Services to Engage Your Staff and Improve Your Organization

Strategic and Tactical Planning

Creating Collaboration

Meeting and Team Facilitation

Establishing Partnerships Between Teams

Enhancing the Work Environment

Increasing Team Effectiveness


Strategic and Tactical Planning

In an ideal world, the future is clear, all in the organization understand what to do to achieve the future, and there are no unanticipated obstacles that could impact your ability to accomplish your goals.

You can achieve this ideal world by making a concerted effort to define your future.

  • Engage the organization in visualizing this future.
  • Analyze your environment to anticipate the risks, obstacles, and threats facing you.
  • Launch and sustain the initiatives that will realize the future.

Whether you anticipate major strategic changes or incremental improvements, a well-defined plan will increase your probability of success.

"Mel immediately grasped what the situation required and quickly internalized the purpose and
goals of ACO. She was masterful at involving everyone and achieving buy-in. Mel kept us on task and worked us through the difficult spots."
   -- Faye Flack, Aid for College Opportunity


The Acorn Planning Process is collaborative, concrete, and tailored to your unique needs. All decision-makers will be engaged, and the resulting plans will be specific and actionable. The planning process consists of three steps:

  1. Research and Analysis - work with organization members to develop a comprehensive assessment of the organization's current reality and future possibilities.
  2. Plan Development - bring the decision-makers together to evaluate the possibilities. Working together, define the goals, objectives, strategies, actions, measures, and skills that will enable you to achieve the ideal future.
  3. Implementation - work with organization members to assess and manage risks, identify needed changes, and ensure understanding and support from all. Prepare your organization to monitor progress and take corrective actions as needed.

"Our plans miscarry because they have no aim.
When a man does not know what harbor he is making for,
no wind is the right wind."
-- Seneca the Younger, Roman statesman

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Creating CollaborationColaboration Tear Sheet

Outstanding teamwork is more than just getting along with your teammates. It requires true collaboration:

  • The ability to work together towards a shared goal;
  • Clarity on the roles and responsibilities of each team member;
  • The ability to capitalize on the strengths and abilities of all;
  • Clarity on how the work will be done;
  • A willingness to trust one another.

Collaborative teams can solve problems effectively, deal with the inevitable conflict that arises; and, most importantly, they can accomplish their goals.

This workshop provides teams the opportunity to define a new and more effective way to work together - to create collaboration. New teams can begin with great practices while existing teams can be revitalized.

"Thanks for an outstanding job.  The team all wished that there had been more time to
apply what you were teaching.  I look forward to working with you again."

  -- Anna Marie Metzgar, NCR Corporation


How it Works

This highly participatory workshop is designed for the whole team to attend. It moves the team members through the stages of team development starting with "Who am I?" and "Who are you?" through "Why are we together?" and ending with "How will we work together to achieve our goals?"

Exercises are used throughout the session to foster communication, to enable agreements, and to stimulate collaboration.

The workshop is customized for each team. Content can include:

The Diversity of Thinking Styles
Introductory exercise to promote communication between participants and to introduce the concept of differences in people and how they approach their work.

What is collaboration?
Lecture, exercise, and discussion on collaboration and teamwork; success factors and obstacles to team success.

Team Objectives and Actions
work session to develop team purpose, objectives, measures, and actions.

Team answers the following questions:

  1. Why do we (this team) exist? [team purpose]
  2. If we are outstandingly successful, what will we accomplish? [team objectives]
  3. How will we know when we have accomplished it? [team measures]
  4. What do we have to do to accomplish this? [high level actions]

Roles and Responsibilities
Define what roles are and what responsibilities are. Work session to define and identify the various roles, responsibilities, and skills of each team member.

Tips for Talking and Listening
Lecture and exercise on effective communication concepts and techniques. Topics include communicating with the intent of understanding versus communicating with the intent of advocating; accepting ideas from others; and coaching and feedback.

Making Decisions
Introduce different approaches to making decisions and the different times/situations when each is appropriate.
Work session to define how team wants to make decisions (when each type of decision making will be appropriate) and how to ensure decisions are made in accordance with this agreement (ex: how to ensure that consensus decisions are truly consensus).

Solving Problems
Introduce a simple collaborative problem solving model. Practice using the model with a problem facing the team.

Team Operations
Work session to define how the team will work together to achieve the agreed to goals. This includes such things as meetings, solving problems, informing others of issues or changes, etc.

Team Member Strengths
Exercise to provide each person an opportunity to identify the strengths in the fellow team members.


"In the world today, there's plenty of technology, plenty of entrepreneurs, plenty of money, plenty of venture capital. What's in short supply is great teams. Your biggest challenge will be building a great team. Team wins."
-- John Doerr, Venture Capitalist
Fast Company, February-March 1997


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Meeting and Team FacilitationTeam Facilitation Tear Sheet

Meetings! You spend hours in them, and often believe that little is accomplished. They are the bane of today's business, but they are also necessary. They should ensure shared understanding of tasks and accomplishments; they should foster collaboration; they should help you solve problems that cross organizational boundaries.

"Just a quick note to say thanks for all your help with the recent meeting in Atlanta. It was a
tough group and an even tougher subject matter. Your expertise in planning the meeting, facilitation skills during the meeting, and follow-up after the meeting clearly made the difference. Thanks again and I look forward to working with you soon."
   -- Fred Herold, NCR Corporation

"Mel, Thank you for all your work in producing the best conference I have been to in years!"
   -- Nelson DeBrosse, NCR Corporation

Mel, I just wanted to send a quick email to you and tell you thanks for all the hard work you did at MMHS.  Your guidance was necessary and beneficial to GET IT DONE.  I am hopeful for the future here and we owe you thanks for helping us get started toward that goal."
   -- Ellen R. Wahl, RN, BAS, Director ICU/CCU, Mercy Memorial Hospital


Whether you need help with a single meeting or ongoing assistance to keep a team on track, Acorn's facilitation services can help you maximize the usefulness of the time you spend with your colleagues and team members. Participants of effective meetings walk out energized and motivated. There is a sense of accomplishment and direction.

Meeting and Team Facilitation consists of:

  • Planning - Acorn will help you move beyond a simple meeting agenda to a complete meeting plan with specific outcomes and the right participants. Acorn will work with you to identify your overall objectives and needed accomplishments. We will help you identify the participants who will contribute to the success of the meeting. We will also design the activities for the meeting to achieve the objectives and accomplishments.
  • Facilitating the Meeting - Acorn will establish and maintain a positive climate, ensure participation by all, encourage collaboration and teamwork, manage the time, and focus the attention of all on the objectives and needed accomplishments.
  • Follow-up - Acorn will work with you to summarize the session, identify follow-on actions, and evaluate the effectiveness of the meeting. This will help you focus on the future: continuous improvement for your team, both in the work being done and the meetings you conduct.

"None of us is as smart as all of us."
-- Japanese proverb

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Establishing Partnerships Between TeamsPartnerships Tear Sheet

Great Expectations. These often exist when two teams come together to achieve a goal bigger than either can achieve on its own. The great expectations are for both the end accomplishment and for what the other team will contribute. And because these great expectations are rarely voiced, they are often unmet. Unspoken and unmet expectations even occur when two teams work side by side in a single organization day after day.

"Teams are working away at Womancare.  I felt your workshop was just what we needed
to launch us into a new pattern of working relationships.  I believe our employees are now getting to utilize their talents more fully."
   -- Dr. Camilla Buchanan, Womancare of Williamsburg


When you establish a comprehensive partnership between the teams, these great expectations are shared, explored, modified, and finally supported. And as a result, the great expectations have a much better chance to become great accomplishments.

How it Works:

  • Members from both (or all) teams come together to define the overall expected accomplishments.
  • Each team works independently to identify what it needs from the other team to be successful.
  • The teams come back together to share their needs, their expectations.
  • Each team makes commitments and creates plans to define how they will meet the expectations of the other.

"Every step we take--no matter how small-- to understand the needs of the people we strive to serve will increase our bond with them and move us in the direction of a higher standard of leadership."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

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Enhancing the Work EnvironmentKeys Survey Tear Sheet

An Innovative Organization
An organization can foster and stimulate creativity and innovation in its employees or it can provide obstacles that prevent employees from working effectively and utilizing their creative talents. Often the stimulants and obstacles are unknown. While there is no single formula for fostering an effective work environment, there are specific actions that can be taken to improve the climate, increase employee skills, and establish processes and mechanisms that support innovative thinking.

"Keep doing what you're doing.  Or, if you want to spark innovation, rethink how you motivate, reward, and assign work to people."
-- Dr. Teresa M. Amabile, Harvard University

Assessing the Work Environment
Acorn Consulting provides a comprehensive service designed to assess an organization's support for creativity in the work environment, to identify the underlying causes for this support or lack of support, and to work with the organization to develop action plans to improve the work environment. This service uses the tool from the Center for Creative Leadership called "KEYS: Assessing the Climate for Creativity." The service has four major components:

  1. KEYS survey to identify the strengths and opportunities for improvement
  2. Interviews with members of the organization to identify the underlying causes of the KEYS results and to identify possible actions that can sustain and build upon the strengths while improving the areas that were identified as possible problems.
  3. Results Workshop to present the results to the organization and develop recommendations for improvement.
  4. Action Planning with the management team to develop a workable plan to act upon the findings.

The KEYS Survey is designed specifically to assess the obstacles and stimulants to creativity in the work environment. It is a reliable, valid measure of the elements in the work environment that can impact creativity. KEYS is based on 12 years of research by Dr. Teresa Amabile of Harvard University in association with the Center for Creative Leadership.

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Increasing Team EffectivenessKeys Survey Tear Sheet

Effective Teams
Effective teams can accomplish far more than individuals working alone could accomplish. The team members collaborate effortlessly to achieve true synergy.

Improving Teams
Many teams are not able to reach their full potential. There are various obstacles that can keep a team from achieving its best results. As a result, there is no single solution to improving teams. Rather, each team needs specific assistance to address its unique challenges.

Acorn Consulting provides a comprehensive service designed to assess the effectiveness of intact teams and identify targeted actions for improvement. This service uses a tool from the Center for Creative Leadership called KEYS. KEYS was originally developed to assess how well an organization supports creativity in the workplace. Current research has demonstrated that KEYS is also effective in identifying strengths and weaknesses in teams.

"The best aspect of a Keys Assessment is the way people become engaged in the business.
After an assessment, everyone seems to want to contribute to success."

  -- Lonnie Franks, CPR Project Services


The service has three major components:

  1. KEYS survey to identify the strengths and opportunities for improvement within the team.
  2. Interviews with members of the team to identify the underlying causes of the KEYS results and to determine if there is a shared understanding of team goals, roles, responsibilities and operations.
  3. Team Improvement Workshop to present the results to the team, develop recommendations for improvement, and take appropriate actions.

"The good news is that teams can get unstuck as long as they address barriers that relate to their specific performance challenge."
-- Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith in The Wisdom of Teams

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KEYS Survey

KEYS is based on over 12 years of research by Dr. Teresa Amabile of Harvard University in association with the Center for Creative Leadership.

KEYS is a service mark of the Center for Creative Leadership

The KEYS Scales

Organizational Stimulants:

  • Organizational encouragement - an organizational culture that encourages creativity through the fair, constructive judgment of ideas, reward and recognition for creative work, mechanisms for developing new ideas, and active flow of ideas, and a shared vision of what the organization is trying to do.
  • Supervisory encouragement - A supervisor who serves as a good work model, sets goals appropriately, supports the work group, values individual contributions, and shows confidence in the work group.
  • Work Group Supports - A diversely skilled work group in which people communicate well, are open to new ideas, constructively challenge each other's work, trust and help each other, and feel committed to the work they are doing.
  • Freedom - Freedom in deciding what work to do or how to do it; a sense of control over one's work.
  • Sufficient Resources - Access to appropriate resources, including funds, materials, facilities, and information.
  • Challenging Work - A sense of having to work hard on challenging tasks and important projects.

Organizational Obstacles:

  • Organizational Impediments - An organizational culture with internal political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, destructive internal competition, an avoidance of risk, and an overemphasis on the status quo.
  • Workload Pressure - Extreme time pressures, unrealistic expectations for productivity, and distractions from creative work.


  • Creativity - A creative organization or unit, where a great deal of creativity is called for and where people believe they actually produce creative work.
  • Productivity - An efficient, effective, and productive organization or unit.

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