Celebration-5W version 6, “your next big breakthrough”

Agendashift is founded on one simple but radical idea: authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes as the basis for change. If there’s a stronger foundation for the kind of change where engagement, collaboration, and innovation are key – any interesting kind of change, in other words – I have yet to find it.

Accepting that authentic agreement is unlikely without some kind of conversation, where do those conversations start? One tried-and-tested place is Celebration-5W, our context-capturing workshop kickoff exercise. It’s not the only available starting point, but it is certainly a reliable one. It’s a time travel exercise with a simple premise: we use the journalistic Five Ws – Who, What, Where, When, and Why – to report on a celebration that will take place some time from now. The exercise is usually done in small groups, with outputs compared in a debrief afterwards.

In version 6 I’ve made a couple of small changes to align the materials with how I already introduce and facilitate it:

  1. Under What, “your next big breakthrough”. This is a deliberate nudge away from the thinking that we must wait for the end of a project. For a while in my patter I would say things like “your next big piece of learning” but that’s too abstract for this early stage in proceedings and not nearly as engaging.
  2. Under When, I inserted “business-relevant” to make a “significant and business-relevant challenge”.  An obvious enough tweak, but I have always stressed that it’s not good enough to celebrate something specific to (say) Agile practitioners without making its business relevance very clear. Better indeed to start with something recognisably business-related and work backwards from there. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to do an Agendashift workshop without mentioning the A word at all and I make no apologies for that.

Celebration-5W-slide-2021-08-v6

As per the tip highlighted middle right on the above slide, the two affected W’s together represent a good place to start the exercise. The trick is to iterate between the What (top right in Mike Haber’s nice template) and the When (bottom right) until you have a scope that seems to work. We recommend a timeframe measured in months, long enough for there to be some real challenge remaining but not so long that it risks becoming just an aspiration or someone else’s problem.

Your next big breakthrough

What if workshop exercises aren’t your thing or if now’s not the time? Fair enough! A little mental/paper exercise for you:

  • What is the next big (multi-month, significant, and business-relevant) breakthrough that you would like to be celebrating?
  • Where do you think that breakthrough will come from?
  • Were you to ask those questions of your colleagues, how do you think they would answer?
  • How would their Five Ws compare to each other’s and to yours?

Be honest now! Answers aren’t going to be identical, but you do want them to be coherent. If they are not, you have a problem, perhaps even the seeds of real crisis (I do not exaggerate – we’ve seen it firsthand). Of course it’s not normally as bad as that, but incoherence, misalignment, or complacency are hardly trivial issues either. One way or another, it’s time to get together and start creating some shared context.

Celebration-5W is one of the first exercises in our self-paced online training Leading with Outcomes. It represents just one of multiple opportunities for you to engage with questions of transformational leadership and with a range of tools specifically designed for productive conversations in the language of outcomes. Whether you’re a manager or a practitioner, we’re confident that it will help you be a better leader. Could it be where your next personal breakthrough comes from?

Related resources


What if we put authentic agreement on meaningful outcomes ahead of solutions?

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