Our department held day in life for the teams inside so that everyone could get to know each other. We spend some time thinking about how we want to describe our team but we could not come up with any solid description that would summarize all that we do in a way we would like to. Eventually we decided that being able to experience something gives you more than just hearing about it.
Each team was supposed to have an hour long shadowing session used to present themselves and their way of working. This sounded great but the implementation turned out to be quite worrisome for us.
Let me show you
All the teams prepared something informative about them. They described what they do, showed some projects, gave some examples. It worked. People spent time at each team, learned about them and what they do.
But this wasn't good enough for us. Although we are not a big team, we do rather unique things when it comes to our department. We do innovations. That is the simplest way of putting it. What does it mean though? What kind of innovations? And how do we do them? Everybody in here is creating something new, what makes us so special?
We did not want to just show what we do, we wanted to show how we do it. And not only that. We wanted to let people experience it themselves. It seemed like the best way to describe ourselves was not to tell people what we do, it was to let them tell us what we do.
I will let you show me
When the first wave of people came we were sitting in a circle in front of a whiteboard. We told them to sit down with us.
As we were all staring at the whiteboard I waited for the latecomers to arrive and as they did I started explaining a brand new project we received. I described the basic idea of it, defined the targeted audience (users) and goals we wanted to fulfill with the tool. All of these things were written on top of the whiteboard.
Once this was done I turned to the people and said that we are going to brainstorm ideas and features. Explaining the rules of brainstorming some people were little bit confused that we expected them to do something. But that was all part of the plan.
It was difficult at the beginning but eventually they got the grasp of it and started coming up with some ideas. People struggled with not criticizing their own ideas even though it was explained that no idea can be a bad one. They felt shy and afraid they might say something wrong.
After we had filled entire whiteboard with ideas we needed to select the essential ones – the ideas that would make it into MVP. Now came the second extreme. People were suddenly very "trigger happy" and wanted to put everything in to the tool. Took some time to convince them that having snow on the background is not really the most needed feature. Eventually we succeeded in picking just few most important features.
Hour passed and people were still interested as we started drawing some wireframes. Or better said – this time around, they were the one doing all the heavy lifting.
Experience above all else
It took almost two hours to end our hour long session as people seemed to enjoy the experience. Not only they learned what we do and how we do it, they also had the opportunity to try it out themselves.
We heard some good feedback about our approach and it made us more visible.
I have used this same approach with students during open doors. The activities were different but the notion of letting them experience it was the same. And it worked miracles. Teenagers hating the world, refusing to pay attention to anything suddenly came together and started cooperating and being interested in what they were doing.
I can safely say that whenever I am put into similar position, I found it that letting people experience something is always more valuable than to just tell them.