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Story 6: Inside Outside, Outside Inside


Moral of the story: How a meeting space is organized and supplied impacts how people relate to each other, and what they get done. Creating ideal meeting spaces can be an art form or it can be as simple as using your common sense. It’s amazing the quality of communication, collaboration and outcomes that can be accomplished when people meet in an efficient, effective and satisfying environment.

This story may seem a little disjointed. First I told you that the moral of the story was about meeting space. Now, I am going to tell you about working outside. But, hang in there; it all weaves together in the end.

A lot of times in my graphic recording career, the consultant/facilitator and I have taken groups outside, if the outdoor space could accommodate us. Often, these were small groups or teams who were temporarily breaking away from the plenary and choosing to get away from the sterile environment that our businesses and institutions continue to provide.

Being out in nature automatically broadens people’s thinking and creativity. The light, the space, the sounds and smells, the colors, all combine to stimulate the senses and the brain.

The down side, if you are doing graphic recording, is that there are no walls outside so you have to lug out portable walls and/or easels and a table to put tools on. That’s fine if it is not a rainy or windy day, but as we all know, the weather is unpredictable, so it’s an iffy proposition at best.

In addition to the small group work outside for short periods as part of a larger agenda, I have also had two occasions where it was required that I record outside for a full day. That was the stipulation of both gigs. After experiencing out door recording on these two separate occasions, I decided maybe outside was not a good idea for me. Let me tell you why.

The first was an annual, well-attended conference. It was held during the most favorable weather of the year. We were asked to conduct a session using a World Café process. The conference planners had run out of space in the building and asked us and a few other session facilitators to do their meetings outside. A couple of them were housed in tents. We didn’t have a tent and were just out there with the elements on the lawn. We were next to a lagoon with willow trees all around. It was a sweet spot.

We set up two large foam core mural boards, which were propped up on easel stands. We had tables and chairs throughout the area for participants. We had two tables for our tools. It was a beautiful day. The process was moving along. People were enjoying themselves until. . .the wind came up.

The first thing that happened was the board I was working on fell over onto my head. Since it was foam core, it didn’t hurt. I pushed the wall back up into place and kept recording. It happened again, and again, I put the wall back in place and then taped the board to the easel in the back, which I should have done in the first place.

Then out of nowhere a really ferocious gust of wind blew in, the easel holding the board collapsed, the tape never had a chance, and my board went flying. It was tossed and turned every which way in the swirl, all 8 feet of it. People were ducking to avoid getting hit, but it managed to strike one of the participants with such force that she fell off her chair, shocked but not injured. Then the board did a flying swan song and landed in the lagoon. So much for that day of recording.

I didn’t learn my lesson, though. A couple of years later, I was asked to record outside again. This time, it was at a street fair. The coordinators cordoned off the street for about half a block. We worked in a portion of that area. A colleague of mine was at one end with her board and I was at the other end with mine. I did learn one thing from my other experience and that was to hold down the easels with two sandbags to sturdy them. But, I totally forgot to tape together the back of the board to the legs of the easel.

There was a lot of activity with games and food and music. We were leading a group through a process where we asked people questions and then recorded their answers. It was designed to have fun, to make people feel good and included when their responses were recorded and, more or less, demonstrate the value of working in large scale with visuals. Everything was going well until, guess what, a strong wind came up. The easels stayed put all right, but my board went flying into the air and soaring down the street. I ran after it and found it about a half a block away on the ground in front of a store.

From then on, I said I would record outside using an easel only, if that. The other thing that happened for me was I got more focused on the space or environment I was working in, inside. Since I wasn’t thrilled to take the meeting outside, I started thinking about how I could create more outside inside.

Since being out in nature automatically broadens people’s thinking and creativity, whenever it was feasible, I would bring nature in, like a plant or two here and there; opening the curtains to get in natural light; some touches of color; some natural air, if we could find a window that would open; attention to where we placed furniture (especially so people could see each other –- an important element or principle for creating optimum exchanges); or anything else that can breathe life into our meetings and conversations. It makes a lot of difference. You’d be surprised. A little goes a long way. Try it.