CHA’s workshop at the 3rd International Action Learning Conference at Ashridge Business School on 3rd April was an opportunity to explore whether using questions based on images and metaphors created by participants led to fresh perspectives on problems. The quote is from Peter Block “Conversations that open the door to transformation must value questions more than answers”.
We used ‘The Shield’, an exercise in The Action Learning Handbook by Ian McGill and Anne Brockbank: participants draw a shield shape and then draw pictures on it representing eg what they enjoy about their work; a favourite hobby; a secret ambition.
One person describes a problem (following AL principles, i.e. real not role-play, owned by themselves, capable of more than one solution) and colleagues ask questions based on the shield drawings. Like… “What’s the view from the beach in Spain?” and “How is this like playing your piano?” or “What do you have in your shield to help you here?”.
The challenge was to ask the question in a way which didn’t seem contrived and to listen really well – responding to the recipient’s tone, pace and body language. There’s a temptation to be too clever, to try to find the perfect question, but this detracts from giving the undivided attention which is needed.
Debrief comments were that the use of images had been so personal that the questions, using the problem holder’s language and metaphors, pierced the problem very quickly; that imagery powerfully tapped into feelings and that the process enabled the problem holder to open up the problem, “like a flower” as one delegate eloquently described it.
Clear ground rules were needed to ensure permission and choice were constantly available, to ensure everyone felt safe to show emotions and explore potential vulnerabilities.
Thanks to Antony Aitken, who deftly co-facilitated and to all who attended for contributing so generously.