Team Turns Itself Inside Out

This workshop tool enables a team to know itself better - by incrementally turning itself inside out


The Tool's Purpose

  • How can creative individuals or teams avoid getting bogged down by initial ideas, or by their own habits and assumptions?
  • In the former, a change in the language of collaboration (e.g. the metaphors used) may suffice.
  • Enabling an 'organism' to experience the world from the 'outside-in', as well as from the 'inside-out' is one solution.
  • Regular 'cycling' of all team members (insiders) to act as observers (temporary outsiders) addresses the latter problem.


Fig 5 - Group of 5 operating as ‘4 plus 1’ (tetrahedral group with ‘temporary external agent’)

The external agent’s temporary task normally has 4 phases of activity:

1. INITIAL DEPARTURE - Self-observation

As self-imposed isolation by the External Agent begins, s/he will be required to experience the process individuation from the team. This may enable her/him to notice possible differences/conflicts with the collective view.

2. TEAM OBSERVATION - Comparison with group consensus

Once outside the group the External Agent develops an external perspective. This may be used to re-contextualise the team’s work. It may include observations of the team and, or, of external conditions, such as threats or opportunities.

3. OUTSIDE OBSERVATION - Comparison with external conditions

Having reflected upon his/her own state of being, and conditions within his/her the team, the External Agent observes relevant external conditions. This may be to see whether the original task has changed, or to note possible ways to work with other teams.

4. RETURN - feedback and steer

A return to the team allows feedback that may provide a ‘reality check’ for the team. The next External Agent to take over may be decided by consensus, according to the prevailing circumstances (See figure 6, below).

external agent life cycle.jpg

The Tool's Context

  • The idea of 'thinking outside the box' reflects the fact that we normally live in conceptual boxes (e.g. language / habit)
  • An organism's consciousness is limited by its partiality. Hence, ultimately, it can only fully 'know' its own experience.
  • Teams, groups and organizations can be considered to be 'organisms' - therefore they suffer from the same problem.
  • Attributes can be stored and exchanged with others, although they do not always inform wiser actions and outcomes
  • Becoming an observer - ‘an active listener’ challenges our way of listening.
  • This means understanding the differences between:
    • Actions and reflections on actions
    • (Positive) actions and (critical) commentaries
    • (Critical) comments that can be construed as directed against oneself and those that seem directed to one's deed/s
    • Action/Criticism as an 'insider' and action/criticism as an 'outsider'.
    • When one is working, the active, "I" state can be understood as a Verb
    • When one is critically observing, the "me" state can be understood as a Noun

runner-animated.gif Field Of Vision Copy

actor in a situated, active, undifferentiated state (in the flow) - can be conceived of as a verb

square-50cm-spacer.jpg runner-animated-still.jpg Looking Back Silhouette

actor in a post-hoc, reflective, self-evaluative state - can be conceived of as a noun
  • Where verbs seldom endure (performatively) in a constant state, nouns are often understood by attributes that cannot change much
  • Sometimes the 'inside' (subjectively) is being 'in-the-flow' of doing something without too much reflection.
  • Sometimes the 'inside' (subjectively) is in watching yourself do something, either in retrospect or via the perceptions of others

Tool Process

  • This type of session is useful for realizing and understanding how a group dynamic works and helps expand our own role and perspective within a group.
  • It can be useful to implement during a process, either in a divergent discussion (e.g. a brainstorming) and/or a convergent discussion (e.g. preparing to formulate a proposal/ project).
  • It should encourage the use of adjectives that describe an action in the interpreted-in-action, rather than applied-to-action.
  • it is a way to avoid the separation of communication tools for propositions and comments as this discourages actions and invites passive observation/criticism.
  • It should aim to create communication systems that discourage critical (outsider) commentary and encourage (insider) 'suggested action'
  • Thereby it may encourage insiders to listen to commentary by recent outsiders that can be painlessly interpreted into 'constructive actions'

Example A

  • This tool was first tested in the Information-Sharing workshop on 18-05-2007. See Information-Sharing-Synergy Workshop outcomes" class="wiki wikinew text-danger tips">outcomes.
  • A group of 4 people tried to improve the quality of their team's performance by having 3 people be active 'speakers' whilst the fourth person became an ‘observer’.
  • To start one participant was the observer. After 20 mins. the participant roles rotated, so that each person had been both active participant as observer.
  • In this experiment, each participant had been assigned to four teams, each designed to represent a style of thinking and working (see cognitive-style teams).
  • This happened in an interval of 20mins (on all 80 mins) e.g.:
  • 1. 'New-Knower' was the first to be an observer in each group, and the 'PusherDoer', 'Envisioner' and 'Languager' had a meeting. (20 minutes)
  • 2. 'Languager' observed the interrelation between: New-Knower, 'PusherDoer', and 'Envisioner'. (20 minutes)
  • 3. 'Envisioner' observed the interrelation between: 'PusherDoer', 'Languager' and 'New-Knower'. (20 minutes)
  • 4. 'PusherDoer' observed the interrelation between: 'Languager', 'New-Knower' and 'Envisioner'. 15+5 minutes feedback from observer at the end)


  • By becoming an 'active listener’ (i.e. observer) our ways of listening were challenged.
  • The experience of listening without speaking made the observer realise how we often react by instantly formulating a direct response in our head to what is being said.
  • However, by abiding to not speak the observers realised how it took time to be able to “just listen” and not need to contribute instantly.
  • As the ‘observer role’ rotated, it gave each participant a chance to become an outsider and realise both their own role within the group as well as allowing for other dynamics to emerge.
  • Each time an observer returned to the discussion they could contribute to the discussion by giving feedback from their observations.
  • This helped the group gain new momentum in the discussions.
  • Observers had a template to follow while they observed the interrelation that takes place.(to be included)

Example B

  • When you take a photograph you usually imagine the outcome, while making subjective, timely judgments (in the flow)
  • You then wait for the image to become visible, via the processing stage, and this usually entails some unexpected elements
  • The unexpected elements become the context within which you are able to reflect (from the 'outside') - upon your original intentions or expectations
  • You then are able to apply what you have learned, in resuming the making (from the 'inside') of further photographs


  1. In 'Sciences of the Artificial' Herbert Simon discusses the idea of an organization's 'inside' and 'outside'.
  2. Ross Ashby's 'law of requisite variety' (Ashby, 1956) states that 'only internal variety can successfully control its own variety'
    • This implies that externally imposed 'improvements' may fail, if they are out of touch with the the system's internal complexities.
  3. Donald Schön's term reflection-in-action implies that an 'inside' narrative may differ from an 'outside' narrative.
    • This raises questions about how actions are guided - i.e. whether they are informed more by an 'internal', or by an 'external' process of reasoning.
  4. Libet (1992) showed disparities between real-time events and the processing time (cognitive and motor faculties) required to 'deal with' them (it takes < 0.1 sec. to reach the brain, and a further < 0.3 sec. for the brain to process into an intelligent response.
    • The delay is a perennial and ubiquitous feature of the way we function.
    • It includes "backward referral in time" that enables us to compensate for the cognitive time lag.
    • This is what guides actions, from post-hoc, or pre-determining reflection that judges previous actions, or that shapes subsequent actions.
    • Hence situated learning is of a different order or understanding from unsituated learning
    • As Wittgenstein noted: "What can be shown cannot be said"
  5. In 2005 we experimented with this tool on the MA Design Futures programme.
  6. On 18-5-2007 we found it useful to ask one of the (4 cognitive style) groups to become a silent observer of the other three
  7. John W noted that Mathilda's presentation on 24th January 2008 included an account of her performance at Arcola Workshop 1.
    • This exemplified some aspects of the transition between active participating and retrospective self-reflection.
    • In her account, Mathilda gave a (critical) inwardly-directed self-observation of her own performance.
    • This account was contradicted by the rest of the group's (more affirmative) observation of her performance.
    • This tool focuses on the internal change within Mathilda's view of herself in two distinct states
  8. Gilbert Ryle (1949) distinguished between "knowing how and knowing that".
  9. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied happiness from 1963 onwards.
    • His popular book called Flow (1990) claims that certain feelings are virtually universal experiences
    • ‘joy’
    • ‘deep concentration’
    • ‘emotional buoyancy’
    • a ‘heightened sense of mastery’
    • a ‘lack of self-consciousness’
    • a feeling of ‘self-transcendence'.

Presumably, these states are the place from which we find serendipity - so how can we learn more about this?

return to Workshop Methods