Hexagon thinking goes way beyond creating a checklist because it enables you find relationships between ideas very quickly and flexibly. It also makes it easy to work with ideas contributed from different participants. The steps below build upon the Hexagon Exercise and Tutorial and are for facilitating groups when clarity is needed.
To elicit a set of issues or ideas from a group, record them on hexagons and combine them into a small number of clusters as input to further work. A further step if a whole systems approach is needed is to relate the clusters into one system called an influence diagram.
When to Use?
There are several h3uni visual facilitation processes that involve generating individual contributions from members of the group which then require these to be combined into a small number key next level ideas for the next stage of that process.
The hexagon clustering process is appropriate for taking around 20-30 stickies and combining them into clusters of around 3-7. This will be covered in three stages:
Eliciting Ideas on Hexagons (Steps 1 & 2)
Clustering (Steps 3 & 4)
- Method A – Conversational
- Method B – Silent
Creating an Influence Diagram (Steps 5 & 6)
Using all three processes as one single process is called hexagon mapping but each of the steps can be used independently in different contexts.
- Large visual work area (6′ x 4′) at the front of the meeting space
- Sticky hexagons (50-70) (or magnetic dry-wipe hexagons if the whiteboard is steel-backed)
- Participants seated in U facing work area – not table or other obstruction to everyone standing in front of the visual work area
Step 1: Identify Issues
Write the trigger question for the exercise at the top of your work space.
- Start with a trigger question like “what do you feel are the major issues in accomplishing our task together?”
- Write up the trigger question on the top of the board.
- Each person individually generates and note down their top five issues
Step 2: Collect Ideas
- The facilitator collects one issue per person in sequence and writes it up on the hexagons ensuring that everyone has understood the meaning for the contributor.
- Go round each person in turn and collect just one uncertainty from each
- Write in block capitals, numbering each hexagon in turn at the top.
- Where necessary work with the contributors to formulate a clear issue that is genuinely strategic rather than operational.
- Read out the issues to the group and ensure that the group understands its meaning for the contributor.
- Do not allow discussion other than for clarification
- Place on the white board making a border around the whiteboard.
See Visual Facilitation Tutorial for further tips.
Step 3: Cluster the Hexagons
Method A – Conversational
- The facilitator guides the group to search for connections and associations between issues that will develop the clusters. This is an emergent process with no “right” answer.
- Connections are expressed by placing the hexagons together. Try to avoid simple classification grouping.
- Anyone seeing a connection is invited to come up to the visual space and place their two hexagons together.
- Get the person placing two hexagons together to briefly explain the link.
- Clusters of several hexagons are formed. Cognitively it is good to keept their size down to not more than seven (7).
- Guide this process towards achieving consolidation into several main clusters. The result is more powerful if people avoid simple classification and seek interesting connections of difference rather than similarity.
- Once a circle of hexagons is formed the facilitator invites members of the group to point out and explain strong connections:
- Where people disagree encourage brief discussion of differences of viewpoint but move on if there is no quick resolution.
Method B – Silent
This is a similar process to Method A except that it is carried out in this way:
- The whole group (or if the group is large a sub-group) are invited up to the visual space or whiteboard.
- Everyone standing up is asked to put hexagons together and build clusters
- No conversation is allowed!
- When sufficient clustering has emerged, the operation is stopped and people return to their places
- The faciltiator askes for reflections on what has emerged
- Several people join in and a rough shared picture emerges as what the main clusters are about
Where sufficient time is available and also if the task requires a thorough approach, then Method A is preferred. This gives the faciltator more scope to challenge the meaning and quality of what is being done and keep referring back to the purpose of the overall exercise. More care can be taken with avoiding simple classification groupings and with juxtaposing hexagons in a way that brings out a more systmic connection.
Where time is short and the exercise is more one of sketching some kind of quick shared undertanding (quickly getting the picture) then Method B is often the best. The clustering process,even done by several people concurrently and done without discussion, is remarkable in how it can elicit common understanding of the pattern of issues that have come up from the group.
Step 4: Name the Clusters
The key facilitator question here is “what makes this cluster an interesting topic for our overall task?”
- A good way to do this is to ask “what is the story this cluster is telling?” Have someone tell the story.
- The title can be a phrase, but do not use an active verb unless this is required for the next stage of the process – usually you want to keep the relationship to action open.
- Avoid single words which are often too open to wide interpretation.
- A useful guide is 3 to 5 words.
- Test the title with a question like “what is it that makes this particular cluster significant for our current task?”
- Since judgements about clusters may be made at a later stage in task process, it is usually best to avoid titles that imply an evaluation. It is often better to think of the title as indicating a condition that may or may not be “good” or “bad” or something similar.
Step 5: Add Influences
The facilitator invites the group to identify major influences or connections between the decision areas and depicts them as arrows. Discussion is deepened by considering the mutual impact of changes in one cluster with conditions in cluster.
The key facilitator question here is “Where is there a strong relationship of influence of one cluster on another?”
- the diagram that is being drawn here is an influence diagram that brings out knock-on effects between one cluster and another
- the relationships represented by the arrows do not have to be just causal time sequences – they may also be subtle correlations
- where people want to put double-headed arrows, take only the direction which is stronger
- It is easy to draw a lot of lines connecting every cluster to every other cluster. This is not the point!
- the value of the arrow and its direction is to identify what are the connections that makes a difference to how to the situation behaves as a whole
- It is better to be parsimonious and have a few really significant influences rather than lots of minor ones. Judgements will need to be made about this.
If the hexagon clustering is taking place in the context of, say, a project for transformative innovation, then a further exercise is to test the completed diagram by inquiring into where the group think the intervention points might be that have leverage: the biggest transformative impact for the least effort. Quite often these are not in the obvious place and work by transmitting effects around the influence arrows in a particular pathway.
Step 6: Answer Your Question
- Read and think about your original question at the top of the space.
- Read through the hexagon map you have created getting a feel for the whole as well as the detail.
- Taking that picture into account write down your best thoughts that either answer your question or give you a whole new perspective on the problem even if the answer has not yet emerged.
- “Now that I have:
- Considered all factors
- Clustered them into powerful relationships
- Expressed the meaning of the clusters with specific names
- Stepped back and identifies broader relationships that link them all together as one whole
- Reflected on the difference between this picture and where I started from
…I see that the answer to my original problem is…”
- Don’t cramp the exercise with too little whiteboard and insufficient hexagons
- Do lay out the room so everyone can see and access the board
- Allow an average of 2 minutes per hexagon in the collection phase: group size will affect timing
- One full round is essential but after that you can short cut by asking for anyone to contribute something they feel is significantly different from what has come out so far
- There are often tension of organisational politics around strategic issues as well as the impact of management hierarchies: it is important for the facilitator to feel as well connected as possible to each individual in the group so as to gain increasing trust and openness
- The ability of the facilitator to listen and to faithfully record what is being said is critical this process is greatly assisted by interview with cognitive mapping and feedback
- Conceptualising issues can be very hard part of strategic thinking especially where facing unknown of complex areas where there is nothing much from history to go on.
- The extra challenge to the facilitator here is to be able, as well as running the process, to join the thinking task with his group and help to catch and formulate elusive issues.