started…
    • I’m starting my own… brilliant – and good luck. This might come in handy.

Either way, be sure to let me know how you get on. If you think somebody else could benefit from the above, please do share it.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of // Align Your Org – and Vice Chair @IABC. You can follow him @michaelambjorn