How to Justify Structured Meetings & Workshops with Professional Facilitators


A highly productive meeting or workshop can generate positive impact within an organization and among its stakeholders–permeating their culture.  Here are a few straightforward facts, implications, and recommendations for the use of structured meetings, led by professional and trained facilitators.

Structure and Professionalism Lead to Higher Quality Outputs

Structure and Professionalism Lead to Higher Quality Outputs

Background

The dynamism of business wisdom demands the application of knowledge, stuff that is ‘in−formation’ (not static).  Compound those dynamics with the challenge of organizing a group of people, where nobody is smarter than everybody.  Groups of people fail (or operate at sub-optimal levels) either because they don’t care, don’t have the talent, or don’t know how.  In 1985, structured facilitation training (aka interactive design❖) was introduced by MG Rush to instruct HOW TO get a group of people to focus on the right question (topicality) at the right time (sequencing).  Following is the justification.

Situational Fact:      

A percentage of meeting time goes unproductive and entire meetings may be construed as ineffective.

  • Meetings are a real expense and the frequency and duration of meetings has been steadily increasing in the USA.
  • Studies have estimated that meetings are at most 50 percent productive.
  • Poorly run meetings are so prevalent that some people and organizations have developed “meeting dementia.”
  • Meetings are essential to developing common understanding and generating higher quality decisions than lone individuals.

Implications:

With structured meetings, organizations can avoid 25 to 35 percent of costs, or hundreds of millions per year.

  • While organizations lose money due to ineffectiveness, individuals are forced to work longer hours to compensate.
  • The culture of an organization can be negatively impacted, causing the departure of highly valued contributors.
  • A major insurance company discovered a 400 percent increase in productivity during an information technology project, compared to using serial interviews and aggregating requirements through unstructured discussions.
  • Frequently it has been observed that ‘requirements’ are not ‘bad’, rather expenses are driven by requirements that are missed or inadvertently omitted.

Recommendations:

At minimum, embrace a structured approach for critical meetings and workshops.

  • Secure management commitment to improving meeting efficacy and supporting workshops where appropriate.
  • Enable the facilities, supplies, and resources to pursue the benefit of structured meetings.
  • Empower select individuals with expert, professional training.

Situational Fact:

Employees spend thousands of hours leading meetings without robust training.  Unstructured discussions lead to confusion and sometimes opposing or contradictory interpretations and conclusions.

  • Communication problems are a simple fact.  Frequently people are in violent agreement with each other.
  • The following list highlights 14 of the most frequently mentioned problems by over 1,000 managers (alpha sort):

✓ Disorganized
✓ Dominators
✓ Getting off subject
✓ Inconclusive
✓ Ineffective for making decisions
✓ Ineffective leader/ lack of control
✓ Interruptions (inside and out)
✓ Irrelevant information discussed
✓ No goals or agenda
✓ Poor preparation
✓ Rambling discussion individuals
✓ Started late
✓ Time wasted
✓ Too long

Implications:

The problems listed above are real and negatively impact the organization, stakeholders, and culture.

  • Organization may regress compared to their competitors and competitive options.
  • Individuals are not stimulated to think about important and costly options, opportunities, and requirements.
  • Incremental and evolutionary growth becomes accepted rather than revolutionary growth and breakthroughs that get missed.
  • The culture trends toward becoming reactive rather than proactive, following rather than leading.
  • Some participants are satisfied with any decision and remain unconscious about the importance of decision quality.

Recommendations:

Promote a new effort toward meeting efficacy and group focus, starting with properly trained leaders.

  • Ratify funds to be allocated both internally for supplies and externally for professional training.
  • Enable resources to provide internal observation, back-up, and feedback to ensure ‘perfect practice’ of new skills learned.
  • Realizing the importance of meeting management and effective facilitation, consider building a Community of Excellence or Community of Practice (CoE or CoP).
  • Appreciate the criticality of ongoing training and anticipate advanced training in the future based on in-house methodologies.

Benefits:

Sorry about the long list, but no apologies for the real and sustaining benefits (alpha sort):

  • Ability to test for the quality of the deliverable before meeting concludes (valuable since the worst deliverable of any meeting is another meeting).
  • Agendas, approaches, tools, deliverables and outputs become more repeatable and consistent.
  • Analysts obtain higher quality, more comprehensive information.
  • Coherent communication among workshop participants, project, steering, and dependent teams.
  • Employees learn HOW TO THINK, and become more effective from “board room to boiler room” as principles radiate from the trained session leaders to their participants.
  • Faster results:  facilitated sessions can accelerate the capture of information, especially if the meeting participants  (aka subject matter experts) arrive prepared with an understanding of the questions and issues that need to be discussed.
  • Fewer omissions—projects accelerate with increased clarity and reduced uncertainty.
  • Heightened involvement and understanding by all stakeholders.
  • Higher quality results:  groups of people generally make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group.  Facilitated sessions encourage the exchange of different points of view enabling the group to identify new options, and it is a proven fact that people or groups with more options at their disposal make higher quality decisions.
  • Major reduction of total resources compared to serial interviewing and aggregation techniques.
  • People stimulate people: properly facilitated sessions can lead to innovation and the catalyst for innovative opportunities because multiple perspectives generate a richer (360 degree) understanding of a problem or challenge, rather than a narrow, myopic view.
  • Transfer of ownership:  facilitated sessions build further action by creating deliverables that support follow-up.
  • Witness a decline of smart people making dumb decisions.

Glossary:

  • ❖ Interactive design (defined):  A structured meeting designed to extract high-quality information from stakeholders in a compressed time-frame using a proven methodology, visual aids, and a workshop process to enhance communications—using a neutral facilitator to guide participants through a structured, yet flexible approach, towards a common goal (ie, deliverable).
  • Stakeholders, includes both internal and external customers and project team whom all have a stake in the outcome.
  • Workshops are meetings focused on a single topic and deliverable, NOT simply informational-exchange, rather they build. Like projects, workshops have at least three phases: preparation, the workshop itself, and resolution.  The key to successful preparation is meeting with management and participants to determine objectives, estimate and plan the workshop, prepare the participants, develop agendas, and complete the logistics.  The workshop itself is a concentrated environment with extensive use of visuals striving for win-win situations, defined as consensus.  The resolution phase completes the documentation, resolves open issues, and communicates with stakeholders about next steps.
  • Other questions about terms?  See Glossary that you may download at https://mgrush.com/facilitators-glossary/.
  • More curriculum content?  See FAST Abstract/ Agenda at https://mgrush.com/facilitation-training-course-overview/professional-facilitation-training/

Reply with any questions you might have by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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.

Seven Tips for Improving Your Participation and Contributions During Meetings


An unfacilitated meeting can be led (or misled) from any chair in the room. If you are the meeting host, or even participating in someone else’s meeting, here are seven quick tips to ensure that you add optimal value.

Improving Meeting Participation

Improving Meeting Participation

  1. If it is your meeting, ask a facilitator to lead the group through major decision-making, prioritization, and solution finding activities. Having a facilitator enables you to participate fully and gives the responsibility for policing the process to a neutral person.
  2. Strive to organize your thoughts before speaking. Then express your idea simply, logically, and concisely. People are more receptive to ideas they understand. Long, complex explanations work against you.  Some meeting participants have been known to make great contributions.  Some meeting participants have been known to make long contributions.  Rarely will you witness a great, long contribution.
  3. Respect others, knowing that there is usually more than one right answer. Different views force us to develop new ideas and more ideas equates to higher quality decisions.  The best way to win a debate is to fully understand the other party’s position, so listen carefully.  When you talk, you are repeating something you already know.  When you listen, you learn something new.
  4. Use encouraging and positive comments during your meeting. Negative comments create defensive reactions that distract from business goals.  There is no need to play favorites or even cheer a particular person’s contributions, but speak positively about the overall value and velocity of everyone’s contributions.
  5. Use structured activities that lead to solid outputs and deliverables. Methodological tools ensure equitable participation and systematic progress toward results that can be documented.  If it is not documented, then it did not happen.  Do NOT rely on informal, unstructured discussion.  Discussion, percussion, and concussion are all related—to the headache of uncertainty about “What actually happened in that meeting?”.
  6. Focus on one issue at a time and close it down before moving on. Most groups can solve any problem if you maintain focus on the appropriate question.  However, getting a group of people to focus at the same remains the biggest challenge during any meeting.  Avoid war stories and unrelated issues.  Past experience is no guarantee of the future state.  Out of scope discussions are a waste of time, distract the desired focus, and mislead others. The cause of most project failures is scope creep, and the same problem applies to meetings, especially when they are unstructured.
  7. Rescue wayward meetings by challenging participants to think clearly.  Unclear speaking and writing is indicative of unclear thinking.  Teach them how to think, and always build consensus around WHY something is important, before discussing WHAT the options are, followed by HOW we should proceed.

Reply with any questions you might have by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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.

Related articles

To Become a More Humane Human, Understand the WHY Behind WHAT People Saying


Road Rage.  Have you been irritated by someone else’s driving?  Of course, we all have.  Today I realized however that I am likely guilty of doing the precise thing that others have done to piss me off.  However, when I did it, there was justification—of course.  When they did the same thing however, they were wrong, dumb, stupid, and worthy of decapitation.  So what’s the difference?

Have you ever made a right turn in an automobile very slowly, because your grandma was in the back seat, or you didn’t want the pie to spill, or the house number you were seeking was right around the corner?  Imagine so.  But when someone makes the turn incredibly slowly in front of you, they are being rude and inconsiderate, correct?  So what’s the difference?

Understand the WHY Behind the WHAT

Understand the WHY Behind the WHAT

The difference evidences itself when you seek to understand WHY.  Chances are, the person that upset you had good reason in their own mind, and was not attempting to be intentionally inconsiderate.  They were not malicious at all.  They simply had their own reasons.

We should always stay mindful of the phrase in St Francis’ Peace Prayer—Seek to understand, rather than being understood.  The Dalai Lama also has a nice way of expressing similar sentiment when he states (paraphrased)—“When you speak, you are saying something you already know.  When you listen, you may learn something new.”

As facilitators, we cannot afford to let down our guard.  Keep the ego in the hallway.  Challenge meeting and workshop participants to justify their positions by explaining WHY they are making a particular claim.  Chances are, we will discover something new.  By active listening through the reflection and confirmation of their rationale, we can begin to build consensus.

Would it bother you if I turned slowly around a corner if you already knew that I had an infirmed occupant or something that might spill?  I imagine not, as you would likely have some compassion, not because you liked WHAT I was doing, but because you understood WHY I was doing it.

To build consensus, make sure everyone understands WHY claims are being made.  They likely hear what the other person said (or did), but since it upsets them, they fail to understand nor strive to understand WHY.  That’s your job as facilitator.  Build consensus around WHY since most WHAT everyone believes is not simply black or white, rather it is conditional.  It’s your job to get the group to understand under what conditions someone’s erratic thoughts or behavior may in fact echo the same thing you would do if you were in their shoes.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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 Free Your Data from a Single Cell and Make Your Deliverables More Robust


In our prior posting, we learned that one key to facilitating effective analysis mandates the facilitator to ask open-ended questions, not simple, close-ended (ie, yes or no) confirmations.  For example, and pardon the simplicity, do not ask “Does the sport of curling involve any sweat?”  Someone will make a compelling argument that it does, albeit minimal perhaps.  The better question, simply re-phrased:  “To what extent does the sport of curling involve sweat? (a lot, little, or somewhere in between)”.

When building a roles and responsibilities matrix for example, the classic approach identifies who is going to be ‘Responsible’ for some apportioned activity or assignment and the appropriate cell is given a large, red “R”.  At minimum you might ask four questions, such as:

  1. What role will be responsible for this assignment? (eg, Business Analyst)
  2. At what estimated point in time will it be completed? (eg, date specific)
  3. How much financial resource will be required to complete it? (eg, $,$$$)
  4. What is the estimated FTE required to bring it to completion? (FTE = full time equivalent, such as 0.25 which is one person, full-time, for three months)
Power of the Cell

Power of the Cell

You can amplify this approach even further by splitting your four cells into sixteen.  See the picture above.  We can now ask, generate, and record sixteen pieces of information on a large Post-It® for each assignment.  Note how we take the four basic criteria above and expand them into four additional details (for illustrative purposes only):

  1. What role will be responsible for this assignment? (eg, RASI Chart)
    1. What role is ultimately being held Accountable and paying for this initiative? (eg, EVP)
    2. What role will be Responsible for this assignment? (eg, Business Analyst)
    3. What roles will be Supporting this assignment? (eg, Project Manager)
    4. What roles need to be Informed about this assignment? (eg, Customer)
  2. At what estimated point in time will it be completed? (eg, date specific)
    1. When does concerted effort begin? (eg, date specific)
    2. What is the projected half-way point? (eg, date specific)
    3. At what estimated point in time will it be completed? (eg, date specific)
    4. When will the effort be reviewed such as Retrospective or Look Back? (eg, date specific)
  3. How much financial resource will be required to complete it? (eg, $,$$$)
    1. What are the estimated research costs? (eg, $,$$$)
    2. What are the estimated acquisition costs? (eg, $,$$$)
    3. What are the estimated operational costs? (eg, $,$$$)
    4. What are the estimated termination costs? (eg, $,$$$)
  4. What is the estimated FTE required to bring it to completion? (FTE = full time equivalent, such as 0.25 which is one person, full-time, for three months)
    1. What is the maximum number of people required at once? (eg, Quantity)
    2. What special subject matter experts are required? (eg, Title[s])
    3. What is the estimated FTE required to bring it to completion? (eg, FTE)
    4. Codify any special issues not described above. (narrative, perhaps coded)

Having left a meeting with the amount of detail described above is comforting, but knowing that it was consensually built and is now owned by the meeting participants is reassuring.  When applied to a project plan, using questions similar to the ones shown above, you will deliver up a more detailed GANTT chart than most people build in their cubicles alone.  Hand this off to an intern who claims to be “expert” with Microsoft Project Manager® and tell them to bring you back a fully resource allocated project plan so that you can go on to your next meeting.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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

Your Simple Agenda Should NOT Include Verbs, Use the Deliverable for Each Step


Do you want more meetings?  Of course not.  Nobody wants more meetings and yet many of us find ourselves in meetings a few dozen hours per week (or more).  Why do we meet so frequently since seldom do we actually remove stuff from our “To-Do” list during a meeting?  On the contrary, each meeting normally leads to more work.

Likewise, your meeting participants do not want any more work, and verbs are work.  We perform verbs so that our activities yield results, frequently called objects (hence the term objective), also known as nouns.

Terms like “identify” and “define” add no value to a simple agenda, except to the facilitator who needs to lead the method for delivering up results at the end of each agenda step.  Save the verbs for yourself.  Put them on your annotated agenda (ie, play script for you only), but spare your participants of the need for more work.  Most participants seek less work, not more.

Likewise, a meeting deliverable should not include verbs, again it should be viewed as an object.  We typically organize ourselves and activities around nouns, not verbs.  We all perform the same verbs, such as Plan>Acquire>Operate>Control or Plan>Do>Check>Act (Deming).  Take a look at our business organizations.  People are organized around things, such as treasury (Finance), legal issues (Legal), human capital (Human Resources), products (Product Management), customers (Sales and Marketing), etc.  Most everyone in those various departments are performing the same verbs, they are simply adding value to a different resource or object.

Therefore, get your participants focused on “what DONE looks like.”  Begin with the meeting deliverable, and the describe the object you have in your hands when a successful meeting is complete.  Do the same for each step in your agenda, so that everyone stays focused on the end in mind.  Embrace the modifications shown below in your simple agenda, and put the verb stuff in your annotated agenda along with greater detail about your break-out sessions, CEOs (ie, Chief Easel Officer), questions for them to answer, and your method(s) of analysis that will build consensual understanding and agreement.

An Improved Simple Agenda

An Improved Simple Agenda

Most people include verbs (see example on the left) to remind them what to do as facilitator.  Most of the instructions are devoid of the painstaking detail required to keep groups at a high performance level.  If, as a participant, you have a high level of confidence that your facilitator knows what they are doing, most assuredly you would rather participate with the agenda on the right because it’s simple and each step denotes chunks of progress—objects that have been created, not work that is forthcoming.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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.

What is Facilitative Leadership and How Do You Use It to be More Effective?


Begin by discretely understanding the two terms:  ‘facilitative’ and ‘leadership’.  Roughly speaking, the root for the term ‘facilitative’ means “to make easy”.  Clearly, the role of a modern leader primarily relies on making it easier for the people you are leading to succeed.  Leadership however begins with line of sight, and knowing where you are going.  A leader needs to know the destination, but focus on the journey.  For office meetings, a leader needs to know what done looks like, in other words, what is the destination?  Let us take a closer look, beginning with leadership.

What is Facilitative Leadership?

What is Facilitative Leadership?

The world’s worst facilitator can remain effective when they know where they are going (and leading the team) will improve the quality of life of its participants.  Participants who are vested in the output of a meeting will help a poor facilitator, because they are highly dependent on the results.  In fact, leadership trumps facilitation.

But modern leaders can be doubly impactful when they combine facilitative style and mannerisms with their line of sight.  Some of the style issues include:

  • Showing up for meetings prepared and that includes having properly coached and prepared the participants so that the meeting can take off running. At minimum being able to clearly articulate the meeting purpose, scope, deliverable, and agenda.
  • Constantly removing potential distractions during the meeting. Meetings fail for one of three reasons:
    1. They contain the wrong people
    2. The people attending are incapable or incompetent
    3. The group as a whole does not know how to succeed in a meeting
  • Practice will show the third reason reason being most prevalent, which is why they need a facilitative leader in the first place. They need someone who knows the method that will lead to success, rather than someone with answers.
  • Substance over style, speaking with clarity when required (ie, aspiring toward rhetorical precision). Realizing however that the role is primarily geared toward listening rather than preaching.
  • Constantly observing the participants’ and body language, or using a roll call method to further include virtual participants who may be dialing in to the meeting.
  • Having well built questions that avoid vagueness and ambiguity. Understanding that the meeting deliverable (call it ‘Y’) is a function of many details (call them ‘X’ for the major issues and ‘x’ for the minor points).  Therefore, Y is a function of many Xxes.
  • Challenging participants to make their thinking visible. Understanding that people think about symptoms, not causes.  For example, they may not want a landfill in their neighborhood because it stinks, but prevailing wind must be surfaced as a major causal element to consider for optimal placement of a new landfill.  Again, people may find a particular food ‘spicy-hot’ but they are not thinking about Scoville Units.
  • Avoiding judgment, bot to the positive and the negative. Most meeting leaders will not openly state that someone’s idea ‘sucks’ but research shows that the groups is negatively impacted the same way when the leader states and an idea is a “great idea” (in other words, no cheerleading).
  • Likewise, a facilitative leader avoids using the first person singular, especially the word “I” and puts the focus on the participants “you” or the integral “us”.
  • Amplifying neutrality by understanding there is more than one right answer and quality decision making is sensitive to the conditions under which one solution may or may not be better than an alternative.
  • Administering to an appropriate methodology, a long word for agenda. The agenda represents the method or how the leader will get the team from the introduction to the wrap in a consensual and expeditious manner.
  • Staying conscious about all of the above at once, while carefully administering and adjusting to a method replete with appropriate tools to get more done faster. Since many people are naturally facilitative leaders, but remain ineffective in meetings, our training focuses on the tools and method, and instructs on HOW TO lead a successful meeting, from planning through analysis through design.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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 Quick, 5-Minute Paradigm Exercise to Challenge Participants’ Group Think


We encourage professional facilitators to carry a tool box, and include some intervention devices when they need to shake up their participants.  If you start hearing things like . . .

Why Focus Only on the Spot?

Why Focus Only on the Spot?

  • That will never change.
  • We don’t things like that around here.
  • etc.

. . . then you may want to jolt your participants.  We have covered similar exercises in the past such as the “Four Dots” and “Bookworm”.  Here is another example that is quick, simple, and effective.  Some call it the “Spot.”

Goal

To shake up a paradigm, challenge group think, or otherwise get your participants to focus on the CONTEXT of something in addition to the CONTENT.

Method

Using a large flip chart, or distributing white sheets of paper, place a small, colored spot or a few colored spots on the paper.  Ask the participants to indicate what they see on the paper.

Most of them, and usually in sequence, will indicate they see a “Green Spot” (or any color you choose).  Consider using the white space on the easel to tally the number of same or similar response.

While confirming that you also see the spot(s), NOTE that most individuals overlooked the large amount of white space surrounding the dots.  In a similar fashion, the context around us or the deliverable (be it a decision, a plan, etc.) is often missed or underappreciated.  You may point to the importance of interpersonal relationship at work as an example.

Additionally, you may point out that customers tend to identify the blemishes in our products and services, and frequently have the reasonable expectation for them to be fixed.   Likewise, management focuses on the “dots” of our projects or personal performance, failing to properly value the vastness of good, solid contributions and effort.

Conclude by sharing that while it may be appropriate to look for the “spots”, that we should also force ourselves to consider the large white area of equal importance.  If there is any unique contribution or answer besides “dots” emphasize how that voice may have been discounted when the rest of the group focused on the “dots”, when in fact that solo voice may have been speaking about something far more important than the rest of the group combined.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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 Finish Meetings Faster Relies on You Fully Explaining the White Space


To effectively control your meetings to finish ahead of schedule requires effort that begins long before your meeting starts.  We call the preparation period 7:59 work, as in before 8:00AM.  After the meeting starts, you can further accelerate group performance by serving your group as an effective process police person.  While the role of facilitator mandates core skills such as clear rhetoric, detailed questions, constant observance, and rigid neutrality, the facilitator’s role also demands control of the meeting agenda.

Explain WHY and HOW Behind the WHAT

Explain WHY and HOW Behind the WHAT

The agenda is the roadmap by which the team advances from the start of the meeting (ie., metaphorically “8:00AM”) to the end (ie., metaphorically “5:00PM”).  Solid simple agendas do not include verbs.  Verbs are work and nobody wants more work (eg, “identify”, “define”, etc.) any more than nobody wants more meetings.  Yet we meet frequently, because we need deliverables.  Each agenda step has its own deliverable.

Describe the deliverable for each step as the object (ie, a noun) or objective of the step.  For example, use “Key Measurements” instead of “Identifying Key Measurements.”  The verb “Identifying” describes HOW we get the objectives of the step, and HOW we do it has more than one right answer.

As facilitator, be prepared to explain HOW, and more importantly WHY, for each step in the agenda.  Notice that the object of the step is WHAT DONE LOOKS LIKE.  Meeting participants can read the agenda (best to keep it posted) and seldom need to be reminded WHAT we need, but do need to be reinforced WHY it is important and HOW we are going to get there.  WHY objects are posted on the agenda captures the white space, or space between the lines, and demands further explanation.

We have all been in a meeting when someone, usually an outlier, asks “Now WHY are we doing this?”  Ever feel the oxygen get sucked out of the room?  An effective facilitator anticipates that question and slows down during agenda transitions, a maneuver that is counter-intuitive to most who state “Let me review this quickly.”

The Tuckman Model suggests that groups, even high-performance teams, are subject to regression when transitioning from one step in your agenda to another.  Be forewarned, transitions are the best time to slow down and carefully explain the white space:

  1. WHY did we build the output from the prior agenda step?
  2. HOW does it help us get out of this meeting faster; ie, how does it relate to the meeting deliverable?
  3. WHAT are we going to do next?
  4. WHY are we doing it and HOW does it help us get out of this meeting faster; ie, how does it support the meeting deliverable?
  5. WHY are the agenda items in the sequence provided?

Carefully explain the white space by answering the questions above and you will discover that your meetings will finish faster than ever.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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.

Twenty Popular Brain Breaks to Stimulate Your Meeting Participants


Our FAST Professional Facilitative Leadership and Facilitator Training alumni have digital rights access to thousands of Brain Breaks (or, Brakes as a double entendre). Here are twenty very common examples for the rest of you. If you need help with the answers, simply reply with a comment.

 20 Popular Brain Breaks

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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.

Increase Your Leadership Likeability By Strolling About and Smiling More


Some of the best methodologists are also capable of facilitating complex topics requiring pre-thought and structure. Sometimes they fall flat on the personality factor, coming off as dispassionate, aloof, or insensitive. Most facilitators default in the other direction, they are typically warm and likeable and good presenters but are frail when it comes to workshop breakdown structure and asking precise questions. It is frankly easier to teach the methodologist how to warm up to an audience than it is to teach people a comprehensive realm on critical thinking—that is, how to think clearly.

As most North Americans are afraid of public speaking, the worst thing they could do is hide behind a podium (to protect themselves) as the separation amplifies the ‘me’ versus ‘them’ fear, causing them to underperform. In the role of facilitator, soften the edges by integrating yourself. Do not speak AT the participants; rather have a conversation WITH the participants.

Strolling Helps

Increase Friendliness by Avoiding Podiums

Increase Friendliness by Avoiding Podiums

To become conversational and more natural increases likeability. One solution involves getting closer, measured in terms of physical proximity, to your participants. The easiest way to achieve closeness without violating personal space is to stroll closer to them.

When stuck in a small conference room with a big table or a huddle room with no perimeter, the strolling is difficult but can be achieved by walking around the table, around the room. The U-shaped seating arrangement however makes it much easier to stroll around, get closer to participants, and therefore be more conversational.

Use your space wisely. If participants are vibrant and need a documenter, then stay at the easel as a scribe, while their energy remains high. But when uncertainty or disagreement rises, begin to slowly step forward to make it easier to demonstrate active listening, and to display a sense of respect and importance toward the participant who is speaking.

In the case of an argument, make sure that evidence and claims to support the participants’ positions go through you, and not around you. There is probably no better time to be in the middle of the U-shaped seating environment than when participants are arguing. They need a referee, and serving as referee is part of the role of facilitator.

Smiling Helps More

The two universally accepted non-verbal gestures are open-hands and smiling. Open hands signify culturally that you have no weapons and will not harm the participants. Open hands are far more welcoming than the opposite, pointing.

Smiling is also accepted throughout all cultures. A genuine, smile is found appealing and increases the likeliness that your participants will warm up to you. We must be careful however not to smile too much, inappropriately, or to laugh too loud.

Please smile occasionally, even with serious topics. If the facilitator remains too stern and sober, the participants will tense up, reducing the likelihood of collaboration and innovative thinking. If you need further help learning to smile, practice. Use your introduction material to practice and ask a co-worker or family member to observe and comment on the appropriate timing for a warm smile.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. 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 numerous 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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