This activity helps teams/ groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and prompts coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict.
It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously winnowing for insights and shaping a new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to make sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What. The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!
- Together, look back on the progress to date and decide on what adjustments are needed
- Flipchart and papers
- Chairs for people to sit in small groups of 5-7; small tables are optional
- Talking Stick/Object (can be anything you are able to pass from one participant to another)
Step By Step Procedures
- Structuring an invitation
- After someone shares an experience, as the facilitator ask, “WHAT? What happened? What did you notice, what facts or observations stood out?” Then, after all the salient observations have been collected, ask, “SO WHAT? Why is that important? What patterns or conclusions are emerging? What hypotheses can you make?” Then, after the sense-making is over, ask, “NOW WHAT? What actions make sense?”
- Everyone is included
- Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute
- Small groups are more likely to give voice to everyone if one person facilitates and keeps everybody working on one question at a time
- Groups Configuration
- Groups of 5-7
- Groups can be established, teams or mixed groups
- Steps and Time Allocation
- If needed, describe the sequence of steps and show the Ladder of Inference attached. If the group is 10–12 people or smaller, conduct the debriefing with the whole group. Otherwise, break the group into small groups.
- First stage: WHAT? Individuals work for 1 min. alone on “What happened? What did you notice, what facts or observations stood out?”
- Notable facts from small groups are shared with the whole group and collected.
- If need be, remind participants about what is included in the SO WHAT? question.
- Second stage: SO WHAT? People work alone for about a minute on “Why is that important? What patterns or conclusions are emerging? What hypotheses can I/we make?”
- Notable patterns, hypotheses, and conclusions from small groups are shared with the whole group and collected.
- Third stage: NOW WHAT? Participants work alone for about 1 minute on “Now what? What actions make sense?”
- Actions are shared with the whole group, discussed, and collected. Additional insights are appreciated.
- Build a shared understanding of how people formulate different perspectives, ideas, and rationales for actions and decisions
- Make sure that learning is generated from shared experiences: no feedback = no learning
- Avoid repeating the same mistakes or dysfunctions over and over
- Avoid arguments about actions based on lack of clarity about facts or their interpretation
- Eliminate the tendency to jump prematurely to action, leaving people behind
- Get all the data and observations out on the table first thing for everyone to start on the same page
- Honor the history and the novelty of what is unfolding
- Build trust and reduce fear by learning together at each step of a shared experience
- Make sense of complex challenges in a way that unleashes action
- Experience how questions are more powerful than answers because they invite active exploration
- Practice, practice, practice … then What, So What, Now What? will feel so much easier.
- Discuss with small groups to clarify acceptable answers to each question (some groups get confused about what fits in each category) and share examples of answers with the whole group if need be.
- When sharing with the whole group, collect one important answer at a time. Don’t try to collect answers from each group or invite a long repetitive list from a single group. Seek out unique answers that have meaning to them.
- Step in immediately and clearly when someone jumps up the Ladder of Inference.
- Don’t go past the So What? stage prematurely. It can be challenging for people to link observations directly to patterns. It is the most difficult of the three Whats. Use the Ladder of Inference as a reminder of the logical steps “up the ladder” from observations to action.
- Appreciate candid feedback and recognize it.
- Build-in time for the debrief—don’t trivialize it, don’t rush it
- Make it the norm to debrief with W Cubed.
- Use a talking object for each round. It slows and deepens the productivity of W Cubed Activity
- For the What? question, spend time evaluating items that arise into three categories: facts with evidence, shared observations, feelings, and opinions
- Add a What If? question between So What? and Now What?
- For the So What? question, arrange items into patterns, conclusions, hypotheses/educated guesses, beliefs
- Invite a small group of volunteers to debrief in front of the whole room. People with strong reactions and diverse roles should be invited to join in.
- For drawing out the history and meaning of the events prior to your gathering, start a meeting with W Cubed
- For debriefing any meeting topic that generates complex or controversial responses
- For groups with people who have strong opinions or individuals who dominate the conversation
- For groups with people who have difficulty listening to others with different backgrounds
- For use in place of a leader “telling” people what to think, what conclusions to draw, or what actions to take (often unintentionally)
- As a standard discipline at the end of all meetings
- Right after a shocking event
A taking object can be anything you are able to pass from one person to another. When you have it, you are invited to speak. When you don’t, you are invited to listen. Natural objects that are enjoyable to hold in your hands. Playful art objects can also help lighten the mood for very serious topics.