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Groupthink and silver bullet

Robert Hopkin is a former management consultant who has spent a lot of time in meetings over the years. Through his experience he realised that many meetings aren’t inclusive or effective. With his co-founders he has set up Axis, a digital platform to help people run meetings that make the most of diversity and let everyone have a voice.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello there thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon and today I’m joined by Robert Hopkin, who is the co-founder of Axis. Robert it’s great to have you on the show.

Robert Hopkin: It’s fantastic to be with you Toby.

Toby Mildon: So tell us a bit more about who you are and what led you to creating Axis.

Robert Hopkin: Yeah, so my background is as a management consultant, so I’ve spent 16 years advising companies, but predominantly actually in low carbon energy systems around how they can improve their performance operations, helping them with strategy and the like, and as part of that, obviously done a lot of meetings done a lot of meet workshops, seen how people collaborate sometimes very effectively, and meetings can be really special moments of insight and transformation, and then also been in some pretty awful meetings, which have felt like a waste of time, that experience along with my co-founders, you know, led to a desire to change it and make sure that every meeting could be made to matter, which is how Axis came about.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So what exactly is Axis?

Robert Hopkin: So it is a digital platform for meeting facilitation, so if you think about you’re running a meeting and you want that meeting to be effective, you want it to be inclusive so that everyone can have their voice heard, you want it to be engaging, you want it to work whether everyone’s virtual or everyone’s in a room, or is it on a hybrid set-up, which is what we’re seeing a lot of now. If you want those things, then Axis will allow you to design that meeting using a set of proven design thinking agile methods, which we’ve distilled down and digitized, and then it allows you to facilitate it in a highly structured and simplified way so you can be confident that it will work well. And then, it takes all the outputs that everyone submitted during the session and allows them to be exported digitally, so you can share them or use them for whatever you’re gonna do next.

Toby Mildon: That sounds great. And the reason why I approached you and got you on the show is because I came across your product and I was just having a look at your product and your website, and I noticed that you talked about inclusion in terms of meetings. And currently on your website, it says, always honest and inclusive. So I know that you’ve done research into meeting inclusion, but what did you find from that research.

Robert Hopkin: We have indeed. We actually were awarded rewarded a funding by Innovate UK to look into this very question and see about approaches and methods using digital technologies to make collaboration more inclusive, and we started from… And this is well-documented, like the power of diversity, so diverse organizations, diverse teams perform better and they’re better able to make high quality decisions, they’re better able to innovate all that great stuff. But then we said, Well, actually, what we’ve seen from our own experience is that is that often in meetings, you might have a diverse group of people involved, but that doesn’t mean that you harness the power of that diversity, because we’re all used to that situation where you have a meeting and one or two people dominate it to the detriment of everywhere else.

Robert Hopkin: So lots of people actually aren’t saying anything, or when they do say things, they get ignored. And so we work with a number of other organizations focusing on a variety of different dimensions to understand what research had been done to look at that problem, and there’s tons of it. So it’s pretty well-documented that meetings will often see women more likely to be talked over, to be interrupted, there’s a big divergence between introverts and extroverts, there’s a big effect of seniority. There’s a fear around challenging orthodoxies, so it exists in all meetings really, and it’s pretty corrosive and damaging to the performance of how organizations and teams function.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: And so that then said it’s about saying, well, what are the characteristics of a good meeting that is inclusive and does allow everyone to have their voice heard.

Toby Mildon: That sounds really cool, and I’m really excited to be chatting with you because in my book, I’ve got a whole chapter on technology and how technology can help organizations scale up what they do on diversity and inclusion. And as part of this series of podcasts on this Inclusive Growth Show, I’ve interviewed all sorts of founders of various technology solutions, to say you’re in great company, Rob. And I mean how have you developed your software with the research in mind that you’ve done.

Robert Hopkin: This notion of the importance of inclusion and the power of diversity was one of the core founding principles of why we did it and how we’ve designed it. So at its core, Axis is driven by a principle of anonymity, so ensuring that everyone can submit their thoughts anonymously, which is an important factor in making people comfortable to speak up. So it’s not just a question of certain people dominating a conversation, it’s also a question of certain people not feeling comfortable.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: So anonymity really helps with that, and then we’re very focused on giving structure that allows time and space for people to think and generate their own thoughts.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: So another tendency in meetings that are more discussing, they’re open discussion, is that some people are very comfortable in that environment like bouncing ideas, coming in, knowing when to interject, that confidence, whatever, and that can come with seniority or whatever else. Right? Those dynamics I mentioned.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: Lots of other people aren’t comfortable doing that, and actually need their own time and space to consider what others have said, and to then formulate their own thoughts and ideas that they can then share with the group. And so we’ve built a step-by-step approach that every time that you’re going to the group to ask them for their thinking, their ideas, you start with the first step of independent thinking.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: So crucially, that’s making sure that people have the time and space to think themselves without other people talking, which is disruptive.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: And then you have a second step, which starts with an exercise in actually, reading and making sense of what other people have submitted.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: So another big flaw in meetings, is that no one’s ever given any time to reflect on what other people have said. So they only ever remember what they thought or who the most vocal person was, and then allows a more kind of open discussion and build based upon everyone’s thoughts. And then all decision-making is collective, so in this cycle and step-by-step process, generate your own ideas, understand what other people of thinking is, discuss and refine, and then collectively vote and prioritize.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: So that’s… The big thing is getting to that cycle of that process in a way that means that the people can have their voice heard and that the outcome is a collective outcome, not just simply the view of the loudest person in the room.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think that sounds brilliant and I’m really interested to hear actually, because now that you’ve spent quite a lot of time researching, meetings, how they can be more inclusive and developing the Axis platform. Firstly, what is one of your personal bugbears when it comes to conducting meetings, and how are you now conducting meetings differently, to be more inclusive from your personal perspective?

Robert Hopkin: Yeah, so my personal biggest frustration is to have all those people in the room and taking their time, and time is precious, and then to not have them be able to contribute in a meaningful way.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: That, to me, is a squandered opportunity and just so disappointing that, that time is lost ’cause time is precious to all of us.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: So to me, that is a major frustration is, why call a meeting, why schedule a meeting, why take that time out if you don’t actually have the intention of running it in a way that allows everyone to make the contribution that they can make.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: Taking that further is the fact that, that has just become an embedded culture that is synonymous with how many organizations work, this tendency just to call meetings and invite tons of people, and they’re not really involved in the process. And then how do I run meetings differently as a consequence of this research? I am much more cognizant of understanding the human dynamics that exist, and the variety that exists in people in terms of their neurological diversity, how comfortable they are speaking up, how long it takes them to make sense of ideas that other people have submitted and to design a session and to facilitate it in a way that is very cognizant and aware of that and gives everyone, to the degree possible, a level playing field to contribute and play their that role.

Toby Mildon: That’s brilliant and, of course, this is the Inclusive Growth Show. What does inclusive growth mean to you?

Robert Hopkin: So for me, growth is driven by innovation and thinking differently, and recognizing the orthodoxies, the deeply held widely shared beliefs that are holding you back and preventing you from truly innovating and driving growth. So firmly a believer that diversity is the secret sauce, the magic that allows you to overcome that, that’s fundamental to those organizations to innovate faster, better and execute.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Robert Hopkin: And so for me, it’s about using inclusion in the way that you collaborate as a fundamental principle and a fundamental rethinking of how everyone does their job day-to-day and works together to ensure that inclusion is the primary driver of innovation and growth in any organization.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, I love what you’re saying, ’cause when I quiz my clients about why they’re so invested in diversity inclusion, innovation and avoiding groupthink is usually number one or number two on the list, followed by employee engagement, employee potential, and performance. And then employer brand, you know the reputation out in the marketplace to attract talent. So, I can see how your platform can really help organizations really give inclusion a boost when they conduct meetings and events and things like that.

Robert Hopkin: Yeah, I think it’s really great you mentioned groupthink, because groupthink is such a like fact of life, and it’s so damaging, the examples of organizations that have self-destructed on the basis of persistent groupthink, and so absolutely. And diversity is the silver bullet to that, right?

Toby Mildon: Absolutely.

Robert Hopkin: It’s the way in which you should deal with it.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant, so if the person listening to this interview today wants to learn more about your platform, where should they go?

Robert Hopkin: Yeah, so we’ve got a website, so if you go to getaxis.co, that’s getaxis.co. You can go and you can sign up for free to have a play with it, you can read our blogs, we’ve got research and opinions on all of the topics that we’ve just discussed today, best practice advice on how to run inclusive meetings, harness the power of diversity, and yeah, and then try it for yourself. We’ve got some free templates, we’ve got a free template on improving gender diversity, gender parity in organizations, and we’re extending to that sort of free templates around inclusion and diversity issues. So, yeah, have a look, have a play, and we’re always delighted to talk to people and share our experiences and best practice.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant and I assume that people could just contact you through the website if they’ve got any questions.

Robert Hopkin: Absolutely, absolutely.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant, excellent. Well, thank you, Robert, for joining me today. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you and yeah when I run a client workshop myself, I’m gonna look into Axis Workshop so I can get the best out of the workshop and the people in the room.

Robert Hopkin: Fantastic, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, Toby. Thank you very much.

Toby Mildon: You’re welcome and thank you for tuning in to today’s episode with Robert and myself, hopefully, you found it interesting and given you some things to take away and apply to your own organization. Look out for the next episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, which will be coming up shortly, and I’ll see you then. Thank you.


Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show for further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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