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Managing disruption on a Monday morning in Italy

Managing disruption on a Monday morning in Italy
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Ask yourself ‘what if’?

Client: Training Designer at Eni Corporate University, Italy

Monday morning and back to the office after a weekend of massive increase in Covid-19 cases. Anxiety is everywhere: someone is minimising while someone else is panicking. We linger between the urgency of postponing our programmes or taking big health-related risks.

On my side, I should have no problems… I only have one programme delivery planned next week and it's abroad, very far from Italy’s lockdown, in Sub-Saharan Africa. Impact are experts who will support us; everything will be alright.

I open my emails to check if all is fine – it’s not. An email advises me that a mandatory vaccine that I need to enter the destination country is no longer available. All vaccine centres have shut down due to the sudden Covid-19 crisis. There is a very serious risk of the facilitator ending up stuck abroad.

I hesitate, worried and unsure of what to do… I decide to make a coffee at the coffee machine, and in the background I hear the word 'video-conference'. A lightbulb turns on in my head and ideas start to appear. Impact are great with virtual facilitation and digital learning! I knew this but had not considered it an option until now. I wonder if we could find a solution encompassing digital facilitation without face-to-face contact. I am doubtful but also hopeful; I need to talk to someone about it. The phone rings and it's Impact. 

Chiara Fregonese: Senior Consultant and Account Director, Impact Italy

Monday morning, back to the office after a weekend of massive increase in Covid-19 cases. The day starts with the brutal consequences of this bad news: cancellations and postponements of programmes. It is now clear that clients are not willing to take health-related risks and nor are we.

I worry about our programmes in Italy, and the related risks and opportunities confronting us. Will programmes abroad be affected too? News continues to come in. We have issues with a programme to be held in Sub-Saharan Africa next week – our facilitator can no longer get the mandatory vaccines needed to enter the country. All vaccine centres have suddenly been closed and there is a high risk of our facilitator getting stranded in the middle of her journey.

I start to write to the client: 'The risk of disruption is too high; we must think about alternatives...'

But worry takes over and I fear that we will have to postpone the programme. I need to talk about this issue, to share the uncertainties and possibilities with someone else. I call the client and she answers.

“I wonder if we could make the solution digital instead of flying the facilitator to Africa?”

Listen to emotions as signals from the environment

We laugh about the fact that the digital learning idea emerged from somewhere between consciously knowing that digital is a possibility and subconsciously hearing someone mention it at the coffee machine. Panic and worry jostle with reason and determination, stimulating ideas and opportunities. Noticing what is happening within our minds whilst staying connected to what is happening externally can help us consider the full range of options available.

Create space for conversations

Conversation helps us navigate emotional ambiguity and uncertainty. By voicing potential risks and opportunities with another, we give new ideas a chance to emerge, building on each other’s suggestions, mentally reiterating solutions and viable options. Through dialogue, it becomes clear that it is feasible to convert the programme into a brilliant virtual offering. 

Give new solutions a chance

If we had suggested it two days ago, converting to virtual learning would have sounded crazy; but now it makes more and more sense, and we begin to feel enthusiastic. We gave a new idea a chance and in doing so we realised that we have at least as many digital tools as we would have in a face-to-face setting: online interaction tools, videos, instant messaging, the appropriate facilitation style, and the entire internet at our fingers.

Be realistic

We are also aware of the limitations and potential for disruption in virtual learning: connection breakdown, attention span, setting, materials, interaction management... we can't pretend that it will be easy. Together, we run through all the details of the face-to-face version of the programme, considering what could go wrong. It is vital that we consider, share and listen to our doubts and fears, and that we endeavour to turn them into intentional actions.

Involve impacted others

We decide to share the idea with other stakeholders, such as project managers, designers and facilitators. Involving others enables the solution to become even more viable. We ask them to play with the possible outcome and take responsibility for it. Even participants will have a fundamental role to play, as they will author part of the programme, allowing experiential activities and interaction to unleash their full potential.

Embrace mistakes

The programme goes live, technical tests are rolled out, webcams and audio are set up, materials are prepared, and participants briefed. At first, it is not easy, and we struggle to find order amidst chaos, noise, and delayed feedback. But slowly, error by error, iteration by iteration, the interaction begins to flow, the exchange emerges, accountability increases, and learning begins. Disruption opens the door for agility and innovation.

Acknowledge the generative power of crisis

This new solution is the result of a crisis –  an impossibility to proceed as normal. Such conditions allowed exploration, enabled creativity, and resulted in innovation. Old limitations were cast aside and new connections were created; the client and Impact partnered together in a new approach, sharing doubts and fears, but also ideas and commitment.

Coronavirus, a global crisis, is suddenly changing plans, breaking rules, and subverting relations. It is also provoking the exploration of new paths, the generation of new balances, and the creation of new links. The story told here has just happened in Italy, and we are sharing it to demonstrate how, in times like these, our learning capability can be stretched, but also utilised and developed through the power of co-creation, reflection and exploration.

A big thank you goes to Eni Corporate University, who, besides trusting our capacity to design and deliver innovative solutions, also partnered with us in writing this article.