It’s Time for Equity

It’s Time for Equity

From the beginning, the members of Team Toolkit have aspired to be equitable in our work. We don’t claim to be experts on the topic, and our practice hasn’t always matched our aspiration perfectly, but equity is a goal we want to work towards.

As several previous blog posts explained, we try to include equity in how we design and update our tools. Our tools represent a big slice of our work, so it’s important to design them with equity in mind. Another big slice of our work is facilitation, and we want to make sure that we include equity in how we use and apply our tools as well. What does that look like? Perhaps an example will be helpful.

A month or two ago I was facilitating a group through a Lotus Blossom exercise. At some point I referred to “the green blossom on the left.” One participant spoke up and said “I’m colorblind, not sure which blossom you’re talking about.” Clearly, the language I used did not provide equal clarity to all participants and left out this person – which means my technique was not equitable.

After thanking the person for speaking up and apologizing for my misstep, I began referring to the blossoms based on their position in a clock face, rather than just by color. Instead of “the green blossom,” I referred to “the green blossom in the 9:00 position” or “the red blossom at the 12:00 position.” That minor change to my language ensured that everyone in the session was able to follow along and participate fully. It was a more equitable technique.

The fact that colorblindness exists does not require us to avoid all use of color. Instead, an equity focus means we should be aware that colorblind people exist, and be thoughtful about which colors we use when we design our tools (here’s an article with tips on designing colorblind friendly visualizations). We should also be thoughtful about how we use those colors – instead of referring to something only by its color, we might refer to it by its location, size, shape, or other distinguishing characteristic. I’ve continued to use the clock face references in all my other Lotus Blossom sessions. I hope that by sharing it here, the rest of the ITK community will adopt this equitable facilitation practice as well.


Announcing The ITK Handbook!

Announcing The ITK Handbook!

Team Toolkit is excited to announce that WE WROTE ANOTHER BOOK!!

It’s titled The Innovation Toolkit Handbook. In this book, several members of Team Toolkit share our specific practices and processes as clearly and directly as we can, along with some reflections on why we do what we do the way we do it. It’s not exactly a sequel to our first book. Instead, we think the characters from our first book would have wanted to read this one. Basically, this handbook takes you behind the scenes and fills in some gaps the website and first book don’t cover. You’ll find chapters about Team Toolkit’s culture, our certification process for new facilitators, and our method for developing new tools. We also share tips on how to use the tools, perspectives on failure, and commentary on a collection of adjacent topics that don’t quite have a home on our website.

You can get the PDF version for free right here. It’s also available as a paperback for $8.35 (plus shipping).

How to Bring Play to Work

How to Bring Play to Work

This week’s post is by Manya Kapikian and Bill Donaldson

Eyes sparkling, front paws down, stick in mouth, a tail that’s wagging like a helicopter propeller at warp speed. That’s what my dog does when he indicates he’s ready to play.  At 7, he’s a mature adult dog with a sense of curiosity, wit, and zest for life.

Associated as a part of childhood, human adults seemed to forget what their animal counterparts have not.  Play is an activity that is never to be outgrown.  Stuart Brown, author of Play, talks about how play helps children develop as individuals and members of a society.  For children, play offers the opportunity to learn and grow, while having a bit of fun along the way.   Many adults, on the other hand, are missing out on that benefit.

Brendan Boyle, Founder, IDEO Play Lab wrote: “Work doesn’t have to be serious to be impactful. In fact, we tend to get our best ideas when we break out of the usual routine and have a little fun.”

And so, play became a topic of conversation during a recent Lunch and Learn.  The ITK facilitator asked the group: how do you increase play and playfulness during a meeting to increase innovation?

There were many activities that came up during the discussion.  Some could be done virtually while others required everyone be in the same room.  Here are a few of our activities that were successfully used as captured from the meeting that we’d like to pass along to you:

Rock, Paper, Scissors.  If you are looking for an in-person activity, nothing brings out the best of a competitive spirit than Rock, Paper, Scissors. To learn how to play, visit The Official Rules of Rock Paper Scissors. Tip: Whoever loses, becomes the winner’s best friend.  By the time you get to the end there’s two people in the room with a fan base behind them. (Warning: This can get loud!)

 Group Thumb War.  (Yes, this is exactly as it sounds and we can’t wait to try it!).  Another in-person group activity.  It is based on Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken and to get a sense of what a room full of people thumb wrestling is like, check out the TED video Massive Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling

Animal Sketch Competition.  This can be done either in-person or virtual.  An excellent energizer, especially before activities like a design studio.  It requires a pencil/pen and some paper.  A moderator picks out an animal for participants to sketch.  There are 3 rounds of sketching the same animal.   Each round gets faster and faster – 1 minute, 30 seconds, 10 seconds.  The group picks the winning sketch.  The artist of the winning sketch gets to pick the animal for the next round.

Music Playlist. This can be done either in-person or virtual.  Have a playlist or theme of the day and associate it with music.  Play at the beginning as people are coming into the room and close the meeting with a song or two once business is done. 

Why were these activities a success?

They were successful because they helped people relax and get into their creative zone.  Let’s take the animal sketch competition.  Our colleague Jordan uses that often when he starts a design session. He explained,

“You ask them to draw out a cat and it’s amazing how creative people get quickly.  By the time they hit round 3, where it’s 10 seconds, people are fired up. They’re laughing. They’re playful. It’s a quick way to get a group in a more fun headspace.  It’s a little bit like warming up before exercising right like you’re stretching you know the creative muscles and flexing a little bit and that when you so when you do go into an activity. You are over that hurdle of ‘I can’t sketch anything’ because everybody clearly did 3 rounds of sketching.”

Try it out!

To inject a little bit of play at work requires a little bit of thought and foresight.  It could depend on the group, the topic at hand, how much time do you have.  An activity can take a few minutes, or even seconds.  The examples we gave may take a few minutes. It can also take a few seconds by simply asking everyone picking to pick an emoji or a picture that best describes their mood.

There’s a world of play waiting to be discovered.  Below are additional resources.  Leave a comment, we’d love to hear about what’s worked for you!

Additional Resources:

Photo credit: Takashi Hososhima

The Market Opportunity Navigator: A New Take!

The Market Opportunity Navigator: A New Take!

This week’s blog post is by Kerrianne Marino

The Market Opportunity Navigator is a set of three tools that help project teams ideate, organize, and strategize their market opportunities. Created by “Where to Play,” it is designed “to help [teams] get a clear overview of [their] potential market domains and make confident decisions on where to play next.”

While “Where to Play” focuses on business strategy goals, these tools can aid discussions on which research topics, proposals, areas of interest, or other ideas the group should pursue.

The “traditional” method as outlined on the Market Opportunity Navigator is only one option to put these tools in practice. I adopted the Agile Focus Dartboard and Attractiveness Map in a slightly different way recently during an ITK session. Regardless of the approach, establishing action items at the end of any session is essential in setting ideas into motion!

In practice – Agile Focus Dartboard & Attractiveness Map

In a recent ITK session I facilitated, 3 groups of 3-4 worked together to brainstorm goals for 1, 3-5, and 10 years for a new software wellness initiative that aimed to transform how MITRE approaches “healthy” software development by creating an inclusive community and collection of resources. We used the Agile Focus Dartboard as a visual aid for the groups to note the area of focus they should be brainstorming in.

The year 1 group was the “pursue now” section, and they were tasked with brainstorming initiatives that the team could start on right away. The 3-5 year group was “keep open,” where they came up with ideas that could come into play, or be “launched” several years from now. The 10 year groups was “place in storage,” and they thought of the practices, resources, and culture shifts that they hoped MITRE would lead a decade in the future. While these substitutions aren’t exact matches for the listed categories, they gave context for the groups to work toward.

In the smaller groups, the teams brainstormed for 20 minutes on dry-erase laminate cards (an alternative for sticky notes), and placed their thoughts on an appropriate quadrant in the Attractiveness Map.

We then discussed in turns all three Attractiveness Maps in a larger group to consider and include other’s opinions on where the ideas would fall in the quadrant based on experience. For example, we thought about the lift that research proposals would take in the year 1 timeframe. Originally, we thought this idea would be a quick win, but when discussing with the larger group, we moved this to a gold mine.

Example: Culture Change – Act Now for Later?

Because we were starting a brand new wide-spread initiative that aims to change how engineers at MITRE work, culture change was a big topic that all three groups discussed. When we came together, we agreed that it would fit into something to pursue now, even though we may not see the change for 3-5 or even 10 years.

Year 1 identified this culture shift as a moon shot, and the 3-5 and 10 year as somewhere in the middle of the quadrant. We knew if we didn’t start acting on culture-changing efforts now, this culture shift would delay, so we made action items in “year 1/pursue now” to initiate the kind of practices that will drive the desired long-term changes. For example, the group considered using incentives like small company awards as an immediate “low challenge, medium potential” option to catalyze this culture change.

Our Take

While the Market Opportunity Navigator was designed for business goals, our Software Wellness Center initiative team was able to tailor and adopt this strategy to our goals of providing the best services for software developers to develop healthy software for all.

If you’d like to give it a try, here’s a quick summary of the steps involved:

  1. On a large whiteboard, draw out the Attractiveness Map
  2. Organize groups of 3-4 people per group in each category in the Agile Focus Dartboard (Pursue Now, Keep Open, Place in Storage)
    • Have the Agile Focus Dartboard on display as a visual aid to show participants where their group lands
  3. Give participants sticky notes and ideate for 20 or so minutes, placing items in their associated quadrant
  4. Come together as a group to share out each board and iterate based on team feedback
  5. Set action items to put ideas into motion!


  • The “traditional way” (see steps on Market Opportunity Navigator). Ideate first, then place stickies on Attractiveness Map, then place stickies on Agile Focus Dartboard
  • Hand out or have on display the Attractiveness Map and/or Agile Focus Dartboard as a visual aid to focus brainstorming discussions. For example, you could use the Lotus Blossom tool to ideate only ideas that would be Gold Mine’s that the group could Pursue Now.
Parking Lot

Parking Lot

Similar to the timekeeper, using a “Parking Lot” is an excellent strategy for helping teams stay focused and on track during an ITK session.

The Parking Lot is a blank space where you can capture “good, but off-topic” inputs that can be returned to later in time so that the team can stay focused on the main topic or goal.

In a collaborative session, it’s common that some input may be brought up too early and needs to be returned to after the current session. Or, adjacent topics may arise which also warrant discussion but doing so immediately would be distracting to the current session’s objective.

There are many reasons why a parking lot can be useful:

  • Helps teams stay focused on the main topic at hand
  • Recording input makes it easier to remember and revisit in the future as needed
  • Allows recording of all input, even if off-topic, which enables teammates to feel heard

Interested in trying it out? Try these steps below!


  1. Before your session, create a Parking lot
    • For in-person sessions: Set up a blank easel and label it “Parking Lot”
    • For virtual sessions: Create a designed blank space in your virtual whiteboard and label it “Parking Lot”
  2. At the beginning of the session, announce what the Parking Lot is and state that anyone can contribute to it
  3. Throughout the session, collect and record input to the Parking Lot
  4. As time allows, return to the Parking Lot to review and address remaining issues or ideas not already discussed in the remaining time
  5. Assign an owner to relevant issues or ideas who will be responsible to bring it to resolution

Photo Credit: Angele Kamp

It’s Time For An Icebreaker

It’s Time For An Icebreaker

This week’s blog post is by guest bloggers Manya Kapikian and Jackie Vessal

It’s Thursday and you are logging into a meeting with people you don’t know. The agenda starts with an icebreaker and the invite asks everyone to bring their favorite mug. What is your reaction? Do you cringe, or do you enthusiastically bring 10 mugs?

The “Mug Show & Tell” exercise is a common icebreaker, in which people get to share a little bit about themselves. Why do we do this? Authors Frische and Green explain the benefits of icebreakers in their article, Make Time for Small Talk in Your Virtual Meetings. This practice is particularly important these days, where our virtual or hybrid work environments no longer present the same opportunities for casual chatting.

Icebreakers are designed to help members of a group warm up, to get to know each other a little and build a sense rapport. An icebreaker can be particularly helpful for a group of people coming together for the first time, but even an established group may find these activities helpful.

Of course, not everyone enjoys these activities. Google “I hate icebreakers” and you’ll find plenty of stories about people who cringe at the thought of participating in an icebreaker.  They can be awkward for introverts, can create tension and anxiety, and easily feel forced.  Some people see them as frivolous waste of time and too touchy feely. But as Frische and Greene explained, there is a case to be made for doing them anyway.

Icebreakers open a communication channel that helps people relax, get to know one another, and make it less awkward to interact. They are an effective way to network and meet new people. In a meeting, conference, or other event where strangers need to come together, icebreakers help individuals to “break the ice.” They allow for complete strangers to interact, get to know one another, and begin to form a common ground.  Once folks start talking, it becomes easier to keep the conversation going. A good icebreaker can set the tone and mood for the rest of the meeting or conference.

It is important to make sure your introductory activity is not too long. Ideally, it should last between 5 and 10 minutes – just long enough for people to feel comfortable and ready to discuss the key topics of the meeting.

The type of icebreaker you chose will depend on if you are in person or in a virtual setting.  Whatever the setting, the best icebreakers are interactive and memorable. If your space allows, plan on an icebreaker that gets people moving around the room. If meeting virtually, break up your audience into more intimate groups.  The group size should be 2-5 for small meetings and 6-10 for large meetings. To make an icebreaker memorable think fun, get them laughing and having a good time.

Lastly, be creative. Go beyond your first idea and aim to customize the icebreaker experience to your group.

Try one of these at your next meeting.

  • Ask everyone to answer one quick question.  Offer them 3-5 questions and a time limit of 30 seconds to a minute.  (Alternatively, turn these questions into a poll so that the only thing a person must do is click a button.) Some questions that our teams have enjoyed included:
  • Would you rather live without music or live without TV?
  • Tell us how you are feeling today in the form of a weather report
  • If you could rid the world of one thing, what would it be?
  • What TV advertisement bothers you the most?
    • Assign a quick task and have them go around for a minute and so and talk.  Examples of tasks:
  • Ask people to bring their favorite mug
  • Wear your favorite concert t-shirt
  • Wear your favorite hat

Ice breakers are simply a way for people to warm-up to each other and get into a zone for collaboration quicker. Ultimately, they are a small investment to achieving a better meeting outcome, and perhaps with a little bit of fun sprinkled in.  So, maybe the next time someone asks you to bring a favorite mug, consider having one in each hand.

Photo credit Lawrence Denny Lindsley