Seven Traits that Increase the Likelihood of Successful Meetings


Avoid meeting killers. A “killer” would suggest the absence or void of its opposite, a success catalyst. There is no set formula for successful meetings, but there are given traits that suggest a strong likelihood of successful meetings, listed in alphabetical order below:

Successful Team Meetings

Successful Team Meetings

  1. Control the Operational Definitions to Prevent Scope Creep: Unless your deliverable calls for a definition or scoping boundaries, do not allow arguments about the meaning of terms used in your preparatory materials. If you have prepared a meeting deliverable and agenda, then you need to know the meaning of the terms being used, so do not allow any argument about definitions. Scope creep kills projects, and it kills meetings as well.
  2. Embrace Ground Rules to Ensure On-time Performance: The terms “concussion”, “percussion”, and “discussion” are all related. Avoid meeting headaches and get more done faster. You do not have to have ground rules, only if you want to get more done, faster.
  3. Enjoin and Facilitate Argumentation and Discussion: The best return on investment of face-to-face meeting time (and costs) derives from resolving conflict. When two or more people (or teams) disagree, they need facilitation. Arguments are not well solved with text messages, emails, decks of slides, and PDFs.
  4. Focus on the Analytics or Tools that Galvanize Consensus: There is more one than tool in all circumstances. Given your participants, constraints, and personal experience, anticipate a tool that may be optimum for your situation. If possible, anticipate a back-up approach as well, if something goes awry with your plan.
  5. Increase the Velocity of Participation: Groups are smarter than the smartest person in the group because groups generate more options than individuals alone. Solicit and encourage a multiplicity of input. The human mind is empowered tremendously when it can compare and contrast options to influence decision-making.
  6. Know What Done Looks Like: Any leader needs to know where they are going before they take off. The deliverable of your meeting must be made clear before the meeting starts. People can follow someone who knows where they are going. People are reticent to follow someone who does not know where they are going. And meeting participants ALWAYS know the difference.
  7. Prepare a Method or Agenda to Guide the Group: Structure yields flexibility. If you create a map for a journey, it is easy to take a detour or scenic route because you know where to go when the temporary path is no longer valuable. Plan your work and work your plan.

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.

Beware of Overconfident Subject Matter Experts, and be Prepared to Challenge


You and I have been victim of numerous false, urban legends, for example:

  • The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from outer space
  • You use a lot more than ten percent of your brain
  • Relatively speaking, it’s much safer to take candy from strangers than from family members. Statistically, family members are more likely than strangers to poison others.

Much has been researched and written about cognitive biases. Subject matter experts (ie, SMEs) are frequent victims of an “availability” bias that causes them to be over-confident, and perhaps wrong. Be prepared to challenge them with a “hip-pocket” tool, something you carry with you at all times.

Background

Information is more likely to be used in a decision when it is delivered face-to-face. Participants are frequently impressed by the charisma of the deliverer rather than the value of the information.

Subject matter experts tend to overestimate their contributions that are produced jointly with others. Thus, they overestimate the importance of their contributions, and close themselves off from the possibility of other “right” answers.

For example, two people eating the same bowl of chili will react differently. One may claim the chili is “hot” (ie, spicy) while the other claims it is “not”. Both are right, so we might appeal to Scoville Units to “objectify” their claims.

Solution

Be prepared to demonstrate that SMEs may have “an” answer, but not the only answer. Be prepared to humble them. Demonstrate that their answer may be sub-optimal (or even wrong) and that voting is a poor method of decision-making. We like to use the approach below, that is one of but hundreds of similar exercises used to shake their paradigms.

Solve the question yourself. You will need to write us for the correct answer but we can assure you that the correct answer is not “23.” Keep in mind that these are English books, written from left to right, and stacked in proper sequence, from Volume One through Volume Four, vertically.

A Bookworm's Travels

A Bookworm’s Travels

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.

It Is NOT “What’s in it for me?” Rather, “What do you need or want from me?”


One difference between high performance groups and normal or under-performing groups of people is the perspective embraced by the participants during meetings and workshops.  Most participants attend sessions with concern over “What’s in it for me?”  That is neither the right attitude nor the right question.  What they should be asking is “What do you need or want from me (so that we can get done faster)?”

What Do You Need from Me?

What Do You Need from Me?

As facilitator or session leader, it is virtually impossible to shift their attitude at the start of a meeting.  To cause a shift in participant thinking, attitude, and behavior requires clear and two-way communications before the meeting begins.

Most meetings (at least the good ones) typically result in Action Plans and agreed upon roles and responsibilities for making things happen.  Because we expect to hold the participants accountable for their follow-up, get them involved before the meeting starts to understand and agree to the Purpose, Scope, Deliverables, and Simple Agenda for the meeting.

You have every right to expect participants to show up prepared.  As session leader, it is your responsibility to define “prepared.”  How can participants arrive prepared if they do not know the purpose of the meeting before it starts?  How can participants stay focused and complete on time if they do not understand the scope of the meeting (as discrete from the scope of the project the meeting may be supporting)?  How can participants help you get done faster if you and they do not know “what done looks like (ie, deliverable)”?  How can participants agree to follow-up assignments if they are not permitted to provide their input, clarifications, and calibrations about HOW they are going to get done on time (ie, the Agenda)?

Ultimately the reason for most meetings and workshops is that we need consensual answers to relatively complex questions.  If the questions are simple, typically we do not need a meeting nor are their consensual challenges.  Knowing that effective meetings develop consensual answers to questions and problems, the session leader must prepare and know in advance of the meeting, the questions that need to be answered.

Once developed and understood, do not hide the questions to be asked in a meeting.  Share them in advance.  Since select subject matter experts (ie, participants) are more likely to provide input on select questions, highlight the questions on an individual basis and explain to each participants that you expect them to think in advance about their responses.  Explain that when the questions(s) is asked that you have highlighted for them to consider, you expect them to take the lead and be among the first to offer up a perspective.

It’s not easy to run a successful meeting.  That is why many meetings fail or frail.  Your job is to make sure the meeting or workshop is off and running the moment you start.  The only way to ensure that level of productivity is to prepare your participants in advance.

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.

Five Narrative Methods of Gathering Participant Input During Brainstorming


The Brainstorming tool comprises three steps; diverge, analyze, and converge.  Besides non-narrative methods of capturing participant input, consider the following options when gathering narrative input from your participants.

Remember to embrace the rules of ideation and prevent discussion while you are capturing their ideas. At the very least, consider one last round robin for final contributions, allowing participants to say “pass” if they have nothing to add.

Ideation Ground Rules

Ideation Ground Rules

Keep in mind that the term “listing” may be more appropriate if you are collecting a known set of information.  True brainstorming derives all future possibilities—anything goes. Beginning with the traditional, facilitator-led question and answer approach; are some additional options to consider:

  • Facilitator-led questions—keep in mind that you can use a support scribe(s) but if so, remind them of the importance of neutrality and capturing complete verbatim inputs.
  • Pass the pen or marker—again having prepared the easel title/ banner, have participants walk up to the easel in the order of an assigned round-robin sequence to document their contribution(s).  This approach is wise after lunch or when participants’ energy is low because it gets participants up and moving around.  Help them with their penmanship or clarity if necessary.
  • Pass the sheet or card—particularly appropriate if time is short, the group is large, or you have many questions requiring input (distribute a writing pad or index card for each question).  Write the question or title on individual large cards or sturdy-stock pieces of paper and either sitting or standing have the participants pass them around until each person has had the opportunity to make a contribution to each question.  This approach helps reduce redundant answers since participants see what prior people have written.
  • Post-it Notes—continue to use easels with sheet titles for posting the notes.  Have individuals mount one idea per note, as many notes as they want, on the appropriate easel whose title/ question matches the answers they are posting.  If there is more than one question, you can color coordinate the easel title/ banner with the Post-it note colors.
  • Round-robin—again having prepared the easel title/ banner, and perhaps in consort with a scribe(s), create an assigned order by which the participants one at a time offer content, permitting any of them to say “pass” at any time.

Consider time boxing the ideation step if necessary, typically in the five to ten minute range.  Remember, the hard part is the analysis that occurs next.

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.

How to Build Consensual Definitions that Make It Easier to Plan and Decide


Here is a robust method of defining terms, phrases, or expressions with a group of meeting or workshop participants.  Keep in mind that the standards expected in the method below are demanding and include five separate activities, when combined are highly effective.  Keep this tool in your hip pocket and be prepared to use it whenever you encounter serious discord over the meaning of something.  You may also need this tool when you manage open issues (ie, Parking Lot) and your participants do not agree or cannot remember what something meant.

Purpose

To build an operational definition of a term or phrase that the group can live with, in its own words, and with its own understanding. Since narrative descriptions alone may fall short of the entire meaning, we also want to support the definition with illustration and examples.

Rationale

Robust Definition Tool

Robust Definition Tool

To provide support to a group that needs to consensually arrive at the definition and meaning of something, whether concrete or abstract. This FAST tool supports consensual understanding around terms and phrases but is not robust enough to develop rich definitions for complex ideas like processes, where an entire workshop(s) like Activity Flows may be more useful.

Method

When a term or phrase requires further definition or understanding, it may be best to start with a dictionary definition(s).  However, do not use dictionary definitions alone. Rather, offer them as stimulus for the group to draft their own operational definition. The five additional activities include:

  1. First identify “WHAT THE TERM OR PHRASE IS NOT”.
  2. Next, compile a narrative sentence or paragraph that generally describes it.  Perhaps avoid starting with a blank sheet of paper (ie, use a dictionary or other professional definitions and support).
  3. Then list the detailed bullets that capture the specific characteristics or specifications of the term or phrase as intended by the participants.  For example, with a camera, we might detail requirements for the quantity of mega pixels, zoom range, etc.
  4. Obtain or build a picture of concrete items or create an illustration of the item if it is abstract or dynamic (eg, process flow).
  5. Provide at least two actual, real-life examples from the participants’ experience that vivify the term or phrase. For example, a utility bill can be defined, but it is helpful to show an actual invoice (eg, electricity for the period 15JAN20xx to 14FEB20xx).

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.

A Few Dozen, Simple Yet Highly Effective Icebreakers (aka, Meeting Sparks)


Purpose

To get participants vocal and more participatory sooner by introducing themselves beyond name and title.  All of these can be used with virtual meetings as well.

Method

Ice Breakers (aka Meeting Sparks)

Ice Breakers (aka Meeting Sparks)

Ask them to share with the group—here are some ideas to consider:

  • A simple yet effective-method relies on the “If I were a . .  . “ approach such as—“If I were a gem, I would be a ____” or “If I were a flower, I would be a ____” or “If I were a bird, I would be a _____” or “If I were a vehicle, I would be a _____”
  • Describe your dream career as a child.
  • Explain how you got one of your scars (and where it is).
  • If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  • If you were a room in a house, which room are you and why?
  • “My hero is . . .”
  • Name a talent that you have and no one here knows about it.
  • Name your favorite James Bond actor and explain why.
  • Sound out or act out your high school mascot.
  • The title of your autobiography?
  • Two truths and a lie—participants guess the lie.
  • What is the first event you remember vividly in life?
  • What kind and brand of automobile would you be and why?
  • What kitchen appliance or tool would you be and why?
  • What was the last song you sang out loud by yourself?
  • What was your strangest paying job or chore?
  • What would you bring with you on a desert island?
  • What’s on your reading list or nightstand?
  • “Would you rather?” questions; eg, Would you rather be invisible or be able to read minds? Would you rather live without music or live without television? Would you rather be 4 feet tall or 8 feet tall? (see http://www.teampedia.net/)
  • Your favorite ice cream?

Meeting Sparks

  • Start with a “Fun Fact” sharing by each individual of something previously unknown to everyone.
  • Based on a project theme, create new surnames for participants; eg, Lori Aconcagua (ie, highest mountain in South America).
  • On a rotating basis, have an assignee bring in a joke.
  • Start the meeting with a song and award a prize to the first person that correctly identifies the name or artist or both.

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.

One Essence, Three Aspects: The Rule of Thirds in the World of Facilitation


The Project Management Institute (PMI) refers to planning, analysis, and design as separate stages across project development.  At ground level, the basic Use Case refers to Input>Process>Output as the basis for understanding requirements.

Many of the world’s great religions of philosophy embrace the concept of a trinity.  From the Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma of Hinduism to the great agnostic Plato, who referred to logic, rhetoric, and grammar as the trivium; testing of which allowed citizens to vote.  As elementary students we learned the importance and proper sequencing of WHY before WHAT before HOW.

The Trivium

The Trivium: source Terrence Metz

The rule of thirds can help guide facilitator behavior as well.  Let’s look at two components of Goldblatt’s Theory of Constraints (aka Triple Constraint Theory), namely time and quality.

Time

Optimally allow at least one hour of preparation time for each hour of meeting or workshop time.  Early in the role of facilitator, as you develop your experience, competencies, and body of knowledge, the ratio can be much higher.  Many suggest a practical ratio of two hours preparation to every one hour of meeting or workshop time.  The less familiar you are with the agenda and the tools you plan to use, the larger the ratio you can estimate.

Unfortunately, people forget the importance of the back-end as well; namely, what to do and invest after the meeting or workshop.  Please make certain that your documentation is complete, and that it sizzles.  Frequently the only residue of value left after a meeting or workshop is the document, and if it was not documented, it did not happen.

Take time to add context, typically cut and paste from your annotated agenda if thoroughly constructed.  Context provides the background and rational, the WHY, behind WHAT gets done during the meeting.

For example, take a decision made by a group to the executive sponsor or decision review board and their first question is WHY.  Why did you make that decision?  Let us be careful to document the rationale, the BECAUSE, behind the various components within a deliverable.  Explain why they were built, how they relate to each other, and how they accelerate the project your meeting supports.

Quality

PMI refers to it as “front-end loading”, in other words, do not underinvest in the planning and building consensus around WHY something is important.  For example, why do perform this function, process, or activity.  Why we do something dramatically affects what we will do to support it.

Note the difference between a primary residence to raise a family and a beach house or camp hut used for family vacations.  The purpose alone dictates different decisions and design.  A family vacation house for example may emphasize more beds than privacy, or give the family room more space while minimizing the study or library.

Even during a meeting, make sure you include a beginning, a middle, and an end.  All too frequently, meetings fail to include one of them.  Most people would rather go to a movie than a meeting because even a poor movie has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Do not discount the value of an effective review and wrap, and see Four Activities to Efficiently and Effectively Wrap-up a Meeting to manage the end, better than most.

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.

“If it wasn’t documented, it didn’t happen”—Mandate for Managing Documentors


Do not overlook the importance of the documenter(s), when used.  The document produced from a FAST workshop provides the raw data for project deliverables.  The meeting becomes a waste of time if meeting notes are not clear and accurate.

It is important that your documenter(s) are aware of and agree to their role, functions, and responsibilities.

Role of Neutrality

Emphasize to the documenter(s) that they are to remain absolutely neutral—they are part of the methodological team (ie, context) and are never to interfere with the content during or after sessions.

If More than One

Assign one documenter to be the chief documenter and the other to be the assistant documenter.  This division of responsibilities is important in ensuring a smooth recording process.  Both report to the session leader during the session, but the chief provides a single focal point.

Responsibility

Accurate Documentation

Accurate Documentation

The documenter is responsible for ensuring completeness and accuracy.  The documenter is also responsible for:

  • Setting up the documentation method before the session
  • Ensuring that the documenter has the proper tools
  • Reading the documentation back to the group for clarification
  • Transcribing the documentation with notes, decisions, charts, and matrices from the session
  • Ensuring that documentation is properly named, archived, and available for the project team upon completion of the workshop

The documenter assists the facilitator by capturing participant input that is written on flip charts or white boards.  Capture photographs of the printed versions to double-check documenter accuracy.

It is important to note that the documenter generally copies what the session leader writes onto flip charts, front wall, or overheads.  The documenter is not to interpret the discussion, capture complete transcription, or capture random notes.

Recording Input

The documenters do not judge or evaluate what the group decides.  If what they are hearing is unclear, the documenter must ask the session leader to ask the group for clarification and not to intervene directly.

Relationship

The relationship between you and the documenter(s) is important because the session leader and documenter(s) comprise the methodological team responsible for generating the final deliverable.  Optimally, constant communication between you is essential.  Keep the following in mind when working with documenter(s}:

Use the documenter(s) to hang completed flip chart paper on the wall.  This helps you to keep the session moving without distractions.  Arrange before the workshop where you expect to hang different sections or deliverables within the agenda.

When the group develops a definition or major decision during the session, ensure information is accurately and fully captured.  You may ask the documenter(s) to read back what they have recorded.

Ensure that the documenters know and accept their role, and that they remain neutral!

Preparing Them

The following steps ensure successful performance of the documentation role.  Explain the role of each documenter with particular emphasis on neutrality and their relationship with each other.

  • Cover the documenter checklist and ground rules in the following section and ensure that the documenter(s) understand and agree with the their roles and rules.
  • Describe the agenda and method that you will use during the workshop.  Provide the documenter(s) with an annotated agenda (see section on Preparation).
  • Have the documenter(s) orally repeat the instructions and reason for each documentation section.
  • Assist the documenter(s) in setting up the documentation approach if not using a laptop or other automated tool.
  • Monitor documenter(s) during the workshop.  The documenter(s) must not participate in the workshop other than to obtain clarifying information.

Checklist

Use this checklist with your documenter(s) to prepare and review.

  1. Sit where you can see and hear the session leader and what the session leader is writing on visual aids.
  2. Have all materials ready before the workshop starts.
  3. Clear work area from any distractions.
  4. Neat handwriting is necessary if you are handwriting.
  5. Listen to, understand, and be alert for key ideas.
  6. Give speakers and session leader careful attention.  Do not change meanings to your own.  Document the main ideas; the essence of the discussion as taken from the flip charts or other visuals that the session leader is using.  Capture the results from the visuals—not complete transcriptions or word-by-word minutes of the meeting.
  7. Capture information first—grammar and punctuation later.
  8. Avoid abbreviations, key or cue words.  Do not change meanings.
  9. Leave marginal spaces for clarifying notes.
  10. Accurately and fully capture the ideas, workflows, outputs, and other components of any models or matrices that are built.
  11. Seek clarification and review as soon as possible if unsure.  Remember—if not documented, it did not happen!
  12. Control your emotions.  If you are reacting to your surroundings or a group member, you cannot listen effectively.
  13. Stay out of the discussion.  Stick to your role.  Stay neutral!

Guidelines

Structure the documenter(s) the same way using automated tools, however, their skill sets must change.  The following guidelines help:

  • Train the documenter(s) on the automated tool.
  • The documenter MUST knows how to use the automated tool in an expert mode—ie, do not learn how to use the tool in the workshop.
  • Position the documenter(s) on the U-shaped table close to you.

Usage Guidelines

Once you have the right tool and the right documenter(s), use them properly.

  • Do not attempt to capture documentation real time with the screen displayed to the participants (eg, using a large screen projector hooked up to the terminal).  This distracts the participants from the purpose of the meeting (they become enamored with the tool), it forces a low-light condition (which may put some people to sleep), and any mistake, confusion, or slowness of capture is both visible and out of your control (the documenter is doing it).
  • Capture process flows or screen layouts and show them to the participants.  First, the session leader draws them on an overhead, flip chart, or other manual tool.  The documenter captures the layout on a prototyping or mockup tool.  When complete, turn on a large screen projector and display the finished screen or report.
  • If you are using a modeling tool (eg, VISIO), have the documenter(s) run the analysis routines during breaks, lunch, or in the evening. Use the results to develop questions for the workshop to ensure completeness before the end of the workshop.  Take advantage of the analysis capabilities of the tool, but do not run the analysis with the participants waiting for you to finish.
  • Make certain that adequate backup is provided (both software copies and manual backup to cover the period of time since the last copy was made).  Automated tools sometimes crash or electricity sometimes goes out.  Do not be caught losing documentation.

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.

A Metaphor is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Explanation Via Analogy & Illustration


In the role of facilitator, you will discover a lot of power by using metaphors or analogies to explain your method, rather than using the content and experience of the subject matter experts.  To use “their” content violates neutrality.  Using a metaphor or analogy about which you have passion, enables you to explain it to your grandmother, the test of ultimate clarity.  In the following example, we use “Mountain Climbing” to explain one form of a USE CASE, called SIPOC (ie, Source, Input, Process, Output, and Client/Customer).

Illustrative Analogy (SIPOC)

Illustrative Analogy (SIPOC)

Previously completed work that helped to identify some of the “requirements” could have led us to understand that one of the activities required to support the purpose of mountain climbing has been identified as “pack supplies” (note the simple verb-noun pairing). Rather than explain the SIPOC tool orally, we can provide a picture or illustration of the tool by using the metaphor or analogy of mountain climbing.  The phrase “right to left thinking” (similar to “start with the end in mind”) derives from SIPOC.  There are five discrete activities, namely:

  1. Anchor the framework with the activity or process, here previously identified as “Pack Supplies”.  Since subject matter experts (aka SMEs) perform similar tasks differently, socialize and document how the activity is or should be performed, allowing for multiple perspectives.  Later this material can be transposed and appended to process flow diagrams, or swimlanes.
  2. Identify the outputs or things that result from the completed activity. A “thing” could be information, a transaction, or a tangible item.
  3. For each discrete output, discuss where it goes or who is the client or customer of the output.  Note there could be more than one client for each output. For example, information called “Inventory Depletion” is shared with both the purchasing role so that they can reorder and perhaps the vendor to enable auto-replenishment.
  4. Working to the left side, identify the things needed to complete the activity.
  5. Finally, identify the source(s) of each thing, noting again that there could be multiple sources for a single item.  The “Pack” for example, might come from the Sherpa, Supplier, or even the Climber.

By using an illustrative analogy you can now explain to your meeting participants where you are in the agenda and how the agenda steps support one another.  By using an analogy you remain content neutral, and are frequently able to make abstract terms such as “input” concrete or tangible and more easily understood.

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.

Six Benefits by Improving Your Facilitative Leadership and Meeting Skills


As you amplify and increase your facilitative leadership skills, you and your team participants will become more successful.  What is our measurement of success?  Let us consider six substantial areas of success including:

  1. Consensual Understanding and Higher Quality Decisions
  2. Flexibility and Breaking through Stalemates and Deadlocks
  3. Impactful Groups through Improved Working Relationships
  4. Integral Decision-Making
  5. Knowledge Transfer and Increased Organizational Effectiveness
  6. Saving Time and Increased Personal Effectiveness

Let us look at each briefly in a more detail:

Strengthen Your Skills

Strengthen Your Skills

  1. Consensual Understanding and Higher Quality Decisions:  Properly facilitated, participants understand both WHAT is decided and WHY.  Since groups are capable of generating more options than the aggregate of individuals, they arrive at higher quality decisions that are capable of reconciling seemingly contrary points of view.
  2. Flexibility and Breaking through Stalemates and Deadlocks:  Structured approaches afford a higher degree of flexibility, than approaches without structure.  With structure, and topical flow, meetings can take the “scenic route” because there is a back-up plan to provide a respite from the stream of consciousness approach taken by unstructured meetings.  By exploring newly created options and challenging working assumptions, teams can breakthrough their stalemates and deadlocks by rediscovering common ground or by creating options during the meeting that did not walk in to the room at the start of the meeting.
  3. Impactful Groups through Improved Working Relationships:  Conflict becomes properly managed rather than ignored.  Complex issues may be addressed face-to-face as they should, rather than through a series of e-mails and innuendo.  Proper facilitation will demonstrate the opportunity and method for discovering win-win solutions.  As stakeholders’ ideas are sought, meeting activity will become more collaborative and innovative
  4. Integral Decision-Making: Defined as better alignment with organizational goals and objectives.  Structured decision-making must appeal to organizational goals and objectives supported by the meeting; typically the project, program, business unit, and enterprise.  Alignment with the “holarchial” perspective ensures that proposed actions are appropriate and supports prioritization based on the impact of proposed changes across the entire enterprise.  Effective decision-making reflects the integral perspective.
  5. Knowledge Transfer and Increased Organizational Effectiveness:  Learning organizations understand the need and power behind the transfer of knowledge from those who know to those who do not know, but should.  Facilitated environments provide the opportunity for challenge, reflection, and documentation that underlies shared understanding and amplifies organizational effectiveness.  Facilitative leadership also makes it easier to develop new leaders.
  6. Saving Time and Increased Personal Effectiveness:  Session leaders (aka facilitators) will more done faster.  As staff is treated as colleagues, commitment and motivation increases.  By becoming expert on method and tools rather than content, they can continue to use tools that generate consistent and repeatable results.  Meetings only fail because either the participants do not have the talent, do not have the motivation, or do not know how.  The role of the facilitative leader shows them how.

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.

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