How can you engage employees in your company?
The 1 secret to engaging people in your organisation.
An architect was asked to design a university campus. So she designs and builds the different department buildings on the site. Contrary to the expectation of staff and students, she doesn’t design any routes or pathways. Instead, she simply plants the whole site with grass. After the first semester, pathways have formed in the grass. The architect then comes back and paves them. Not only were the paths in unusual locations that the architect couldn’t have predicted, none of them were straight. The architect honored both of these features when she finally paved the pathways.
This story illustrates the single most important practice when it comes to engaging people in your organisation; namely the practice of facilitation. In order to engage people, you need to first create a context that is inviting enough for them. Before they can be engaged, they need to want to be involved, and that is something that cannot be imposed, only encouraged. It is interesting here to note that the way to create encouragement does not have to be communicated verbally, but can rather be offered through the context. Equally interesting is to note that the ‘response’ of people does not have to be verbal, it can be behavioural.
What is facilitation?
When it comes to facilitation, there are three guidelines that can help you in your role as the facilitator. Here are the three rather provocative tips to keep in mind:
Tip #1: Facilitate by creating an incomplete context.
The architect did not finish or seal the design. Instead, she left it incomplete, unfinished. Incompleteness is the invitation to participate, contribute and co-create. Designing incompleteness invites interaction.
Tip #2: Facilitate by creating an impermanent context.
The architect did not cover the site with asphalt, but grass, which is alive and organic. Grass is in continuous conversation with its context and reflects the passage of time. Impermanence creates flexibility and allows entities to be regenerated, recreated by themselves or users, over time. Designing impermanence invites interaction.
Tip #3: Facilitate by creating an imperfect context.
The paths that appeared in the grass after the first semester were unusual and not straight. Imperfection relates to aesthetics, human aesthetics. It reveals the history and character of an entity. It allows us to celebrate textures, smells and history. Imperfection invites people to engage with the humanity of inanimate things. Designing imperfection invites interaction.
Facilitating is creating contexts that are incomplete, impermanent and imperfect, to invite other people’s input. Designing incomplete, impermanent and imperfect is how you can facilitate. Facilitating is the first step towards engaging people in your organisation.
The right questions.
One of the key practices of facilitation is asking questions, instead of rushing to answer them. I believe it is our responsibility, as facilitators, to ask the right questions. Today the true expertise is not in knowing the answers but in knowing how to ask the right questions. As Pritzker Price winner Alejandro Aravena puts it: “There’s nothing worse than answering the wrong questions well.” Furthermore we – as leaders, professionals and designated experts – need to have enough self-discipline – and a tameable ego – to refrain from quickly sharing our ideas for solutions. Instead, we are better off inviting the input of all concerned parties. We need to guide the collective wisdom through the process of asking questions and uncovering possible answers. Facilitating is about creating an invitation for people to offer their insights. Incomplete, impermanent and imperfect instances are the very invitation that people respond to, naturally. Indeed, to gather the intelligence of users, we need to facilitate their interactions.