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Tom Devane is a consultant, author, and co-author of provocative bestselling books on achieving extraordinary results using methods that systematically engage people in organizations and communities.
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    The Change Handbook

    Over 60 methods that engage groups quickly and produce extraordinary results.




    Barnes & Noble


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    Integrating Lean Six Sigma and High Performance Organizations

    A leader's guide to blending technical and people aspects of performance improvement.


    Barnes & Noble

    Wiley & Sons



    White paper on Positive Deviance




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    Entries in engagement (3)


    How to Magnify the Impact of Your Visioning and Strategy Development Sessions with One Little Pre-step

    Before you get together with the top leaders in the corporation to craft a vision and subsequent strategy, let’s think for a moment about how you could magnify the impact of those sessions.  One powerful thing to do to is to call top leaders, and those with additional valuable perspectives, into a session where they explore assumptions and see if those assumptions are still valid as the organization moves into the future.  
    These assumptions could be explicit or tacit.  They could be about topics like the overall market, target niches, the competition, regulation, or internal capabilities.  Anything that could have a significant impact on the organization’s future could be fair game.
    A reasonable person might ask, “But how do you get a diverse group of people in a room and talk about high-leverage assumptions without heated disagreements breaking out, and the overall conversation deteriorating?”  The answer is that we set up the session so this doesn’t happen.  
    We use a method for groups getting together called “Dialogue” where we state up front that we’re not looking for decisions or mass agreement in key issues.  We’re simply looking to collect people’s thoughts and their potential implications, in a non-threatening environment, where even the most shy and timid people can express their view of the situation.  And by stating up front that we’re not looking for decisions or unanimous agreements, we take the pressure off people so they can express their true opinions and thoughts on an issue that impacts the organization.  We state that we’re just collecting pieces of data that can be use later in analyses, debates, and decisions for moving forward.
    By having such a pre-visioning/pre-strategy Dialogue session, we can often gather information that may not have been previously available, because a soft-spoken person wouldn’t speak up.  And we also find that in a group setting people collectively build on each other’s thoughts, and often come up with a new, better thought based on back and forth conversations and the subtle nuances of the individual thoughts presented.  In many organizations these have proven to be extremely valuable inputs for visioning and strategic planning sessions.
    Here are some other norms we state up front going into a Dialogue session.  We ask people to:
    • Suspend their judgments and their “certainties”
    • Respectfully explore others’ assumptions through questions
    • Disclose their key assumptions and how they arrived at them
    • Respect foreign-sounding points of view
    • Ask questions they don’t have answers for, and be prepared to be surprised and learn something they hadn’t known before.
    Dialogue is a versatile group method that can be used in many situations in addition to visioning and strategy development like we’ve covered here.  A short Dialogue blog provides some additional information on the method.

    Excel at employee engagement using group methods

    Engagement is a hot topic for leaders today.  This increase can be explained quite simply: Organizations are getting far better business results, and the numbers back it up.

    Numerous Gallup poll statistics show that engaged workplaces have better performance than non-engaged workplaces.  A 2010 McKinsey & Co. report identified cocreation, collaboration, and employee engagement as being key success factors for organizational transformations.  And Gallup has even put a number on the cost of disengaged workers in the United States.  A whopping $300 billion per year.  Wow.

    But how to engage employees is a skill not typically taught most business schools.  And for most companies it’s still glaringly absent from their leadership development courses.  For these reasons many leaders are turning to pre-developed templates that have been used successfully in the past for employee engagement.  These templates – often called group methods --  usually contain an agenda (which can be customized), principles for facilitating it, and pre- and post-even conditions that need to be present for it to be successful.

    Here are a handful of some group methods I’ve used extensively, and achieved excellent results with.  All these methods focus on producing high levels of collaboration and merging of diverse perspectives.  Each has links to additional details if you’d like to find out more.  I’ve organized the methods into three general categories, based on what they’re used for in the context of my work:



    Methods described


    To stimulate collective thinking to develop plans, goals, and implementation plans.

    Search Conference, Appreciative Inquiry, and Scenario Planning.  Additional details…

    Higher quality decisions

    To stimulate collective thinking for better decisions.  

    World Café, Dialogue, Organization Workshop, Visual Explorer.  Additional details…

    Directly improve operational results

    To stimulate collective thinking for directly improving operational results.

    WorkOut, Participative Design Workshop, and After Action Review.  Additional details…


    Three quick notes:

    These are some of the methods that I use most frequently from the book The Change Handbook.  There over 60 great methods in that book, and I’m just presenting a handful here that I have used.

    I’ve categorized the methods in these blogs based on the way that I personally use them.  Others might organize these in different ways based on their uses.  These are versatile methods, and different practitioners may use them in quite different ways, and also get great results.  I encourage you to experiment once you start down this path.

    It’s important to note here that these templates are used periodically on an event basis, not on a day-to-day basis.  Daily leadership behaviors are an important part of an overall engagement strategy as well as these group methods.  We cover the daily behaviors that leaders can use for engagement in other blogs on this site.


    Open Space -- An Overview

    Open Space is a fast, simple way to get high-quality outcomes in terms of action plans, learning, and improved decisions.

    Key outcomes 

    • Increased learning, and 
    • Robust, comprehensive action plans for complex issues in a self-managed environment
    • Extraordinary energy for implementing the action plans, and built in accountability.

    Sample client uses

    I’ve used Open Space sessions to have people conduct critical conversations and develop action plans for the implementation of a new enterprise-wide business software system, gather inputs for the development of a new product, identify key considerations for an upcoming organizational restructuring, and formulate strategies for entering new markets.

    Time investment

    Preparation: From 1 hour to 12 hours, and the space "opens" with the first conversation"
    Session time: 4 hours to 3 days
    Follow-up: Ongoing

    Number of participants

    5 to 2,000

    General flow

    There is no set agenda for an Open Space session.  The convener kicks the session off with some initial groundrules and comments on the flow of the Open Space event.  There is a priming question that seeks to stimulate thought around a particular topic of strategic significance.  Participants develop an agenda of based on topics they have passion about and wish to discuss, then people break into small groups, and then develop action plans.  All small group conversations and recorded and made available after the event (key points are broadcast during the event for all to hear, and take into consideration in their conversations and action planning.


    For more information

    Additional information is available in The Change Handbook (Berrett-Koehler, 1999, 2004). Open Space information can be obtained economically by just purchasing the Open Space electronic chapter of The Change Handbook.  Other great sources of information are the Wikipedia entry  and the Open Space website