Coaching Organizations

Hands on experience with Hexi Base Kit v.2

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A few weeks ago, I received the Hexi Base Kit V2 from The Cynefin Company. It features 120 Hexis, and contains core Cynefin and SenseMaker methods. Last week, I used it with Johan Axelson, Johan Sjöström, and Christian Fredrikson and I wanted to share our experiences with it. I want to mention, as I think is important, that we are all familiar with the Cynefin frameworks, both in theory and application.

We approached the exercise from two perspectives:

Participants: We aimed to explore and “solve” public transportation issues.
Facilitators: We took pauses to reflect on what we would do as facilitators if we saw groups behave as us.

First challenge – Knowing how to get started
Along with the kit, I received a content rich user guide. We all read it but found getting started a bit complicated. Although the user guide had a lot of information about the methods, tools, and several valuable pieces of advice, whether we read it as facilitators or as participants, we didn’t fully know where to start. But we got started anyway by setting a frame (Mobility in urban cities, thinking about Stockholm specifically). We then started expressing things that it consisted of, breaking it down.

Second challenge – Using rectangular post-its

As we broke down Mobility in urban cities, and wrote it on post-its, we first felt something was missing. Just having the rectangular post-its on the table felt empty, and as if something was missing. So we added Cynefin 3+1 on the table.

We then tried adding a few method hexis as we’re comfortable with them.But it still felt a bit off.

We eventually realized that our problem was that we had used rectangular post-its and this realization came when we started clustering, and expressing connections (steps 2-3-4 in the user guide, page 10).

So as we clustered the post-its, we realized the need for blank Hexies to properly visualize connections. And we created makeshift Hexies from blank paper, suddenly things started feeling like they made more sense. Because suddenly we could express relations, similarities, and connections. At this point in time, we also removed the 3+1. We thought 3+1 could have been suitable at many later points in time, particularly when we neared the end. But we did not return to that.

Third challenge – Deciding what part of the Hexi base kit to start with

After we’d clustered the Hexies, we began with the facilitation aids Hexies.

We initially placed them label-side up but then switched to the description side, which provided more useful information. We discovered that many of our Hexis fit the description of multiple Hexis. Having the description faced up made it easier than if we would have used the label. Together, the descriptions told us a story about the Hexi.

Fourth challenge – Avoiding aggregating to a higher abstraction when clustering

While we clustered, we noticed that we almost recombined decompositions into a higher level abstraction. So we spent some time trying to maintain granularity while clustering, avoiding premature aggregation and abstracting.

Fifth challenge – Managing the cognitive load

As we continued, we noticed our cognitive load increasing. Initially, the load had been caused by us trying to understand how to work with the Hexis i.e. what process we should follow. But from here on forward, the load came from our work with and within the frame–that’s a better place to be at.

As facilitators, we asked ourselves how difficult this would have been for participants without any pre-existing knowledge, or with very limited knowledge. But also, what frames/contexts warrant this cognitive load.

If you’re thinking about using the Hexi kit with your team, as a participant, it’s probably good with some pre-exposure. And if you’re a facilitator, you’d probably learn a lot and become a better facilitator by attending a process yourself first.

Sixth challenge – Expanding beyond methods

We decided on focusing on two clusters

  1. Life quality / Traffic queues / Segregation 
  2. Electric fires in infrastructure

We now proceeded to add relevant quotes and advice to our clusters, noting that the order of steps wasn’t rigid. Instead, focusing on curiosity, discoveries, and cognitive load helped us navigate the process. We mapped tools and assemblies, leading to rich discussions and deeper insights.

On a few occasions we took breaks from synchronous work, and did some individual mapping and selection which we of course later shared. But by this point, I noticed a shift, at least in me, to look for notes that confirmed the pattern that laid out in front of me. I don’t know if this had to do with my energy being depleted, or if it was because I was thinking clearly. I can easily see how both could lead to the same outcome. But it might be good to think about when, and why, convergence starts happening.

Seventh challenge – Documentation, and Action Plans

By now, we have a pretty detailed Hexi-map infront of us and we’re thinking about how to move forward from here.

The user guide suggests using a camera, and selfie stick. We didn’t fully understand why or how to use it (not sure if we have understood it correctly still), but we realized that trying to put this into a document is a waste of time. Instead, it would be better to take a picture and have that act as a record, or snapshot of our conversation. Of course, the actions that we identified would be easier to document. In our fictitious example one example was to arrange entangled trios with one person from the municipality, the power grid company, and the public transport company and have them design an early detection system. And then, after we’d progressed with entangled trios, we could quickly and easily restore the board to its previous state using our photograph, and add discoveries to see the shape evolve.

Non-linearity, and no two similar maps

At first, two of us came in with completely different preconceptions on what the Hexi base kit could be used for. During the day, we realized the broad utility the base kit can have for different contexts e.g. how it can be used for alignment on an approach, ontological discovery, decomposition, story creation, and much more.i think this is what Dave Snowden means when he talks about how the Cynefin frameworks can be used for ontology, epistomology, and phenomenology.

Similar to how Cynthia Kurtz describes how a story can be seen in three ways, we explored how the Hexi kit can guide our thinking, but in a near indefinite amount of ways.

We thought it’d be fun to visualize this through two Hexies. But we’re not sure this is correct or not, just something that seemed fun.

We realized, through this experience, that using the Hexi base kit is non-linear, and this was a crucial learning point. This realization stopped us from trying to design a linear step-by-step guide/approach that we could use with clients. Instead, we could pay attention to where a group is in relation to the problem they are solving, what they are discovering, and what they are trying to do. And then see if we can support them with where they are based on the Hexies. This was again also confirmed through the effect that the Hexi shape has over rectangles.

After we’d gotten past the first challenge with not having blank Hexis, using the Hexi base kit was enjoyable. Though we currently think using this requires sufficient knowledge of Cynefin, or experience from complex facilitation.

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