“With her experience, empathy and overview, Birgit contributed vastly to the successful launch and sustainable conclusion of WWF Austria’s biggest pan-European project. We will rely on her skills again in future!” (Sabine Gisch-Boie, Fish Forward Project Leader, WWF Austria)
11 European countries, 60 co-workers, one project: by leading the awareness initiative “Fish Forward,” WWF Austria has tackled the biggest international collaboration venture in its history. My job at the start of the project was to align the colourful team in preparation for working together. A project team united on the one hand by its passion and professional commitment to a better planet. On the other hand, though, facing huge challenges: multi-cultural backgrounds, working as a virtual team, embedded in national organisations with different organisational and strategic requirements and approaches.
Bundling the skills of all the co-workers and helping them achieve a common breakthrough was mission and success alike: from Portugal to Bulgaria, from Italy to Germany, the same message was sent all across Europe: “Buy sustainable fish! 
This is the short project summary, and I really recommend you take a look at the Fish Forward Homepage and the WWF Seafood Guide as well as the prize-winning video „Nonoy and the Sea Monster“.
And now to come to the methodology, whereby I will put the cart before the horse and begin this MindFood by describing the Closure Meeting as this just recently took place and is still very fresh and alive in my heart and mind. That’s why I will save the details about the March 2015 kick-off meeting (called “Inception Workshop” in this project) for the next MindFood.
The Closure Meeting took place in the middle of October 2017 in Vienna, and I was privileged to once again serve as the moderator.
Closure Meetings should always be about 2 essential things:
- Reflecting back on the experience in order to be better armed for the next projects, avoiding making the same mistakes again, but also applying the same success factors for the next time.
- Celebrating the achievements together and closing the project emotionally.
You will also find some general hints in the Blog about Project Closure Meetings from June 2014.
And this is what we tried to do, at many levels, with the approximately 30 participants during the 1.5 days. The meeting began in the afternoon and included the following elements:
Opening: a slideshow about past project meetings showing not only the great atmosphere but the many previous successes, followed by short official welcome speeches, programme and methodology Information.
After a speed-dating round, during which the participants shared highlights from the project, the results were then drawn (in groups) and (like the slide show) immediately created a lot of positive emotions. Here are some examples below:
Afterwards, at the so-called “marketplace,” the successes in the WWF partner countries were presented. These ranged from a Seafood Guide jointly created by many countries to theater performances through to cooking events with sustainable fish. The country representatives prepared creative posters and gave short presentations (only 2 minutes). Then the others had an opportunity – just like in a real marketplace – to stroll around and browse the stands for more information.
Presentation at the market place
Promo Material “Ugly Fish”
I love this method very much because it avoids tedious, long PowerPoint skirmishes while still communicating the essentials in a much more memorable way.
This was a fine loop back to the kick-off meeting 2.5 years ago as WWF Austria, first and foremost, presented the work packages in the marketplace, demonstrating endless creativity (but more about that in the next MindFood).
After a break, the results of the work packages – again, creative, most of them with flipcharts – were presented by the WP leaders of WWF Austria and discussed in the Fish Bowl that followed, naturally involving the entire group. The WP leaders and I, as the moderator, sat in the inner circle, and there was one space free that, after some time, everyone in the outer circle was able to occupy in order to ask questions or make comments.
Intensiv discussion about the Fish Forward Learnings in the Fish Bowl.
At the start, I asked the inner circle the following questions for reflection:
- What false expectations were there?
- What were the biggest challenges?
- What were the greatest successes?
- What were the success criteria?
- What will we be taking with us to the next project, Fish Forward II?
And so we reflected for approx. 45 minutes very animatedly, also including the outer circle. The important thing is to prepare the questions really well in advance.
The intensive discussions spilled over into the informal, relaxed Closure Dinner in the evening.
On the 2nd day, and after a short opening, essential information for the remaining project work was presented along with what to do with the evolved products, for example the Seafood Guide. The results of the externally commissioned project evaluation were also presented. Some of this was presented using PowerPoint (there is nothing wrong with ppt as long as this medium is well prepared) some with prepared flipcharts, which as a so-called “everlasting medium” has the advantage of remaining visible in the room, to be referred to again at any time.
Well prepared with essential information, flipcharts are “everlasting”.
We collected the learnings in several steps, starting with the „Dreams & Nightmares“ reflections we had developed during the Kick-Off Meeting. Accordingly, I asked the participants to take up a position („Constellation/Sociometry“ method) whereby the parameters were 0% / 50% / 100%: e.g. by how much % did dream xy come true? This led to an exciting discussion.
Then we split up into 3 working groups, of which 2 WGs gathered the learnings on the topic “project management.” Both groups worked with questions that had previously been prepared, and now were discussed and visualised. I moderated the 3rd WG on the “Marketing & Communication” topic, where we ranked the various communication and marketing channels using points, and then fleshed out the most important in more detail using the Brainwalking Method.
Each Partner Organisation votes
After the lunch break, we presented the results of all the working groups in a plenary session and discussed these intensively, which was all the more important in view of the fact that there will be a follow-up project (already approved by the European Commission) with a different focus and additional partners from developing nations.
The closing was highly emotional and started with video messages from high-ranking WWF leaders, followed by handing out small presents to everyone, a bouquet for the project leader Sabine Gisch-Boie and well-deserved applause for the same, as well as some tears.
Gifts for everyone
Thunderous Applause from everyone (not only from myself)
And that was the Fish Forward Closure Workshop.
In the next MindFood I will tell you about the Fish Forward “Inception Workshop” (i.e. kick-off meeting) that took place in March 2015, with many interactive elements that also stimulated team development.
Please don’t copy and imitate the presented methods 1:1, because – methods follow the objectives (and not the other way around). The target group must always be considered, too, and its size. Not every method is suitable for every group size.
What have you experienced in EU project meetings? Please share what you’ve learned, and your approaches, with us!
Best regards, Birgit
© David Prokop / WWF Austria
[1.] Why? Well, because Europe is the world’s biggest market and fish & seafood importer. At the same time, fish is a source of income and food for over 800 million people – above all in developing countries. Europe’s consumers greatly influence how fish is farmed around the globe. This is why, to protect people and nature, ”Fish Forward” appeals to us to “buy sustainable fish”!Merke