Brittni Bowering

SPRINT Facilitator, Happy Hour: Career Talk Podcaster and former Head of Brand at AJ&Smart


She is a master facilitator, a seasoned brand & content strategist, a standup comedian, the host of the podcast “Happy Hour: Career Talk” and the former Head of Brand at AJ&Smart.

Please join me in welcoming Brittni Bowering to The Innovation Series, Welcome Brittni! It’s very nice to meet you and thank you very much for your time.

Brittni:  Thanks so much for the invitation! I’m so pleased to be a part of such a cool series!

Randy: Ok, so I have a little Improv training in my background (I spent a lot of time hanging around The Second City and The iO Theater after hours when I lived in Chicago), but some of the techniques I picked up have actually made me a better designer. I’m really curious, are there any techniques to standup that have made you a better facilitator and/or brand strategist?

Brittni: That’s very cool! I feel the same way. Honestly, I never expected standup to have such a massive impact on my career. Obviously there’s the fact that I’ve become very comfortable presenting/facilitating in a room full of people that I don’t know. Which helps a lot in almost any business (and life) context. Also, the ability to read a room, understand the general vibe, and be able to deliver a certain type of energy based on that, is an invaluable skill for facilitators. In comedy, it’s also very important to edit yourself so that your message is delivered as clearly and concisely as possible. A joke should always be delivered in as few words as possible. It’s always funnier and more poignant when all unnecessary information is removed from the story. This is also true in content marketing. I teach that to all of my clients, the power of strong editing skills!

Randy: Almost a decade ago I left my VP of Design job to become owner/design partner at DeveloperTown (then a 1-year old tech startup). Leaving a good job to go out on my own was exciting yet scary, had its share of ups and downs, and taught me plenty about how the world really works. Talk to me about your experience leaving your job as Head of Brand at AJ&Smart to venture out on your own, and if you have any advice to someone is considering the move?

Brittni: You described it perfectly. Exciting yet scary. That’s how I felt too! For me, it was always something that I wanted to do and at the end of last year, I felt like the timing was right. I have to say, the amount that I’ve learned in the past 6 months (since leaving my full-time position) exceeds the amount I learned in the past 6 years of my career. I love pushing myself and getting out of my comfort zone, and this allowed me to do just that.

One thing that was really great was the fact that since I had worked as AJ&Smart’s head of brand for so long and had become one of the faces of the brand, I was positioned quite well for freelance work. I worked really hard, especially in the last year at my position, to also build a brand for myself so that when I was ready to go off on my own, I knew I would have a few people interested in working with me! It’s something that I urge people to dedicate some time to. If you’re able to build up a bit of a brand around your work, it will be invaluable to your career whether or not you ever decide to go freelance!

Randy: You wrote a post on LinkedIn a few months ago about what you do when people can’t all agree on something during a design sprint. In my experience, this happens pretty often, and to be honest I am still not great at navigating this when it does happen. Even with a *decider* assigned in advance, it can still be messy, zap energy from the group and send an otherwise-productive workshop sideways. What’s your advice on how to handle disagreement, and still be able to move the team forward?

Brittni: This isn’t a situation I like being in either. Facilitating a group of people involves navigating all the personalities in the room. Often you’re entering into a situation that you know nothing about. The disagreements are usually around internal politics, team dynamics, or personal grievances. It’s not easy. There are a few things you can do, however! The first is to make absolutely sure that everyone in the room is clear on the expectations of the design sprint process. Reminding everyone that you will be moving quickly, and in order to do so, you’ll need to make decisions faster than will feel comfortable. However, the beauty of the design sprint is that you’ll also find out quickly if the decision made was the right one, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Reminding your participants of this before kicking off and also periodically throughout the workshop will help a lot.

If you are in a situation where you aren’t able to move forward because everyone is still debating/arguing, I always resort to reminding the team that we won’t be able to complete the design sprint if we don’t move on, which means that we won’t be able to test our idea and won’t be able to get the answers we’re looking for. That’s usually enough for the team to reassess the urgency of their debate.

Randy: I’ve been a part of quite a few workshops over the past 20 years (some as a participant and even more as a facilitator), and I have started to notice that I have a *personal facilitation style*. What are the important characteristics of a successful facilitator and how would you describe your own *personal facilitation style*?

Brittni: This is a really interesting question because I’m often asked about whether or not all personalities can make good facilitators. My answer is always, yes. I think it’s a misconception that to be a good facilitator you need to be outgoing or high energy. It’s simply not true. I believe that the key to good facilitation is the ability to listen and communicate clearly.

My personal facilitation style could probably be described as, “lighthearted and energetic”. I’m a big believer in having fun at work, so I try to bring that mindset into the room with me. We’re going to be working hard, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t laugh a little bit too. I realize how cheesy that might sound, but I’ve never taken myself too seriously, and so far it’s always paid off.

Randy: I think it was on Instagram, but I’ve seen you say, “a lot can go wrong when you are facilitating a workshop”. It’s so true. And it certainly does. In your experience what are some things that go wrong often, and how do you handle them when it’s your job to direct a group of people toward a common goal?

Brittni: I do love facilitating workshops, but I’ve never found it an easy thing to do. The one thing that I try to tell people when they are first-time facilitators is that it’s all in the preparation. The more you prepare, the better off you’ll be. A few things specifically that you need to plan well are:

  1. Setting expectations with your participants before you kick off the workshop. Preferably, you’ll have an on-boarding meeting with them where you’ll provide them with the context, the challenge, and an overview of the outline of the workshop including the desired outcome!
  2. Plan some buffer time. Workshops will always run a bit longer than you think they will. You’ll have some hiccups, discussions breaking out, coffee breaks that run over. So plan accordingly.
  3. Don’t overlook the details. Things like the room’s layout, airflow, and coffee are more important than you might think in a workshop setting. A successful workshop is all about energy. You need to be able to keep people engaged and motivated. That means that you should make sure the experience is a good one for all participants. Sometimes that means making sure you’ve got good coffee.
  4. Speaking of energy… a good facilitator always runs a nice ice-breaker right at the top and has a fun energizer up their sleeve for the after-lunch slump.

Randy: In Episode 48 of your podcast, “Happy Hour: Career Talk with Brittni & Penny” you and your co-host Penny go into great detail talking about the good and bad things of leaders from your past. Penny mentions a particular person that she considers to be a great leader, and it sparks an interesting conversation around the qualities that make a good leader. Can you give us your thoughts on what you believe are the important qualities of a good leader?

Brittni: For me, a good leader is someone who knows their values and sticks to them. They are humble and forthcoming about what they aren’t good at. They care about their people. A good leader asks, “how can I help you achieve your goals?” and not, “how can you help me achieve mine”.

A good leader is hard to come by, but I really think it’s because we aren’t taught to be leaders. Even managers rarely get the training that they would need to do the job well. It’s too bad because I think a lot of people could benefit from having a better leader at work.

Randy: I like to ask this question of all IS guests...what top-secret project are you working on, that you have been waiting for this very special opportunity on The Innovation Series to unveil?

Brittni: Ha! Literally nothing I do is top secret. I have a pretty big mouth and I almost always talk openly about what I’m up to! Instagram is where I like to tell all my deepest secrets, so that’s a fun place to follow along! @brittnibow

Randy: I’m guessing here, but I bet you have a good workshop-related joke, right? Tell us, please!

Brittni: You guessed right! I have several! One of my personal favorites is from the design sprint. During the sketching exercise, there are some “rules” that I always tell participants. One of the rules is, “Ugly is okay”. And every time I say it, I add on, “a rule for sketching... and for life.”

It doesn’t always get a laugh, but I continue to say it because it genuinely makes me smile every time I do!

Randy: Haha, I love it. If the group is right I might use it (and credit you, of course). Good luck and thank you again for sharing your experiences on The Innovation Series. It's been great to have you!

Past Interviews

David WongCME Group

Dr. Justin SchragerVital Software

Brian PoppeMutual of Omaha

Dustin ZieglerElevance Health

Dr. Joshua Vest, PhD, MPHIndiana University

Helen RobbH&R Block

Therese Fessenden NN/g, Microsoft

Fabricio TeixeiraWork & Co, UX Collective

Jake KnappSprint, GV, Microsoft

Radhika DuttRadical Product Thinking

John ZeratskySPRINT, Make Time

Tobias van SchneiderSemplice, Spotify

Jeff GothelfLean UX Author

Taylor PalmerUX Tools, Neighbor

Daniel BurkaResolve to Save Lives, GV

Carie DavisYour Ideas are Terrible, Coca-Cola

Sean AmmiratiDirector, Corporate Startup Lab at Carnegie Mellon

Aaron LerchWhy designers and developers need to invest in being equal partners

Alex BillingsleyHow to get designers and developers on the same page