Every culture is different. And in each culture, there are little bugs that can make collaboration more difficult. In workshops, we include what I would call cultural hacks to bypass these cultural bugs.
The Swiss example
Swiss people are extremely polite and respectful people. So it's quite hard for us to say to someone: what you are saying has nothing to do with the topic of the day, so can we talk about this another time? As this is hard for people they will keep this tension internally and it might then come out in a much stronger way later in the workshop in a way that hurts: "Oh we don't care about this little detail, now please shut up!"
So to avoid that people stay in silent when everybody feels that we are talking or working on something unimportant I create a cultural hack.
Here the Bike Shed story as described by Wikipedia contributors:
The term was coined as a metaphor to illuminate Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. Parkinson observed that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant may spend the majority of its time on relatively unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bikeshed, while neglecting the design of the power plant itself, which is far more important but also far more difficult to criticize constructively.
By telling people about the bike shed issue I then say:
You know I'm someone who is really passionated. It might happen that in the middle of the workshop I get passionated about a detail, that to you is a bike shed. Instead of saying: "Daniele shut the fuck up" you can tell me "Hmmm Daniele, isn't that a bike shed? Can we rather work on the nuclear plant?". And as we work with the same rules today, I will also use this when you'll be too passionated about a detail that can wait for later.
A cultural hack needs to be visible
To make that even stronger I then take a post-it and write "Parking" on it. I then explain that each time we arrive at a topic which is a "bike shed" topic we will write it down and park it there to be sure that it will be covered in another session.
An Asian cultural hack
In some specific Asian cultures, it is seen as highly disrespectful to give negative feedback to people. You don't want to make anyone look bad.
A big part of workshops is about expressing what works well in a given solution and what needs to be improved. Therefore, negative feedback is needed. So how do you make it work in such cultures?
Facilitator Elaine Ann, working in greater China uses what she calls "Anonymous post-its". Instead of having people express their feedback personally, the feedback is written on post-it notes. Then all post-it notes are mixed together and put on the wall. Know you have a lot of feedback but we don't know who said what. The facilitator then reads the feedback and never asks "Who wrote that". This little cultural hack makes it possible to give feedback in a culture where improvement feedback is difficult to give.
Cultural hacks need to be custom made
This is just one example of a cultural hack. Depending on the organizational culture and country culture you are living in, your facilitator might use a few of these cultural hacks to avoid bugs in the collaboration.
Why do workshops work? [beta]
Learn why workshops are such a great collaboration tool for any organization.