Thursday, January 19, 2017

Draw Toast - learn to understand each other

Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to reach a common understanding? How often do people talk about the same thing without meaning the same thing? "Draw Toast" is a fun exercise to help us reflect and learn about how we ourselves think - and how differently those around us think. Let me share with you my experience from my first-ever Draw Toast session during the Open Space of ScrumTisch Köln.

The process of making toast - which model is "right"? Mine! ... oh wait!

Stage 1: Draw Toast

I instructed the participants to each grab a sheet of paper and a pen - then "Sketch the process of making toast, starting from the package until consumption". I wrote these instruction on a whiteboard. Below that, I sketched a piece of fluffy toast. They had five minutes.
Note to self: Five minutes was too much. People started to get bored. Three would have been plenty.

Toast? Close enough.

Stage 2: Discuss

In stage 2, I asked participants to pair up with someone else and exchange the sketches. Then, I instructed: "There is no right or wrong model, they only serve to have a conversation. Every sketch is slightly different, so take a look at the differences. Ask your partner to explain the intention behind their model. For example 'I see you have this step which I don't have: why is this important for you?' - or 'You omitted this step ... why?' Two key constraints: Do not judge. Avoid statements such as 'wrong' or 'bad'. And: Try to learn something." I gave them five minutes.
Note to self: Five minutes was quite little. Maybe seven would have been better.

The room went into bubbling discussion. We did some overtime until the room was silent again

Stage 3: Reflect

In the third stage, I simply posed the question: "What did we learn ... about ourselves and about others?" and opened the discussion, jotting down bullet points.

Left: About yourself. Right: About others.

Some of the key points that came up:

About myself, I learned:

  • we make tons of implicit assumptions
  • we base our models on our own habits
  • it's really difficult NOT to judge
About others, I learned:
  • Other people's approach differs
  • "Crispy" or "warm" is a personal preference
  • Hey, this guy likes strawberry jam!

    Stage 4: Debrief

    Participants already saw that even on a very simple process like toasting, expectations and unspoken assumptions vary widely. The visible model helps us to ask questions which bring us closer together. Until we had that model, we didn't even realize how different our understanding was. An open-minded conversation is absolutely essential to reach a common understanding.
    I dismissed the group with the suggestion to reflect on this half an hour and consider how our own mental models affect how we perceive and interact with those around us.

    Personal reflection

    Conducting Draw Toast with a group of over 30 people within 30 minutes was a challenge and I was amazed it actually worked.

    I intentionally broke the process suggested by Tom Wujec because I was simultaneously experimenting with the premise of non-judgmental discussion I picked up from Marshall Goldsmith and Liberating Structures. The experiment ended well.

    The Liberating Structure "1-2-All" was extremely useful. It would have been better if I'd had enough time to take one step further into "1-2-4-All", having pairs choose one of the two models and discuss them with another pair. That would have taken another 8 minutes which would have been worthwhile.

    One point which came up during the reflection was this: The shape of the toast I presented was copied by nearly all participants. Only during reflection did one of them realize, "Hey, this is not what toast actually looks like!" With a seemingly innocent visualization, I had already instilled a thought pattern into the audience. I had manipulated their concept of "toast"!
    Afterwards, I had a discussion with another coach on this matter. He jested "If you had drawn a frying pan next to the toast, we'd probably all have integrated a frying pan into the process."
    He suggested that as a potentially interesting experiment for the future: "What happens when you give people nonsensical preconditions, then ask them to design a process around them?"
    Note to self: Got to try that in the future. Need a setting ...


    Draw Toast can be used both for team building and during Retrospectives. It's a great exercise to help people in a team understand both themselves and each other better. Using Liberating Structures, you can do this easily with an entire room full of people.

    My suggestion: Give it a try.

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