How to Categorize (or Cluster) Ideas and Inputs


Purpose

Categorizing creates clusters of related items so that a group can improve its focus.

Rationale

The purpose of categorizing is to eliminate redundancies by collapsing related items into clusters or chunks (a scientific term). A label or term that captures the title for each cluster can be more easily re-used in matrices and other visual displays. Categorizing makes it easier for the team to analyze complex groupings and their impact on each other.

Method

Categorizing can take little or much time, depending on how much precision is required, time available, and importance.  The first method shown is quick and effective.  The other methods may also be effective, but probably not as quick.

Underscore

Take the raw input or lists created during the ideation step and underscore the common nouns (typically the object in a sentence that is preceded by a predicate or a verb). Use a different color marker for each group of nouns, and have the team offer up a term or label that captures the meaning of each cluster that is underscored.

(Optionally)

For each item, ask “Why _____?”  Items that share a common purpose likely have a common objective and can be grouped together.

Transpose

Take the new terms or labels that signify a cluster or grouping and move them to a separate list or table.  The terms may be defined with discussion and illustrated with the list of items that belongs to each cluster.  Use the FAST Definition tool to build additional clarity if required.

Scrub

Go back to the original list and strike the items that now collapse into the new terms created for each cluster in the Transpose step above.  Allow the group to focus on any remaining items that have not been eliminated and decide if they require unique terms, need further explanation, or can be deleted.

Review

Before transitioning, review the final list of clusters and confirm that team members understand the terms and that they can support the operational definitions.  Let the team members know that they can add additional terms to the clusters later, but if they are comfortable with them as is, to move on and do something with the list, as it was built for input to a subsequent step or activity.

(Other Grouping Themes)

Humans visually perceive items not in isolation, but as part of a larger whole.  The principles of perception include human tendencies towards:

  • Similarity—by their analogous characteristics
  • Proximity—by their physical closeness to each other
  • Continuity—when there is an identifiable pattern
  • Closure—completing or filling-in missing features

Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody. For detailed support, see your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MGRush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

How to Honor and Recognize Diversity, Ensuring Meeting and Workshop Inclusiveness


The primary responsibility of a facilitator is to protect the participants.  Secondarily, the facilitator helps drive the group toward its desired deliverable.  Since the deliverable is built to serve the participants, the people should take priority over the issues.  To some extent, both people and issues are managed by creating an environment that is conducive to productivity.  Easier said, than done.

Additionally the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) aspires for you to:

  • Encourage positive regard for the experience and perception of all participants

    Cultural Plurality

  • Create a climate of safety and trust
  • Create opportunities for participants to benefit from the diversity of the group
  • Cultivate cultural awareness and sensitivity”

Dr Edward de Bono provides expert insight about parallel thinking; ie, there can be more than one correct answer.  Listening to others, their perspective, and rationale will create a more robust product.  Since we are all guilty of selective perception, the aggregation of all points of view provides stronger understanding and insight than any single point of view.  When facilitating a group of nine people for example, we are looking for the tenth answer.  The FAST technique refers to this concept as N+1, where N equals the quantity of participants, we are always seeking the +1 perspective.

Remember to embrace and enforce meeting and workshop ground rules to create a climate of safety and trust.  See our earlier discussion (http://wp.me/p1ki0r-5Q) for more specific comments and suggestions.

Diversity, or plurality as we prefer to call it (suggesting the beauty of a mosaic rather than the fracturing of something), is undoubtedly the key to innovation.  Embrace de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats (modified to Seven Thinking Hats with the FAST technique to also include the “Process” or royal purple view) or others means of facilitating perspective found in your FAST manual or in other expert sources such as Roger von Oech‘s Creative Whack Pack (most recently made available for the iPhone®).

Consider special ice breakers, break out sessions, or team building exercises that emphasize the value of plurality.  Scannell and Newstrom offer hundreds of options (eg, http://www.amazon.com/More-Games-Trainers-Edward-Scannell/dp/007055045X) among other expert tools.  Take this opportunity to leverage the tactile sense, and consider some of the professional Legos® activities or others designed to prove the value of plurality and its positive impact on the quality of deliverables.

Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, 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).

Related articles

How to Create and Sustain a Participatory Environment


The primary responsibility of a facilitator is to protect the participants.  Secondarily, the facilitator helps drive the group toward its desired deliverable.  Since the deliverable is built to serve the participants, the people take priority over the issues.  To some extent, both people and issues are managed by creating an environment that is conducive to productivity.  Easier said, than done.

Additionally the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) encourages you to “Demonstrate effective participatory and interpersonal communication skills . . .

  • Apply a variety of participatory processes
  • Demonstrate effective verbal communication skills
  • Develop rapport with participants
  • Practice active listening
  • Demonstrate ability to observe and provide feedback to participants”

The “zen” of the experience warns us that participants will respond to stimuli differently.  Psychologist Howard Gardner identified eight distinct types of intelligence.  He claims that all humans have the spark of genius buried within, but they manifest differently among us.  The eight types include:

  1. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”)
  2. Interpersonal Intelligence (“People Smart”)
  3. Intra-personal Intelligence (“Self Smart”)
  4. Linguistic Intelligence (“Word Smart”)
  5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (“Number/ Reasoning Smart”)
  6. Musical Intelligence (“Musical Smart”)
  7. Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”)
  8. Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”)

You can begin to appreciate the value of applying a variety of participatory tools to solicit input from your participants.  Clearly and factually, not all of them will respond effectively to a strictly “verbal” environment.  Thus it is critically important to interview your participants in advance.  How else will you understand them and the method that may best serve them?  As we say in FAST class, there is no “silver bullet” to be an effective facilitator.  If you don’t show up prepared, your performance will likely be sub optimal.

Once we understand our participants better, and can improve the selection of tools that we choose to use in our meetings and workshops, effective facilitation relies heavily on active listening.  When conflict develops, people frequently do not listen to the other person or side of the story.  The facilitator’s role becomes indispensable to provide reflection on what is being said, because more participants will listen to the facilitator.  Don’t forget to confirm however, that you got it right.

Or write, as in, capture the reflection in writing.  If you capture the participants’ primary thoughts (frequently referred to as a causal link as in “I think that . . .”) in writing, such as a large Post-It® on an easel, it becomes easier to have them reflect on what was written down or captured.  Your participants can then confirm the accuracy or offer up corrections or additions as appropriate.

When providing feedback and reflection, scan the room and observe reactions, typically non-verbal.  Determine if it appears that the group understands and perhaps agrees, or if there is resistance —perhaps due to misinterpretation or misunderstanding that you can help clear up through active listening.

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 Solution, Improve 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.

How to Plan Appropriate Group Processes


The role of session leader (aka facilitator) is frequently filled by the same person who also provides the role of methodologist.  Since there is usually more than one right answer (or methodology, that leads to the deliverable), how do you determine the optimal approach? As you may know from your FAST training, a robust decision-making method suggests creating your options and then to separately evaluate them against a set of prioritized criteria; including SMART criteria, fuzzy criteria, and other important considerations.

Additionally the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) encourages you to “select clear methods and processes that

  • Foster open participation with respect for client culture, norms and participant diversity
  • Engage the participation of those with varied learning / thinking styles
  • Achieve a high quality product / outcome that meets the client needs”

You can support the plurality concept of the IAF’s first point by carefully selecting and blending your meeting participants.  Keep in mind the type of change effort you are leading.  If your deliverable contributes evolutionary advances to the project cause, you may want to get done quickly, with people who know each other and work together effectively.  If your deliverable contributes toward revolutionary advances, then invigorate your blend of meeting or workshop participants.  Remember, if you want the same old answer, then clone yourself.  If you need something truly innovative, then invite people who may be viewed as outsiders or confederates, and depend on them to help stir things up.  We know empirically that more options typically yields higher quality decisions.

Support their engagement and participation (second bullet above) with the frequent and extended use of break out teams and sessions.  Groups get more done as their sizes are reduced.  Break out teams give quiet people permission to speak freely.  Provide creative team names (eg, stellar constellations or mountain names) and appoint a CEO for each team (ie, chief easel operator).  Be well prepared with your supplies and handouts.

Manage teams closely by wandering around and listening.  Keep the teams focused on the question(s) as you would with a larger group, preventing scope creep that yields unproductive time.  When you pull the teams back together, use FAST’s Book-end tool to aggregate and collapse the perspectives into one, unified response.

Next the International Association of Facilitators encourages you to “prepare time and space to support group process

  • Arrange physical space to support the purpose of the meeting
  • Plan effective use of time
  • Provide effective atmosphere and drama for sessions”

When confined to one room, typically arrange easels in different corners.  With virtual meetings, convert local call-in centers (eg, a group conferencing in from another city) into discrete sub teams.  If possible, plan on separate rooms for break-out sessions, pre supplied with easels, markers, handouts, etc.

Minimize the allotted time.  It’s shocking what teams can complete in three minutes with clear instructions. Even with a three-minute assignment, by the time you have appointed CEOs, instructions, and participants have assembled and then returned; a three-minute assignment quickly turns into five minutes, five minutes turns into ten, etc.  Again, minimize the allotted time, but be flexible and afford more time if the teams remain productive and need more time that adds value.

The more you do in advance to prepare your instructions and the physical space, the more you can expect back in return.  If you are blasé and assign teams numbers, and randomly assign participants 1,2, 3, etc.—then expect blasé results.  If you are creative and involved, you can expect the same type of behavior from your participants.

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 Solution, Improve 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 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.

Our Most Popular Meeting and Workshop Ground Rules for Optimal Group Behavior


Use a set of ground rules to help manage meeting behavior.  You can lead meetings and discussions without ground rules, but did you ever leave an unstructured meeting with a headache?  The term “discussion” is rooted similarly to the terms “percussion” and “concussion.”

Some of the ground rules we have found particularly effective include:

  • Be curious about different perspectives—practice teamwork
  • Use Ground Rules to Help Manage BehaviorBe here now (ie, turn off electronic leashes)
  • Bring a problem, bring a solution
  • Consensus means “I can live with it” (and will support it inside and outside)
  • Don’t beat a dead horse
  • Focus on “WHAT” not “HOW”
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Hard on facts, soft on people
  • Make your thinking visible
  • No “Yeah, but”—Make it “Yeah, AND…”
  • No big egos or war stories
  • One conversation at a time
  • Share reasons behind questions and answers
  • (or, Share all relevant information)
  • Silence or absence implies consensus
  • Team is responsible for outcome
  • Topless meetings (ie, phones on stun, no laptops)

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, 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).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify the skills of a facilitative leader.

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