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How (and Why) to Run a Wayfinding Session


In the earliest days of the pandemic we all went into GO-mode. We scrambled and raced and efforted…we carried worlds on our shoulders to keep it all on the rails. And throughout that season we just wanted – we needed – a moment to pause. To rest our hands on our knees and catch our collective breath. It seems now that breathing has commenced. There’s pausing, reflecting, stock-taking, and great resigning happening all around us. And in this pause, as the dust of all the chaos begins to settle, we’re suddenly bearing witness to the fact that there are cracks everywhere - some shallow, some deep. But there are hairlines running all throughout our foundation. I talked to a client last week – the president of a business I’ve worked with for years. But this conversation felt very different. In the past, she’s reached out seeking partnership to deliver something discrete (i.e., a leadership program, an organization design review, an employee experience workshop). This time, however, she showed up with a frantic energy, reporting a need for help (not partnership – help) with their organization design, her span of control, a plan to re-engage an overwhelmed and exhausted workforce, a talent retention strategy, and an employee development roadmap. I let her put it all out there. Then I asked if she could prioritize for me. She told me that was her prioritized list! I don’t think she’s alone. And I don’t think it’s only presidents of businesses feeling this way. Team leaders, HR partners, even individual contributors seem to be sensing a ubiquitous need to heal – and simply don’t know where to begin. Here’s the truth. I don’t know either. But the answer is within your organization or team. It needs to be unlocked. We use something we call a Wayfinding Session to do this for clients. It’s typically a half-day event, though can be designed to run longer or shorter. If you’re needing to find your way, maybe some of the insights below will help. A Wayfinding Session is designed to achieve two outcomes:

  1. Explicitly, it delivers a clear point of view on what demands your attention most imminently – the thing that by focusing on it will most likely have a positive knock-on effect to other areas of priority.

  2. Implicitly, it serves to engage key stakeholders – signaling to them their voice, experiences, ideas, and recommendations really matter.

Here’s how we make it happen:


1. We begin with hypotheses. We invite the senior-most leader(s) to describe what signals or symptoms are keeping them up at night and what they suspect might be driving these.

2. We develop a protocol. We draft a set of questions designed, based on initial hypotheses, to inform our view on where the pain, uncertainty, or opportunity is strongest, what most commands attention, and what “better” would look and feel like.


3. We identify key stakeholders. We strive to include voices of those (a) most in the know and can bring an informed perspective, and (b) most critical to engage and retain, who may feel moved to inform a path forward. We invite them to a Wayfinding Session.


4. We run the session. We bring participants together (physically or virtually) typically for a half-day. We ask, we listen, we probe. They respond, they whiteboard, they reflect, they release. We collect their needs, concerns, ideas, and wishes which become critical inputs to our roadmap.


5. We develop a roadmap. We analyze and synthesize what we heard, and we present a high-level roadmap back to the leader – a prioritized set of needs and potential interventions that focus on sequence and impact.

Critically underlying a successful session is communication from the leader to participants – before and absolutely after. This approach has been serving us well. It’s fast and focused, it’s inclusive and empathetic. And it provides tremendous relief to leaders who are paralyzed with uncertainty over where to begin. I’ll let you know how my Wayfinding goes with this client. But I have a good feeling. Get in touch if you’d like some partnership (or help – no shame!) Wishing you a wonderful Wayfinding.

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