Case Guidelines

Personal dialogue cases using the two-column format described below are a powerful and versatile learning technology. By writing a case describing an actual situation you focus your learning on what is most important and relevant to you. Including what you and others actually said (the right-hand column) helps make the learning actionable. Including your thoughts and feelings (the left-hand column) makes it possible to reflect on your reasoning and to discover opportunities to reframe the situation.

This page describes how to write a two-column case for use in an Action Design workshop. The quality of your case will have a major impact on what you learn. The best cases focus on moments that illustrate a key theme, issue, or recurring difficulty that you would like to learn to handle more effectively. It usually takes about an hour to write a case and it need be no more than 1-2 pages in length.

  1. Think of a past interaction that illustrates a representative and challenging issue in your work. Please choose an episode in which you were personally involved and that you want to learn to handle more effectively.
    If you cannot think of a suitable past interaction, you may choose an upcoming interaction and follow the steps below to write about what you anticipate happening.
  2. Please describe the context briefly. Who was involved? What were you trying to accomplish? What kinds of obstacles did you experience? If you prefer, you can write about an episode that you anticipate encountering in the future. Please disguise names to ensure confidentiality. If you are writing a case that involves someone who will be in the seminar, it is important that you inform them and us in advance.
  3. Describe what actually happened (or if a future scenario, what you imagine might actually happen) by reconstructing key moments in the conversation. Divide your page(s) into two columns as shown in the example below. You can use the “Table” command in Word to create the two-column format.

    On the right hand side of the page, write your best recollection of what you and other(s) actually said and did. Don't worry about being precise; your best recollection is fine. But it is essential that you write actual dialogue, as if in a play.

    On the left hand side of the page, write down any thoughts and feelings you had at the time and did not say.


My Thoughts and Feelings What We Said
Frank doesn't like to lose. More hyperbole; more pushing his own view. We've heard all this before. If he's right we're already dead.

Me: I don't understand why you have a problem with what I'm suggesting.

Frank: Let me say it again. This will not work. We'll get into trouble sooner or later.

He's preying on Steve's (the CEO's) fears. Why doesn't he offer ideas about how we could make this work.

Me: Yours in an argument for doing nothing. If we cannot fix this business, we might as well sell it.

Frank: We've been through this before. We cannot afford the risk.

Like hell I did.

Me: I'm not saying there's no risk; I'm saying that doing nothing is not the answer either. Your guys were there when we put the plan together and they didn't see it as that big a risk.



Frank: You browbeat them. They said you wouldn't listen.


  1. State the results you experienced from this conversation that you would want to change.
  2. State the questions you would like to address in the discussion of your case. Specifically, what do you hope to learn about how to handle such interactions, based upon discussion of your case?