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/Forum Theatre Culture Change

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“I have got 60 quite senior people that I need to engage in this training event. They are from many parts of the globe and I have got them together for just 2 days next month. I need them to buy in to my new leadership culture; I need them to understand my values, my key messages.”

These are the sort of words that can strike fear and despondency into the heart of any L&D professional.

Is this a senior manager looking for a magic wand, looking for an L&D solution when the problem lies much deeper, does this suggest a complete lack of understanding of the constraints that are naturally present in L&D design?


Happily, this sponsor was a staunch supporter of and a firm believer in L&D. They had seen results before and recognised that L&D would make a difference.

More importantly:

  • they recognised that additional work was required outside of the L&D intervention itself
  • they recognised the need for a healthy budget and
  • they agreed that interactivity was all important.

Fortunately also on our side was the fact that the audience held the sponsor in very high regard, they wanted her to succeed, and they really wanted to listen.

Given the need to focus on some key messages, we couldn’t allow a free-for-all facilitation but equally given the need for buy-in, we needed to ensure we worked with a mechanism that encouraged engagement and made it clear that they were contributing ideas.

The central core to the solution were sessions of forum theatre

In simple terms scripted scenes were presented to illustrate the leadership culture.

Three techniques were then used:

  1. The actors froze in mid-scene, allowing the delegates to continue the rest of the scene acting as both ‘scriptwriters’ and ‘directors’.
  2. The next ‘scene’ illustrated poor practice and the delegates were asked what they thought of the professional’s performance.  There was naturally a lot of criticism. They were then told that the whole scene would be re-run from the very beginning but this time they are to improve the professional’s performance by calling ‘stop’ any time they observe bad practice. 
  3. After the third scene was watched, delegates broke into groups – Each ‘character’ visited each group and was advised on how they could improve their behaviours for the benefit of the group.  The actors took notes and then re-ran the entire scene incorporating as many changes to their behaviours as possible.

Built around this highly interactive, visual and thought provoking core, the design incorporated input from the respected leader together the group create organisational plans and individuals prepared personal plans.


The delegates witnessed a clear and unambiguous illustration of the sought-after leadership culture, they saw the values coming to life and bought-in because they had been involved


The delegates worked together to discuss the impact of behaviours in the workplace and they contributed personal plans for what that new culture would mean for them individually.


Key messages were communicated in an original and innovative way


The result, a good one - 60 senior people engaged, great buy-in, messages understood, values shared (and a happy sponsor!)

Note: not surprisingly, given the nature of the change required, the client who benefitted has asked us to keep their name confidential but they were very happy for us to share some details about how we worked with them.