Prototyping a Social, Digital, And Physical Future Workplace

ET Group’s 2019 Societal Transformation Lab

This is the story of ET Group’s (ETG) journey through the Societal Transformation Lab (s-lab).  ETG is a Toronto-based collaboration technology company that helps people work better together.

In this story we share:

  • Background
  • S-lab intention
  • What did we do?
  • How did it end?
  • The journey continues


The s-lab is “a multi-local innovation journey for teams who are co‑shaping more sustainable and equitable social systems worldwide”. It is a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Presencing Institute.

The Lab supports teams and initiatives with some prior experience using Theory U to lead a change initiative. In 2019, the program supported and connected 300 teams across 35 countries to simultaneously tackle social challenges using collective systems mapping and design processes.

For more information on Theory U, please visit their website or listen to this podcast.

ETG’s s-lab

ETG’s s-lab was born in Toronto on November 22, 2018 and was active through June 2019. During a company visioning session, team members modelled the world of work.  The group created a physical model using their bodies. The team used a Theory U tool called 4D mapping. 4D mapping is part of the Social Presencing toolkit. The model depicted a global workplace challenge.  The systemic challenge was identified by the group as:

“Change in the world of work continues to speed up, while the WAY work happens, to a great extent is not moving forward.” 

The 4D map revealed new insights, questions, and opportunities.  These culminated in a realization that some employees felt left behind.  There was emphasis on client well-being over employee well-being. Thus, the team decided to take action through the s-lab.

S-lab Intention

The intention of ETG’s s-lab is, “to nourish the evolution of organizations to meet complex challenges by prototyping the social and digital into the physical to inspire collaboration.”  We are prototyping a future workplace on ourselves, and sharing that journey with the world.

Passion led us here

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

What Did We Do?

From January to June, we participated in

  1. Forming the team and setting the ETG s-lab intention;
  2. Applying Theory U co-sensing methods (3D Mapping) and systems-thinking analysis to the ETG initiative; better understanding how all stakeholders experience the current situation – particularly those who we know the least about; learning new ways of perceiving blockages, needs and opportunities;  identifying symptoms and deeper root issues at play;
  3. Sensemaking of observations gathered in February; applied Social Presencing Theater (SPT) exercise, 4D mapping, to model the ETG collaboration ecosystem; generating ideas for prototypes;
    • Enabling Personal Connection
    • ETG Collaboration Hub
  4. Exploring prototype ideas by doing, taking concrete actions to generate feedback from relevant stakeholders;
  5. Refining prototypes through knowledge capture and narrative creation;
  6. Reflection, next steps.
people sitting at tables

Photo by Jordan Encarnacao on Unsplash

Prototyping – Exploring the Future by Doing

Prototyping is a key aspect of the s-lab. It moves an idea into a concrete action.  Prototypes do not require a lot of investment as they are an early draft of what the final result might look like. We had to remember that prototypes are disposable tools, allowing the team to play,  test, and validate ideas.

Prototypes are not pilots.  See the differences in the chart below:

Experiment Plan
Rapid, Iterative Phased, careful, sequenced
Fail fast to learn fast Prove why this approach works
Learning and outcomes matter Only outcomes are important
Owned by (all) stakeholders Imposed from the outside

ETG Prototype: Enabling Personal Connection

We created a story around the Personal Connection prototype as follows. The storytelling begins with the s-lab, envisions key moments and paints a picture of the future.  We invite you to read our story below.

We are telling this story because currently people are disconnected.  People, space and technology can and need to be woven together as ONE THING.  As humans, we are becoming more digital. Yet, we desire to maintain social connections. Further, we want to come together in both physical and virtual spaces.  We want to bring the soul and quality of relationships back into our organization. We can remember what is was like to create community 20 years ago. We can recapture that experience into our present moment.

With this story, we want to reach non participants, all ETG people energizing roles, clients and partners, the S-lab community and the world.  We want people to remember that social connection is important & valuable. It takes intention and attention to make it happen. Being human in community is fun and makes a better workplace.  Everyone can take part.

hands holding tomatoes

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

The story of our prototype goes like this:

Once upon a time, ETG had a certain soul.  Today, people seem distant and our physical & virtual workspaces could be more fun.  Then, our team cooked, laughed and ate together. We made music together, had parties, played sports and games. We got the inside scoop on each other’s lives.  Fast forward a few months. We enjoy fun & meaningful connection, collaboration and communication together. We rediscovered and enriched our sense of soul.

Everyone at ETG is part of this story. with the whole self, bringing their many gifts, coming together to shape our soul.  The story happens in physical and virtual spaces. It happens in eating, music and playing spaces too.

The experience is human, fun, soulful, connected, with a lot of diversity and variety.  We are infused with the vibe of fun music, laughter. Food is always present.

At the end of the year, when reflecting on months passed, we will be able to tell stories of music, fun, laughter, great food, personal anecdotes, and new connections.

green bamboo in a white room

Photo by Riccardo Pelati on Unsplash

ETG Prototype: Collaboration Hub

We created a story around the Collaboration Hub prototype as follows. The storytelling begins with the s-lab, envisions key moments and paints a picture of the future.  We invite you to read our story below.

The evolving nature of work is creating a gap between people. There’s a need emerging for a workplace that’s a collaboration hub.

Our story goes like this:

Companies struggle with real estate. Costs are always increasing and there’s pressure to make the best use of what they have. Mobile technology means that people are often out of the office. Their space is unoccupied but paid for. Meeting rooms are either over-subscribed or empty for hours.

People struggle with workplaces. They often don’t even have their own desk anymore. Noise and lack of privacy intrude into productivity. Commuting gets longer and more frustrating every year. Why even go?

People struggle with technology. They avoid video, so everyone’s a disembodied voice. Engagement suffers. Technology fails to work as expected.

Our goal was to use our own space as a continuous prototype for a better way to collaborate. What we learn from this can help others on their own journeys.

We asked ourselves: How might we live the experience that we want our customers to have?

We will hear the “voice of technology” and connect everyone – simply and easily.

We will talk and eat with one another in spaces of comfort and sharing.

We will make our guests feel welcome and inspired.

We will come back to this place even when we are far away.

We will be connected.

airplane reflection in a puddle

Photo by Marc Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

How Did It End? Individual Reflections

Two subteams convened for a reflective session on the s-lab.  Some highlights from these reflections are given below.

From this time together as a team…..

  • “We were very internally focused on space and people.  We did not spend time on the broader ecosystem.”
  • “We practiced letting go of outcomes, enabling playfulness, knowing that to impact the larger ecosystem we need to work on self, then team, then the outside world.”
  • “We learned the importance of making the time to do this work.  Some are committed to the self work, why not enable each person to do that, as part of their role at ETG.”
  • “I was surprised by some people who showed up at the 4D mapping and how cool it was to experience the participation and openness.”
  • hands on a tree trunk

    Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

    “I noticed that I can keep doing things that feel right,  without asking permission. I know that I won’t be judged for this.”

  • “AT ETG we are taking baby steps with judgement, trust, self-management…..and now there is more rope to do something beneficial. I can bitch less, have coffee with others more.”
  • “When transforming people, space and technology, the hardest thing to change is people.  I realize that some really small changes, like having a BBQ, can have a big, positive impact.  Small things can have big, positive or negative impact.
  • “The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.  I was bitter and jaded before. Then I noticed that my one, little, loud voice was heard. This was a big change for me. I learned that you have to change yourself before you can change an organization.”
  • “There is a realization that we have created a framework for change, but then there is the individual’s desire to change and exist in a new reality.  One big opportunity is individual development and acknowledging that you can’t push this on someone. At the same time, we have to accept that some people may not want to do self work.  We need to meet ETG where it is.”

We, as a team, see the following possibilities.

  • “We can sense back into the societal transformation lab’s intention and really realize it.”
  • window with ocean view

    Photo by Nicolas Jossi on Unsplash

    “ETG will be socially sustainable first.  Then it can focus on the environment.”

  • “There is power to engage with like minded companies in Toronto to have greater societal impact.”
  • “There can be two initiatives, ETG and an initiative of a group of companies.”
  • “We can create a satellite office.”
  • “There can be space in the office for socializing.”
  • “We can have BBQs and other social gatherings.”
  • ““The s-lab can live on through our playbook, the ET Group Way, as a mindset and as a collective movement.”
  • “We can introduce the symbiotic organization, to enable people to understand the importance of the evolution of the individual.”
  • “As individuals who participated in the s-lab, we can model that it is ok to develop yourself in the context of your ETG work.  ETG can invite that by not forcing people to take time off to do self work.”

The Journey Continues

The s-lab journey continues in a container, where learning is amplified, and we cultivate our social soil.

The container. Engaging as a team in the s-lab enabled us to build a container for change.  This container is the holding space for individual change, team change, organizational change and ultimately, societal change.  We are committed to continuously evolving this container for a generative social process. We recognize that this is only the beginning.

Learning amplified. We have experienced learning differently.  Traditionally, we are conditioned to learn mostly by reflecting on the past.  Now, we know that we can also learn and lead from the emerging future. Recognizing our humanness, we can sense and actualize a high potential future with the new practices and tools we have tested.

fresh soil and grass growing

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Our social soil.  We have awareness of our social field, both as a team and as part of a larger ecosystem.  This social field is the quality of relationships that result in patterns of thinking, communicating and organizing.  These patterns create practical results. Thus, we care about the quality of the ETG soil that nurtures the ETG field.

In conclusion, the s-lab lives on in our continuous evolution towards self-management.  It lives on through the ET Group Way. The continuation of the s-lab prototypes and the creation of new initiatives aligned with the ETG s-lab purpose, is held in the newly formed Teamwork & Relationships circle.

Stay tuned!

Featured image by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash


The Business Caring Formula Podcast: Michelle N. Moore on Theory U

You are invited to listen to a conversation about Theory U via my interview on The Business Caring Formula podcast hosted by Emma Arakelyan. This is part 1 of the interview where Arakelyan asks me questions about

  • the career path that led to transformation work
  • how I discovered Theory U and what it is
  • the three most important traits a caring leader should have
  • applying a sense of humor or a positive attitude in a difficult situation

The Business Caring Formula podcast is about building a leadership lifestyle. It fosters inclusivity and action-driven leadership while taking others on the journey. In her podcast episodes Emma Arakelyan shares stories of inspirational and caring leaders who are catalysts for positive change in the world.

How I Discovered Theoy U

In part 1 of the podcast, we talk about helping organizations cultivate 21st-century competencies like empathy, collaborative learning, and creativity – all in service of humane innovation and holistic transformation. Central to this work is MIT’s Theory U, a framework for innovation that incorporates presencing practices.

Listen by pressing play above or by clicking on any of the links below:

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Highlights from True North 2019

Collaboration, a Declaration & a Problem

True North is an annual tech conference held in Kitchener – Waterloo. This is a Canadian technology corridor that is among the top 20 in the world. Communitech curated the June 2019 conference.

I attended the conference with ET Group (ETG) to explore the state of tech and expand on the following three highlights of interest below.

  1. Barriers to Organizational Collaboration
  2. The Tech for Good Declaration
  3. The Technology Business Model Problem

Barriers to Collaboration – Legacy Systems & Culture 

The conference kicked off with Manulife’s CEO, Roy Gori. He stated that transformation is possible when purpose, capability and passion exist. Unfortunately, barriers to change exist as well.

True North ConferenceWe agree with Roy that major barriers to change are due to legacy systems and culture. Legacy systems are often not customer centric.  Further, they are rarely designed to keep pace with the digital revolution. Culture can be a larger barrier because it is human nature to resist change.  People believe that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, thus losing out on successful collaboration.

At ETG, we have an up close look of legacy technological systems and culture in the organizations we serve.  Both systems and culture limit organizational collaboration. Often, organizations invest in technology, thinking that new tech will solve all problems.  Then comes the surprise. Tech adoption is minimal, rendering a low return on the tech investment.

User adoption of technology is dependent on culture, human mindsets and behaviours.   Organizations lose opportunities when they fail to focus on these human aspects. Investing in people and culture  yields better collaboration, higher productivity, innovation and engagement. Thus, purpose, capability and passion are key on any technology project intended to improve organizational collaboration as well.

The Tech for Good Declaration

I participated in the working session on Canada’s Tech for Good Declaration when it launched at True North in May 2018. As of today, 58 Canadian companies & 56 individuals signed it. It includes six major commitments about:

  • trust & respect,
  • transparency & choice,
  • re-skilling,
  • leaving no one behind,
  • inclusion and
  • collaborative governance.

Tech For Good DeclarationThis popular phrase, Tech for Good, means different things to different stakeholders.  The Declaration has its own version as articulated in the six commitments above. Others say that it is “a community of people, making tech that addresses social, economic and environmental challenges. Further,  building that tech in a collaborative, user-led way with an end result that’s ethically right-on.” (Joe Roberson, Tech for Good, Medium, May 17, 2018)

ETG is a signatory to the Tech for Good Declaration. Further, we have contributed perspectives on Tech for Good for the University of Waterloo study, “Cultivating Ethos in the Tech Sector”.  The results will foster dialogue between business, government and users. The goal of this study is to overcome ethical challenges posed by technological innovation. The study will also inform knowledge exchange on ethics, inclusion and equity in the tech sector.

Tarot Cards of Tech at True North 2019

Tarot Cards of TechAt True North 2019, conference participants shared feedback on the latest Declaration. We utilized the  Tarot Cards of Tech.   The cards are a set of provocations designed to help reflect on important questions:

  • Are we considering the full impact of technology?
  • Do we see the unintended consequences of the tech we recommend, design or implement?
  • What opportunities for positive change does this technology create?
  • Are we applying human centred design to build technology solutions?

At ETG, cross-functional, inclusive, human centred design is front and centre.  It is exciting to introduce the Tarot Cards of Tech on the next project. The cards will enable holistic dialogue about collaboration technology in the workplace.

A Problematic Technology Business Model

Signatories to the Declaration make six commitments (noted above).  This is all well and good. Yet, there is a glaring omission in this Declaration around company business models.  I agree with the findings of the Center for Humane Technology. Many technology companies make money on the extraction of our attention.  Our attention provides data to fuel their profits.

Shoshana Zuboff also exposes the problematic tech business model in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capital also reveals this problem. Companies want to automate humans for profit.

Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

Thus, the Canadian Declaration must include a seventh commitment on the business model.  Signatories should promise value creation for consumers and society as a whole. Attention extraction, which serves only investors, must be left behind.

True North ConferenceThe problematic technology business model was also mentioned by Kara Swisher, renowned journalist and editor of Recode. She stated that all problems link to the race to capture human attention by tech giants.  Kara detailed these problems during her summary the state of technology in the context of the following topics:

  • AI: Anything that can be digitized will be digitized
  • The robots are not killers (they don’t have to kill us to win)
  • There is still no privacy
  • The never-ending revolution (populism, lack of unity, social issues, etc.)
  • No one is responsible (for breaking rules)

The day ended at the Shopify happy hour in the original barrel storage area for Seagram’s Whiskey.

How to Use Visual Models for Future Workplace Perspectives

Four Months. 300+ Teams. One Transformation Lab.

In this second post about ET Group’s journey through MIT’s Presencing Institute Societal Transformation Lab (s-lab), a new Theory U Practice, 3D Mapping, is presented.  The s-lab is a four month program bringing together 300+ change teams across the world. Each team uses Theory U methods and tools on a project they collectively care deeply about. ET Group (ETG) has provided collaborative technology solutions to clients for over 40 years. Above all, ETG is evolving to help unleash human and organizational potential. The key is weaving people, space, and technology together.

ET Group 3D model

Current Workplace Visual Model

ETG’s intention is to help organizations meet complex challenges by enabling collaboration. Therefore, the s-lab is the platform of choice to transform social and digital experiences in the workplace. Each month, teams use Theory U tools in support of the transformation they are enabling. For example, the team created visual models using a Theory U tool called 3D mapping.

Because new perspectives arise out of 3D mapping, ETG realized several workplace opportunities. ETG can improve its own physical space and virtual experiences. There is opportunity to integrate technologies and invite clients into the journey.
Teams of 5-8 people created current state maps of the ETG workplace. Toys and other objects represented aspects of the workplace. For example, legos, a lemon, toy cars, umbrellas and figure are pictured in the photo of a current state map above.

Gaining New Workplace Perspectives

Once the current state model was complete, the team moved around the table and paused at each corner. As a result, they gained a new perspective and articulated what they saw from each direction.

Drawing, Presencing Institute

Firstly, teams stand in the East with a focus on feelings and relationships. Questions answered include, “What do you love? What ignites your energy?” Secondly, they move to the South for the perspective of truth and action. “What are the key conflicts and hard truths you need to face to move forward?” Thirdly, barriers which are stopping the current system from moving forward arise in the West. Finally, teams move North for the deeper purpose view.  They answer, “What is wanting to die? What is wanting to be born?”

An Emerging Future Workplace

Next, team members moved objects towards a future state of high potential. Each team member stated what the object and its movement represented in that future. The team continued to move objects around until the future state felt complete.
A minute of silence allowed the team to absorb a sense of their high potential future workplace. After that, they engaged in reflective dialogue about the future state. Specifics about the model structure, the model building process, and leverage points for transformation were articulated.

Presencing Institute Photo

ET Group Insights

As a result of two 3D models, new insights about the workplace experience became visible.  Similarly, new questions arose.  Insights related to A) model structure,  B) object movements, C) key interventions and D) transformation leverage points.
A. Structural differences between current and future state models included:
  • Objects are moving in a new common direction, versus moving in opposite directions. Fast change is possible.
  • People were no longer scattered. All face in the same direction, positioned towards new tools.
  • The workplace is now a bridge, something people use. The physical space is not a barrier. Removal of both physical and mental barriers is possible.

ET Group 3D Model

B.  The object representing virtual workplace collaboration moved first. It was placed in the middle, connected to the meeting spaces, linking physical and virtual. Therefore, barriers were removed and a bridge was built.

C. Key interventions to build the future state included bringing clients onboard. As a result there was no longer a separation between team and clients. Lots of people made the journey, with no exclusions.

D. The teams discovered leverage points to move their workplace transformation forward, including actions to
-Change the physical space
-Adopt and integrate the technologies
-Improve the Virtual space – creating more connections with existing or new tools
-Focus on the the ETG self
-Invite clients into the journey.

Next Steps

In March 2019, ETG will continue to apply Theory U practices to support workplace transformation. They will use embodiment practices called Social Presencing to access deeper collective wisdom. In the following month, the team will generate prototype ideas in related to technology and people. Stay tuned!

How to Model a Workplace of the Future – Through the Social Body

Four Months. 300+ Teams. One Transformation Lab.

This is the first in a series of writings on ET Group’s (ETG) journey through MIT*’s Presencing Institute hosted Societal Transformation Lab (s-lab).  ET Group is an organization that has provided collaborative technology solutions for over 40 years. Now they are on an evolutionary journey to help solve key organizational challenges by weaving people, space, and technology together, unleashing human and organizational potential.   The s-lab is a four month program bringing together 300+ teams across the world. Each team applies Theory U methods and tools to prototype a project they care deeply about, collectively.  

Shaping an Intention to Transform the Workplace of the Future

The intention ETG’s s-lab is, “to nourish the evolution of organizations to meet complex challenges by prototyping the social and digital into the physical to inspire collaboration.”  ETG is prototyping a social-digital-physical workplace of the future on themselves, and sharing that journey with the world.


The ETG’s s-lab was born in Toronto on November 22, 2018 during a company visioning session in which team members used Social Presencing to model the world of work and workplace.  The group created a physical model with their bodies to depict a global workplace challenge they want to change.  The systemic challenge was framed as

Change in the world of work continues to speed up, while the WAY work happens, to a great extent is not moving forward.”  

Roles in the model included:

1) Highest Potential of the system
2) vulnerable stakeholder – employees
3) ETG as a whole
4) audio visual integrators
5) consulting firms
6) clients
7) technology.  

Participants Allow Feelings to Arise in the Physical Body

The Social Presencing exercise applied is known as 4D mapping.  The 4D map in this case was the world of work and workplace. Seven participants allowed the felt sense of the systemic challenge to arise in the physical body from the perspective of their role.  The remaining participants served as observers and space holders, mindfully holding intention and attention, in silence, during the exercise.

First, participants allowed the current state 4D map to arise.  Next, they physically exaggerated, or leaned into, the social sculpture and individual shapes that had formed, until the current state model transitioned into an emerging future state.  Observers and participants debriefed on the felt and seen experiences in the current state, the transitioning state and the emerging future state.

Getting out of the head and into the body

Getting “out of the head and into the body” allowed ETG to tap into collective wisdom.  Social Presencing is an insight practice ideally suited for innovation and systems change because it augments the intelligence of teams by surfacing that team’s inherent wisdom.

Too much thinking, talking, and messaging is the norm.

In the Western world, linear, analytical thinking dominates. Bill George, Harvard Senior Fellow, emphasized this during an interview in the documentary film Innsaei, The Power of Intuition,

“In the last 20-25 years of my life we have seen the dominance of rational thought. It’s dominated a lot of our academic institutions, the media, and it’s taken away from the capacity to advance intuitive skills. Now for the first time we are starting to realize that problems are not getting any better.  We have to step back and take a whole new approach to these problems. One of the challenges we have recently had in business is by going to the fully rational side and by focusing everything on near term measurement, analytical tools, we have ground out or expunged creativity from our companies and 100 billions dollars are being wasted”.

Uncovering Major Aha Moments

Thus, ETG’s 4D map exercise resulted in a deeply generative dialogue, with many diverse insights arising.  The major “aha’s” for the group were,

  • “We are so focused on the client we don’t see the employee.”
  • “The employee was so far away from the other stakeholders and facing away from the rest of the group.”
  • “Employees really want care, empathy, attention.”  
  • “Employees as individuals are key.”

New Insightful questions arose

  • “How do we bring the employees closer to other stakeholders?”
  • “How does the employee really feel about the workplace revolution?”
  • “Do we focus on the the client too much?”
  • “What’s the future that feels right for everyone?”

New Opportunities Became Clear

  • “The real opportunity  and need is with employees as people.”
  • “There is an opportunity to re-prioritize and reconnect/re-engage clients and staff/team.”

New Actions

In summary, ETG realized that there is imbalance in the amount of energy and attention towards clients vs. employees.  Employees feel that they left behind. Thus, the collective team decided to change that and created a project to innovate ETG’s own workplace of the future including its people, the space and technology.  At the same time, the Presencing Institute was launching its first Societal Transformation Lab. ETG’s application was accepted and it is now part of “a multi-local innovation journey for teams who are co‑shaping more sustainable and equitable social systems worldwide.”