Success Formula for EU projects: Enthusiasm + Professionalism = Breakthrough II

In the last MindFood I not only told you about the EU project Fish Forward, but especially about the Fish Forward Closure Meeting that took place in mid-October 2017 in Vienna, attended by approx. 30 international participants.

This time, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Inception Workshop (= Kick-Off Meeting) that was held with close to 40 people in March 2015 in Vienna.

As already mentioned in a general article about (EU) project meetings, the Kick-Off Meeting is by far the most important get-together for the project team members, particularly when international partners are involved.

In my opinion it’s about 3 main things:

  • To arrive at the same view of the “Big Project Picture”
  • To build a mutual understanding, especially in respect of different national backgrounds
  • To converge and establish trust, thereby generating commitment and enthusiasm

The Fish Forward Inception Workshop took place over a period of 2.5 days.

On the 1st day (afternoon) and following a short welcome speech (also by the European Commission’s Project Officer) we started with the Constellation/Sociometry and Dreams&Nightmares“ exercises, on the one hand with regard to the kick-off meeting, on the other the entire project (this, by the way, is what we reflected back on at the Closure Meeting. Afterwards, I asked the group what they could do to make the dreams come true and not let the nightmares come true.

To make it all to sink in, and to help the participants get to know each other better, the first group pictures were painted – a somewhat different approach to visualising project objectives.

And then we got straight down to the nitty-gritty: presenting the so-called “Log Frames,” illustrating the work packages. Now, one could do this by relentlessly spending ½ the day on ppts, but there’s another way to do it, especially when the WWF team is involved. This “presentation” took place in the form of a “marketplace” scenario at which – in an incredibly creative way – the individual work packages were presented by WWF Austria. Fish was peddled at one market stand by fishmongers dressed for the role, home-baked cake was offered, decorated with the national flags of all the partner countries, there were even superheroes for “Young Consumers” – the following pictures will surely give you a good idea.

And I’m convinced that the international partners were absolutely thrilled by the engagement demonstrated by their coordinating partners, and allowed themselves to become infected with the enthusiasm (I myself was majorly infected with the same virus :-)).

The marketplace gave everyone an opportunity to browse and gather detailed information. Questions and comments that arose were immediately documented on flipcharts by the market criers, for the Fish Bowl discussion the next day.

An intercultural game concluded the first half day, during which experts had to teach island people how to build a bridge while obeying certain behavioural rules. Very, very funny and educational at the same time.

And then there was a get-to-know dinner.

And now we come to the 2nd day, which began with the reflection of the game. And for me it’s again and again surprising how well our patterns can be observed in such games.

After that, we again dealt with the work package topics during a Fish Bowl Discussion. As I said, the questions and comments that arose in the marketplace the day before had been documented, and were now presented to all in the Fish Bowl. The WP leaders again took part in question & answer, but those sitting in the outer circle were also able to contribute (but only when – as is usual in the Fish Bowl – they took the available seat in the inner circle.)

We also dedicated a lot of time to understanding other essential project-specific issues such as Visibility Guidelines and the work schedule for the 1st year. These were presented by the Austrian team. However, there was still plenty of room for questions and answers, sometimes using the traffic light method. The objectives were always to understand the “Big Project Picture” and to solicit commitment to it.

We closed that content-packed, intensive day with „TV-News“: 5 groups prepared BBC Breaking News. They had 25 minutes to do it in. Their task was to report about the successes of the “Fish Forward” campaigns proclaiming “Eat sustainable fish,” in a creative way. And once again it was unbelievable what performances were delivered! Now, you may say “What childish nonsense! Isn’t that a complete waste of time?“ No, it isn‘t! The creative activity stimulates additional areas in the brain, and the targeted images are more firmly embedded than on a purely rational level. According to brain research, our brains store information better when emotions are involved. And motivation without emotion is a non-starter anyway. So, therefore: time most excellently invested, and especially as a means of team development, too!

Which brings us to the 3rd day. This one was super intensive, as we got straight down to the nitty-gritty and cultural differences became wonderfully apparent.

And we also had to talk about some of the more unpopular, but important aspects of project management such as financials and reporting, as these are necessary for obtaining dough from Brussels.

The whole thing was loosened up with the Headstand Technique. I asked the group: “What could you do, to make your lives hell in the “Fish Forward” project?” There were some highly creative answers to this, too :-). But – attention – don’t leave it at that, also ask about the positive things they could do!

The crowning final event was Body Sculptures in groups, the theme being “Team Spirit in Fish Forward“. Here some images from that exercise.

In summary, moderating the “Fish Forward“ project gave me the greatest pleasure and reminded me again why I do this job. Seeing people blossom and grow, filled with enthusiasm and passion for a cause, open to new things and pulling together, fills me with indescribable joy. I would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to the entire “Fish Forward” team at this point for this experience!

But – beware (I can’t say this often enough):

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.

Are you now inspired for your own (EU) project kick-off meeting? Or do you have experiences you’d like to share with us, below?

Best, Birgit