We are living in the middle of a data revolution. In a digitalising service society, value and wellbeing are increasingly being created through services and platform industries. Data is at the heart of this reform, enabling intelligent and human-centered services.

Organisations are striving to collect and utilize all available data; otherwise they may fall behind in terms of development and competition. They have difficulty distinguishing the important from less important things and – most frighteningly – they are unable to transition to data-driven operations.

Much is said about the importance of data, but too little on the importance of strategic work on data, and far too little on setting guidelines for MyData.

MyData – what are we talking about?

MyData refers to an entity that promotes people’s visibility and right to their own digital information. MyData becomes a model of personal information management and exploitation, where a person is given the right and the means to access, use and pass on their own information.

MyData should not be confused with open data, which means data that is open to everyone for free and is free for any purpose. MyData is only freely available to the person him/ herself, and he/she has the right to decide where to share – if anywhere.

Create a data strategy for your organisation

Data strategy is based on the value the organisation expects to bring to its operations. The data strategy can be divided into four tasks:

1. Set a clear vision for data utilisation.
2. Define the value of data to the organisation.
3. Create clear actions to implement the strategy.
4. Take MyData principles into account in your strategy.

The vision crystallizes the organisation’s ideal situation for exploiting data. However, the vision alone does not motivate people to do the necessary things. Instead, there must be clear and simple tasks that people can grasp. It is the responsibility of management to set the vision and its value, and to get people interested.

Aurora AI: impact on societal level

In Finland, society is being developed to be more proactive and human-oriented. This work is being run and supported by the state. An example is the Aurora Preliminary Exploration Project of the National Artificial Intelligence Programme, where the strong background factors were:
– ethical sustainability
– trust in society
– safe technical solutions
– more comprehensive use of technological potential than before
– empowering citizens
– improving the overall wellbeing and vitality of people and organisations.

In Aurora, work was based on data and its different levels of utilisation.

We individuals will benefit the most

As we build a better and more sustainable society for us all, MyData’s role for the individual will be enhanced in the development of our services. On the other hand, organisations can use MyData to get more complete insight into their services as well as their strategic leadership.

Matti Saastamoinen
Kaija Puranen

Matti Saastamoinen

Matti Saastamoinen

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Kaija Puranen

Kaija Puranen

Kaija is an ICT professional with a wealth of experience and is passionate about the development of operations and data. She finds the best tools from traditional as well as agile methods for projects and applies them in organizations of all sizes. Currently, Kaija is involved customer-oriented change projects, with a particular interest in the change of leadership culture, the potential for enriched data, and MyData.

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In this blog series I’ll tell you what are High-Performance Teams, their benefits for people and business, the most important factors of high-performing teams and how to build them. 

What is the most important factor of a high performing team?

According to Google’s research psychological safety is the most important factor in achieving high-performance teams (or groups with same interest). To put it another way you must feel safe to take risks in front of your teammates without feeling insecure or embarrassed.

High performance teams are build on trust. Research has revealed organizational trust as a key part of culture that directly influences how willing your employees are to go above and beyond in their roles. Frictions naturally occur when humans congregate, but at the same time, our brains are built to work in teams so there is a tension between wanting to be a team member and seeking to avoid conflicts with others by avoiding other humans. Research on the neuroscience of trust has shown that trust acts as a social lubricant, reducing social frictions so working with others is easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. And when people work more effectively together, productivity and innovation levels rise.

Google’s research revealed that those working in companies in the top quarter of trust, compared to those in the lowest quarter, have 106% more energy at work, are 76% more engaged at their jobs, are 50% more productive, and suffer 40% less burnout. Those in high-trust workplaces are 50% more likely to stay with their employer over the next year and 88% would recommend their company as a place to work to family and friends. Not surprisingly, employees in high-trust companies are 56% more satisfied with their jobs. When one enjoys being at work (high trust colleagues experience 60% more joy at work than those in low trust companies), satisfaction with one’s life outside of work is also higher — 29% higher for those who have the good fortune of working in high trust companies. Trust improves performance no matter how you measure it.

Benefits of a High-Performance Team

Googles research project (project Aristotele) found that psychological safety was both the aspect most reliably shared by high performing teams (among a set of five traits that separated high performing teams from the others with the remaining four being structure and clarity, dependability, meaning, and impact) and also the most foundational of these traits, that is, without psychological safety, you cannot have a high-performing team. Project Aristotle as well as other studies have found that psychological safety is strongly associated with objective (e.g. sales revenue) and subjective indicators of team performance (e.g. ratings of team performance by team members and managers, customer satisfaction with team products). The strongest effect of psychological safety on team performance appears to be through its beneficial effects on team learning with studies reporting psychological safety enabling the faster adoption of new technologies (process innovation), the faster adaptation to new market circumstances and customer requirements, the early identification of potentially catastrophic risks, and the faster development of innovative products.

In this text I’ll tell how to create create high performance teams and unleash full potential of every possible team.

When to invest on team performance improvement?

So how do you know when it is time to start creating a high performance team, is it even needed or is it already reached?

Think for a moment about your work and the work team you are a part of.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do people feel comfortable in team meetings asking about things they do not know or they do not understand, or do they generally try to maintain an image of perfect knowledge about work matters?
  • Do people feel comfortable in team meetings raising difficult issues, concerns and reservations about specific pieces of work, about ‘how things are done here’ or about how well the team works together or do these conversations take place informally outside team meetings?
  • What happens when mistakes, near misses, failures and critical incidents happen? Is people’s first reaction to distance themselves from them so they are not blamed or are they seen as opportunities for team learning?
  • How often do people give and receive feedback? Do people invite others who are not members of the team to give feedback on the team’s work?
  • In team meetings, are all team members invited to contribute irrespective of their rank or job title?
  • Do you feel that your skills and talents are valued and utilized? Are you encouraged to contribute in any way you feel able to? Or do you feel you are you expected to stay strictly within the parameters of your role and to seek permission for doing anything else?
  • Have there been times when you felt that your contribution and efforts were compromised by others in the team?
  • Do people ask each other and the team for help when they need it?
  • In team meetings, do people feel comfortable expressing disagreement and offering dissenting views? Do team meetings include discussions and debates about work matters?
  • How much do you know of your team members as people outside work?

What picture do your answers to these questions paint of your team? How much would you say this picture relates to how happy you are with your team and your place in it, and to your team’s performance?

Teams performance can be measured by asking following questions from all team members. If their scores are low then it is time to start investing in performance improvement.

Questions for the team: 

1. If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.

2. Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.

3. People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.

4. It is safe to take a risk on this team.

5. It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.

6. No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.

7. Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

Tools to help understanding status of teams performance here.

 

If you think of teams in which you have been a part of, how would you answer to these questions? What are your thoughts to these questions with your current team?

Be sure to check Secrets Of High-Performance Teams Part 2 and Part 3, if you want to get concrete actions on how get your team members to answer “Yes” to these questions and truly improve you team performance!

Sami Kutvonen
Technical Project Manager (Scrum Master, Agile Coach)

 


Sources:

Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni

https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/

https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/creating-a-high-trust-performance-culture/

https://management30.com/practice/personal-maps/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/deep-dive-five-dysfunctions-team-summary-notes-tons-more-omar-usman

https://blogs.hope.edu/center-for-faithful-leadership/uncategorized/five-dysfunctions-of-a-team/

https://medium.com/@johnpcutler/of-course-psychological-safety-but-how-21adb8d97ba7

http://abinoda.com/book/five-dysfunctions-of-a-team

https://www.tablegroup.com/imo/media/doc/Team_Effectiveness_Exercise.pdf

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/22516-the-five-dysfunctions-of-a-team

https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-neuroscience-of-trust

https://medium.com/@Harri_Kaloudis/psychological-safety-at-work-what-do-psychologically-safe-work-teams-look-like-5585ab0f2df4

samikutvonen

Sami Kutvonen

Sami is an Agile Coach who is specialized in continuous team performance improvement. He coaches with a pragmatic approach that aims in changing systems so that people have the space to thrive and grow. Sami helps teams and individuals to reach their full potential and Flow by searching the factors that might be blocking their motivation and experimenting in new ways to remove them. Sami is passionate about improving team dynamics, solution oriented methods and finding the true reasons by asking the question "Why?".

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To honour the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York, a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S., each year June is celebrated as the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender etc.) Pride month. Rooted in protests and fight for equality, Pride month is not only about celebrating and recognising the LGBT+ community and its history, but also an opportunity to bring awareness to the issues the community is still facing, and to peacefully protest. (Though Pride events, such as Helsinki Pride, have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sure we’ll still see plenty of rainbow flags and LGBT+ -related discussions and articles on social media and in different publications.)

But what about the other eleven months? We are here all the rest of the year too and the issues that Pride month provides a larger and more visible platform for do not go anywhere after the surge of Pride posts and rainbows fades away. Showing support for the LGBT+ community does not require waving flags or adding rainbow Facebook profile frames. Surely it is a lot easier, for example, for a company to slap a rainbow on their logo than to actually improve the work environment for LGBT+ employees. But if you want to support and show up for your LGBT+ employees and co-workers for the rest of the year too, here are a few things you can do.

(It’s important to note that these are not all my original ideas but rather something I’ve learned from others in the LGBT+ community or from allies. I was heavily inspired for example by a video Franchesca Ramsey made on being an ally. This also is not an exhaustive or perfect list. I too am still learning how to better support people in my own community – especially those that are not just LGBT+ but belong other minorities by being, for example, non-white or disabled.)

However, before I get to the meat of this article, there are two things I want to say.

Firstly, I’ve occasionally come across the attitude that a person’s LGBT+ identity does not belong to a workplace because it is not relevant for their work. Openly being who we are is made into a political act or something that belongs in our personal lives, but not our professional lives. Of course it is a person’s own choice what information they disclose about themselves at work. But the same way as straight people have the right to talk about their spouse, kids, hobbies etc. to their co-workers, LGBT+ people should too. You have every right to think that me being trans and queer is unnatural, wrong, sin, or not real, but whether I deserve the same human rights and respect as everyone else, is not a matter of an opinion.

Secondly, you don’t need to know all the terminology or to understand someone’s experience to respect them and their identity. It’s okay if you can’t wrap your head around the disconnect I experience from my body as a transgender person or how someone is attracted to the same gender they are – or doesn’t feel sexual or romantic attraction at all (asexual and aromantic folks exist too). And there are so many different terms and identity descriptors that I cannot keep up with them either. But that does not make them less valid. Some people find comfort in labels by being able to give a name to what they are feeling. Labels allow us to talk about these different experiences and to form communities around them. Meanwhile some find it difficult or unnecessary to select specific descriptors and prefer more generic labels (such as queer*) or no labels at all.

Now, how can you be a better co-worker for LGBT+ people?

Understand your privilege

Having privilege does not mean that your life hasn’t been hard or that you have not struggled or had to work for where you are in life. Privilege just means that there are things that you will not experience or need to think about simply because of who you are. For example, I am an able-bodied person capable of walking up the stairs so I’ve never gone to a place only to find out that I can’t go in because there are steps and no ramp. Or I’ve not been cat-called because I look like a teenage boy. It is important for me to understand that there are challenges that I don’t face because who I am but that those challenges are still very real for others. I could also, without realising, misuse my privilege by, for example, speaking over someone that will be taken less seriously because of who they are.

Having privilege is not your fault or makes you a bad person. But it is important to understand your privilege so you can start to see how it impacts you and others.

Listen to LGBT+ people

Overall, the first step of showing support to someone, whether they belong to a minority or not, is listening to them, to their experiences, and to needs. Franchesca Ramsey gave a great example in her video about being a LGBT+ ally: “Imagine your friend is building a house and they ask you to help but you’ve never built a house before. So it would probably be a good idea for you to put on some protective gear and listen to the person in charge. — It’s the exact same idea when it comes to being an ally. An ally is a person that wants to fight for the equality of a marginalised group that they are not a part of. We need your help building this house but you probably should listen so you know what to do first.” In addition to listening to your co-workers, I highly recommend seeking out people on social media or otherwise online are reading and listening what they have to say.

Speak up – but not over

Now that you have listened to LGBT+ people and want to help, you can use your voice to amplify theirs. Spread the message, educate others, and use your privilege to get people to listen, we appreciate that. But still keep your ears open for what the community itself has to say. Try not to speak over or take credit from the people you are trying to support.

Respect people’s names, pronouns – and even ask if you’re unsure

This should be a no-brainer. If someone asks you to use a certain name or pronouns for them or not use gendered language for them (like call them miss or mister), just comply. Though pronouns person uses are often called “preferred pronouns”, using them is not optional. Those are their pronouns. This might sound like a lot but think of it this way: you are able to remember a person’s name, right? Pronouns aren’t that much extra information.

Also, they/them pronouns are your friend. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns and don’t want to assume, you can ask for their pronouns or just refer to them with ‘them’. (Like I just did.) ‘They’ can also be used to replace the clunky phrase of saying “he or she” when speaking in more general terms. It is shorter, easier, and more inclusive. (James Acaster has a great bit about pronoun they.)

Opt for more gender-neutral language

No worries, you have every right to use whatever gendered terms for yourself or your friend group – if those apply to them. Nobody is trying to take your gender or its expression away from you. But using more gender-neutral language for other people does not take anyone’s gender away from them – it just is more inclusive meaning it includes everyone. For example, the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” can be replaced with “guests”, “colleagues”, “dear friends”, “honourable guests”, “folks”, “everyone” – or “friends and enemies” if you’re feeling spicy (wink). Learning new phrases and words doesn’t need to be serious and you don’t need to be perfect – treat it as a process of discovery or interesting exercise instead.

However, something that really is not cool is singling people out based on their gender – or assumed gender. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said “what do you think guys (jätkät/äijät)… and [insert my birth name]” or “alright gentlemen… and a lady”. Even before I understood I was trans, such phrases made me feel othered and opposite of included (which was the intention of the speaker). It sounds like a stupid gripe, but over time, things like this add up and make one feel like they don’t belong.

Do your own research and educate yourself

This point is not about needing to learn everything, but rather that you should educate yourself and not expect the minority to do all the emotional labour of teaching you. When there’s something you don’t know or understand, research it yourself first. Find out what people that the issue applies to have written about it and try to learn from existing material. If there’s something you need to process and work through, try to do that with other allies that are also learning.

If you want to ask, for example, a LGBT+ co-worker about an issue, ask first whether they have the time and energy to talk about it. Sometimes we are up to sharing and educating – like I am doing in this post and in some of my other writings – but other times we’re not. Especially if you are not willing to listen and rather want to debate, we’re probably not going to want to engage in that conversation. Not because we don’t have anything to say or an argument to make, but because we’ve had or seen that conversation play out tens or hundreds of times in your lives and we’re tired of it.

Don’t tokenise people

The Oxford Dictionary defines tokenism as “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce”. For example, including a person of colour or a member of the LGBT+ community in a working group, but not actually making the changes they suggest, is a form of tokenism. Similarly someone saying that they’re not racist because they have a black friend, is them tokenising their friend.

You’ll make mistakes and it’s okay. Apologise, learn, and move on

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we say something we didn’t fully think through, or did not realise was offensive, or inaccurate. It happens. But when you get called out for it, don’t start a debate about it. Just listen, apologise, learn from that experience, and strive to do better in the future. And then move on.

 

* In the past ‘queer’ has been used as a derogatory term against LGBT+ (mainly gay, lesbian, and bisexual) people. However, over the 2000s, the LGBT+ community has slowly reclaimed the phrase and it has become and umbrella term to describe a broad spectrum of non-normative sexual and gender identities. Not all LGBT+ people like or identify with the term, while others like the broadness of the term. There is also other more complex discourse around the term and differences between LGBT+ and queer.

Ossian Rajala

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Ossian Rajala

Ossian is a software developer who loves bad puns and is responsible for Gofore’s sassiest internal chatbot. He is passionate about usability, accessibility, and minority rights. Outside of work and university studies, Ossian spends his time photographing, travelling, and roaming in the woods looking for wildlife or geocaches.

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What kind of data companies have the most? Most likely text data like Word and PDF documents. For example, there could be documents about customer feedback, employee surveys, tenders, request for quotations and intranet instructions. International companies have those documents even in multiple different languages. How can you analyze multilingual documents with Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques?

NLP is a subset of Artificial Intelligence (AI) where the goal is to understand human’s natural language and enable the interaction between humans and computers. The interaction can be both with spoken (voice) or written (text) language. Nowadays, many latest state of the art NLP techniques utilize machine learning and deep neural networks.

One of the NLP tasks is text classification. The goal of text classification is to correctly classify text into one or more predefined classes. For example, customer feedback text document could be classified to be positive, neutral or negative feedback (sentiment analysis). Request for quotation document could be classified to the backlog of the correct sales team of the company. Thus, the NLP model gets text as an input and outputs some class.

During the last couple years, NLP models based on the neural network “Transformer” architecture, like Google’s BERT model, have broken many records of different NLP tasks. Those models are really interesting and have even made headlines like too dangerous to be openly released. However, they mostly have only supported English or other popular languages. What if you would like to classify text in Finnish or Swedish or both?

Multilingual text classification

Until recently, openly released multilingual NLP models like Google’s multilingual version of the BERT have not performed as well as monolingual models especially in low-resource languages like Finnish. For example, monolingual Finnish FinBERT model clearly outperforms multilingual BERT in Finnish text classification task.

However, at the end of 2019 Facebook’s AI researchers published a multilingual model called XLM-R supporting 100 languages including Finnish. XLM-R was able to achieve state of the art results in multilingual NLP tasks and also be very competitive against monolingual models in low-resource languages. This new model looked very interesting so I decided to try it out for multilingual text classification.

Hugging Face’s “Transformers” Python library is really awesome for getting an easy access to the latest state of the art NLP models and using them for different NLP tasks. XLM-R model is also available with the Transformers library. We can take the pre-trained XLM-R model and utilize “transfer learning” concept to finetune the model to for example classify news article texts to news category classes. In the context of these NLP models, transfer learning means having a pre-trained general-purpose NLP language model which has been trained on a large text corpus (XLM-R was trained with more than two terabytes of text data!) and then the model is further trained with a lot smaller dataset to perform some specific NLP task like text classification.

For this experiment, my goal is to finetune the XLM-R model to classify multilingual news article texts to corresponding news categories. That is a supervised machine learning task so the dataset I am using is a labeled dataset containing news article texts and their category names. Another really interesting feature of the XLM-R and other multilingual models is their “zero shot” capability meaning you can finetune the model with a dataset of only one language and the model will transfer the learned knowledge to other supported languages as well. Since I am especially interested in Finnish language capabilities of the XLM-R model, the dataset contains only Finnish news articles with their categories. Thanks to the “zero shot” capability, the XLM-R model should also be able to classify news articles in other languages too in addition to Finnish. You can see an example of the dataset in the table below.

In total, there are only 3278 rows in my dataset so it is rather small but the power of earlier introduced “transfer learning” concept should mitigate the issue of small number of training data. The dataset contains 10 unique news category classes which are first changed from text to numerical representation for the classifier training. The dataset is also splitted into train and test sets with equal distribution of different classes. Finally, the XLM-R model is trained to classify news articles.

In the picture below you can see training and validation losses which both follow quite nice downward trend on training steps which means the model is learning to do classification more accurately. Validation loss is not increasing in the end so the finetuned XLM-R model should not be overfitted. Overfitting means that the model would learn too exactly classify text in the training dataset but then it would not be able to classify new unseen text so well.

Another model evaluation metric for multiclass classification is the Matthews correlation coefficient (MCC) which is generally regarded as a balanced metric for classification evaluation. MCC values are between -1 and +1 where -1 is totally wrong classification, 0 is random and +1 is perfect classification. With the testing dataset, the MCC value for the finetuned XLM-R model was 0.88 which is quite good. The result could be even better with larger training dataset but for this experiment the achieved performance is sufficient.

The most interesting part of the finetuned XLM-R model is to finally use it for classifying new news articles what the model has not seen during the earlier training. In the table below, you can see examples of correctly classified news articles. I tested the classification with Finnish, English, Swedish, Russian and Chinese news articles. The XLM-R model seemed to work really well with all of those languages even though the model was only finetuned with Finnish news articles. That is a demonstration of the earlier mentioned “zero shot” capability of the XLM-R model. Thus, the finetuned XLM-R model was able to generalize well to the multilingual news article classification task!

Multilingual vs monolingual NLP models

In the original research paper of the XLM-R model, researchers state that for the first time, it is possible to have a multilingual NLP model without sacrifice in per language performance since the XLM-R is really competitive compared to monolingual models. To validate that, I also decided to test the XLM-R against monolingual Finnish FinBERT model. I finetuned the FinBERT model with the exact same Finnish news dataset and settings than the earlier finetuned XLM-R model.

Evaluating performances of the FinBERT and XLM-R with the testing dataset showed that the monolingual FinBERT was only a little better in classifying Finnish news articles. In the table below, you can see evaluation metrics Matthews correlation coefficient and validation loss for both models.

This validates findings of Facebook AI’s researchers that the XLM-R model can really compete with monolingual models while being a multilingual model. While the FinBERT model can understand Finnish text really well, the XLM-R model can also understand 99 other languages at the same time which is really cool!

Conclusion

Experimenting with the multilingual XLM-R model was really eye-opening for me. Especially, the “zero shot” capability of the XLM-R model was quite jaw dropping at the first time when you saw the model classify Chinese news text correctly even though the model was finetuned only with Finnish news text. I am excited to see future developments in the multilingual NLP area and implement these techniques into production use.

Multilingual NLP models like the XLM-R could be utilized in many scenarios transforming the previous ways of using NLP. Previously, in multilingual NLP pipelines there have usually been either a translator service translating all text into English for English NLP model or own NLP models for every needed language. All that complicates the pipeline and development but with multilingual NLP models everything could potentially be replaced with a single multilingual NLP model supporting all the languages. Another advantage is the “zero shot” capability so you would only need a labeled dataset for one language which reduces the needed work for creating datasets for all languages in the NLP model training phase. For example, for classifying international multilingual customer feedback you could only create the labeled dataset from gathered one language feedback data and then it would work for all other languages as well.

This is mind-blowing and groundbreaking. One NLP model to rule them all?

Aapo Tanskanen

Aapo Tanskanen

Aapo Tanskanen

Aapo specializes in liberating people from dull knowledge work by connecting new technologies together to create holistic solutions. His core competencies are Chatbots, NLP, Data Science, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Knowledge Management. Aapo has been transforming employees’ work life by creating solutions like conversational chatbots and voice assistants for reporting working hours and buying train tickets.

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Most companies want to be a good workplace for everyone, right? I know Gofore does; that’s why it is our first value. But how do you meet the needs of someone whose experience and needs you might not understand? Things that are invisible or insignificant to you, might be borderline life-changing for someone else.

While each of us is an individual with our specific needs and desires, belonging to a minority (of any kind) can mean that you have some different needs or face barriers that the majority of your co-workers can’t relate to, or haven’t thought of. Hence you might also be alone in advocating for those needs. That can be both taxing and feel like “maybe this isn’t worth all the fuss if it is just me”.

There are not many minorities I can speak for as an able-bodied, white, masculine-presenting, native Finnish-speaking person. However, I’m a part of the LGBT+ community and this past fall I came out at work as a transgender person, more specifically a trans man (in Finnish transsukupuolinen or transmies). In short, this means that at birth doctors declared me a female based on my physical characteristics, but that identity or body has never felt right. I see myself and identify as a young man.

When I came out, I had been at Gofore for a little over five months. And frankly, very little changed. I’m still the same employee working on the same code with the same tools. I’m not here to say that transgender employees need a lot of accommodation. Rather, I want to point out a few things that Gofore actually already happened to have in place that have made my life significantly better both before and after coming out. I say happened to have because I doubt that specifically trans people were in anyone’s mind. I am open to being proven wrong.

Why did you come out at work?

  1. As I’ve chosen to transition medically, I felt that coming out was inevitable. There’s no magic switch or “the operation” that will suddenly turn me from this pre-teen look into a bearded dude that doesn’t look 10 years below his actual age. Medical (hormonal) transition is a slow, gradual process (of taking hormones for the rest of my life) and I will go through “a second puberty” once I start hormones.
  2. A bit before coming out at work, I had started using my new name in the university context. As my academic and professional circles weren’t isolated from each other, confusion arose and I started to feel like an incompetent spy trying to maintain two identities.
  3. Also, constantly watching how I talk about myself is exhausting and causes me stress that takes away from my work.
  4. I had then reached a point where hiding my identity caused be more stress than the potential risk of bad reactions.
  5. Finally, I have the privilege of having family and friends that accept and support me. If something were to go wrong with my coming out at work, I knew I could lean on them.

Not every trans person is this open about their identity. Due to stigma, prejudice, safety concerns, or some other reason we (transgender people) may choose to “live stealth”, meaning that we live as the gender we identify as without disclosing to others in our life that we are trans. Also, many are still in the closet, not being able to be fully themselves. Whatever the reason is for a trans person to keep their trans identity to themselves, I support their decision. Whether or when a person comes out, is their choice, and their choice only. They don’t owe it to anyone to come out and outing someone is wrong. And if someone is, for example, to out their colleague, it does not give anyone a right to tell, for example, a prospective client.

Things that made coming out easier:

1. Supportive colleagues

I joined Gofore in May 2019 at the Turku office, which at the time had around 15 employees. It was – and I believe still is – a tight-knit but very warm and welcoming group of people and I immediately felt at home there. Over the summer I built relationships with my co-workers in Turku – as well as in the Helsinki office, which I visited frequently, and then transferred to in the fall. I found people I trusted and felt supported by. At company of Gofore’s scale (we have almost 600 employees in 10+ offices), it is impossible to know everyone’s attitudes, believes, and perceptions. But because I felt there were people that would accept me and even have my back, coming out felt quite safe.

The worst I expected would be seeing occasional slurs on Slack, or having someone question my identity. And even that did not happen. The response I got and the messages I received were 100 % positive and supportive. This of course doesn’t mean that everyone is 100 % comfortable with my identity and presence and believes me – and I don’t expect or require that – but they were kind enough not to bring that to my attention.

It is not a given that a work environment feels safe for a transgender person to come out. It is not even obvious that a trans person wouldn’t be discriminated against, bullied, or even fired from their job because of their identity.

2. Gender-neutral single stall bathrooms

At least in the Helsinki, Turku, and Tampere offices, all restrooms are single-stall and not gendered. This caught my eye already when I came in for an interview and immediately raised Gofore’s points in my eyes. Public restrooms are anything but calming for me and many other trans people. I don’t feel safe or welcome in either binary option. I’ve been screamed at in a women’s restroom and using the men’s scares me because I am a tiny, weak man with a high voice. And while I was still in the closet, even picking a gendered single stall bathroom felt stressful. Either I would betray my identity or potentially raise questions. There really is no reason for gendered single-stall bathrooms. So I am glad Gofore doesn’t do that. After my house, the office is the least stressful place for me to use the restroom. I am a more relaxed and more productive employee because I am not stressed all day about where I can go to the bathroom.

3. Having the ability to change one’s name in systems

Finnish name law states that one’s name has to align with one’s legal gender – unless five other people that share one’s legal gender also have that name. That meant I couldn’t change my name to Ossian whenever I wanted. Instead I had to wait to go through diagnosis process at Tampere University hospital’s trans clinic. Once I was diagnosed as transgender, I was given a document that I could attach to my name change application to get around the name law. But that diagnosis process was still underway last fall and I knew any official changes would be months or even a year away. (I did get my diagnosis this April but processing of name change applications takes several months.)

I cared about the name change so much because I did not want to come out but then still have my legal name popping up everywhere – especially at work. I was already in that situation at university – and still am – and it was stressing me out. To my relief, Gofore had no issues with updating my name before legal changes. Thanks to payroll operating on the basis of social security numbers, my name could be changed, as far as I know, in all the systems (except maybe employee healthcare). The first time I sent an email from an address that had my chosen name on it, I teared up a little bit.

Had I not had the option to at least change my email, I might have waited until my legal name change before coming out (which at this rate won’t be before next fall).

4. Flexibility of work locations and hours

Part of being a transgender person and wanting to medically transition (take hormones, get surgeries) is having a lot of doctor’s appointments – first for diagnosis and later related to those hormones and surgeries. Because waiting lists are long and demand far exceeds available capacity, one cannot pick and choose their appointments. When you get an appointment, that’s when you’ll have to go, or you’ll have to wait another 2-6 months go get a new one. Additionally, there are clinics only in Tampere and Helsinki. At Gofore, I have a lot of flexibility regarding where I work from and when I get my work done and thus I never had to stress whether I could go to my appointments. When I had to travel from Turku to Tampere in the middle of a week, I did not need to take a day off or ask for special permissions. I brought my laptop to the train, and as I couldn’t get a full workday in that day, I made my hours back later.

This flexibility – and co-worker’s respect for my privacy – also allowed me to keep the reason for these trips to myself. I could either just say I was seeing a doctor in Tampere or simply say I was doing a remote day. Either way, I went to an appointment or two before coming out at work.

5. Low threshold for internal communication

One of the challenges of coming out at work is finding not just the right words but the right medium for telling people. A mass email would just get lost in everyone’s inboxes and this was too complicated of a topic to address in a single Slack message.

At Gofore we have an internal blog on Confluence where anyone can make a post. Usually people use it to introduce themselves when they join the company, publish proposals for public blog posts, or share internal information. It also provided me a great venue to come out. I wrote a blog post explaining my identity, some personal history, why I’m coming out, and finally explained what I expected of my colleagues: that they use my new name and pronouns (he/him). I also provided a summary section for those who wouldn’t be able to read the whole thing. Then, to make sure my post would reach people, I shared the post in Slack in the company-wide channel that, despite its reach, has still quite low threshold for posting and isn’t “strictly business”.

Things that made coming out harder:

1. Being the only one

Though I likely wasn’t the only one among almost 600 employees, I did not know of any other trans people in the company. There was no success story I could take solace in nor nightmare I could fear. I couldn’t talk to anyone that was or had been in the same situation without first outing myself. I did eventually spot another LGBT+ person that I felt safe reaching out to. While I found comfort in that conversation and hearing their perspective, they aren’t trans and thus couldn’t tell me how I would be received.

This feeling of being completely alone is one of the reasons why I am sharing my experience. I hope not only to educate people but serve as representation I would have needed. However, that is my choice. No trans or other minority person has any obligation to provide visibility or education. We are not educational tools or diversity posters; we are people.

2. Slack conversations

In my process of evaluating risks and mentally preparing for coming out, I did the potentially very unwise thing of looking into my company’s Slack history. I used every search term I could think of to find conversations regarding LGBT+ people and read through every single result. While I didn’t find anything horrible or condemning, I left my search wondering whether I’d eventually end up debating my rights or identity with someone on Slack. At the same time, the limited number of conversations amplified the feeling of being alone. And though my colleagues are supportive, there are times when minorities are left to fend for themselves while others watch in silence.

I am not trying to deny your right to have conversations or make jokes. But when you are talking or joking about a minority – especially online – try to step back and look at your messages as if you were in that minority – or at least as if someone from that group was present. Would you say the same things aloud in an office that you’re writing on Slack? Does the lack of tone and facial expressions change how your message is viewed? Also, for me personally, it’s not the joke or comment that I am worried about, but potential attitudes and believes behind it. Will the person making a distasteful joke have a problem with me? I can’t know.

 

Gofore’s commitment to being a good workplace for everyone has laid a foundation that benefits all sorts of employees, including trans people. This is a great start, but I hope Gofore takes being a good workplace a step further by intentionally considering the needs of minority employees also, including trans people. Not because it’s good for the employer brand or gives us content to post during Pride month or other events, but because we want to make everyone’s work life better. And that is done by addressing their needs regardless of whether those needs stem from them being LGBT+, disabled, not speaking Finnish, having kids, having physical or mental health issues, going through a divorce, losing a family member, or whatever else. Some experiences, like being trans, are less common, have fewer advocates, and thus may not naturally come up. Hence supporting such groups requires intentional effort. I am looking forward to Gofore and other companies putting in that work.

ossianrajala

Ossian Rajala

Ossian is a software developer who loves bad puns and is responsible for Gofore’s sassiest internal chatbot. He is passionate about usability, accessibility, and minority rights. Outside of work and university studies, Ossian spends his time photographing, travelling, and roaming in the woods looking for wildlife or geocaches.

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After the workshop

In Part 1 Before the workshop and Part 2 During the workshop, we focused on preparations that should be made before your workshop and things that should be done during your workshop. In this final Part 3 of the blog series, we’ll advise you what you need to remember to do after your workshop.

These blog posts are a combination of what we learned from virtual meetings facilitation and our own findings when doing online workshops. Try out these tips and find your own way of doing virtual and online workshops.

Beyond

Remember that a workshop is often one part of a bigger whole  Workshop Day is an important event – getting the setup working, ensuring participants feel included and committed, ensuring discussions and assignments are productive – so naturally we spend a lot of time making sure it is done effectively. But it’s also good to remember that a workshop is part of a bigger picture. There will always be follow-up work to do afterwards to ensure the ideas and conclusions from the workshop actually do lead to some kind of practical use and progress.

Be an Early Bird on this too – After the workshop you will have a lot of material gained from participants. The best time to review this material is immediately after the event, while it is still fresh in your mind – ideally on same day. As soon as possible, make a summary of the workshop and what was achieved.

Don’t forget to say thank you – It’s also a good idea to send out a quick “Thank you!” to participants immediately after the workshop, including the main discussion highlights and conclusions, to keep your participants in the same loop.

Paint the big picture and communicate results – Share the results from the workshop with participants and inform what happens next and how the results of the workshop will be used. Instead of just distributing the material to participants, you can invite them to hear the summary and discuss it.

Summary session

Encourage involvement from everybody  End your work with an opportunity for everyone to reflect and share their own next steps, to create a sense of commitment and direction.

Start the summary session with check-in, warm-ups and the purpose and objective of meeting. Present the summary of the workshop. Have a small discussion session after presenting your summary and discuss the results together. You or your co-facilitator can make additions to the board, for example writing down ideas or questions. You can also take suggestions from participants about what they think should happen next, as they may have good ideas for how to keep the momentum going.

Including your participants in your workshop follow-up plans will make it more likely that they’ll stay involved and committed to the next steps and future topics.

TIP: Make a couple of open-ended questions that will encourage participants to add any further ideas they may have had after the workshop. Then prioritise the best ideas together.

Make agreements and action points visible – It’s easy for things to disappear into a black hole after a meeting. That’s why participants need to agree on the next steps and action points. Ensure all action points have one owner to ensure actions are remembered and completed. Concretise who, what and when.

TIP: The roadmap is a great tool for concretising measures. Depending on the topic of the workshop, it can be staggered over a shorter or longer period of time.

In the end – Ask about their feelings and impressions after the workshop. Inform what happens next and when and how the results and materials from the meeting will be shared.

Then, “Thank you very much, all participants!”

Finally

It is not always easy to remember things to do after a workshop. However, in order to put things and ideas into practice, the work is worth to doing.

This ends our three-part blog posting about how to plan and conduct virtual workshops and online group assignments successfully. We hope you can use our learnings in your own work. And remember, working together doesn’t always require being physically present in one place!

Maria Di Piazza

Maria Di Piazza

Maria is an experienced expert with more than 15 years of experience in various roles in the ICT industry in the design, production and further development of services. Maria has a broad understanding of the entire life cycle of services and their production. She has the ability to outline the entities related to the life cycle of services and their sub-areas, as well as to outline the pain points of processes and services. She is able to embrace new things quickly and bring new perspectives to the client. Maria’s specialty is to act as an interpreter between the business, the organization and the staff, as well as between customer understanding, the customer and the implementation of the service. In doing this, she takes into account the needs of users, the customer organization and software production. Her interests include learning design and facilitation, the utilization of service design ideology in process development, the use of visual facilitation methods in design work, facilitation management, and organizational and business design.

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Outi Kotala

Outi Kotala

Outi has been providing user experience and service design for B2B, public sector and customer market services since the beginning of this millennium. She has designed usability and brought the user-centric approach to the development of online services and mobile apps as well as other digital platforms and digital tools, using different kinds of design thinking methods and prototyping tools. She has experience in doing design as part of the agile software development processes (SCRUM, SAFe, Kanban, Lean).

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Gofore was founded in 2001, after Timur Kärki convinced three friends to become entrepreneurs. The founding partners had an idea for a “payment gateway” product, which would make micro payments easier within web, mobile and digital television environments. That is where the company name came from: “Go for e-” (business and payments).

At the time, the company had almost secured its first big customer deal. A large Finnish media company needed a payment solution for its services, and Gofore’s technology seemed to fit the bill. Gofore was also in promising negotiations with venture capital investors to fund the product development phase for that first customer deal. Timur left his job as a manager at a well-known software company in Finland. He started to negotiate with this customer prospect, investors, and future employees.

But the customer suddenly canceled the project, leaving the newly founded company without any prospects. The investors stepped away, and so did the three other founders, staying at their current jobs. Timur was forced to join another company as a Chief Technology Officer and forget the idea of Gofore for a while.

Setting the values

After Timur’s first child was born in 2002, the founders sat down to decide what to do. The decision was clear — they wanted to start Gofore’s operations, and the business model would be the simplest possible. They would become a consultancy and sell their work and knowledge to other companies and organizations. They wrote down the values of the company on a piece of paper: Gofore would be the best possible workplace for them and others and thrive through their customers’ success.

Timur quit his job for the second time to set up Gofore, and the other founders followed. Gofore started operations in August 2002.

From failure to success

The first full fiscal year of 2003 was a success, and the company could recruit its first employee, who was Timur’s sister-in-law. No one but Timur’s relatives believed in the Gofore story enough to join. The second operating year, 2004, was not successful, and Gofore could not pay any salaries to the founding partners. After several failures in trying to get new customers, morale was low. Hard work finally paid off when a local industrial company agreed on a deal worth three times the net sales of the previous year. That deal started the still-continuing profitable growth of Gofore.

Today Gofore is a digitalization consultancy company, helping customers through digital change by providing tailored software and advice. The company employs around 600 people, and it has operations in five different countries in Europe. Gofore is a spectacular example of values-based leadership and purpose-driven company culture. The company has had an average 50 % annual growth rate in the past 15 years, with over 10% profitability every year.

Best place to work

From the very beginning, the founders saw that the company was there to radiate goodness around it. As decided at the outset, Gofore has provided the best possible workplace for them and others. That was recognized when Great Place to Work chose Gofore as The Best Workplace in Finland and The Second Best Workplace in Europe in 2017. It is no coincidence that Gofore succeeded in its IPO in the very same year. Long-term financial sustainability goes hand in hand with social sustainability. Gofore is a perfect example of that, reflecting the ongoing viewpoints and discussions about corporate sustainability and the purpose of companies.

Gofore’s purpose

Gofore has been able to grow sustainably and profitably for 15 years, creating sustainable value for its shareholders. For Gofore, profitability is only one goal, since it has always operated with a greater mission and purpose.

At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, one of the themes was stakeholder capitalism. Though the term has become more prominent only recently, some companies have lived up to these values for a much longer time. Gofore is one of those, founded to be the best possible workplace for its employees and radiate good things around it.

The founders addressed Gofore’s values when the company was starting its operation in 2002:

1. Gofore is a great workplace for everyone.

2. Gofore thrives on customer success.

With those values in mind, Gofore has been able to grow and flourish, in a sustainable way.

From 4 people to 600 employees

Timur became CEO of Gofore in 2010. In December 2019 he gave his position to the new CEO, Mikael Nylund, and became Chairman of the Board of Directors. During his time as a CEO, the company grew from net sales of 1.3 million euros in 2009 to net sales of 64.1 million euros in 2019. The sustainable growth from a small software subcontractor to a publicly listed, 600-employee company has been a long but enjoyable ride for all the people involved.

Timur says the most crucial success factor is the shared enthusiasm between Gofore’s employees and customers. The enthusiasm grows from a shared understanding of the purpose of the company. The employees feel they are there to change the world for the better — this not just another consultancy company, but a company that makes a difference.

Gofore helping Finland to become one of the world’s most digitally competitive countries

One of the strategic moves that Gofore has made in the last 10 years has been its focus on public sector sales and projects in Finland. Gofore played an important role when the Finnish public sector changed its digital solutions development and procurement paradigm. According to Timur, Gofore and its experts have helped many Finnish public sector organizations to move into an agile way of operating and producing digital services and infrastructure. At the moment, Finland is one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to digital competitiveness, according to the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index.

Management innovation as the most important competitive asset

Timur believes Gofore’s most important innovation is how it’s managed. Gofore has developed a unique model for its operations. The company’s people-centric and data-driven culture is its strongest competitive asset. The organizational hierarchy is very flat, relying on self-direction, shared vision, close communication, and good situational awareness across the company.

There are almost no middle managers at Gofore. Instead, the company uses data analysis and artificial intelligence to monitor performance and to aid decision-making. Gofore’s own team has created the software to support this operating model.

Discussion robot Granny to advise on company culture

Gofore has a rich, open culture of communication. There are 12,000 messages a day in the internal chat system, in more than 500 different discussion channels. That is significant in a company of only 600. The management team is present in many kinds of discussions. Most importantly, so are Gofore’s discussion robots, “Granny,” “Seppo” and “Gene.” They offer a user interface for the AI-based backend system, which is providing management services for the company.

Gofore’s management model and use of AI and robots are quite often referred to at seminars and academic studies in Finland. The company is aiming to use these innovations in international business in the next few years, granting a competitive edge for it globally.

Purpose-driven leadership

Gofore was founded to radiate goodness around it. Today it really does, with 600 employees solving various kinds of problems for their customers. Goforeans feel they are key players in crafting state-of-the-art digital solutions for the public sector in Finland and also internationally. Digitalization affects the well-being of people, providing better services with better availability. Gofore’s employees feel they are builders of democracy and a new knowledge-based society powered by information and communications technology — a better future for all of us.

Looking at Gofore’s history, in the early years radiating good meant creating the best possible workplace for the founders and a couple of employees. It also meant exceptional customer value — a new kind of consultancy company. Gofore wants to be the best possible workplace, and it thrives through the success of its customers.

From saving Finland to changing the world

At the end of 2010, the financial situation and prognosis for the Finnish economy were very bad. Gofore formed its mission statement to be, “Let’s save Finland.” Gofore saw that through digital change, Finnish organizations would enhance national competitiveness as companies and as a nation.

A couple of years later, Gofore realized its uniqueness when it comes to company culture. It had already seen its positive impact on public sector digitalization in Finland. Gofore formed a new mission statement: to change the world for the better through digitalization and through renewing ways of working. Over the years, the purpose has been written down in the values and in two different mission statements. More importantly, it has taken shape in Gofore’s company culture and the actions of the people.

Sustainability

Today, Gofore has a positive impact on society in many different ways. Looking into the three pillars of sustainability, Gofore has always been a socially aware company. Gofore has also been extremely sustainable economically, growing profitably for many years.

The third pillar of sustainability, environmental, has appeared in Gofore’s texts, speeches and other materials in the last couple of years. Timur says the people at Gofore have evolved Gofore to be more environmentally aware. That has happened quite naturally, given the mission to change the world for the better and unfortunate developments in climate change. Today, Gofore is not only (environmentally) aware. It also actively seeks customer projects with a positive environmental impact.

Gofore Oyj

Gofore Oyj

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During the workshop

In the first part of this blog series, Part 1 Before the workshop, we focused on things that should be done before the workshop. In this blog, we’ll advise you how to work during the workshop.

These blog posts are a combination of what we learned from virtual meetings facilitation and our own findings when doing online workshops. Try out these tips and find your own way of doing virtual and online workshops.

Physical settings

Master your own working environment – We found out that even if your workshop is virtual, facilitating it works best if you and your co-facilitator physically sit in the same room. You can comment more easily to each other while facilitating (muting the mic or using post-it notes). If you are remote, use instant messages with your co-facilitator.

During the workshop, use a headset for clear audio, participate from a peaceful environment, and use instant messages.

Test the sound and screen sharing with someone before the meeting starts.

At the start

Be an Early Bird – You can request participants to join five to ten minutes earlier to the conferencing to test their ability to hear, speak and see; you can incorporate this test time into the start of the agenda. Anyway be sure to test your own sound and screen sharing with someone trusted outside your organisation, before the meeting starts and participants join you.

You can also help participants with possible technical problems, ensuring everyone can see and hear you. It is probably useful to also check your email and phone, because some people might email or phone you if they don’t manage to get in.

Remember that tense participant don’t contribute – One significant factor to consider when planning virtual workshops, or workshops in general, is psychosocial safety. Workshop participants need to feel sufficiently safe and confident to open their mouths, to ask questions, to present alternative views, to challenge (constructively), and so on. You, as a facilitator, are responsible for creating psychological safety in your workshop- A good idea is to allow a few minutes for informal discussion around a light or fun topic during these five to ten minutes at the start. You can ask (in the slide you show) people to say their name and say Hi! to the others, and to give them something to do while waiting for others to join. For example, you can request them to “choose the draw tool (Zoom) to draw your face and write your name to the slide you show”.

Ensure your participants know the rules of the workshop – When participants are joining a preset workshop format, with a structure and a timetable, repeat the rules for the online behavior and clarify your and your co-facilitator’s role in workshop. We usually request the following:

  • Mute your mic when you’re not speaking
  • Always say your first name when you speak
  • Participate 100% and respect all participants at all times
  • Be patient
  • If you must leave, announce this beforehand and tell when you’re going to be back.

If you have presentations, you can also ask participants to write their questions to the chat and inform that you will go through questions after the presentation.

Working together

Where does it all end? Begin with the end in mind – It’s very important that participant understand the purpose and objective of workshop: Why are we here? What we need to solve? If the objective of the workshop is unclear to all participants, they won’t won’t be committed. So this is your first task to solve – to clarify the objective and to get all participants committed to being active.

If you haven’t introduced the participants to the online co-working tool / board, do it now. We usually briefly review the most important tools they will use today in the workshop before going to the warm-up phase.

Warm-up’s mission is ice-breaking – You can request participants to write down expectations for the workshop in the chat. Or you can prepare a slide including pictures representing various moods or feelings and ask participants to choose one and tell something about their choice.

Timing matters – During the work consider sufficient timing for work assignments; not too short that your participants are not able to finish their assignment, and not too long that they start reading their email, etc. You can monitor the activity via the online board and lengthen/shorten the work time accordingly. Agree with your co-facilitator on how to modify the schedule on-the-fly and on how to communicate the need to speed up or to add extra time, while you are in separate groups.

TIP: A brief “bio-break” after the groupwork helps you have separate groups in their own conferencing sessions: people have time to exit their sub-meeting and join the main meeting. Display a presentation slide as screen share with the deadline for returning to the main meeting.

By sharing good decisions – After the main work, walk through the work assignment results with your participants. It’s important to share especially when there has been more than one group and board in the workshop. Walk through all groups and their individual boards. You can edit and refine the results, for example by combining duplicate post-it notes, during the joint going through session.

Use a “parking lot” for themes not directly connected to the assignment. Even when following a strict agenda, you often find yourself getting lost in detail discussion or being carried away. Thus, you can lose focus and go off track in your quest to reach your goal.

In the end

Keep participants engaged afterwards – Discuss the results together. You can have a small break during which you can formulate a summary of the workshop, what was done, and the results. You or your co-facilitator can make additions to the board, for example by writing down ideas and questions. Identify the small wins from your workshop. Realising the workshop outcomes and targets can keep participants energised and engaged afterwards, so make this a key part of your communication with them.

Make sure things happen after the workshop – Agree on the next steps if you can. You can also arrange this in a new virtual meeting. We’ll talk more about that in the next blog.

Fill expectations – Tell what happens next, how the results of the workshop will be used, and when and how the results from the workshops will be shared.

Get feedback while it’s fresh – Ask for feedback or impressions from the participants: if there are less than ten participants, you can have a comment round; if more than ten, ask them to write their feedback or just load an emoji into the chat.

Finally

Workshops can seem daunting and challenging if you haven’t had any or are a novice. Workshop skills, such as improvising around agendas or reading from people’s emotions, come with practice and with good planning.

In the next part of this blog series, Part 3 After the workshop, we focus things you should do after the workshop.

Outi Kotala

Outi Kotala

Outi has been providing user experience and service design for B2B, public sector and customer market services since the beginning of this millennium. She has designed usability and brought the user-centric approach to the development of online services and mobile apps as well as other digital platforms and digital tools, using different kinds of design thinking methods and prototyping tools. She has experience in doing design as part of the agile software development processes (SCRUM, SAFe, Kanban, Lean).

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Maria Di Piazza

Maria Di Piazza

Maria is an experienced expert with more than 15 years of experience in various roles in the ICT industry in the design, production and further development of services. Maria has a broad understanding of the entire life cycle of services and their production. She has the ability to outline the entities related to the life cycle of services and their sub-areas, as well as to outline the pain points of processes and services. She is able to embrace new things quickly and bring new perspectives to the client. Maria’s specialty is to act as an interpreter between the business, the organization and the staff, as well as between customer understanding, the customer and the implementation of the service. In doing this, she takes into account the needs of users, the customer organization and software production. Her interests include learning design and facilitation, the utilization of service design ideology in process development, the use of visual facilitation methods in design work, facilitation management, and organizational and business design.

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This is Part 1 of a three-part blog series that describes how to plan and run a workshop with a group assignment while using digital co-working tools. In other words, it’s a facilitated workshop, but done online where everyone participates from their own desk. We hope that we can convey new and useful ideas to you for organising and facilitating your own virtual workshops.

This blog is a combination of what we learned from virtual meetings facilitation and from our own findings when doing online workshops. Try out these tips and find your own optimal way of doing virtual and online workshops.

Before the workshop

In this first part of the blog series, we will open up the process of planning the workshop: what kind of resources you need, how much time should you reserve for planning and how you invite your participants to join.

Resourcing

Get the right co-worker mix – Notice that planning a virtual workshop demands somewhat more time, effort and people than for a normal workshop. You might be able to facilitate a physical workshop for even twenty participants on your own; however, for this we recommend having at least one co-facilitator in addition to yourself. One of you can be the “lead facilitator” while the “co-facilitator” supports the participants and follows the online chat.

Participants

Ensure an optimal number of participants – The optimal number of participants for a virtual workshop involving group assignments is from six to twenty participants. If there are more than twenty participants, you should opt for hosting a webinar, not a workshop or virtual meeting. Groupwork is best facilitated with a group no bigger than ten participants. Six to seven participants is the optimal number per group; in a group of this size, everyone gets to participate, and you have time to help those who have difficulties in participating (for example due to technical glitches or network connection issues). If your workshop has more than ten participants, consider dividing your participants into smaller groups for the online work assignments, for example by using break-out rooms.

Pre-work

Ensure participants are prepared – Invitations are one of the most important aspects of preparing your workshops. Firstly, ensure the participants are able to reserve the workshop appointment into their calendars. Even you haven’t yet fully planned the workshop agenda, you should already send the first calendar invitation sufficiently in advance to reserve the participants’ time for the workshop. Ensure the purpose of the workshop is stated clearly; state the objective of the session and clearly communicate the workshop expectations. For example:

  • I hope you can participate 100 %…
  • Use a headset for clear audio…
  • Participate from a peaceful environment…
  • Use of a mouse is recommended…

It’s also useful to add several instructions to the invitation that may save you a few grey hairs:

  • Please do not to forward this calendar invitation without the facilitator’s permission…
  • Please accept or decline this invitation…

Optionally, you can also assign some pre-work to participants before the actual workshop. One useful task is to introduce participants to the tools that will be used during the workshop. You can create a test board with a few small tasks, or invite your participants to try out the tools in a fifteen minute pre-meeting. In this test session, you can walk through the tools with your participants and at the same time usefully test the availability of network connections.

Planning

Do your homework – Virtual workshops need to be shorter and include more breaks than physical ones. The maximum time for one workshop is three hours, and you’ll need at least two breaks, possibly three, during that time. Do short “bio pauses” once an hour and one longer pause to allow participants to get coffee, check email, etc.

Avoid long monologues and presentations. Instead, split the presentation into smaller segments and insert discussion or groupwork between the presentation segments. Presenting and groupwork assignments should be no longer than two to ten minutes at a time. If you include discussion or use digital tools during groupwork (Mural, Miro etc.), ten to twenty minutes per session is the optimal time-span.

If your workshop participants exceed six to ten, divide your audience into smaller groups and into separate sessions during the workshop. For this, you need to plan breakout sessions and you need so-called “breakout rooms”. For example, Zoom and also Teams have a feature for dividing meetings into smaller sessions.

TIP: If you’re using some other conferencing tool without a breakout room option, you can prepare the calendar invitations for separate sessions beforehand and share them via the Skype/other conferencing tool’s chat. Or you can ask someone from the group to invite a separate conferencing session.

Remember that tense participants don’t contribute – One significant factor to consider when planning virtual workshops, or workshops in general, is psychosocial safety. Workshop participants need to feel sufficiently safe and confident to open their mouths, to ask questions, to present alternative views, to challenge (constructively), and so on. You, as a facilitator, are responsible for creating psychological safety in your workshop. A good idea is to begin with a few minutes of informal discussion using a light or fun topic before the actual workshop starts. Or you could arrange a short game at the beginning of the workshop, or encourage everyone to say something about their state of mind. Whatever method you use, the objective is the same: that every participant feels included and confident.

Plan, plan, plan – Plan for more than the day. Plan for what happens after workshop. Create the methods used list, other checklists, and time slots. Remember, the more detailed your plan, the more you’ll ensure that your workshop will run on schedule – and be successful.

Workshop tools and personal equipment

The environment matters too – Always test beforehand your personal equipment (headset, display, cables, instant message tool, etc.), workshop tools (Skype, Teams, Mural, Miro etc.) and online network connections. Have a plan B if something goes wrong (for example if you cannot share you screen). Your plan B might include an alternative conferencing tool link (for example switch from Skype to Zoom) or other co-working equipment. Sometimes you might need to enable some participant to join via telephone line. In this case, use the phone speaker and send the material and links to group assignment work beforehand.

Prepare any links for online boards and co-working tools beforehand and test them in different browsers (for example, MURAL doesn’t work optimally in Safari browsers). It’s good to warn your participants beforehand about all of the required tools for the workshop. For example, tell your participants that in addition to Skype, you’ll be using a digital whiteboard like Miro.

Finally

Thorough planning saves your nerves and gives you the confidence to work as a workshop leader or facilitator.

In the next part of this blog series, Part 2 During the workshop, we focus on things you should consider during the workshop or presentation.

Outi Kotala

Outi Kotala

Outi has been providing user experience and service design for B2B, public sector and customer market services since the beginning of this millennium. She has designed usability and brought the user-centric approach to the development of online services and mobile apps as well as other digital platforms and digital tools, using different kinds of design thinking methods and prototyping tools. She has experience in doing design as part of the agile software development processes (SCRUM, SAFe, Kanban, Lean).

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Maria Di Piazza

Maria Di Piazza

Maria is an experienced expert with more than 15 years of experience in various roles in the ICT industry in the design, production and further development of services. Maria has a broad understanding of the entire life cycle of services and their production. She has the ability to outline the entities related to the life cycle of services and their sub-areas, as well as to outline the pain points of processes and services. She is able to embrace new things quickly and bring new perspectives to the client. Maria’s specialty is to act as an interpreter between the business, the organization and the staff, as well as between customer understanding, the customer and the implementation of the service. In doing this, she takes into account the needs of users, the customer organization and software production. Her interests include learning design and facilitation, the utilization of service design ideology in process development, the use of visual facilitation methods in design work, facilitation management, and organizational and business design.

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Leading situational awareness

We are living in a time that requires us to make complex management decisions based on inadequate knowledge. Situational awareness enables us to find and take a direction into more comprehensive, factual, and proactive decision-making. It implies a holistic view described with the help of a computational and knowledge-based data models.

Now is the time to move gradually to co-management and co-creation ways of working. It is time to forget partial optimisation and create common purposeful goals beyond organisational silos. To move towards a common goal, where impact – not production – is the key. To capture the large initiatives, recognising the total impact of decisions, anticipating, and responding quickly to changes.

Does it sound like a utopia?

Perhaps, especially if you work in an organisation where decision-making is still done in the traditional way in each business unit, isolated from others. In which decisions have to be made based on the best guesses, because there is no knowledge about the overall effects, causes and consequences. Where no one has time to think about goals, because deciding on action is considered more important.

What are the benefits of a situational awareness snapshot?

When considering whether it is worth starting the exercise, remember that there are so many good, even excellent possible outcomes. There are at least four reasons why you should start:

  1. A common understanding of the situation creates the possibility to perceive what various actions mean for the whole and what their impact is on the overall goal.
  2. Creating a snapshot of the situation is based on the needs of the people and customers, rather than the needs of a single interest group.
  3. Through a snapshot, leadership shifts to creating situational awareness-based understanding, instead of refining technical information. The analysis of the accumulated knowledge becomes the starting point of the discussion, not the end result.
  4. It is no longer necessary to lead the whole with averages and approach the problems with universal solutions.

Situational snapshots can be created to support management at both strategic and operational levels. Different information is needed and used at different levels.

What is the likely future?

Many would certainly like to know what the future holds. There is no crystal ball, but by combining advanced analytics and system dynamics, you can make predictions about what the probable future scenarios are. Then a completely new twist can be found, for example, in resource planning or investments.

When importing products into the market or considering the service capacity and dimensioning of public service delivery, decisions no longer need to be made by gut feeling or glancing in the rear-view mirror. These can be done with proactive situational awareness snapshots.

Setting out over a low threshold

Co-operation and mobilisation are essential. Common goal-setting, agenda and co-management will only be learned by experiencing the benefits it offers – by creating the first model and the first image together.

Nobody knows what will come of it. Unknown challenges are solved by experimenting and learning. Together.

Petri Takala

Petri Takala

Petri Takala

Petri works at Gofore as a principal consultant in the field of data-supported leadership and management. He has an extensive experience in data-enabled decision-making practices and organizational systems design. He is an expert in customer-/ market-centric ecosystem management and the needed data-enabled platform services. Petri’s thinking is applied and taken into use widely in several areas of Finnish society, e.g. in AuroraAI, Finnish ethical AI-based service ecosystem development. Before joining Gofore Petri worked 15 years in Nokia as a senior analyst and development director, as well as the product lead in Efecte Plc.

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