Problem Solving Leadership Workshop, May 2012

In May 2012 I attended the Problem Solving Leadership workshop (PSL) which was facilitated by Johanna Rothman, Esther Derby, and Jerry Weinberg. This legendary workshop was designed in 1974 (!) by Jerry and his wife Dani and traveled many places around the world since then. In recent years however, Albuquerque, New Mexico, became its permanent home. In this post, I would like to share some experiences which hopefully motivates others to attend this workshop as well.

The location of the workshop was the Marriott, Courtyard Albuquerque Airport hotel. This hotel is only a ten minute drive from the Albuquerque airport (ABQ).  Immediately after I checked in and I had changed clothes, I walked to the Applebee’s for an informal supper. Here was the first meeting with the organizers and some participants. But the workshop really began when all 24 participants entered the classroom for the first time Saturday morning 9 a.m.

After the introduction round, participants were asked to form groups of six persons. Everyone had to write down what he or she has to offer and what they expected of a group. Then you went looking for partners to join them to form a learning group. Susan DiFabio, Petri Heiramo, Angus MacArthur, Dan Wellman, Dhaval Panchal and I together formed The Mirrors and we recorded our learning objectives on a flip-chart. Each group would spend the rest of the workshop together to solve problems. For an overview of the problems we had to solve, I refer to the summary report of Markus Gärtner. He’s attended the workshop in 2011 and the program was, as far as I can judge, the same. I myself would like to emphasize two things that made the workshop special to me.

Exercises were always evaluated in class once they were completed. In reality, the result is often paramount. Rarely is analyzed how the result is attained. The human element; personal conduct and group dynamics are rarely analyzed and that is precisely where Jerry, Esther and Johanna emphasize and what makes this workshop so interesting. The result (the what) was during the evaluation therefore completely subordinate to the way it was achieved (the how). Special were the moments when Jerry, sitting on his transformed walker, told a story or called a teaching moment. At such moments you realize once again how much insight and experience that man has. And he’s a great storyteller with great humor.

Another special part of the workshop was the possibility of individual consulting. You can go to Johanna, Esther or Jerry and make a breakfast, lunch or supper appointment to discuss a topic of your choice. I had two lunch meetings; one with Jerry and one with Esther. In both cases I have discussed my current work and in both cases I got good advice. I have not seen free individual consulting before at a workshop, but I really liked it and I would therefore recommend it to anyone.

Six days seem very long for a workshop. Yes, it was very intense and it was hard work. However, if you want to develop as a technical leader, then this workshop is highly recommended.

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