March 29, 2012 20 Comments
The Problem with Solving
First, what is a “promising meeting”? When the session leader has confirmed a solid and necessary deliverable from the meeting participants but fails to develop an appropriate method or agenda, most meetings will flounder or fail. North Americans in particular are subject to an “over-confidence” bias and show-up expecting to develop the right method, ask the right questions, or conduct the appropriate analysis “on the fly”. Some have called this meeting syndrome, “solving”.
The same over-confidence bias causes many to skip analysis and jump immediately from the problem to the solution. As a result, they frequently end-up asking pertinent but impossible questions to answer akin to “How do you solve global hunger?” or “How do you boil the ocean?”. While the participants may have a vested interest in solving the hunger issue or resolving a technical issue, the session leader has not made it easy for them to arrive at a consensual solution because the method has failed to break it down into manageable pieces.
One of the surest ways to get a group of vested participants to go quiet is to ask a meaningful question that is so broad as to be unanswerable.They will become numb about how to respond. Note with the “hunger” problem as an example, that hunger is a function of numerous processes such as food development, food manufacturing, food transmission, food distribution, food storage, nutrition absorption, etc. By narrowing the scope a bit and providing a focused question, a facilitator can make it a lot easier for a group to respond, such as “How could we improve food storage capacity in Somalia?” With a precise question, and narrower scope (ie, Somalia versus the entire world), it becomes much easier to provide answers such as “converts those old rail cars” or “use the abandoned mine shafts”.
Not only should the overriding question be broken into discrete questions to improve the method, but the questions will need to be sequenced as well. For example, the big question “So, what is the marketing plan for 20xx?” is better served with discrete discussions around segmentation, targeting, positioning, messaging, media, etc. For most marketing experts, it’s best to identify the target audience before going much further into the analysis or plan development.
Likewise when building a home, a residential architect needs to know “What color do you want the grout to be in the secondary bathroom?” That type of question however, while it demands an answer, is probably best saved for the end of development, after agreeing on the purpose of the home, location, size, traffic flow, etc. These additional topical areas become quite natural agenda steps that increase the robustness of the method behind the meeting, also known as an agenda.
The lesson to be learned? Break it down. Speak with experts and study additional reference material. Take any significant reason or question behind a meeting and determine the various questions that could be answered in support. Find the natural groupings and create a topical flow. Now you have at least a basic agenda that will help prevent you from asking such a broad question that it could lead to meeting silence, or even failure.
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.
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