Meeting Participation Tips (Part 2 of 3—The Middle)


Great meetings include certain, repeatable characteristics. A high level of participation frequently indicates the opportunity for a great meeting. What encourages participation?

We share select characteristics with you through the sequence they would occur in a well-conducted meeting; namely the beginning, the middle, and the end. The following is not meant to be exhaustive, as supporting detail is found in other blogs. However, we find the following to rank among the most important items for inciting high levels of meeting participation and collaboration.

The Middle (aka During the Meeting) Phase

Line of Site

Line of Site

Nobody wants more meetings. They want results. Presumably the results they seek will have an impact on the quality of their lives. If the session leader can quantify the impact of the meeting on the personal wallets in the room, participation is guaranteed to increase. Conversely, if the participants are disengaged, unsure about the meeting purpose, its deliverable, or subsequent impact; their attention will be diverted to email, tardiness, and other means of non-productive behavior. As session leader, make the line of site between the contribution of your participants and the impact of the meeting deliverable, crystal clear. One way to capture this expression is by asking, “What is at risk if this meeting fails?” Rather than claiming your meeting is “important”, prove it—typically by expressing its worth in currency or FTE (ie, Full Time Equivalents)

Breakout Sessions

Using breakout sessions gives everyone permission to speak freely. When they assemble in smaller teams, they are better able to have intimate conversations with fewer people. They discover that they are not a “lone” voice giving them increased confidence to speak on behalf of “our team”. Rarely does a breakout team fail to discuss everything it developed during its break-out session. Make sure you are creative and thoughtful in your assignments, rather than 1-2-3. Appoint a CEO for each team (ie, chief easel operator). Consider when to use homogeneous teams that think alike versus heterogeneous teams that tend to think differently.

Non-verbal Solicitation

Actively seek and beseech participant input with open hands and eye contact. Let them know that you want to ensure that their input is not lost at critical and appropriate moments. Give them confidence that you will protect them by separating the value of their message from their personality. Emphasize that the facilitator protects the people first and then secures participants’ input secondarily, because the content gathered is being assembled to serve the people, not the other way around.

Reinforce During Breaks

Constantly remind them (in private) that their input is important and valued. Reinforce your role as protector and ask them if they have avoided making a contribution when, perhaps, they should have spoken. Ask them if there is anything else that you can do, as facilitator, to make it easier for them to provide input.

Related articles

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

Meeting Participation Tips (Part 1 of 3—The Beginning)


Great meetings include certain, repeatable characteristics.  A high level of participation frequently indicates the opportunity for a great meeting.  What encourages participation?

We share select characteristics with you through the sequence they would occur in a well-conducted meeting; namely the beginning, the middle, and the end.  The following is not meant to be exhaustive, as supporting detail is found in other blogs.  However, we find the following to rank among the most important items for inciting high levels of meeting participation and collaboration.

 Beginning (aka Preparation) Phase

Meeting results and ownership need to be transferred to the participants from the very beginning.  Optimally, meting participants should review the purpose, scope, and objectives (ie, deliverables) before the meeting begins.  They need to verify that they understand and find them acceptable, or have an opportunity to provide their input to changes something before the meeting begins.  They should also review the method and tools that will be used to ensure that they find the approach sound.  Remember, they will be held responsible for the outcome.

Meeting Participation (Preparation)

A glossary or lexicon should be included in the pre-read or handout so that individuals can refer back to the operational definitions of terms as challenges arise.  People within groups frequently find themselves in violent agreement with each other, and it’s imperative that all the participants agree on what is meant by the terms being used in the purpose, scope, and objectives.  Typically, the glossary should be maintained by the project team, project management office, program office, or strategic center of excellence.  Teams do not normally have time to argue about the difference between a vendor and a contractor or a bill and an invoice.   Unless the definitions are part of the deliverable, they should be determined in advance.

When meetings or workshops are held to support projects, it’s invaluable for participants to know and understand the purpose and objectives of the project, the reason the project was approved (ie, program goals), and the goals and objectives of the mandating organization (ie, the strategic plan of the business unit and/ or enterprise).  Ultimately, all arguments should be resolved by which position best supports reaching the enterprise objectives. Optimally, the meeting room should have large, visible copies of enterprise mission, values, and vision.  Handout material should include the more detailed goals (ie, fuzzy and directional) objectives (ie, specific and SMART).

Biographic sketches of other meeting members can inspire empathy and understanding. With virtual meetings, be certain to include photographs that show the face behind the voice.  If you provide supplemental reading material, strive to customize a cover letter for each participant highlighting the pages or sections upon which they should focus, rather than suggesting they give their entire and equal attention to everything in the handout. Prompt each subject matter expert in advance with the questions that will be raised during the meeting most pertinent to them or their role.  Ask them to focus on those questions since you will turn to them for the first response when the question is raised.

Ultimately the session leader (aka facilitator) is responsible for tying together the relevancy of the issues mentioned above, known as managing the context.  The session leader needs to emphasize the importance of the meeting output to the organization, hopefully expressed in terms of how many financial assets or labor hours (eg, FTE) are at risk if the meting fails.

If the session leader and the participants show up prepared, chances of success are highly amplified. The term ‘facilitate’ means to ‘make easy’ and if you embrace the suggestions above and in the next two blogs, you will see meeting participation substantially increase.  More importantly, you will have properly begun transfer of ownership and responsibility from the solo session leader to the group or team, as it should be.

 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).

How to Help Resolve Business Arguments


Here is a powerful, three-step method to help you, help others, resolve business arguments. We will give you the three steps, and then discuss them further.

  1. Active listening
  2. Alignment
  3. Escalation

1. Active listening

So much material, here at this blog site and elsewhere, focuses on the skill and benefits of active listening, that we not delve into too much detail. As session leader (aka facilitator) you may find your participants at times, in violent agreement with each other. Occasionally you have subject matter experts (aka participants or SME) who do not listen to themselves and may be uncertain as to what they said. Frequently, since people can only concentrate six to eight minutes at a time, someone “wakes up” without hearing fully what was said.

With all the examples above, plus the more obvious disagreements, active listening is critical because the participants need a neutral and thorough reflection of what was said. With active listening, you make contact, absorb, provide reflection, and then confirm if your reflection is accurate.  Many issues get resolved when the arguments are properly shaped in the hands of a neutral party, the facilitator.  But what do you do when active listing fails?

2. Alignment

A Business or Organizational Holarchy

Alignment is a wonderful consulting term. It includes three syllables and remains abstract enough that it is never clear exactly how to do it. Frankly, it is easy, once you understand the holarchy.

We invest much more time elsewhere discussing the intricacies of the table illustrated below, so for now let us focus simply on alignment. Specifically, we seek to ask the participants to align each of the arguments with the objectives, and ask in sequence:

  • Which argument best supports the project objectives, and why?
  • Which argument best supports the program objectives, and why?
  • Which argument best supports the business unit (ie, organizational) objectives, and why?
  • Which argument best supports the enterprise objectives, and why?

As you can tell, we are working upwards in the objectives column. With each question, some portion of arguments will be resolved, and yet others will remain unresolved. Ultimately, the most important question is the last one, asking which argument best supports the enterprise objectives, and why. Yet some people and issues are very stubborn, and active listening and alignment will not necessarily resolve all arguments. Then what?

3. Escalation

We need to document the rationales from the questions above.  Ensure that each why is captured, understood, and illustrated with examples form the business. Take this document, in printed form (not hanging out in the aether as a verbal argument) back to the executive sponsor, or decision executive, or steering team, or decision review boards, or whomever you call it and ask them for their help.

Most sponsors will ask the project managers, analysts, and other team members at some time or another “Do you need my help for anything?” What they are asking you is NOT if you want them to do your job for you. They are asking, have you reached an impasse that you are unable to reconcile.  Now is the time for escalation.  This is the type of help they are asking about.

Guest what they do to arrive at an answer?  They use the holarchial questions mentioned above, typically with greater insight and understanding about the connectivity of various projects, than we might have in our own little box.  They look at the arguments and ask to what extent does each support the project objectives (ie, reason for the meeting), the program objectives (ie, reason for the project), the business unit objectives (ie, reason for the program or initiative), and the enterprise objectives (ie, reason for the business units).  The holarchy is indispensable for resolving arguments, and to help facilitators prevent scope creep during their meetings.

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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Future Facilitative Leadership Factors


The Futurist (May-June 2012, see http://www.wfs.org/) encapsulated six megatrends identified by the Georgia Institute of Technology (according to FutureMedia director Renu Kulkarni, see http://gatech.edu/). Each of these megatrends will see breakthrough research and innovation in the years ahead that will affect facilitative leadership.

Tomorrow’s media will be increasingly personal and flexible, providing a more robust ability to filter out what individuals do not want, and to more fully support, what individuals might intuit as desirable.  The six megatrends are:

Telepathy

  1. Collaboration to harness the power of “an increasingly conversational and participatory world”
  2. Content integrity to monitor data vulnerability and better vet the original sources of information
  3. Nimble media to help ease movement across platforms such as hand-held and larger, appliance type devices
  4. People platforms that allow individuals to improve their social networks
  5. Sixth sense integrating most or all five physical senses in a digital “mixed reality
  6. Smart data that delivers what is sought

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).

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