Design charette an eye-opening approach to accomplishment

The Accomplishment Blog by Angela LammersI’ve typed the word “charette” hundreds of times over the last two years. And each time, a prominent red underline appears—the kind that looks like a grimace, the bold, red grimace that signifies Microsoft Word has no idea what you are writing about. Microsoft issues its automated spell-check complaint whether I type charette or charrette. Both are correct. Trust me, I’ve checked.

The beauty of a charette is it’s the opposite of Microsoft automation. It’s one of the most humane, beautiful, inspiring communication opportunities I’ve had occasion to witness.

Charettes, or charrettes (pronounced: shuhr-EHTZ’), are engaging sessions in which all participants in a project work together to create a vision and collaborate on a path forward. They’re an incredible tool for interaction and understanding.

Lots of us experience interaction in our organizations, yet too often many of those interactions lack understanding. Charettes are powerful because they allow individuals in groups to adjust their thinking, together.

When we work in groups, we each use plenty of “I” language. We think with our “I.” We know with our “I.” We speak using “I.” And that’s appropriate. When the group work is done, whether it’s one meeting or dozens, the group needs to emerge with one team decision and identify with one “we.”

Few things are as exhausting as participating in a group that fails to make decisions and reaches inertia. We’re human beings, and we’ve all been there at some point.

I strongly believe in tools that allow groups to create meaning and mutual understanding. These tools can be as simple as someone drawing a basic sketch or more advanced simulations and prototypes that can help groups align with new ideas.

I wrote my master’s thesis around one particularly powerful and straightforward tool of lean management, the A3 report. I interviewed mid-level and senior managers at Midwest-based organizations including hospitals, manufacturing firms and growing software technology startups to write: “The A3 Report as Knowledge-accomplishing Activity: A Practice-oriented Analysis of Situated Organization Problem Solving.” Yes, there’s plenty of academic phrasing in that title; but the work was fascinating. I recalled this memory as I watched a charette in process a week ago today.

Even though my priorities were to ensure final preparations for a closing meeting and connect with vital sponsors before they departed, I couldn’t resist the charette’s appeal. I watched each participant’s ownership of the process as I listened to many thoughts and inspired ideas. Each individual, regardless of rank or experience level, provided meaningful input and raised vital questions. Best of all, I listened as people adjusted their “I” statements to “we” statements. Individual adjustments in thought quickly became mutual adjustment. The charette closed with each group presenting stronger and more impactful ideas than any one person would have created.

With your next change, consider how people can be part of the process. How can team members engage with the change before it is established? How and where can people give feedback before the work is final? How can each member of the team share his or her individual voice while allowing the group to emerge with a decision that represents the team as a whole?

The design charette I watched last week was conducted by several teams of architects, landscape architects and other design professionals. I’ve found architects to be incredible people and I am honored to work for, with and around them. They are intelligent, well educated, forward thinking, thoughtful, creative and community-minded. They are the kind of people who regularly create interaction and understanding through their work. They simulate, they sketch and sometimes they conduct charettes. They are doers who accomplish, and we can all learn from them.