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.

For detailed support, see your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST Professional Facilitative Leadership training  session offered around the world (see http://www.mgrush.com/ for a current schedule).

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About Terrence Metz
Biographic Sketch — Terrence Metz Since the end of 1999, Terrence Metz has been a founding principal partner and vice president at Morgan Madison & Company. For over twenty years, through professional and academic endeavors, Terrence has focused on improving group decision-making. His experience has proven that two important components to effective group decision-making are: 1. Higher quality information assures higher quality decisions, 2. Properly managed conflict, generates more “options” to consider—
and groups with more options are proven to make higher quality decisions. Terrence is passionate about using and teaching the FAST Facilitative Leadership Training technique so that people and teams make more informed decisions. Terrence is the lead instructor and primary curriculum developer for MG Rush Performance Learning. He earned his Six Sigma Green Belt® from Motorola University and wrote most of the existing FAST curriculum. Terrence made the FAST technique more robust by adding and enhancing decision-making tools such as PowerBalls and the FAST quantitative SWOT technique that is used worldwide by Fortune 1000 companies. He introduced the concept of holism to the field of structured facilitation as a method for keeping discussions on target and aligning deliverables throughout an organization. Since 1999, Terrence has taught over two hundred classes. With a Baccalaureate in Science from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and a MBA from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on product/ process development and innovation. Terrence has a P&L background in capital goods markets with highly engineered-products and services (eg, Honeywell). He is an expert group facilitator, instructor, and developer of workflow processes and Voice of the Market inputs that accelerate commercial success. His engagements have included strategic development, business planning, problem-solving, continuous improvement, organizational design, process design and improvement, customer cognitivity workshops, and market-based product development and launch. His book "Change or Die: The Business Process Improvement Manual" from CRC Press was published internationally in 2012. Terrence completed additional graduate work in inter-cultural decision-making processes at Marquette University, is a former board member of the Product Development Managers’ Association, and a long-time member of the IAF (International Association of Facilitators), MFNA (Midwest Facilitators Network Association), TMAC (Technology Management Association of Chicago) and WFS (World Future Society). Most importantly, Terrence is an effective listener and equally adept at teaching FAST classes as well as galvanizing consensus around complex issues for organizations and groups.

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