Step Forward Smartly in 2021: Tips and Tools for Getting People Together

January 26, 2021

In searching for anything liberating about the past 10 months, I’ve appreciated the necessity to try new things. Whether it is about surviving a pandemic, addressing pervasive racial injustice as a white leader, or navigating their impact on our work, I sense a positive shift – in me, my organization, and in the sector and collaborative efforts ICL’s work supports. One key change is the connection being made between the opportunity and necessity of participatory approaches to address issues of equity and justice.

With the rollercoaster of January as an indicator, adaptive leadership is still the name of the game in 2021. Despite knowing change is constant, it is unusual but not surprising to encounter leaders and groups that avoid it. And yet adapting and learning from mistakes and successes is essential to adaptive leadership. With much of ICL’s work focused on collaborating and convening, we encourage you to Assess, Experiment and Try new resources to support your capacity to change in the months ahead. 


Consider where you and your team are now in your work to adapt your collaboration and the ways you meet.

Is your organization: So far you have:
Team Time Out Done the basics; delayed major work until 2021 – waiting to see what happens; hoping to go back to normal in-person
Team Transfer Shifted most of what you do in-person to zoom or conference calls. Same agenda, different format
Team Translate Evolved your in-person activities by trying out some new facilitation methods and online tools. Informal sharing of ideas among those who have tried things out.
Team Transform Become versatile at using new methods and tools; have a culture of learning and experimentation


In the next three months, identify a next step for you and for your organization/collaboration.  

1. Conduct a small experiment that addresses an important goal. Especially if you are “Team Timeout” use experiments to just try something new without prejudging it. Phone a friend who can be a sounding board with honest feedback, brainstorms of what to try, and perhaps guest facilitate or provide tech support. Plan to devote extra time and resources to the experiment – it can take longer to plan online activities. But once you do, the results can exceed what you did before, in person.

2. Try something completely new. Continue to shift your thinking from tolerating our current reality to embracing and making the most of it. We often hear online is “just not the same”.  Suspend your belief and try to design something that is not just the same as, but better than, in-person. Start with a team or staff meeting and involve a couple of colleagues to generate ideas for what to try.

3. Transform an event. Watch Priya Parker’s Ted Talk: 3 Steps to Turn Everyday Get Together into Transformative Gatherings or read her book The Art of Gathering and pick one personal or work event to experiment with.

4. Cancel some meetings and zooms. Identify an appropriate meeting to cancel and see if you can accomplish a task through a shared document or workspace.  It can be as basic as asking your colleagues a question in a shared google document and having everyone add their answers by a certain time.  Relieve your screen time by doing some phone calls (even better if you can both get away from your screen, for example by sitting outside or taking a walk while you talk). 

5. Lend a hand. If you know how to translate or transform meetings, find someone who is struggling (person, partner organization) and devote some time to helping them adapt. This could include serving as a “tech steward” for their meeting – running breakout rooms, setting up shared documents and tools.


Lastly, sometimes using a new tool helps support your experiments. We encourage you to take advantage of the astounding array of tools available to foster engagement and make your collaborative work easier and participation more equitable. These are my current favorites for fostering online interaction:

1. Most Versatile: Google Jamboard

Use this simple and easy whiteboard to create an online collaboration space for almost anything, including brainstorming, strategizing and planning, gathering feedback, and designing. Post Its plus a pen, text and the ability to import images mean you can use it on the spot or create templates for more involved conversations.

2. Good Variety/Most Elegant: Padlet 

Use Padlet’s various layouts to gather and sort information and answer questions, create timelines and interactive maps. Participants can add comments and vote on entries to show interest, create priorities and provide feedback. Add photos and links with a click. The mapping and timeline tools allow rapid connection between participants and visualization of information and plans.  

3. Support Collaborative Decision Making: Mentimeter

Participants go to menti.com, enter a short code and collaborate immediately. You may have used this as a conference participant to share ideas that get displayed as a word cloud. Dig deeper into the polling tools to support decision making. For example, test agreement using the “Scales” format and facilitate discussion based on the responses to build consensus.

If you’re stuck, looking for ways to get started, or just want to talk through some participatory design ideas, contact ICL consultant, Peter Lane: peter(at)icl(dot)org, for a free 30 minute conversation. 

Sarah Clark, Senior Associate

1 thought on “Step Forward Smartly in 2021: Tips and Tools for Getting People Together”

  1. well done Sarah. Thank you! One participatory approach that I’ve re-integrated into my work – is transitioning from constant audio/visual platforms to the old-fashioned email phone/conference call – and yes – a call that is ONLY audio, no visual. While possibly counter intuitive to the wonderful technology that has connected us, I’m finding that folks appreciate having a reprieve, periodically, from the constant visual aspect of our meetings/discussions – and that an audio only call/meeting frees people up to walk, change positions, or be generally less attentive to whole body posturing that the virtual meeting environments often demand of us in spaces that potentially have far more distractions. Thanks for the thoughtful respite provided in your guidance here.

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