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aia austin – small firms roundtable

Written by Mindy Cooper, PLA

If you’ve been following along with our blog posts this year, you’ll already know that I had the honor of participating in the inaugural year of AIA Austin’s Leadership Collective program in January.   Architect Joel Nolan (NolanStudio) took part in a February session where I introduced a handful of facilitation tools to my fellow Leadership Collective Planning Committee members.  I was thrilled when Joel reached out to me afterwards to see if I’d be willing to do something similar for a committee he chairs: the AIA Austin Small Firms Roundtable.  He and chair-elect Tim Derrington (Derrington Building Studio) were excited to mix things up, get folks talking, and give participants the opportunity to talk through (and get feedback on!) some of the unique challenges they bring to their monthly meetings.  And they wanted to do it all in just one short lunch hour.

Challenge accepted!

For those who aren’t familiar with the Small Firms Roundtable, this is a group for AIA members whose practices are generally 10 employees or less, and work on small to medium sized projects.  The roundtable meets monthly to discuss architectural practice and continually reaches out to a diverse community of emerging small firm owners.  In talking to Joel and Tim, I learned that this group is truly about being a resource for small practice owners and employees.  Their meetings give members the opportunity to come together to discuss the unique challenges they face as small firms.

Having joined dwg. as employee #6 and having been a part of lots of growth and decision-making over the past 6 years, this was a mission that totally resonated with me.  What an amazing asset for AIA’s membership!  I was super excited to be able to contribute a little something to what already sounded like an amazing program.

Presentation Day

I got to AIA HQ 15 minutes early to set up.  I asked the early birds, who were sitting separately and quietly, to help me move all of the tables out of the way.  There was a little resistance at first and maybe some murmurs of “wait, what are we doing?”.  I started moving tables.  As others joined in, I overheard the introductions and small talk begin.  Improved communication was happening already, and we hadn’t even started!

During our 1-hour of structured meeting time I had our participants practice two basic tools from the Liberating Structures methods: 9 Why’s and Troika Consulting.  I gave them an overview of 1, 2, 4 All – this is a basic structure that’s loosely used in 9 Why’s.  During 9 Why’s we explored what brought each individual to the meeting and what was important to them.  In just 30 minutes time, folks were already feeling pretty connected to those around them, in spite of having never met them prior to that day.

In the second half of our meeting, the group broke into small groups of 5 for individual consultations.  These smaller groups covered all sorts of tricky challenges: hiring decisions, inter-office communications, personal time management, office growth challenges.  Everyone who had a challenge they wanted to discuss walked away from the meeting having received great feedback from 4 other colleagues.

(click image for full presentation)

Curious to learn more?

The short slide deck I prepared for the Roundtable has some basic highlights of the tools described above.  If that only leaves you hungry for more, head on over to the Liberating Structures website, or reach out to local guru Anna Jackson at Alpinista Consulting.  Anna works with groups of all sizes to do strategic development work, and is particularly skilled at teaching others how to use facilitation tools.

Struggling to figure out how to fold these methods into your practice or want to learn more about them before you dive in too deep?  Shoot me an email – let’s discuss!