Working with Intelligent and Creative People is Uplifting

Interview with IdeaConnection facilitator Debbie Narver
By Paul Arnold
Debbie Narver is ideally suited to help IdeaConnection’s problem solving teams tackle difficult challenges, and has enjoyed success with challenges for the public good and private enterprises.

She is the founder of Narver Management Consulting, a company that helps organizations strengthen their internal relationships as well as those with clients and stakeholders. In this interview she talks about her experiences assisting teams of diverse expertise and how this is helping with her own career development.

What motivated you to get involved with IdeaConnection?

Debbie NarverI really felt the online thing would be interesting, especially the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds and countries. Working remotely is helping me to develop my skills in the virtual world, the international world.

Is there a difference in how you approach real world and online meetings?

The way I approach online meetings is you have to do a lot more upfront planning. When you are thrown into a group in the real world you can get a sense for people and their reactions. So I think for me it is being more proactive about thinking how I am going to help these people work together. It has also made me focus more on listening, because I can’t see people and observe their interactions. I think I have become a lot more aware of listening and being able to have a sense of what is going on and moving the conversation along without the ordinary visual cues.

How do you see your role? When these brilliant brains are firing on all cylinders, where do you fit in?

I think a lot of it is providing the structure, so they don’t have to worry about it. So I am constantly keeping an eye on the timeline, but also trying to make sure there is enough room for the creativity and the brainstorming that is needed. This allows the scientists to do what they need to do without worrying about the next meeting or who’s taking notes, those kinds of things.

In terms of the creativity, it is pushing them a bit to make sure we haven’t gone down a rabbit hole. So sometimes it is asking questions just to check in and to make sure we’ve covered all the bases. It is also about occasionally asking those out of the blue questions to get people thinking about something again to make sure we have thoroughly explored the topic.

Can too much diversity on a team be a bad thing?

It is not necessarily diversity, but the skills of the individuals and how they can work within a diverse environment. Some people are more able to adapt and handle the diversity and I think these scientists are amazing. Most of them are very open minded and curious and so they are more adept at being able to work in a more diverse environment. There is no judgement, everyone is open to each others ideas.

When people don’t have the skills, don’t understand that people have different perspectives then there could be difficulties. But IdeaConnection challenge teams are very savvy in recognizing and appreciating diversity. I think they are pretty unique in that way.

How did you get involved with the public good challenges related to the arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh?

Those were the first ones I took part in when I expressed an interest in working on challenges. I thought it was a good way for me as a facilitator to get a feel as to whether these challenges are something I would like to do more of. They were also very fulfilling because of the huge human impact in terms of a lot of people are suffering from the effects of arsenic poisoning, and the teams felt very passionate about trying to make a difference. In those cases it wasn’t a monetary reward, but hoping that what we did will transform the lives and health of a lot of people for the better.

What fascinates you the most about working on challenges?

The people. All the people I have dealt with are amazing really. I love making connections with people with such diverse backgrounds as well as the creativity, the brainstorming and just watching ideas form. I am really enjoying the interactions with such a brilliant and very committed group of people. IdeaConnection really seems to be able to find good people.

Have you ever experienced any problems with the teams?

For the most part it’s been really good. We’ve had some bumps where people have had personal situations come up and had to bow out of their teams and that’s often challenging. Occasionally, there are unexpected things that can take a time sideways such as a person having an emergency. In these situations the team works harder together or brings in a new member and gets them up to speed.

How does it feel when your solutions are accepted by a seeker?

It is really exciting and makes the teams feel really proud that the ideas they put forward are useful. With a couple of challenges we are going into the next phase which has added to the excitement.

Would you like to work on more challenges?

Yes, it is something I find really rewarding. Being able to work with these very intelligent and creative people is very uplifting to me. I like being able to sit at my laptop and talk to people in Australia, India wherever and it is definitely my hope to keep it as part of my own professional development and enjoyment. It definitely contributes to other aspects of my business for sure.

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