Do you spar with your colleagues? I do, and I love it!
Sparring is a well-known term and technique in the boxing world. Essentially, two (mostly) evenly-matched fighters go through the motions of boxing to train and improve their skills.
In the business world, we focus on sparring ideas. It's quite similar on its face: get two or more smart, capable people with different strengths in a room, and let 'em spar an idea to make it better.
The goal is not to "win", the goal is to make progress. Sure, sometimes that means the idea gets a little beat up. Sometimes there's a bit of verbal volley. But the goal is clear: MAKE PROGRESS.
So, how do you ensure you're sparring and not just fighting?
Guiding principles for effective sparring
- Ask the right partner. This person should have enough context on your work/the idea to provide actionable feedback, but have a different perspective.
- Keep it focused on the idea, not the person. Neither person should be saying, "You're wrong".
- Use phrases like, "I think we're aligned on [this element], but we have a gap on [this element]" to hone in on the problem that needs more focus.
- Time box the feedback and ask for specific recommendations on in-progress work (ie: closed questions vs. open questions). This is not "blue sky" brainstorming, it's honing a specific piece of work.
Sample agenda for your next sparring session
Allocate 10-30 minutes regularly in team meetings to cover at least 1 topic. Book up to an hour for bigger projects with more people weighing in.
The agenda usually breaks down like this:
- consume page/deck/video
- comment in-line/on a Trello card
- discuss big themes in the feedback, clarify any comments, ask deeper questions about the feedback
The key is that the work needs to be "done" enough for big feedback, but not "final draft" such that you're really just looking for a final stamp of approval.
Examples of recent spars + outcomes
- deck + script resulted in a suggestion to restructure the script and improve the balance of content depth (no nitty gritty wordsmithing or graphic design notes)
- customer interview questions resulted in aligning questions to themes and personas, and thinking about additional ways to extend the shelf life of the output
- proposed program and associated resource request resulted in restructuring the pages and trimming content (it was trying to do too much in a single document and had too many depths included)
A good spar improves the idea, project, and outcome. Done right, it leaves teammates feeling like they had an open, collaborative, and productive discussion. So, to my teammates, THANKS for sparring with me 💙
Thanks for sparring
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