(First published, October 2002)
Structured sharing activities facilitate mutual learning among participants. A typical structured sharing activity requires and rewards a discussion based on participants' experiences, knowledge, and opinions.
One, Two, And More is a flexible structured sharing activity for exploring different topics using different sets of questions. A unique feature of this activity is answering each question in three different modes: individual, pairs, and in teams.
To explore a topic by independently and interactively answering relevant questions.
Minimum: 6, Maximum: 30
(The following description assumes that we are working with a group of six participants. Instructions for adapting the activity to handle groups of different sizes are provided in the Adjustment section.)
Depends on the topic and the number of questions. Allow 15-20 minutes per question.
(The following description assumes that you are using three questions, so the time requirement for this activity would be 45 - 60 minutes.)
Supplies and Equipment
- Paper and pencil
- ID cards (for specifics, see Adjustments)
- Slides with discussion questions (optional)
- Flipcharts for teamwork (optional)
Specify a topic to be explored. Select a topic of broad appeal without making it sound vague or abstract.
In a recent session in a client organization, we selected the topic of “Satisfying our customers”.
Specify a list of questions. You can use any suitable sequence of questions suggested by such processes as systematic problem solving, human performance technology, or creative problem solving. Three to five questions provide an effective set.
In our session, we used these three questions, based on the appreciative inquiry approach:
- What things are we doing exceptionally well in satisfying our customers?
- What are some common elements among the best practices in our customer-satisfaction efforts?
- How can we apply these best practices to other areas of our organization?
Brief the participants. Introduce the discussion topic (Example: “Satisfying our customers”). Explain that you will be exploring the topic by responding to three key questions. Point out that participants will be working individually, in pairs, and in teams.
Ask the first question. Project a slide with this question or write it on the flipchart.
In our session, the first question was, “What things are we doing exceptionally well in satisfying our customers?”
Assign individual work. Ask participants to work individually, relating the question to the discussion topic and coming up with several answers. Encourage participants to write down notes for themselves. Announce a time limit of 2 or 3 minutes.
Distribute identification cards to participants. After the time limit has expired, give a card to each participant with a letter and a number. Explain that these cards will be used for organizing partnerships and teams.
In our session, we distributed these identification cards: A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, and B3.
Assign work with a partner. Ask participants to check their cards and to pair up with another person who has the same number but a different letter. (In our session, participants organized themselves into three pairs: A1-B1, A2-B2, and A3-B3.) Invite partners to discuss their answers to the question. Announce a time limit of 3 to 5 minutes. Encourage partners to take notes about their conclusions.
Assign teamwork. After the time limit has expired, ask participants to check their cards again. Ask them to form teams with people who have the same letter. (In our session, participants formed two teams of three people each: A1, A2, A3 and B1, B2, B3.) Invite team members to share information from their previous paired discussions and to discuss the same question one more time. Announce a time limit of 7 minutes. Encourage team members to use the flipchart (if available) or paper and pencil for taking notes.
Process the second question. Project a slide with the question or write it on the flipchart. (In our session, this question was, “What are some common elements among the best practices in our customer-satisfaction efforts?”) Explain that participants will be answering the question using the three different modes as before. However, you will change the sequence. Begin by asking participants to pair up as before and discuss the question. After the time limit, form teams and ask them to share their conclusions from the previous round. Ask participants to take a couple of minutes to individually reflect on the question and make notes about their personal responses.
Process the third question. Use a similar approach as before, but change the sequence. Introduce the question (In our session, the question was, “How can we apply these best practices to other areas of our organization?”) Begin with the teamwork mode. Then ask participants to work individually. Conclude the round by asking participants to work with their partners.
Conclude the session. Briefly recap the topic and the three questions. Invite participants to recall sample responses to each of these questions. Thank participants and encourage them to apply their conclusions from this activity.
Here's a value-added follow-up. This structured sharing activity enables participants to experience three different modes: individual, partnership, and team. At the end of the session, you can conduct a debriefing discussion to encourage participants to reflect on these experiences and gain some insights about their preferred working style. Here are some suggested questions for the debriefing discussion:
- Which mode did you enjoy the most: working independently, working with a partner, or working with a team?
- Which mode was the most productive: working independently, working with a partner, or working with a team?
- What are the advantages of responding to questions individually?
- Under what conditions is individual work preferable to working with others?
- What are the advantages of beginning an activity with individual work?
- What are the advantages of concluding an activity with individual work?
- What would have happened if you did not work with anyone else and responded individually to all three questions?
- What would have happened if we skipped the individual activity and discussed the answers to all three questions with others?
- What are the advantages of working with a partner in responding to questions and making decisions?
- Under what conditions is working with a partner preferable to working alone?
- What are the advantages of beginning an activity with a partner?
- What are the advantages of concluding an activity with a partner?
- What would have happened if you worked exclusively with a partner?
- What would have happened if we did not work with a partner any time during this activity?
- What are the advantages of working as a team?
- Under what conditions is teamwork preferable to individual work or working with a partner?
- What are the advantages of beginning an activity with teamwork?
- What are the advantages of concluding an activity with teamwork?
- What would have happened if you worked exclusively in teams while discussing all three questions?
- What would have happened if we skipped teamwork and worked on all three questions individually? What if we worked with a single partner throughout the activity?
- Which would you prefer: working with the same partner or with different partners? Why?
- Which would you prefer: working with the same team members or with different team members? Why?
If you have an odd number of participants, give a card to yourself so you will pair up with one of the participants and become a member of a team. Be careful not to dominate the discussion when you are participating in paired work or teamwork.