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Combating the madness

Coaching & Racism

Do you get the feeling that something isn’t quite right?

These odd times have shined a light on some very strange goings-on. These are things that simply don’t align with my sense of what is right and just. I am seeing messages that suggest I am complicit in something ugly simply because I don’t voice an opinion. Then I hear that supporting those that are touting this message marks me as either a gullible fool or a coward. I want to look back and be certain I am not any of that. Unfortunately, there is only one certainty at this stage. That being, that I don’t know enough of what is really going on. I am working hard to rectify that by looking far and wide for that which resembles logic and truth. That prompted me to consider the skills I could bring to the surface, to help others who take this journey too.

In this piece, I share a possible approach to ensuring you are not being complicit, gullible, or a coward.

When confronted with something that doesn’t feel quite right or you don’t understand, like a request to join a protest, mandatory training, or a new organisation-wide policy, you have three options.

  1. Embrace it blindly, and allow yourself to be led somewhere that might not work for you.
  2. Be open, but authentic in looking to understand it before making a decision.
  3. Avoid it and hope it will simply not follow you.

Clearly, I am being flippant to make my point. Most of us would hopefully go with option 2.

So, how do you best engage openly and authentically? I suggest there are three stages.

Stage 1: Understand the gap

The first stage is to explore the gap. That is to say, the gap between where you are now and where the protest, training, or policy hopes to bring you. A note of caution at this point. They say there is no smoke without fire. So, if there is a hidden agenda, those behind it may have placed tripwires and landmines ready to ensure the truth is kept secret. You need to proceed cautiously, but openly without overreacting or providing judgment. One way to do that is to simply reflect back the answer given and then move on. It could be also the case that the person or persons you have access to, are simply gullible puppets. Either way, this process should give you a sense of what is really going on, and failing that, where you should go next to get more answers.

Below are four questions to assess the gap. Each is asked separately, with space given for a response.

Question 1 - “What is the desired outcome?”

The first question is obvious for any protest, intervention or policy and should be easily provided. It should be clear and concise.

Question 2 - “Who does this apply to?”

This second question is needed if the audience wasn’t identified in the answer to the first question.

You will want to understand the audience before you proceed. For a protest, the audience is those that the protest aims to influence. The audience should be clearly articulated by those organising the protest. For mandatory training, the audience is clearly those who must attend it. For a policy, the audience is those that the policy applies to. It is very important that you understand, specifically to whom this training, policy or protest applies. Don’t assume the audience definition simply because you are in the list of participants of the training or in part of the organisation to which the policy applies. Get a statement of the audience so you can use it in stage 2. A wide or global audience definition would be something to pay attention to. This is because few things apply equally to large groups or everyone. In which case, something less constructive might be behind the initiative.

Question 3 - “What is assumed about _________”? (substitute the answer given to question 2).

The third question provides you with the assumptions. The assumptions will give you a sense of the approach being taken to achieve the outcome. These assumptions are used in stage 2 to assess the initiative's applicability. If you can’t get a sense of what is assumed, something is definitely not right.

Question 4 - “What makes you certain that this will get us to the desired outcome?” (You might re-write this question so the answer to question 1 is included in the question).

The fourth question aims to surface an indication of the level of commitment to this path. You will hopefully hear further background information and perhaps get an idea of what else will be required, later, to achieve the outcome. This will help you determine if there is logic or madness behind those promoting the protest, training, or policy.

Additional questions

If, after asking these questions, you get the feeling that something is being withheld, try the following Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) questions. These questions are designed to free the mind of a singular viewpoint and see other paths. That might be needed if you are interacting with someone holding things back or acting for someone else. NOTE: Read them slowly; they are very different questions, although it may not appear that way.

Ask these four questions one at a time, slowly, and give time for a response before asking the next question.

For a protest:

  1. “What will happen when the message is received?”
  2. “What will not happen when the message is received?”
  3. “What will happen if the message is not received?”
  4. “What will not happen if the message is not received?”

Or, for training:

  1. “What will happen when the training is delivered?”
  2. “What will not happen when the training is delivered?”
  3. “What will happen if the training is not delivered?”
  4. “What will not happen if the training is not delivered?”

OR, for a policy:

  1. “What will happen when this policy is adhered to comprehensively?”
  2. “What will not happen when this policy is adhered to comprehensively?”
  3. “What will happen when this policy is not adhered to comprehensively?”
  4. “What will not happen when this policy is not adhered to comprehensively?”

Hopefully, you will have a lot of notes at this stage.

Stage 2: Self assess

With your research complete, you move onto stage 2. This stage has three parts.

Firstly, consider the suggested outcome. Consider if you want to be part of the future realised by that outcome. Consider your personal and professional situation against that future. Ask yourself if it benefits you or holds you back.

The second part is to consider if what you have uncovered, applies to you. Ask yourself if you fit into the group to which the assumptions apply. Ask yourself if that which is assumed applies to you. It is crucial at this point that you consider your core values in the context of this question. If you aren’t sure what I mean by core values, get some assistance with that before proceeding, i.e. utilise the skills of a professional coach like myself.

All that now remains in this self-assessment based stage is to answer a simple question. This question only has two possible responses: “Yes” or “No”. The question being, “Are you in?”.

Stage 3: Act with integrity

With the decision made, the final stage is to act in a manner that your future self will be proud of. It is impossible to get everything right. Looking back we do not berate ourselves for what we did with integrity. However, we do suffer unnecessarily when we look back at our actions, or lack of actions, that we knew at the time to be wrong.

Understandably, deciding to ignore a protest, resist mandatory training or go against a policy, is going to be problematic for you if your livelihood also depends on compliance. It is definitely going to take a whole lot of courage. You will need to speak confidentially to those external to your situation and share your concerns. There is good news! From what I see out there, there is a high probability that you will find others like yourself in similar circumstances. Whilst fertile ground for spreading madness, the Internet does also offer counter-arguments. Try searching for anyone speaking out about the assumptions you uncovered during the gap stage above. If you feel it is safe, you might also consider volunteering for the group behind the protest, the training or the policy, so you can get a better idea of what they are doing. It would be wise to keep records in case you need to take a litigated approach post getting fired or cancelled. Above all, keep your cool, use logic, and avoid making judgements of those involved. Their path is theirs to choose, not yours. And to get the best outcome for yourself, it goes without saying, I strongly encourage you to take the most efficient and effective path by engaging an external professional coach like myself.

Good luck with whatever path you choose.

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[First published via LinkedIn, September 18, 2020]

Is coaching encouraging racism?

Coaching & Racism

“Is coaching encouraging racism?”, is the question that was front of mind this weekend. The catalyst for this question was Friday’s US Government Memo, relating to Training in Federal Government. The memo applies restrictions to spending in US Federal agencies. It prohibits spending on training related to Critical Race Theory and white privilege, and any material that teaches or suggests that either “(1) that the United States is inherently racist or an evil country” or “(2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil”.

Whatever the motivation behind the Memo, it does call into question some aspects of what I do and what my industry does. By Industry, I am referring to Coaching, as I layout in The Anatomy of Coaching.

From what I can determine, there are a number of strands in Critical Race Theory, which in itself is one aspect of Critical Theory. The strand that is being called into question by this Memo, is the idea that racism is baked into the system by its creators. In the context of this Memo, I guess the “system” is the US and the creators are those who, throughout history, have directly influenced the creation of the state. It appears that in Critical Race Theory, that if you are born with one or more characteristics of these “system creators”, you automatically inherit everything the system creators stood for and must take responsibility for everything they have ever done badly. There is also a suggestion that Critical Race Theory is actually encouraging racism. From what I understand, practices that have Critical Race Theory as their origins are actively seeking to establish different policies and related education for people, based on their race. That feels like racism to me. Which, is the opposite of what you’d expect. It certainly doesn’t feel like something that would bring about more diversity and the removal of racism. And, it feels a long way from judging someone by the content of their character. Furthermore, critics of the approach point towards flawed and bias research, and a corrupted foundation that has Marxism at its core. Much of the criticism of the adoption of Critical Race Theory appears to be aimed at the humanities education sector, from which coaching is often taught. This is not welcomed news.

I see references to bias, in much of the Critical Race Theory and related training syllabuses. These references include addressing unconscious bias and anti-bias. Coaching leverages the idea that we filter our experiences with our existing beliefs and values, and that can limit our growth and progress. Coaching can be used to understand and adjust those filters. Coaching also points to the idea that we must welcome what is not ourselves, in order to learn and grow. And that we have to work at becoming aware of how we filter information in order to see something other than what we know. Being unaware of these filters is unconscious bias. Embracing the idea of tackling these filters is somewhat the idea of anti-bias. So, filters are at the core of bias. It is the built-in or learned bias that helps us navigate our experience of the world. The bias is based on what worked to get us thus far, i.e. nothing we did in the past resulted in death so it must be right. So, yes coaching focuses on uncovering bias. In a way, uncovering bias is a critical component of the coaching process.

So, if coaching makes use of a framework relating to uncovering bias and Critical Race Theory does the same, is coaching in a way the same as Critical Race Theory. Is coaching contributing to what Critical Race Theory pertains to, i.e. encouraging race-based policies? The answer is no. The reason lies within the approach to the victim mindset. The victim mindset suggests that you are where you are because of someone or something else. The victim mindset completely overlooks any strengths you may have and dissociates you from the context or actions that got you here. The victim mindset suggests that you are nothing but a product of external circumstance and what others will have you be. It suggests the only possible course of action for you to move forward, is to remove that person or thing from your path. The victim mindset suggests that until that something is removed or that someone changes who they are or how they behave, you can never move forward. Critical Race Theory appears to embrace the victim mindset, i.e. you are where you are because of something or someone else, not because of who you are, and that you are powerless to do anything about it until that something is removed or that someone changes who they are and what they believe. Coaching, whilst being empathetic to the context of the victim mindset, doesn’t dwell there. Instead, coaching fosters an understanding of strengths and then what is within one's control to influence, in order to progress and grow. A cornerstone of the coaching approach is that you are immensely capable and not a victim.

So, I am happy that what I do as a coach, is something to be proud of. However, considering this question has helped me realize something more disturbing. It appears that not all those building and delivering interventions in my industry, embrace this constructive approach to the victim mindset. It would appear that much of the material aligning to Critical Race Theory, white privilege, and related ideologies, take a different path. That path being the idea of “re-educating” or removing those seen as sharing characteristics of the system creators. This path suggests you are a victim and you can’t progress with them in your way. This is clearly counter-intuitive to those that embrace the notion that you are valuable and capable in your own right. And, it doesn’t feel right that we should continue to support these destructive practices in our education systems, workplaces, and communities.

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[First published via LinkedIn, September 7, 2020]

The Anatomy of Coaching

The anatomy of coaching

In this piece, I look at the why, what, and how of coaching. In doing that, I hold little back. I share the truth about the ugliness it fights and what is truly needed to make it work.

This article took far longer to write than I had ever expected. The idea was simple. Share my knowledge on a subject that I had identified as something that is a significant impediment to my progress and success. As I started to collect ideas and build out the piece, I found myself in conflict. What I did not want to do was contribute to the root cause. Neither did I want to come across as obnoxious or forthright. And, I was tired of all the warm and fuzzy stuff coming from my industry. I hope that what I share here is somewhere in between all of that.

The challenge I looked to address when I started to write this article, was bridging the gap in understanding of what I do. I found that answering “What do you do Brad?” with “I am a coach” does not help most understand what I do. It is a hard question to answer concisely. Underpinning this challenge is that I am in a new industry. It is unlike more established professions where I could say “I am an engineer, nurse or teacher”. As with all new things, naming is built on current understanding or taken from a word that has some sort of relationship. My favourite example of this is in “telephone”, a word which has its origins in Ancient Greek τῆλε (têle, “afar”) + φωνή (phōnḗ, “voice, sound”). In the 90s we moved to “mobile telephone”, “cell phone” and “smart phone”. We now simply say “phone”. So, I call myself a coach. However, I do not oversee a sports team. Nor am I an 80-seater vehicle used to carry that sports team to the match. To help shed light, I am going to step back and look at the “why” first.


There are mixed messages coming from my industry. It is confusing. You will hear “coach”, “mentor”, “consultant”, “advisor”, “speaker”, “facilitator” and “trainer”. Often you will see words added like “strategy”, “business”, “sports”, “sales”, “career”, “executive”, “life”, “personal”, “medical”, “HR”, “Fitness”, “wellbeing”, “resilience”, “leadership”, “performance”, “development” and “motivation”. Whilst alluding to, these titles do not answer the question. For most, the use of the word “coach” simply does not communicate what I do.

You will see material from my industry that includes messages about the value proposition offered. Some examples being “growth”, “be better”, “empowerment”, “return to thriving”, “unleash your potential”, “unlock your potential”, “maximize your performance”, and “achieve a life worth living”. I have used many of these myself. You could say I help others achieve these things. However, sharing the outcome in isolation, is not sufficient to understand what it is exactly that I do.

The anatomy of coaching - Pain

In helping explain the why, let me look at what is not working in the places coaching is very successfully utilised. Since 2014, I have been working with people across the globe from some of the biggest and well-known multinational companies. These people confront challenges in the most complex circumstances, environments, and cultures. In addition to what I experienced for myself when I was working in industry, the work I now do allows me to see what is really happening within these organisations. And what I see is good people fighting a raft of topics. These include: the victim mindsets, bullying, manipulation, humiliation, conflict, the blame game, fear, sabotage, stubbornness, incompetency, protectionism, micro management, narcissism, disillusionment, ineffectiveness, indecision, inflexibility, restrictive practices, discrimination, aimlessness, career stagnation, career setbacks, demotivation, demotion, disappointment, personal priority conflict, overwhelm, and complacency. This is where things are broken.

In my book I write about the world going mad. However, it is not what you would expect. Sure, we have famine, war, exploitation, and all manner of things going wrong. That is not what I am talking about. These awful truths have been present since the beginning of our existence. Life has been hard and unfair for an awfully long time. For as long as we can recall, we have had thinkers and doers, leaders and followers, heroes and scoundrels, hard workers, and thieves. None of that is new and none of it suggests a change of anything for better or worse. The thing that has gone mad is the experience of ourselves within the world. You risk filling your time with greater amounts of things that do not really matter. You risk draining your thinking capacity in a search for things to blame and find wrong with everything and everyone else. You risk focusing every moment possible on the pursuit of getting as close as you can to becoming a perfect superhuman being. And, you berate yourself for lack of understanding of what it all means. It is these things that are new and that are not right.

This is the “why” of coaching. Let us move onto the “what”?


Let me start by answering what coaching is not.

Coaching is not all positive affirmations. A positive attitude is an advantage. However, an open mindset and a willingness to act, wins hands down. It is not helpful to only hear that we are perfect, can do no wrong and that nothing is our fault. In a lot of ways, being told only what we want to hear, is worse than being put down all the time. At times, it is the thing we want to hear least that is the thing we need to hear most.

As well as not being solely about motivation, coaching is not mentoring. Mentoring is a master and apprentice relationship. The mentor typically has direct experience of many of the situations confronting those being mentored. Mentoring is relevant in many situations. For example, you do not want to be reinventing the wheel every other day. Instead, you want to learn from the mistakes of others. And at times, you want to ensure consistency is present. An example being when you are building a bridge or mass manufacturing a product. Mentoring draws on first-hand experience, making it a powerful tool in passing on the learning in predictable circumstances. Do not get me wrong, experience and awareness of past learning is important to coaching also. That experience and learning helps guide the questions and direction encouraged during coaching.

Thirdly, coaching is not therapy. Coaching is a form of intervention; however, it does not work for all needs. Let me share the definition I use for coaching to help explain that better:

“Coaching is working together to find and give voice to that part of you that focuses on building awareness, taking responsibility and making constructive choices as you take on challenges in order to reach your goals.”

This is a mouthful, so let me break each part down for you. I use the phrase "working together to find and give voice to that part of you that focuses on", because coaching is about helping you help yourself, not me teaching or leading you. I use the phrases "building awareness” and “taking responsibility", to emphasise that coaching aims to help you build awareness of where change is required and also help you identify what is within your control to change. I use the phrase "making constructive choices", because coaching looks at the present and the way forward. Other forms of intervention may look more at the past and its impact on the present. Whilst we want to take learning from the past, in coaching, we do not dwell there. I use the phrase "as you take on challenges in order to reach your goals", in order to emphasise that coaching focuses on specific goals and how you may eliminate obstacles and improve your overall performance as you strive to reach them. The key aspect in all of that is the willingness to be coached. Coaching needs a willingness to look at the gap between where you are and where you want to be. In its absence, a different sort of intervention is needed, not coaching.

So, what is coaching?

The coaching style that I use most is non-directive. I think it works best if I do not tell you how you should do things or how you should think. The only person to tell you how you should do things or how you should think, is you. Whilst circumstances and luck play a part, mostly, the only thing holding you back is your own fears and doubts. Ego also gets in the way. I can help you see the gaps and different perspectives; however, it is you that needs to act. To succeed at that, I need to be impartial. It is particularly challenging for me to coach effectively if I am involved in the circumstances or solution, or if I have a vested interest. Being connected in any way to your challenges, limits how much I want to hear. It also limits the degree to which I will want to make waves. And, it limits my willingness to help see different perspectives.

Through all the hours of coaching and working with real people, with real challenges, it is clear to me that life is brutal, and it is not a walk in the park. You are confronted with difficult situations and people, daily. You face hard choices on a regular basis. This all requires you to think effectively and efficiently, because time spent in reflection reduces the time spent acting on your decisions. Also, when you only have yourself to listen to or those that simply reflect what you are thinking, you risk not only limiting yourself but you risk corrupting your actions and aligning them with what you fear, not what you want. Comprehending where you are and where you want to be, is quickly obtained when offered non-judgemental observations and well-formed questions. You get both supported and challenged at the same time. The externalizing of your thinking, through structured conversations, and the related tools, is the most efficient and effective way to achieve all of this. Impartiality is crucial in forming those observations and questions. The absence of same makes it harder to see the gaps and different perspectives. Skilfully delivered structured conversations are the right way to get the right answer. Finally, when you decide the course of action, you also need to be held accountable. It is possible to do that alone, but it is more efficient if someone else is involved. This is, in a nutshell, what coaching is. Coaching is an effective and efficient method to help you think and act better, as well as keep you accountable.


Let me wrap this piece with a look at how coaching delivers.

The anatomy of coaching - Skills

The skills needed for what I have shared above, define what I do. To provide support, I need to have excellent skills in listening. I need to be highly empathetic. I need to be curious and open to learning. To challenge effectively and ensure accountability, I need to be conscientious. I need to have advanced knowledge of how to understand and leverage personality values and traits. I need to be adept at seeing different perspectives. I need to be an excellent storyteller. I need to be a fast learner. I need to be better than most at holding complex models and problems in my mind and seeing the gaps. And finally, I need to be able to ask the right questions, at the right time. For that, I need to be brave, I need to be highly creative and I need strong insight. Bringing all that together in an effective manner requires a high degree of discipline and organisation. It is using these skills that defines what I do. This is the anatomy of coaching.

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[First published via LinkedIn, August 3, 2020]

Putting "social" back into Happy Hour.

Putting social back into Happy Hour - Bored people.

Slowly, but surely, we are all waking up to the reality of our new working circumstances. The realisation is that this is not a temporary situation. Those in the know are sharing views on the challenges for leadership when the workforce is no longer office-centric

One of the challenges relates to creating conditions for building bonds. Bonds are created from a meaningful connection. This is seen as crucial in nurturing the trust needed to ensure productivity in remotely based workers. The challenge relates to knowing how to replicate the subtle, yet crucial benefits of those ad hoc conversations in the corridor, at the coffee machine or by the water cooler. Part of the solution appears to be in facilitating non-work gatherings, like the good old “Friday Happy Hour”. Unfortunately, a poorly run online social meeting is no more than an opportunity for the extraverts to fill their cup. Poorly run online meetings, do little for introverts. With partial engagement, you will struggle to enable a meaningful connection. And without that, bonds will not be strengthened.

Interestingly, running effective online social meetings is not that difficult, but it does require the acquisition of some new skills and some focus.

The rest of this piece provides a framework for addressing this need.

A framework for putting the “social” back in Happy Hour.

Putting social back into Happy Hour - Breakouts

Well before everyone fires up the meeting link, you need to do some preparation.

Step1: Define

With all meetings or workshops, the first and most crucial step is to define your objective and expected outcome. Preparing for a social event is no different. For the most part, your objective and outcome statement will be something like, “provide an environment for the team to strengthen bonds through sharing experiences and talking to each other”.

Step 2: Design

Your next step is to design your event. In doing so you must consider the objective and your online meeting software. As with all technology, online meeting software has both cool capabilities as well as significant limitations. The design needs to consider both the capabilities and limitations.

For simplicity, let us assume you have access to the Zoom Meeting software. When configured correctly, the meeting mode of Zoom is excellent for small to medium social events (There are lots of resources for this, so I will not duplicate that information here). Once you have a reasonable knowledge of using Zoom, especially the security and the breakout capabilities, you will pick your event theme.


Gatherings in pubs tend to take on a life of their own, however, a little more structure is required when people are sitting in their homes staring at the screen. You need to give them something to do. You need to create an environment that is suitable for realising a meaningful connection. Some examples of this include Share & Discuss, the good old pub Quiz and Icebreakers. For a deeper connection, you could explore a positive psychology approach. However, that might not be appropriate when your team has volumes of their favourite beverage at hand.

Share & Discuss is where you share some information and propose a question. The discussion then takes place around that question. A typical event may have 2-3 rounds of information sharing and discussion. Of all the themes, this is the easiest to prepare for and deliver. This is because information sharing does not need to be too detailed. It could be a light and entertaining 2-minute video, a quote, or a crazy fact. And the question given to the groups, could simply be “What occurred to you as you watched this video?”. A coaching tip is to only use questions that start with “What”. “What” questions cause people to think positively and creatively. So often I have seen “why” questions proposed. Using “Why” puts people on the defensive. You do not need that mindset here.

A Quiz is where someone prepares a set of questions and teams do their best to correctly answer as many of them as possible. This theme should involve several short rounds. Each round perhaps has 3-5 questions. Google Forms and its Blank Quiz template is excellent for these types of events. You would create a form for each round, sharing the link at the start of each round. Teams would then use the form to see the question, as well as submit their answers. The survey results for each Form then becomes the input to your scoreboard. It is fast, efficient, and fun.

The Icebreakers theme would involve giving your people a challenge to work on. Starfish Taylor provides a great resource with Icebreaker ideas (See Whilst most of these examples are for physical workshops, you can use them in virtual settings too. Instead of suggesting the group gather around a flipchart, simply prepare a Google Form with the question prompts and space to collect the responses. You may find yourself doing 2-3 icebreakers over the course of an event. Or you could combine the Icebreaker with one of the other themes.

Building the event script

With your theme or themes decided, you can now build your script. By building your script, I mean you will create a table in your favourite document or spreadsheet app. In that table, you will layout the sequence of segments in the event. For each segment you will describe the number of minutes, the purpose of that segment, the things you will say/share and what needs to be prepared. Some example segments include “Welcome and ground rules”, “Introduce Breakout 1”, “Breakout 1”, “Transition to Breakout 2”, “Breakout 2”. You get the idea.

In building the script, focus on which parts of the meeting are done with everyone (i.e. ‘whole group’), and which are done in small teams (i.e. Breakouts). Breakouts are where 3 or 4 participants (not 5 or more) come together to chat and take on a task. The Breakout is where the bonding is done. Little, if any, bonding will be done in the ‘whole group’ parts. However, time as the ‘whole group’ is also needed to open and wrap the event, to set ground rules and to share what is going to happen in the Breakouts. Regardless of the theme, keep the ‘whole group’ time short. Focus on having everyone in breakouts as much as possible. For all themes, suggested in the previous paragraphs, the discussion part is done in the Breakout, not the ‘whole group’. Avoid taking too much time in the ‘whole group’ setting, sharing results or findings. Remember this is not a business meeting, the objective is not to get the answer. The objective is to create stronger bonds. For Quiz or Trivia based events, use shared documents and links, allowing teams to see for themselves and discuss results during the next Breakout. Do not waste valuable bonding time reviewing these details together with the ‘whole group’.

Event duration and timing

The duration of your event is also important and will depend on your theme and the needs of the people in the event. For those with families, taking the time to join the gathering is going to be harder than those who are not in that stage of life. Equally, our ability to fully engage in a screen is not infinite. Start with an event that lasts 90 minutes and see if it suits most.

The duration of Breakouts will vary. For Quiz styled events, Breakouts should all be the same duration and be based on the number of questions and rounds. Perhaps you have 5 rounds of 10 minutes each. This structure would provide plenty of time together in breakouts as well as time with the ‘whole group’ tracking progress. For Share and Discuss styled events, start with a shorter Breakout, and then lengthen them as the evening progresses (and as the mood lightens). Perhaps start with a 15-minute breakout, followed by two 25-minute breakouts. Each focused on a different topic and question. The duration of Breakouts in the Icebreaker styled event will depend on the type of Icebreaker. The instructions usually include details on the amount of time required.

Breakout membership

Other than keeping the number per group below 5, I would not overthink who goes into each breakout. Allow an element of chaos to be present. In the Friday Happy Hour in the pub, your experience is somewhat random. Your overall experience will be influenced by your state of mind and the state of mind of the people you sit near. Some Friday nights you have great fun and at other times, it is a little dull. Accept this and go with it. In the most part, you would keep the membership of the breakouts the same for an entire event. Returning to the same group of people enables richer conversation and connection. There is always the risk that a group is made up of disengaged people, however, that problem would exist in the pub too, so do not get overly worried about it. There are times when you might consider changing the membership of the Breakouts during an event. Changing breakout allocations during an event is useful if there are a lot of new team members and you just want everyone to meet each other. This approach will not suit the Quiz style event. However, it would work well with the Icebreaker styled events.

Ground Rules

In your script, include some details on how you will open the event and set the ground rules. For the ground rules, you might suggest everyone needs to be respectful, empathetic, and considerate, as an example. It is good to remind everyone that whilst no recordings will be made of the event, the Chat text window can be saved. I would also suggest that everyone use mute where possible to avoid interference from background noise. And, I remind them to stop their video if nature calls.

Finalising the design

Consider delivering the event with a buddy; someone who can help with the technology and the instructions. It creates a more social feel and makes things less formal.

And finally, in designing the flow, do not leave yourself out. Use two separate devices to connect to the online meeting: one to manage the Zoom software; and another so you can participate fully in the breakouts. You need to build stronger bonds too.

Step 3: Prepare


It seems kind of obvious to suggest that practice is required, however when things are busy, it can get overlooked. “Social” does not imply unprofessionally. People are giving you their time, so honour that gift. Even for the best of us, who do this professionally, practice is a crucial step in the successful delivery of any event. This is especially true of online events when technology plays such a crucial role. You need to check your content (i.e. forms etc). You need to dry-run the event script, giving focus to the transitions. Enlist the help of a work colleague, friend, or family member or two if you need practice with moving people in and out of breakouts. Use multiple devices to create a few extra participants. And, practice what you will say in the opening, during transitions to breakouts and for the close.

Participant preparation

Another overlooked component of social events is participant preparation. When organising the “Friday night at the pub”, sure, some of the team may need a little help with street directions, however, most need little guidance on the process of entering a pub and buying a drink.

Whilst I would not share too much detail of the exact exercises in your theme, you should share information that helps your team prepare for your online social event. You need to share clear instructions and guide them towards making the necessary preparation. At a minimum, you should ensure they download the video conferencing software well ahead of time. They also should be reminded that this is a social event, so they need good audio, video, and a reliable Internet connection. The video quality is particularly important, as it is a social event after all. No bond will be built if someone is on video and others are just on audio. Keep it light by suggesting they take a shower and spruce themselves up a little. You should also mention they may need their laptop for some of the exercises. A good combination is to connect via their smartphone or a tablet and have the laptop handy for the exercises. You should give them the exact times they need to be connected and when it will finish. Unlike a pub, the experience is diminished significantly for everyone if people are not on time. Giving the details of when the event will finish allows them to manage other commitments, so there is less likelihood of them having to leave early. And finally, you need to give them guidance on what to do if something goes wrong. For example, what they should do or whom they can call, if they cannot connect or the connection drops during the event.

Step 4: Deliver

With everything in place, you are ready to host your team happy hour. Have the Zoom meeting up and running 10-15 minutes ahead of the agreed start time. I like to play music and have a “we are starting soon, please mute your mic” message displayed so people know they are in the right place.

Near to the start time, and as your team joins the online meeting, turn your video on and engage in a little commentary. This is done by watching the participant list and making references to people as they join. For example, you might say something like, “Welcome everyone, I see Tom has joined, and Bill is here too. We will be starting shortly, so stay on mute for now” or “Welcome to those who just joined, I see Mary is here too. We will be starting shortly, so stay on mute for now”. This commentary has two purposes. Even in smaller groups, it is annoying and impractical for everyone to say hello. It may also cause the introverts to disengage if they feel pressured to speak up. So, encourage everyone to join quietly by filling the void with your voice. The second purpose of the commentary is to set the tone for the event, i.e. keep it informal. Mentioning a few by name is a nice way to achieve that. During the commentary, I avoid pausing after mentioning someone, so it is clear they do not need to respond. And finally, invite them to use the text Chat window to share their location. This keeps them occupied and creates a nice record of the event.

Do your best to start and finish on time. Starting late is one of the easiest ways to disengage your team. Running over is the easiest way to undo any good that has come out of the interactions.

And finally, have fun!

Step 5: Review

Things will always go askew and not to plan. This is the magic of how the world works. A little chaos is great fertiliser for bond building. However, repeating the same mistakes will disengage the team. The easiest way to avoid this is to get feedback and act on it. For getting feedback, I like to follow the agile model for conducting reviews. This process involves asking everyone these three questions: “What worked?”, “What didn’t work?” and “What could make it better next time?”. These questions are best done anonymously and using online survey tools. I would avoid using your work environment for running these surveys, so everyone knows it is truly anonymous and it is not part of the normal performance metric collection.

With some preparation and focus, it is possible to create the conditions to use online meetings to build stronger bonds.

I wish you well with your next online Happy Hour.


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[First published via LinkedIn, May 29, 2020]

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