Friday, June 05, 2009

Fun with Archetypes

For a recent project management community of practice meeting I was asked to facilitate an "ice breaker" activity for the group. Having read and heard about some of the great work that Dave Snowden (Cognitive Edge), Patrick Lambe (Straights Knowledge/Green Chameleon), Shawn Callahan (Anecdote) and others are doing with narrative patterning, fables, archetype creation, I thought I'd facilitate a fun, short exercise to create a archetype of a project manager in the context of the community members' organization.

I certainly didn't follow any of the specific detailed processes as modeled by the experts above, given that I only had about 10-15 minutes on the agenda. I instead I simply:

  • introduced the concept of an archetype
  • showed the session participants a few examples of archetypal expressions to provide a picture of the desired outcome
  • formed small groups of twos and threes
  • asked the small groups to discuss, capture and present their observations of project managers (whether real or tongue in cheek) in areas such as social style, behavour and manerisms, posture, actions, speech patterns, appearance, how they interact with others, what they think and value etc.
It was fascinating watching what happened. Stories naturally emerged and were shared throughout the exercise. The energy in the room was palatable. Time flew for everyone - what was to be about 15 minutes of an ice breaker ended up filling the entire hour allotted for the meeting.

And the combined results of all the groups not only painted a clear and unique picture of a project manager in the organizational context of the PM community, but also some important and noticeable characteristics of the cutlture within which they function as a discipline.

 I think I'm going to keep this type of exercise in my "back pocket" for reuse in the future.

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