Here Are Two Effective Five-Minute Icebreakers for Large Groups


All groups, especially very large groups, are known to perform better when the participants know something about each other. While time constraints prohibit traditional, self-spoken icebreakers with large groups (eg, 60 people for two minutes each burns two hours), some time for social bonding remains effective. Consider the following, simple, easy, and quick approach when working with very large groups, even hundreds of people, to instill a broader sense of group consciousness and networking.

Getting to Know One Another

Getting to Know One Another

The simple rule requires participants to stand when they can answer ‘affirmative’ to one of your pre-built questions. For example, “Stand up if you had to fly to get here.”

Other questions that capture but a small sliver of potential questions you might ask include:

  • Stand up if you have worked for this organization for five years.
    • Keep standing if ten years, twenty, etc.
  • Stand up if you have one pet.
    • Keep standing if you have two pets, three pets, etc.
  • Stand up if you were born in another country (or state, or city)?
  • Stand up if you lived in another country for more than one year?
    • Keep standing if five years, ten, etc.
  • Stand up if you love music? Country? Jazz? Classical? Rap?
  • Stand up if you have a tattoo
    • Keep standing if you have two, three, five, etc.
  • Stand up if you have ever broken a bone.
  • Stand up if your favorite James Bond actor is Sean Connery.
    • Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig . . .
  • Stand up if you drive a Volvo.
    • BMW, Ford, Mercedes, etc.

Also consider bifurcating your group to create some healthy tension. The “Would You Rather?” approach generates high energy, even among people that presumably know each other quite well. This approach can also be used with smaller groups. For example,

  • Would you rather beableto be invisible, or
    • Able to read others’ minds?
  • Would you rather live without music, or
    • Live without television?
  • Would you rather be four feet tall, or
    • Eight feet tall?
  • Would you rather have a Texan accent and live in New York City, or
    • Have a New York accent and live in Texas?
  • Would you rather marry your first boyfriend/ girlfriend, or
    • Someone your parents choose for you?
  • Would you rather be granted the answer to any three questions, or
    • Be granted the ability to resurrect one person?
  • Would you rather always show up 20 minutes late for everything, or
    • Always show up 90 minutes early for everything?
  • Would you rather work for your oldest sibling, or
    • Your best friend?
  • Live in a home without electricity, or
    • Running water?

Have some fun and create your own. These work with large groups because the directions are short and simple, as long as everyone can hear the requirements to standing up. In our experience, everyone will quickly quiet down and pay attention so they know when they are supposed to stand. You can also interject some of your personality, or a preview of the days’ events based on your questions. Write back to us about your experience and suggestions when using icebreakers with large groups.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

What to Include in a Workshop Participants’ Package for a Major Initiative


Besides understanding the difference between his or her meeting roles and project or work roles, provide each participant with a participant handout or pre-read package. At launch or kickoff or any major inflection points, consider binding a package with spiral edging across the top of your inserts because it is unique and easier for left-handed note takers.

Following are some items to consider when constructing your participants package:

A Powerful Pre-read

A Powerful Pre-read

  • Written purpose, scope, and deliverables of the workshop along with a simple agenda for the current session
  • Lexicon or glossary of terms; especially any terms that are used in the purpose, scope, and deliverables statements mentioned in the item above
  • Enterprise and business unit strategic planning support; especially the mission, values, visions, and objectives (ie, key measurements)
  • Team charter (ie, Management Perspective or framing document) or additional detail about the project being supported by the meeting or workshop
  • Sponsor’s letter of invitation—organizational and/ or enterprise strategic plan
  • Team members’ contact information (consider photographs when preparing for a meeting with virtual participants)
  • Relevant reading or support materials gathered during the interviews or from the project or adjunct project teams
  • List of questions to be addressed during the meeting or workshop
  • Responsibilities or expectations of the participants; including any overnight assignments, reading, or exercises that may be part of multi-day workshop

The sequence of the items above is shown in order of priority. No meeting or workshop can arrive at consensual agreement if the participants cannot agree at first on the purpose, scope, and deliverables of the meeting. Next, consensual understanding about what those terms mean must be controlled and not facilitated. Third, knowing how the balance of the organization depends on the success of this meeting and its contributions (ie, deliverable) must be established to create a sense of importance and urgency. The balance of the items may be considered optional, but optimal.

We also recommend that you provide each participant with a cover letter. When “relevant reading material” is assembled, frequently it contains so much bulk that many participants don’t look at it until the meeting commences. Rather, attach a cover letter to each participant stipulating which pages are essential for them to read based on their ability to make significant contributions.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

How to Develop the Basis for a Successful Meeting or Workshop in Four Easy Steps


Purpose

This activity establishes the program purpose, project scope, session (ie, meeting or workshop) deliverables, and potential participants.

Develop the Basis in Four Easy Steps

Develop the Basis in Four Easy Steps

Method

Do the following:

  1. Write down your deliverable and strive to Get Examples! Deliverables illustrate the required documentation and needed information. What are we producing? Show participants examples if available. Compare with the enterprise strategic plan to help reconcile tradeoffs in the decision-making process.
  2. Quantify impact from the meeting on the program and articulate the project scope. Identify the level of detail desired, the type of session (planning, problem solving, design, etc.), and what to accomplish in the workshop. Understand what might be excluded (due to scope); or what the purpose and scope are NOT.
  3. Identify and compose the steps that enable you to organize the known information, identify the missing information, and produce the deliverables identified previously. Rely on your organization’s methodology or life cycle. The best sources for your draft method are (in order of preference):
    • Proprietary or in-house life cycle
    • Team charter, prior work, or FAST cookbook agendas
    • Experience—look at past successful workshops (or CoP; ie, community of practice), ask, “What questions need to be answered to satisfy the purpose of the workshop?” Consider the Single-Question tool approach.
    • Talk to the project manager, technical partner (ie, the methodologist), or other organizational experts.
    • Go to a library or bookstore but do NOT rely on Google®.

THE THREE STEPS ABOVE YIELD A STRAW MODEL OR SIMPLE MEETING OR WORKSHOP AGENDA.

For Lean or Agile also consider

– Existing enterprise systems or processes (life cycle)

– Architecture infrastructure (consider drafting a baseline architectural pattern)

– Scoping/ phasing (what high level information is known)

– Consider existing process models, high level ERD, and actors’ security/ policy

  1. Identify the most appropriate participants. Identify what knowledge or expertise each needs to bring to the workshop. Determine how much of the agenda the participants understand and can reasonably complete in a group environment. Identify what issues they have—do they need team building or creativity or some management of behavior? Find someone who will provide resistance at the meeting so that you can learn to anticipate challenges that will develop. You may not want to avoid the issues because they need to surface; however, you do not want to be surprised or caught off guard.

Walk through the steps to see if you can produce the desired results with the proposed participants. Do the steps allow the group to build on prior work without jumping around? Are the steps logical? Will the deliverables be comprehensive?

NOTE: Identify the known information at the start of the proposed workshop. Some information was probably built before this workshop. It may be output from prior workshops. It may be planning or scope documents. This information should only be reviewed and not built from scratch, if acceptable.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Appreciative Inquiry: How to create an evolutionary path to the future


Purpose

Organizations seeking to make a major change in HOW they work may consider using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) to help evaluate viewpoints and create an evolutionary path to the future. AI leverages brainstorming, prioritizing, sub-teams, and various other tools we’ve discussed elsewhere, putting them in the context of “study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they function at their best.” (see Whitney, The Power of Appreciative Inquiry)

Explore the Possibilities

Explore the Possibilities

Method

The AI approach provides a detailed prescriptive path of information gathering and documentation. It requires training and mentoring to learn it and conduct it well. Consider the AI approach as a facilitator when you have been properly trained—and a far-reaching organizational change is sought. The four phases are known as the 4-D model. Once the scope has been isolated, or perhaps assumed as in the case of many non-governmental organizations (NGO), the phases include:

  1. Discovery—search and illuminate those factors that give life to the organization, the “best of what is” in any given situation.
  2. Dream—dream about what could be.
  3. Design—design the future through dialogue, finding common ground by sharing discoveries and possibilities and debating.
  4. Destiny—construct the future through innovation and action.

Comments

AI emphasizes an appreciative view of what has been true in the past (eg, successes, assets, etc) as a natural basis for fundamental change. It encourages a thorough, diligent, and open exploration of what could be true for the organization, once freed from judgment or prejudice.

This method values collaboration at the expense of command-control environments, making it highly amenable to technological change. Its workshops can span from two days to two weeks, or longer. They rely on most of the tools we have discussed in other blogs and on the FAST curriculum, but you are well advised to consider a professional who specializes in AI or can be made readily available as a mentor.

Appreciative inquiry recognizes that inquiry and change are occurring simultaneously. Inquiry catalyzes change—the things people think and talk about, the things people discover and learn, and the things that inform dialogue and inspire action—are implicit in the questions we ask. See authors Whitney and Watkins for additional reading.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Values Answer, “Who are we?” and Benjamin Franklin Called Them Virtues


We always find it interesting that consulting firms promulgate their own, unique operational definitions. The term ‘values’ can be found called many things including “Guiding Principles”, “Tenets of Operation”, “Virtues”, “Essential Elements”, etc. Generally, they all describe answers to the basic questions:

  • “Who are we?”
  • “What do we value?”
  • “What do we carry with us?”
  • “What weighs us down?”
  • “How do we make trade-offs?”
  • “How will we treat each other?”
  • “How will we work together (in support of our mission)?”

For our purpose, values are narrative descriptions of policies and philosophies. They provide one- or two-sentence descriptions about the principles or internal rules, laws, policies, and philosophies of the business.

“Values are ideals that give significance to our lives, that are reflected through the priorities we choose, and that we act on consistently and repeatedly.” —Brian Hall, PhD, Author of the Hall-Tonna Values Inventory

We find it interesting that many personal values are rarely reflected in corporate standards, temperance or cleanliness as examples. Here are the truncated values of one of the 18th century people who strongly influenced the nature of his country, before it became a country, Mr. Benjamin Franklin.

Cleanliness as a Value

Cleanliness as a Value

  1. TEMPERANCE: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. SILENCE: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. ORDER: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. RESOLUTION: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. FRUGALITY: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; ie, waste nothing.
  6. INDUSTRY: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. SINCERITY: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly a method for progressing.
  8. JUSTICE: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. MODERATION: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. CLEANLINESS: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. TRANQUILLITY: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. CHASTITY: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. HUMILITY: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Meetings Generate Outcomes While Workshops Create Outputs


Use of the term “workshop” is frequently considered synonymous with the term “meeting.” Yet five practical differences include:

  1. Meetings consist of loosely related topics that serve to review and monitor, inform, and sometimes endorse (or decide). Participants during meetings are commonly passive while workshops demand their contributions and activity. Meetings result in an updated state of affairs or condition, while workshops create tangible deliverables oractual ‘things.’

    Workshops Demand Participation

    Workshops Demand Participation

  2. The agenda steps in a meeting are frequently boxed in time. With most workshop activity, front-end loading frequently makes it easier to complete the back-end steps and activities. Therefore, for most workshop activities, we approximate time but allow groups additional time to fully develop their consensual assumptions up-front, when it matters most.
  3. Regularly held meetings (ie, staff meetings or board meetings) end when time runs out, usually with an understanding that unfinished items will be picked up in the next meeting. When groups are building toward a workshop deliverable, the sequence of the steps is important and they frequently cannot leap ahead or advance until the foundation work is complete.
  4. Meeting leaders may not be expected to be entirely neutral. Effective leaders will learn to embrace the importance of meeting neutrality and active listening but when required, they may be forced to render an opinion or a decision. Workshop leaders should strive every way possible to avoid offering up content, knowing that the participants must own and live with their decision. Workshop leaders risk total failure if they violate neutrality by stepping on content.
  5. Workshops tend to last longer than meetings. While the average meeting may last an hour or two, the average workshop may take a few days or even a few sessions with multiple days.

Caution

Due to time, participant availability, and meeting real estate space constraints, much workshop activity today may be spread across multiple weeks, turning a potentially natural, multiple-day workshop into regular multiple-week “meetings.” The structural difference between concurrent-day and concurrent-week approaches is that the break periods between activities are longer with the concurrent or multiple week approach.

The session leader needs to be aware of workshop deliverables that are hidden in the term “meeting.” Simply because an event is being called a meeting or lasts for only an hour or two, does not give the session leader the right to show up unprepared or to become a judge of others, their input, and their opinions.

Legacy

The FAST curriculum contains the information and guidelines necessary for a FAST facilitator to effectively conduct both meetings and workshops. FAST originally stood for Facilitated Application Specification Technique. We promise not to say that again. Think of FAST as the opposite of slow.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

How to Understand the Political Risks of Meetings Using an Interview Method


Interview Method

Interview participants to understand as much as possible about them, the people they work with, and their business. Speak with all the participants, preferably one-on-one for about 30 minutes each. Speak with each face-to-face, or at least by way of a teleconference.

Interview1

Interviewing Overview

 

Interview Sequence

First meet the executive sponsor, the business partners, the project team, and then the participants. Keep your interviews around twenty to thirty minutes each. Conduct the interviews privately and assure participants that their responses will be kept CONFIDENTIAL.

Interview Objectives  

Interview the participants to understand:

  • To become familiar with their job, their business, and their expectations
  • To confirm who should, or should not, attend and why
  • To help them show up better prepared to contribute
  • To identify potential issues, hidden agendas, and other obstacles
  • To identify scheduling conflicts and other concerns
  • To transfer ownership of the purpose, scope, and deliverables

INTERVIEWING QUESTIONS

The following are well-sequenced questions that you should ask. Begin each interview explaining your role and the purpose of the interview. Ask for permission to take notes. Use open-ended questions, sit back, and listen to the person—discover their value and value add to the initiative you are supporting.

Facilitator Style Questions

Interviewing Questions

Interviewing Questions

Selection

Optimally you should choose the best participants. The business and technical partners with the executive sponsor approve the list. The method works like this:

  • Ask the partners who should participate—make a list.
  • Ask the executive sponsor who should participate—adjust 
the list.
  • Ask each participant who should participate—adjust the list.

When you have finished interviewing the participants, explain to the partners who you believe should participate and why. The partners will accept or modify the list. Once you both agree, have the partners get the executive sponsor to approve.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

What Aristotle Might Say to Facilitators Who Cannot Remove Their Biases


Argumentation can be described as the SMart approach to persuasion. It combines appeals to logic, or the Scientific Method, along with an appreciation of artistic attributes that that make the appeals more persuasive and convincing. Specifically Aristotle discusses three drivers of persuasive success: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Good facilitators ought familiarize themselves with all three.

Ethos (Greek for ‘character’) captures a sense of credibility and refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the presenter. Ethos may be expressed through tone and style of message, transforming the speaker into an authority on the subject. It lends itself to the creation of reputation and exists independently from the message. The impact of ethos is often called an argument’s ‘ethical appeal’ or the ‘appeal from credibility.’  (Pre-Test)

Three Forms of Persuasion

Three Forms of Persuasion

Aristotle tells us that the appeal from ethos should not come from appearances, but from a person’s use of language. To improve one’s credibility, minimize or avoid using the first person singular “I” or “me.” Substitute the integrative “we” or “us” or refer to the collective and pluralistic “you.” Today, advertising relies much on ethos and takes the form of credible spokespeople, such as Michael Jordan selling underwear. The historical view holds that three characteristics help fortify ethos, all that should be embraced by a facilitator, namely:

  1. Good moral character,
  2. Good sense, and
  3. Goodwill

Logos (Greek for ‘word’) refers to the internal consistency and reasoning of the message—clarity of the claim, logic of its reasons, and effectiveness of supporting evidence. Presumably Aristotle’s favorite approach, ‘logos’ captures the logic used to support claims (induction and deduction) and will likely include supporting facts and statistics.

The impact of logos may be called an argument’s logical appeal.

A facilitator supports inductive logic by challenging participants for facts, evidence, and support and allowing them to develop a general conclusion. Or, you can facilitate deductive reasoning by challenging participants with a general proposition and then eliciting from them specific facts, evidence, and support.

Pathos (Greek for ‘suffering’ or ‘experience’) is frequently referred to as an emotional appeal but it also refers to an ‘appeal to the audience’s sympathies and imagination.’ The persuasive appeal of pathos facilitates participants’ sense of identity, their self-interests, and emotions. Many consider pathos the strongest of the appeals.

Be cautious as appeals to participants’ sense of identity and self-interest exploit common biases. They naturally bend in the direction of what is advantageous to them, what serves their interests or the interests of the groups to which they belong.

The three appeals above belong to some of the styles used to describe rhetoric, which we define as the “art of adjusting ideas to people, and people to ideas.” Fortify yourself with a deeper understanding of rhetoric and argumentation if you truly want to become a better facilitator.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Facilitate: Indispensable in Guide to the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge®


How to run a better meeting is like learning to be a better listener, easy to understand but hard to do. Why? Poor muscle memory. What can we do about it? Change our muscle memory.

While perfect practice remains the best way to overcome poor muscle memory, take a closer look at the International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®), in particular the newest edition of their Guide to the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge® known as BABOK® Guide v3.

In its strong compendium about disciplined and structured thinking, the term ‘facilitate’ appears 112 times over 514 pages. Statistically, ~25 percent of its pages indicate the need, reference, or link to the importance of facilitation.

Good and Bad Muscle Memory

Good and Bad Muscle Memory

Interestingly, and perhaps to avoid redundancy, the IIBA provides two different operational definitions for the term ‘facilitation.” In section (9.5.1) focused exclusively on facilitation, they state (pg 217) that:

Facilitation is the skill of moderating discussions within a group in order to enable all participants to effectively articulate their views on a topic under discussion, and to ensure that participants in the discussion are able to recognize and appreciate the differing points of view that are articulated.

Later in the much-appreciated Glossary, they use the following definition (pg 456):

facilitation: The art of leading and encouraging people through systematic efforts toward agreed-upon objectives in a manner that enhances involvement, collaboration, productivity, and synergy.

While we concur with their assertions, we also humbly suggest that facilitation is both an art AND a science. We use the term SMart, suggesting the combination of an objective scientific method (SM) combined with the subjective and adjustable features, the ‘art’ (ergo, SMart). To the extent possible, we aspire toward repeatable, consistent outputs by using the rigor of disciplined structure.

The IIBA further provides reference to many of the opportunities for us to improve our muscle memory by becoming better facilitators, and although too many to list, here are a few samplings where you ought focus your practice efforts to become more facilitative when leading groups of people:

  • facilitate alignment of goals and objectives
  • facilitate analysis and deep understanding of the organization’s processes
  • facilitate articulation of the product vision statement
  • facilitate consensus building and trade-offs and ensures that solution value is realized and initiative timelines are met
  • facilitate coordinated and synchronized action across the organization by aligning action with the organization’s vision, goals, and strategy
  • facilitate cost management and reduce duplication of work
  • facilitate decision making and conflict resolution, and ensure that all participants have an opportunity to be heard
  • facilitate drawing and storing matrices and diagrams to represent requirements
  • facilitate estimations of the value realized by a solution
  • facilitate holistic and balanced planning and thinking
  • facilitate identification of potential improvements by highlighting “pain points” in the process structure (ie, process visualization)
  • facilitate interactions between stakeholders in order to help them make a decision, solve a problem, exchange ideas and information, or reach an agreement regarding the priority and the nature of requirements
  • facilitate knowledge transfer and understanding
  • facilitate meetings with set agendas and meeting roles or informal working sessions
  • facilitate organizational alignment, linking goals to objectives, supporting solutions, underlying tasks, and resources
  • facilitate planning, analyzing, testing, and demonstrating activities
  • facilitate recording, organizing, storing, and sharing requirements and designs
  • facilitate release planning discussions
  • facilitate requirements and designs traceability
  • facilitate review sessions, keeps participants focused on the objectives of the review and ensure that each relevant section of the work product is covered
  • facilitate stakeholder collaboration, decisions, and to understand the relative importance of business analysis information
  • facilitate the approval process
  • facilitate the change assessment process
  • facilitate the process of prioritization
  • facilitate understanding and decision making, the value of proposed changes, and other complex ideas
  • facilitate workshops

They also provide some wonderful goals of effective facilitation including:

  • encouraging participation from all attendees,
  • ensuring that participants correctly understand each other’s positions,
  • establishing ground rules such as being open to suggestions, building on what is there, not dismissing ideas, and allowing others to speak and express themselves,
  • making it clear to the participants that the facilitator is a third party to the process and not a decision maker nor the owner of the topic,
  • preventing discussions from being sidetracked onto irrelevant topics,
  • remaining neutral and not taking sides, and
  • using meeting management skills and tools to keep discussions focused and organized.

Finally, it is interesting that in this third edition, within the Section called Interaction Skills, they broadened the scope of facilitation by:

  • Facilitation and Negotiation—split competencies and renamed Facilitation

Particularly interesting to us since many times participants are in violent agreement with each other, but need a solid facilitator to arrive at common understanding.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Compelling Reasons for Structured Meetings: Positive Impact on Stakeholders


Background

The dynamism of business wisdom demands the application of knowledge, stuff that is ‘in−formation’ (not static). Compound those dynamics with the challenge of organizing a group of people, where nobody is smarter than everybody. Groups of people fail (or operate at sub-optimal levels) either because they don’t care, don’t have the talent, or don’t know how. In 1985, structured facilitation training (aka interactive design) was introduced by MGRush to instruct HOW TO get a group of people to focus on the right question (topicality) at the right time (sequencing). Knowing that there is typically more than one right answer, and with a sincere and dedicated effort toward continuous improvement, the curriculum has advanced beyond its ‘in−formation’ heritage to focus on group decision making, planning, analysis, and prioritization. Not surprisingly, since nearly all of MGRush’s business develops through ‘word-of-mouth’, they were contacted by an alumni to help justify providing in-house training with its FAST proprietary curriculum on leadership, facilitation, and methodology. Following is the justification.

Situational Fact  

A percentage of meeting time goes unproductive and entire meetings may be construed as ineffective.

  • Meetings are a real expense and the frequency and duration of meetings has been steadily increasing in the USA.
  • Studies have estimated that meetings are at most 50 percent productive.
  • Poorly run meetings are so prevalent that some people and organizations have developed “meeting dementia.”
  • Meetings are essential to developing common understanding and generating higher quality decisions than lone individuals.

Implications

With structured meetings, organizations can avoid 25 to 35 percent of costs, or hundreds of millions U$D per year.

  • While organizations lose money due to ineffectiveness, individuals are forced to work longer hours to compensate.
  • The culture of an organization can be negatively impacted, causing the departure of highly valued contributors.
  • A major insurance company discovered a 400 percent increase in an information technology project productivity, compared to using serial interviews and aggregating requirements through unstructured discussions.
  • Frequently it has been observed that ‘requirements’ are not ‘bad’, rather additional expenses are driven by what is inadvertently omitted or missed.

Recommendations

At minimum on a pilot basis, embrace a structured approach within a limited scope of our operations.

  • Secure management commitment to improving meeting efficacy and supporting workshops where appropriate.
  • Enable the facilities, supplies, and resources to pursue the benefit of structured meetings.
  • Empower select individuals with expert, professional training.

Situational Fact

Employees spend hundreds of hours leading meeting without robust training. Unstructured discussions lead to confusion and sometimes opposing or contradictory interpretations and conclusions.

  • Communication problems are a simple fact. Frequently people are in violent agreement with each other.
  • The following list highlights14ofthemostfrequently mentioned problems by over 1,000 managers (alpha sort):
    Structuring Meetings

    Structuring Meetings

    • Disorganized
    • Dominators
    • Getting off subject
    • Inconclusive
    • Ineffective for making decisions
    • Ineffective leader/ lack of control
    • Interruptions (inside and out)
    • Irrelevant information discussed
    • No goals or agenda
    • Poor preparation
    • Rambling discussion individuals
    • Started late
    • Time wasted
    • Too long

Implications

The problems listed above are real and negatively impact the organization, stakeholders, and culture.

  • Organization may regress compared to their competitors and competitive options.
  • Individuals are not stimulated to think about important and costly options, opportunities, and requirements.
  • Incremental and evolutionary growth becomes accepted rather than revolutionary growth and breakthroughs that get missed.
  • The culture trends toward becoming reactive rather than proactive, following rather than leading.
  • Some participants are satisfied with any decision and remain unconscious about the importance of decision quality.

Recommendations

Promote a new effort toward meeting efficacy and group focus, starting with properly trained leaders.

  • Ratify funds to be allocated both internally for supplies and externally for professional training.
  • Enable resources to provide internal observation, back-up, and feedback to ensure ‘perfect practice’ of new skills learned.
  • Realizing the importance of meeting management and effective facilitation, consider building a Community of Excellence.
  • Appreciate the criticality of ongoing training and anticipate advanced training in the future based on in-house methodologies.

Benefits

Sorry about the long list, but no apologies for the real and sustaining benefits (alpha sort):

  • Ability to test for the quality of the deliverable before meeting concludes (valuable since the worst deliverable of any meeting is another meeting).
  • Agendas, approaches, tools, deliverables and outputs become more repeatable and consistent.
  • Analysts obtain higher quality, more comprehensive information.
  • Coherent communication among workshop participants, project, steering, and dependent teams.
  • Employees learn HOW TO THINK, and become more effective from “board room to boiler room” as principles radiate from the trained session leaders to their participants.
  • Faster results: facilitated sessions can accelerate the capture of information, especially if the meeting participants
    (aka subject matter experts) arrive prepared with an understanding of the questions and issues that need to be discussed.
  • Fewer omissions—projects accelerate with increased clarity and reduced uncertainty.
  • Heightened involvement and understanding by all stakeholders.
  • Higher quality results: groups of people generally make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group. Facilitated sessions encourage the exchange of different points of view enabling the group to identify new options, and it is a proven fact that people or groups with more options at their disposal make higher quality decisions.
  • Major reduction of total resources compared to serial interviewing and aggregation techniques.
  • People stimulate people: properly facilitated sessions can lead to innovation and the catalyst for innovative opportunities because multiple perspectives generate a richer (360 degree) understanding of a problem or challenge, rather than a narrow, myopic view.
  • Transfer of ownership: facilitated sessions build further action by creating deliverables that support follow-up.
  • Witness a decline of smart people making dumb decisions.

Glossary

Stakeholders, includes both internal and external customers and project team whom all have a stake in the outcome.

Workshops are meetings focused on a single topic and deliverable, NOT simply informational-exchange, rather they build. Like projects, workshops have at least three phases: preparation, the workshop itself, and resolution:

  1. The key to successful preparation is meeting with management and participants to determine objectives, estimate and plan the workshop, prepare the participants, develop agendas, and complete the logistics.
  2. The workshop itself is a concentrated environment with extensive use of visuals striving for win-win situations, defined as consensus.
  3. The resolution phase completes the documentation, resolves open issues, and communicates with stakeholders about next steps.

❖   Interactive design (defined): A structured meeting designed to extract high-quality information from stakeholders in a compressed time-frame using a proven methodology, visual aids, and a workshop process to enhance communications—uses a neutral facilitator to guide participants through a structured, yet flexible approach, towards a common goal (ie, deliverable).

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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