Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the bullying and harassment scariest of them all?

We’ve recently experienced a big increase in enquiries for our Bullying and Harassment awareness raising workshops. I don’t pretend to know what lies behind the change, but I do know that in drama we have a powerful tool to make real headway dealing with the issue.

Uncomfortable truths

You might think a drama-based learning provider is a strange place to go to get to grips with a challenging cultural problem like this. But it makes perfect sense when you consider the mix of characters, perspectives, and all that messy human behaviour and interaction stuff that plays out daily in the workplace.

When things aren’t going well at work, every day is a kind of drama; one in which the ‘actors’ struggle to break free from the roles they’re playing. What we provide with our dramatised workshops is a mirror that reveals uncomfortable, but nevertheless vital truths that enable people to start to make a change.

All of which fits with John Kotter’s explanation of the change process as, put simply, people see something, then feel something, then change as a result. That’s exactly what we see happening in our Bullying and Harassment workshops.

A drama in three acts

At the start of our workshops, even before any dramatised material is presented, we ask delegates two questions. Using our electronic polling system, we ask them which of a range of negative behaviours they have witnessed or experienced at work in the last year. After reviewing the results, which typically reveal that many behaviours are more common than you might think, we then ask everybody which of those behaviours they themselves have demonstrated at some point in the same period.

I won’t deny it can be entertaining watching delegates squirm as they reflect on their own behaviours, but what happens next is telling.  The results are always lower. It doesn’t matter who we’re delivering to; board members, senior leaders, managers, front line employees or mixed groups, I can guarantee many fewer delegates report having done any of the things listed.

Somewhat mischievously, we suggest that quite clearly most of the delegates in the room don’t need to be in the workshop. Then we ask them what else might lie behind this pattern of results. Eventually, someone always says words to the effect, ‘It’s easier to observe faults in others than it is in ourselves.’ This is undoubtedly true, and it’s an insight we build on.


Next typically (we design for each client so exact content varies) we invite delegates to watch a short dramatised scene in which they see a team member grabbing a moment with their line manager for a ‘quick word!’  On first viewing, delegates’ sympathies tend to be with the team member.  What they’re asking seems reasonable and the manager’s reply is curt at best.

We then introduce delegates to the manager. They get to question them and learn a bit more about them.  Having introduced some more context in this way, we revisit the dramatised scene again. But this time we show it more from the manager’s perspective.  Same lines, but slightly different body language and inflections.  The impact is striking and it’s amazing to process with the delegates how quickly you can have sympathy with another perspective.

This is how we gently introduce people to the notion, summed in Robert Evans’ quote, ‘There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.’ Or as we adapt it for delegates, there’s my world, your world and the ‘real world’. The real world is where we put the audience next; they become the outside eye, able to appreciate both perspectives, at least to some degree!

Learning into action

In our final slice of dramatised action, we show delegates a scene in which the characters exhibit a range of inappropriate attitudes and behaviours. Then, using stop-start (forum) theatre, we get delegates to explore how to challenge inappropriate behaviours when they observe them, as a bystander. It’s a safe opportunity for them to take what they’ve learned about what constitutes negative behaviour and about the different perspectives that are at play, and practise interventions to make a positive difference.

To be clear, we’re not saying the perpetrator or recipient of unwanted attitudes or behaviours don’t have a responsibility to do something about it. But in this exercise, we want to explore why and how we can all play a part in maintaining an inclusive working environment. In fact, we typically frame this and other parts of the workshop in terms of the organisations stated core values and behaviours, where they have them, so they become more than simply ‘words on a piece of paper’ (as one delegate memorably called them).

The end

Of course, all of this doesn’t stop negative behaviour in its tracks overnight. And we are always very clear with clients that our Bullying and Harassment workshop should never be a replacement for taking appropriate action with known perpetrators. It does, however, as our evaluation results show, increase organisation-wide awareness of what exactly constitutes unacceptable attitudes and behaviours. It also boosts delegates’ confidence to do something about it when they come across it. All of which helps explain why nine out of ten delegates see the workshop as a worthwhile session to take part in.

So, sad as it is to see requests for help with bullying and harassment rising, it’s really good to know we have a tried and tested means to offer practical, effective support.

If you’re interested to know more about our approach, feel free to get in touch. I can fill in the details, and we have video material and evaluation results we can share. Also, it’s well worth keeping an eye on our Events page for opportunities to catch one of our showcases.

Unconscious bias training online – what a terrible idea!

Facilitated, online learning and development webinars can be an effective means to raise awareness of unconscious bias, one which helps participants identify ways to ameliorate the frequently unhelpful natural tendencies of the way our minds work.

In the two years we’ve been delivering online sessions, 99% of delegates have confirmed that they found them a worthwhile experience. And everybody who has participated, that’s 100%, tells us they now recognise the importance of unconscious bias in the workplace and, even better, they have ideas about what they can do about it.

We kind of didn’t want this to be true.

Overcoming our bias against online learning

When one of our long-term clients, one who really liked our experiential unconscious bias workshops, asked us whether we’d ever thought of creating a webinar version, I’ll be honest, we were reluctant to even consider the idea.

Our drama based approach is all about interaction and an emotional connection with the characters and scenarios we bring to life. We give participants experiences and help them recognise their reactions. Then, using skilful facilitation, we pride ourselves on getting them talking and exploring their own assumptions and potential biases. All of this is backed up with electronic polling to anonymously take account of, and quantify, everybody’s experiences. It’s a tried and tested approach that delivers.

And we couldn’t see how it could ever really work through a screen.

Getting out of our comfort zone

Our client, who was singularly unimpressed with the rather dry and traditional e-learning material they’d sampled elsewhere, encouraged us to give it a go. They weren’t in a position to commission a wide scale programme of our half-day Unconscious Bias workshops, but they were convinced we could put together a shorter online version that kept key elements and could be delivered to up to 15 participants at a time, as and when required.

Looking back, they had more vision and faith in our ability than we did. A lesson I took to heart.

A successful investment

With the excellent support of our client, we set to developing a 90 minute version of our unconscious bias workshop, one which also includes:

  • Experiential video clips, streamed live;
  • Facilitation and interaction with participants; and
  • Live polls

And, long story short, it works.

We’ve successfully run 10 sessions, with mixed groups of employees; some of them on their own and some in small groups. Results like those quoted above speak for themselves. And our client is very happy and continues to commission sessions. They understand an online solution is never going to be the same as having a trainer and a delivery team of actors in the room, but it’s clearly having the kind of impact they believed it could.

From our point of view, we’ve learnt lots about using this technology, its strengths and its limitations. (Try running an online training session when your phone company with no notice switches off the local telephone exchange for the day!)  We don’t foresee a day when this supplants our main offer, but we now fully grasp how an online approach can make a positive difference. And ultimately, that’s what matters to us most.

If you want to start addressing unconscious bias in your organisation and think that facilitated online learning and development webinars could play a part, by all means drop me an email and I’d be happy to arrange a time to demonstrate our approach.

Collaborate or die!

The modern world

It may sound like a gross exaggeration to suggest that survival depends on collaboration… but hear me out!

We are living in a VUCA world. If you are yet to have come across the acronym VUCA, it stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It was originally introduced by the US Army War College to describe the landscape that the military has experienced since the 1990s, however, the term has also been adopted by the business world as it is an accurate reflection of the business landscape and how strategic leadership, communication and collaboration need to be optimised to counter these threats.

Perhaps the most recent and relevant example of the VUCA world we live in can be seen in global politics. And alarmingly, rather than countering the VUCA threats, it appears that the people in the positions with the greatest responsibility are providing case study after case study of the negative impact of not embracing collaboration and instead lighting the VUCA touch paper.

The obvious example is Donald Trump wanting to build a wall and stop certain people from entering America (amongst other things). Based on the Barrett Values Centre 7 levels of consciousness, (pdf) his behaviours could be seen as ones of self-interest, discrimination and intolerance, which are represented as the negative aspects of the lowest levels of consciousness. These psychological levels are normally reserved for babies and young children… now that is a scary thought!

Shifting attitudes

But let’s shift our focus to something a little more positive. In his excellent TED talk Howard Rheingold, paints a more optimistic picture around the fact that, by enlarge, leaders are increasingly aware that the old template based on the idea that businesses and nations succeed only by defeating, destroying and dominating their competition is no longer fit for purpose and instead they are embracing a new template based on co-operation, collective action and complex interdependencies.

Forward thinking organisations are willing to collaborate with their competition in order for both to benefit. Organisations are finding ways to overcome the prisoner’s dilemma.

What does this mean for you and what can you do?

But let’s now delve deeper and consider what collaboration and cross team communication means within an organisation. First of all, it’s worth considering the case for why this is important. On an organisational level, benefits include:

  • Better results (higher profits, satisfied customers)
  • Higher levels of employee retention
  • Reduced performance issues
  • Organisational learning and improvement

On a team level, benefits include:

  • Creativity and involvement, the camaraderie of collaboration
  • Engagement, satisfaction (dare we say fun)
  • Greater responsibility, accountability

And on an individual level, benefits include:

  • Greater effectiveness
  • Opportunity to differentiate yourself, broaden your influence
  • Increase your innovation skills and produce new ideas
  • Involvement in complex work, and the ability to learn from others can also be crucial motivators

So what can organisations do to optimise their collaborative efforts and foster an environment where openness, trust and curiosity are embraced?

A good starting point is to consider and effectively manage the following 6 areas:

Clarify the purpose. Make sure people are aware of why cross team collaboration is a good idea and encourage them to connect with the benefits it brings to them, the team and the organisation.

Bring together the right people in the right places. Having an awareness of your weaknesses and the strengths of others will ensure your blind spots are covered and you are capitalising on the right resources in the right places.

Cultivate Trust. Trust is a fundamental ingredient in effective collaboration and communication. But don’t confuse it ‘liking’ or ‘agreeing’ with someone as you don’t necessarily need either of those to trust someone. What you do need is the ability to have difficult conversations, to listen, to be heard and to find a common ground from where action can be taken.

Clarify accountabilities. As with the need for people to have a connection to broader purpose behind collaboration, it is also important for everyone to know what part they play, what is expected and when its expected. Clarity in this area ensures that gaps aren’t missed or things aren’t duplicated.

Create an infrastructure for sharing information and learning. In order to facilitate the sharing of information, consider what infrastructure is in place. Utilising the right tools supports the open flow of information in all directions (not just from the top down) and enables continuous clear communication channels.

Be comfortable with the unknown. Change equals progress and therefore clinging to ‘the way things are done around here’, whilst familiar, can also be detrimental to facilitating new ideas and innovation. Therefore, collaborative communication should be approached with an open mind, with a sense of curiosity and an ability to ask good questions that challenge the status quo and shift thinking into uncharted waters.

Next steps

Based on delegate feedback in our training programs we consistently hear that the challenges related to coordination, cooperation, communication and collaboration are of the utmost importance and addressing them would have a significant positive impact across the business.

Now more than ever, we all need to take responsibility to ensure we are not languishing in the lowest levels of Barrett’s consciousness scale with Donald Trump, but instead making the shift from self-interest to common good.

“It is at the intersection of self-interest and shared interest that effective collaboration takes place.”

Failure to navigate this path and effectively capitalise on collective resources could just mean the difference between survival and extinction.

Based on market feedback and demand for development in the area of cross team collaboration, Enact Solutions are creating a highly innovative and engaging new product to address these challenges and provide an experiential learning solution to create positive change within organisations. If you are interested in increasing productivity, creativity and engagement then visit our website and register to attend one of our upcoming free events or contact me on +44 (0)7590 848 541 to discuss how this or any of our programs can benefit your organisation.