How to Facilitate Consensual Definitions with Structure and Focused Listening


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

Rationale

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.

Method

When a term or phrse 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.  Additional steps are:

  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.  For example, with a camera, we might detail the requirements for mega pixels, zoom, etc.
  4. Obtain or build a picture of concrete items or create an illustration if the item is abstract or dynamic (eg, process flow).
  5. Illustratethe definition with real-life examples from the participants’ experience that vivify the term or phrase.  For example, a utilitybillcan be defined, but it is helpful to show an actual invoice (eg, electricity for theperiod15JAN20xxto14FEB20xx).

    Vivification

    Vivification

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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How to Facilitate Three Actions We Take Next


In deference to Steve Jobs, as mentioned in his biography by Walter Isaacson, here is how to facilitate reducing the next ten things a team ought consider doing, down to the final three or four actions that the team has resources to manage. Mentioned casually in the book, the concept of prioritization is key to group performance, so we will remind you about three very important facilitation tools from the FAST technique; namely Definition, PowerBalls, and BookEnds.

Before you get to a final list of ten or twelve action items, you may need to more fully define what is meant by something. Be conscious about the perspective. Are you helping the team define the final output, desired outcome, or are you having them focus clearly on the next step (that presumably leads to a final output AND a new, desired outcome) or action required?

When you are challenged about the scope, characteristics, or details of some proposed activity, consider using the Definition tool. In its most robust format, a thorough definition answers five discrete demands See the Definition tool for an example):

  1. What is it NOT?
  2. Describe it in one sentence or less than 50 words.
  3. Provide the specific characteristics that make this clear or unique.
  4. Draw or illustrate the thing or workflow.
  5. Provide at least two examples from the business to vivify the narrative above.

Once you have a list of ten or so actions the team has socialized and understood, apply the PowerBall tool.


PowerBalls in BookEnd Sequence

As described in greater detail earlier, you will use a symbol that helps the team force fit into thirds; one-third HIGH, one-third LOW, and the remaining one-third MODERATE. The symbols and definitions that can be used are shown in the illustration taken from one of our facilitative leadership classes.

Finally, since groups have a tendency to defend that everything is important, you must embrace the BookEnd tool to avoid compression, or ending up with 80 percent of the items being ranked high. Therefore, using one question at a time, isolate “Which of these is most important?”. Next, “Which of these is least important?”. Continue with “Which of the remaining is next most important?”. Followed by, “Which of the remaining is next least important?”. After one or two more rounds, the list should be entirely coded so that you have led the team to build consensus around the next three or four things that they agree should be next steps.

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 Converge Your Brainstorming Input—Key Measure (continued)


Brainstorming‘s third activity, frequently called ‘convergence’, may take the form of decision criteria. Criteria can take different forms, as shown below.

Purpose

Here we define how an organization will measure its progress as it reaches toward its future vision.

Defined—key, measures, objectives, goals, and considerations:

  • A key is something of paramount or crucial importance.
  • A measure is a standard unit used to express the size, amount, or degree of something.
  • An objective is a desired position reached or achieved by some activity by a specific time. Objectives provide measurable performance [ ≣ ].
  • A goal is a directional statement that may remain fuzzy or subjectively measurable [ ☁ ].
  • A consideration is an important management issue, constraint, or concern that will affect reaching the objectives
    [ ✓ ].

Rationale

Key measures must support measurements toward the vision of the organization. They enable a group to better shape and define the most appropriate strategies, activities, or tactics (ie, WHAT to do to reach the vision). In the Six Sigma arena, objectives are frequently referred to as CTQ, or Critical to Quality measurements.

Expected Output

Clearly and properly defined objectives result from this step, along with a list of goals and other considerations.

  • CTQ would substitute the following questions for the SMART test:
  1. Is it specifically stated with upper and lower specification limits?
  2. Is it directional so that we can objectively determine whether it is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same?
  3. To what extent is it linked to specific customer needs connected to the objectives of the project?

Method

Use ideation to develop candidate key measures: Describe the rules of ideation in Brainstorming. Define the terms (generally—methods of determining progress). List all candidate measures, perhaps stimulated by voice of the customer or customer types, and focus on items that overlap. When the group exhausts the list, review each candidate and separate into potential categories by coding them as shown. objectives [ ≣ ], goals [ ☁ ], and considerations [ ✓ ] Review potential objectives [ ≣ ] and make them SMART. Do not show the SMART definition however until after you have captured the raw/ draft input. Consider using homogenous break-out groups to convert raw input into final form, SMART objectives (ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable [and challenging], Relevant [and achievable], and Time-based). Separately list and fully define the remaining goals and other important considerations.

Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody. For detailed support, see 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 Facilitate Quick and Simple Prioritization Using a PowerBall Method


Purpose

To help a group quickly and simply prioritize.

Rationale

Apply the Pareto Principle (aka 80-20 Rule) to help a group deselect and to eliminate as many options as possible so the group can stay focused on the most important or attractive options.

CAUTION

Be aware that the optimal approach suggests that you prioritize the criteria, not the options directly.

Method

The following steps should be read with an understanding that some of the material and examples used to support prioritization and other approaches discussed elsewhere on this blog site and in the FAST curriculum.

  • Establish the purpose of what the team is doing (ie, Purpose of _______ is to . . .    So that . . .)
  • Build a list of options (eg, Brainstorming). Set the list of options aside.
  • Build a list of criteria (be prepared to define each “criterion”).
  • Look at the criteria to see if any options are in violation. For example, if Sally is allergic to flowers, then “buying her flowers” is probably an option that should be eliminated.
  • Consider asking the participants if they can live with the remaining options. If someone objects, then eliminate that particular option.
  • Once they can live with the remaining options, you have consensus.
  • To improve the quality of the decision, unveil the visual support for PowerBalls and the accompanying definitions, and prioritize the criteria.
  • Find the option(s) that best align with the most important or mandatory criteria.

The definitions shown here work in almost all situations, namely:

  • 5 or a solid ball means high “Pay any price.
  • 1 or an empty circle means low or “Want it free, not willing to pay extra for it.”
  • 3 or a half-filled ball means moderate or all the other stuff  between high and low, meaning we are “willing to pay a reasonable price” without being forced to define “reasonable.”

Separate the most/ least important criteria. Code the remaining as moderate by default, without discussion. Attempt to force fit one-third of the candidates as each high, low, and moderate—but be flexible. Appeal to the high criteria and isolate the option(s) that best satisfy the prioritized criteria. To further optimize or guide discussion (if required), appeal to some of the fuzzy factors that may be difficult to measure objectively.

When you need help creating a robust definition of something that may be argumentative, turn to the Definition Tool for support

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your 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).

Daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify the skills of a facilitative leader.

How to Categorize (or Cluster) Ideas and Inputs


Purpose

Categorizing creates clusters of related items so that a group can improve its focus.

Rationale

The purpose of categorizing is to eliminate redundancies by collapsing related items into clusters or chunks (a scientific term). A label or term that captures the title for each cluster can be more easily re-used in matrices and other visual displays. Categorizing makes it easier for the team to analyze complex groupings and their impact on each other.

Method

Categorizing can take little or much time, depending on how much precision is required, time available, and importance.  The first method shown is quick and effective.  The other methods may also be effective, but probably not as quick.

Underscore

Take the raw input or lists created during the ideation step and underscore the common nouns (typically the object in a sentence that is preceded by a predicate or a verb). Use a different color marker for each group of nouns, and have the team offer up a term or label that captures the meaning of each cluster that is underscored.

(Optionally)

For each item, ask “Why _____?”  Items that share a common purpose likely have a common objective and can be grouped together.

Transpose

Take the new terms or labels that signify a cluster or grouping and move them to a separate list or table.  The terms may be defined with discussion and illustrated with the list of items that belongs to each cluster.  Use the FAST Definition tool to build additional clarity if required.

Scrub

Go back to the original list and strike the items that now collapse into the new terms created for each cluster in the Transpose step above.  Allow the group to focus on any remaining items that have not been eliminated and decide if they require unique terms, need further explanation, or can be deleted.

Review

Before transitioning, review the final list of clusters and confirm that team members understand the terms and that they can support the operational definitions.  Let the team members know that they can add additional terms to the clusters later, but if they are comfortable with them as is, to move on and do something with the list, as it was built for input to a subsequent step or activity.

(Other Grouping Themes)

Humans visually perceive items not in isolation, but as part of a larger whole.  The principles of perception include human tendencies towards:

  • Similarity—by their analogous characteristics
  • Proximity—by their physical closeness to each other
  • Continuity—when there is an identifiable pattern
  • Closure—completing or filling-in missing features

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.

How to Design a Meeting Agenda that Helps Create the Output (Deliverable) You Need


Purpose

To design a new meeting or  workshop agenda that will effectively lead a group to its deliverable, use these steps. Following them will increase your meeting success. Before we begin, let us remember the definition of a solid structured meeting (eg, FAST) agenda:

Agenda Design Steps

Agenda Defined

An agenda is a series of steps that structure a group discussion during a meeting or workshop.  The FAST technique’s pre-built or cookbook agendas provide solid versions of known and proven information gathering, sharing, and decision-making methods. The modifications you apply to basic agendas will enable:

  1. A facilitator (ie, the session leader) to lead the discussion, with . . .
  2. Subject matter experts (who are experts about content but NOT experts about context or  meeting technique), who build understanding . . .
  3. That extracts required information (ie, the meeting output or deliverable including for example, decision-making or prioritization), thus
  4. Enabling other stakeholders (ie, project team) to use the information and decisions to support and further advance project objectives and organizational goals.

Methodological steps to create a new meeting or workshop agenda are:

  1. Identify the purpose, scope, and deliverables of the meeting—what are you building and what level of detail is required?
  2. Codify the deliverables—what is the specific content for the output of the workshop, what is the optimal sequence for gathering it, and who will use it after the meeting is complete?
  3. Identify known information—what is already known about the project, problem, or scope?
  4. Draft your likely steps—compose a series of steps from experience or analytical methods that would be used by other experts to make this decision, solve this problem, or develop the required information and consensual view.
  5. Review steps for logical flow—walk through the steps to confirm they will produce the desired results.
  6. Identify likely meeting participants—determine the most likely participants and identify their level of understanding about the business issues and the method you have drafted for them to develop the information during the the agenda steps.
  7. Identify any agenda steps that the participants cannot complete—modify or eliminate the steps that your specific participants may not understand, will not value, or are inappropriate for their level of experience.
  8. Identify what information is needed to fill the gaps from step number seven above, and determine how to get this additional information (eg, off-line)—what information or analysis is required to substitute for the missing information identified in step number seven above, that your meeting participants cannot complete?
  9. Detail the final agenda steps to capture required information for the open issues—build the appropriate activities to produce the information without making the participants perform unnecessary activities (eg, do NOT do team building if they already function together properly).
  10. Review—confirm steps number one and two above and then carefully review the detailed activities to confirm that they satisfy the purpose and provide the needed information without over challenging or intimidating your participants.
  11. Perform a walk-through, including documentation format or templates, with other business experts, executive sponsor, and project team members.
  12. Refine—make any changes identified in the walk-through and begin to build out your annotated agenda as suggested by the FAST technique.

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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