While we have some very good technology to enable remote and virtual work, some things still benefit greatly from people being in the same room. We have typically included Black Hat reviews in that category. Why has a Black Hat review been better served in person vs. remote?
It’s an intense exercise demanding a meaningful connection – Simulating what a competitor can do demands a group of people to work together as a coherent team. Separation via a phone and a web-based screen share creates barriers between people. Humans didn’t evolve in a virtual environment. We evolved as social animals and as such this helps create a connection when we can see and hear someone as a person and not as some disembodied voice.
A “real” environment helps focus – Being in the same space as your collaborators enables focus. Even as we manage other professional obligations (conflicting meetings, a deluge of emails, phone calls, etc.) it requires some more effort to escape a real human conversation. This “real” environment is easier to maintain focus vs. being in your home office / kitchen / balcony / whatever. The ease of “playing hooky” when someone cannot see what you’re doing is real.
Get the participant into a structured exercise – We operate with a very structured Black Hat review with a purpose in mind. That purpose is to not curtail creativity, but having people in a room with infrastructure built around a structured and process driven exercise aids focus and results.
Impact of COVID-19 and adapting to a “new normal”
Before COVID-19 happened to all of us, we avoided virtual Black Hat reviews. We also avoided substantial numbers of participants to be remote. Experience proved to us that in most situations, remote participants ended up being remote in body and in mind. This was a real shame because we value contributions to be made. When a participant is not participating, we all lose. Many people and their teams have learned to adapt to work virtually.
Tips to help your Black Hat review team or any virtual solution session work
Know your participants – Ensuring that you know who your participants are and what they bring to the session is even more critical. Do homework on the participants. Understand backgrounds, skills and personalities to the maximum extent practical. This enables you to direct targeted questions to the right person. Know your team and you can know how to make this work.
Have a clearly defined agenda – This is nothing revolutionary, but when people know what the plan is, they can be more engaged and more focused. Make the plan clear to all participants so they know what to do and when.
Use a video enabled online meeting service – One of the problems of just having voices and slides is it still makes it easy to hide. Whenever possible, use the video feature. Just the visual of the participants helps read body language and to judge reactions. Put the human back in a virtual exercise.
Engage individuals and not just the exercise – Ensure that people are engaged as people. It’s easy just to go through the exercise as fast as you can. It’s easy for the participants to disengage, too. Make an effort to engage individuals throughout to ensure their voice is heard and that meaningful questions are posed to persons who likely have answers. Engage the right people at the right time when they can make a difference.
During the exercise, prepare participants to take a point and run with it – All participants have some knowledge to leverage. As the exercise proceeds and participants make contributions, clearly prepare each person to run with an idea, a point, etc. when you bring the entire group together for a discussion / debrief. Get them to own an idea so they can bring their voice and expertise forward. Ownership of an idea leads to engagement…even in a virtual world.
Running a virtual Black Hat review is challenging. However, adjusting your technique and engagement style can make it work. Our “new normal” demands many adjustments. Either we embrace Semper Gumby or we lose our competitive edge.
Good luck out there. As always, do your homework. There are wins to be had!
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