How to Run a Remote ExO Sprint During a Pandemic of Both Virulence And of Fear

Whenever we have been teaching about exponential change and what to do about it, we have always tried to emphasize the moral-boosting value of letting employees empower themselves and thereby their organization by learning how to innovate.

Sebastian Sjöberg
Sebastian Sjöberg

Myself and my partner Fredrik Andrén are currently running an ExO Transformation Sprint and we wanted to share some of our learnings. Enjoy!

Why we are writing this sprint log

The one thing we lacked from the 'Exponential Transformation' book when we read it last summer was the campfire tales, war stories, and practical advice about how to get participants onboard a sprint and how to keep them lively. Of course, those experiences are gathered here in our community by us who practice these principles. This blog is our way of adding to that trove of knowledge.

A sample of how we gamify the concepts of the process of Exponential Transformation. Works great when you can be together in the same room...

We hope to inspire other coaches and consultants within the OpenExO community to launch sprints of their own, and maybe illuminate a thing or two about how to get the process unstuck when reality grinds its gears. Also, we hope to learn from other practitioners among you that also work to spread the ideas contained within this platform. This is how we do it, and we want to learn how you do it. Maybe, together, we can even innovate a bit.

Week 0: Align, a little bit of awake and a whole lot of Zoom

Right now is not an ideal time to embark upon a 10-week long sprint aimed to help the client define its own future and start steering towards it. One might think. The current and ongoing COVID-19 crisis has everybody on edge and more or less desperately seeking ways of feeling less insecure. To invest in one's future is something that is easily put aside in favor of securing more toilet paper, or in the case of organizations - making sure that staff is able to work remotely on the core functions. Still, the sprint must go on.

The core of our value offerings to clients is the framework laid out in the 'Exponential Transformation' handbook. On top of that, 10X Labs have added our own narrative storytelling devices and gamification mechanics. More on that in a future blog entry. We call our sprints 'Expeditions' and we name them after famous scientists. Last autumn, and not without some struggle, we launched Expedition Edison and on Monday we formally set forth with Expedition Curie.

We work with the same client as before, our city's energy and infrastructure provider, and their immune system is strong. They have about 230 employees and during Expedition Edison we barely managed to glean away three participants, and so our first sprint was frail, to say the least. Now, very much due to the clear and emphatic support of the CEO, we managed to mobilize 16 volunteers. 10 were selected, and so we were looking forward to a proper sprint with two fully staffed core teams.

Then the pandemic hit.

First the virus, then the FUD. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt - the very fuel of an already triggered immune system. Pun intended. We thought our sprint was doomed, as we believed it unlikely that our client would see the benefit of investing in a distant tomorrow when their current situation demanded all hands on deck.

We were wrong.

Whenever we have been teaching about exponential change and what to do about it, we have always tried to emphasize the moral-boosting value of letting employees empower themselves and thereby their organization by learning how to innovate. How the methods of 'Exponential Transformation' may or may not result in revenue-yielding innovations, but that it regardless helps a company become more resilient.

It turns out that this idea had indeed struck root, as we were informed by the CEO that she saw the coming expedition as an ideal tool for providing a sense of hope in an otherwise dire situation. The purpose of this sprint expanded from 'only' being about learning how to innovate, to also becoming a symbol of resilience. That somehow also needs to work in a completely digital space where everybody connects from home. No one ever said this was going to be easy.

Two days ago, we met all our participants for the first time together. For a lot of them, it was the first time they even used Zoom. There were fewer technical difficulties than expected. This three-hour-long meeting was a frankensteinian mix of Align and Awake sessions, general information, and digital group formation exercise. For us, it was the first time we facilitated a complex workshop using exclusively digital tools.

It was absolutely draining as if the screen suck out all of your energy but give none back. In the physical space where we normally work, the workshop attendees can provide energy back as you facilitate the process. You can read people's moods, register their levels of engagement and pick up on subtle signals. Very little of that is left when you enter a Zoom room, so as a facilitator you need to be three times engaged, energized, and present. It is hard work.

However, what became clear is that our ten explorers (the title that we, according to our narrative framework, give to sprint participants) were all eager to do something that is of value to themselves and to their organizations. In more normal times we would have had to motivate them with more concrete information about what they would get out of the experience (glory, promotion, qualifications). Now, they were pleased to be part of this expedition because of its Why - namely to help their company become a resilient vehicle for sustainable development. Nothing like a good crisis to help people question the underlying principles of their work and seek better ones.

On Monday we launch into this sprint, and our two teams will go out and Explore all according to the 'Exponential Transformation' method. With the caveat that they of course will be staying inside, not the building but their own homes, but enabled by what can be found by intelligently navigating the Internet. We are genuinely hopeful that this will be a valuable expedition for not only the client but also the employees that carry it out. It just might also be meaningful, as a concrete symbol of proactivity in the face of chaotic change.

When in doubt, there is only Make. Next week that process will have begun in earnest and we are looking forward to sharing with you, our colleagues, our trials and tribulations as we set out on an ambitious sprint in the middle of a global pandemic.

Stay tuned, and see you at the ExO World Conference!

- Sebastian & Fredrik

Sebastian, left, and Fredrik, right, making it work ahead of Monday's sprint launch

Who are we

We are Sebastian Sjöberg and Fredrik Andrén, who together form 10X Labs - a boutique innovation lab at the edge of Sweden in the city of Karlskrona. Since 2014, and with the original 'Exponential Organizations' book as a cornerstone, we have been teaching corporate clients how to thrive in times of exponential change. We achieved our Open ExO coach certification late last year and on Monday, March 30th we launch our second full-fledged sprint together with a local client, viruses be damned.

Originally posted on the OpenExO Blog page on April 05, 2020.

ExO SprintCase StudyExponential OrganizationsTransformation

Sebastian Sjöberg

Working on accelerating the great energy transition with batteries and Bitcoin