Understanding the Time and Place for Individual Versus Group Decisions


The continuum of leadership behavior provides one context for understanding the best time and place to make individual decisions contrasted with making group decisions. That continuum, as illustrated below, ranges from the completely subordinate-centered approach to the completely leader-centered approach. In between these extremes are another four types that blend or offset the “center” perspective.

Range of Meeting Leadership Styles

Range of Meeting Leadership Styles

Both approaches can provide value, while specific advantages depend on some of the factors discussed below. Frequently, advantages of group decision making include:

  1. Improved quality of decisions, proven over and over because of contributing factors such as . . .
    • Ability to generate more ideas and options
    • Self-monitoring that forces participants to keep each other honest
    • Fewer errors in using information that is available
    • Availability of more information
    • Reduction of potential individual bias
    • Willingness to manage higher levels of risk
  2. Increases ownership through higher levels of understanding, acceptance, and likelihood to make necessary adaptations during implementation.
  3. Participating individuals are strengthened, learn more, and can more readily re-apply the same rationale when they are making subsequent individual decisions.

There are some downside considerations as well including:

  1. Potential to take more time
  2. May create or heighten expectations, perhaps making them unobtainable
  3. Could be at variance with management or senior staff
  4. Quality of the output or decision might be hampered if the group is dominated by an individual(s), submits to forced selection or voting (leading to “losers” and consequent abandonment of ownership), or congeals into what Janis (1972) describes as “Groupthink.”

Groupthink describes a state or condition when the group regresses into poor thinking and social pressures. Janis claims that three factors increase the likelihood of groupthink, namely: insulation from qualified outsiders, leaders who promote their favorite position, and strong cohesion. You may be witnessing groupthink if you observe some of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive optimism and illusion of invulnerability
  • Tendency to dismiss contrary points of view accompanied with collective efforts to rationalize their own position or discount the positions of others
  • Unquestioned beliefs in the group’s supposed moral superiority and ignoring the consequences of their decision(s)
  • Prejudicial comments and stereotyping outsiders not in the meeting
  • Audible and non-verbal pressure on participants to conform
  • Censorship of deviations from what has congealed to be ‘consensus’

Research shows however, that decision by consensus tends to result in higher quality decisions than command-control, manipulation, persuasion, voting and other means of compromise.

What is Consensus?

Consensus must be carefully defined. A robust method will make full use of all the resources in the group, can be relied on for acceptable ways to reconcile conflict, and will generate the ownership a group needs to ensure that what goes on in the meeting is carried out after the meeting has concluded. We highly recommend that ‘consensus’ DOES NOT mean we are making everyone happy. Rather, we are striving for a common acceptance and level of understanding that would include ‘yes’ answers by all participants to the following questions:

  1. Can you live with this (decision/ plan/ output/ outcome, etc.)?
  2. Will you support it professionally and not subvert it when the meeting concludes?
  3. Will you personally lose any sleep over it?

Resulting in Synergy

We could define synergy as the increased effectiveness of working together where the outcome becomes greater than the sum of the parts. We are seeking an answer that did not walk into the meeting, rather it can be created during the meeting. For a meeting with nine people for example, we are looking for the tenth answer. Synergy frequently results among groups that are seeking consensus, built around a common goal. When supported by strong facilitation, participants agree on a clear and common goal (typically the meeting deliverable), share openly, listen carefully, think clearly, and they are likely to achieve synergy.

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 SolutionImprove 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.

What Important Key is Missing from Most Group Approaches to Problem Solving?


A lot of wise, published, and acclaimed authors simply do not ‘get it.’ Presumably, most spend time in classroom environments and doing research, but less frequently do they practice what they preach. If they did, we would not discover such an essential aspect missing from their many espoused approaches to group problem solving. Notice the traditional approach calls for steps that are quite similar to the following:

Something is Missing Here

Something is Missing Here

  1. Problem identification
  2. Problem diagnosis
  3. Solution generation
  4. Solution evaluation
  5. Choice

What is missing from this approach, that must appear transparent to most writers, but is not, captures a sense of Purpose behind the solution—what are we trying to accomplish. Using a simple example in our private lives, we may identify (1) the need for new underwear, realizing that the existing choices remain sub-optimal (2). Therefore we go to the store where we find various packs on the shelves (3). Given the price, size, style, color, quantity, brand, etc. (4) we make our choice (5).

However, our choice is hugely dependent on the purpose of the underwear. Are they for everyday use, formal wear, athletic wear, etc.? Our purpose will strongly influence our choice, but Purpose is frequently omitted from most group approaches. Seemingly, the authors lack experience in real meetings to see how important it is to build consensus around WHY we are doing something before we discuss WHAT we should do (and eventually HOW it will be done).

Conflict

We have frequently seen meetings begin to unravel until we re-directed the group back to the purpose. Without consensually agreed upon purpose, there is no common ground for appeal to reconcile arguments and necessary trade-offs.

From an academic perspective, various methods have been described to resolve meeting conflict, such as:

  • Compromise (lose-lose)
  • Forcing (voting, or win-lose)
  • Integrative (win-win)
  • Smoothing
  • Withdrawal

Our entire curriculum is devoted exclusively to discovering an integrative, win-win solution. Each of the methods above yield different consequences measured by . . .

  • Solution acceptance
  • Solution quality
  • Team or group maintenance (or ownership)

Follow the guidelines suggested by our FAST facilitative leadership curriculum and you will discover that ownership begins with common purpose. If you fail to facilitate agreement about purpose before you tackle the problem, you risk solution acceptance, solution quality, and team maintenance that are essential components to any solid approach that claims to be a valid group problem solving method.

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 SolutionImprove 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.

Smart People Make Dumb Decisions: How To Improve Your Group Decisions


According to experts in an emerging field called the Science of Choice, everyone can learn to make higher quality decisions. First understand the primary cause of poor individual decisions—overconfidence. Then realize that one of the reasons that groups make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group is the ability to force participants to think outside of their normal comfort zone.

Natural decision making for individuals relies on an “inside view”. Not surprisingly, we call our meeting participants “subject matter experts” because their inside view is also known as the subjective view. For example, two people eating from the same bowl of chili may arrive at different conclusions. One may find the chili excessively ‘hot” (as in spicy) and the other, not. Both are correct from their subjective points of view, so how do we as facilitators “objectify” their assessment?

Participants, especially when focused on specific situations, tend to use information that is cheap; ie, costs little in terms of time to access and out of pocket costs. They make their judgments and predictions based on a narrow set of inputs. Perhaps, for example, there was only one habanero pepper in the chili, and it ended up in only one of the bowls. Participants do not consider the full range of possibilities. Frequently in planning modes, people paint a “too optimistic” view of the future, largely due to overconfidence.

Overconfidence is central to the inside view and leads to at least two illusions that can dramatically lower the quality of decisions:

Smart People Make Dumb Decisions

Smart People Make Dumb Decisions

  1. Illusion of Control
  2. Illusion of Superiority

Illusion of Control

People behave as if chance events are subject to their influence. Simply stated, people who believe that they have some control over the situation perceive their “odds of success” are higher, even when they are not. Numerous studies have proven the illusion of control, typically using random chance such as the throw of the dice. Money managers for example behave as if they can beat the market when in fact; very few outperform the major indices.

Illusion of Superiority

Most people consider themselves ‘above average’ drivers. Likewise most professionals place themselves in the top half of performers. Clearly, these judgments are absurd, as at least half of all drivers ought be discovered to be ‘below average.’ Likewise for professionals, as people maintain an unrealistically positive view of themselves, not everyone can be above average. In fact, according to one large study, more than 80 percent of those surveyed considered themselves above average. Remarkably, and scary too, the least-capable people often have the largest gaps between their perception and reality. Those in the bottom quartile of various studies dramatically overstate their abilities, and nearly everyone tends to dismiss their shortcomings as inconsequential.

What is the Solution?

Various researchers have discovered that building consensus provides the best way to overcome individual biases. When building consensus, an outside view is brought into the decision making process that improves on the quality of individual decisions. Here is a methodological approach for facilitators:

  1. Find a Surrogate (Diverge): Ask the group to identify similar situations, comparable industries, significant competitors, or even stir up the group by adding participants with competing points of view.
  2. Assess the Distribution of Potential Outcomes (Analyze): Treat the decision as conditional rather than fixed. Under what conditions might Decision A be more appropriate than Decision B, etc?
  3. Base decisions, especially predictions, on ranges of outcomes and probabilities, and not a fixed set. (Converge): Consider scenario planning and build at least three decisions; perhaps the sunny, cloudy, and stormy perspectives. Study the outcomes including the most common, the average, and check the extremes to help influence a group to consider an ‘outside view.’
  4. Calibrate the decision or prediction as necessary (Document): Remember the biases discussed earlier, as there remains likelihood that the justification of views may remain too optimistic and overconfident. Interesting research within the National Football League (NFL) about counter intuitive decisions such as going for it on fourth down, two point conversions, onside kicks and the like shows that coaches that are willing to break from tradition are more successful by generating more points and victories than those who play it safe.

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 SolutionImprove 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.

ScrumMasters and Agile Facilitation Practices Can Benefit All Facilitators


The term ‘information’ captures a sense of flow and dynamism, it is not static. A compound word derived from stuff that moves ‘in-formation’ should concern all facilitators, as rarely do we touch a product or conduct a process during a meeting or a workshop. Rather, we are all working with subject matter experts who provide us their perspective about stuff that is in-formation.

Collaborative practices have been increasingly applied to running agile meetings and Scrum ‘events’ with most recognizing facilitation skills as core to the ScrumMaster role. Some of the developments embraced by many that could apply to your meetings include:

Becoming a More Agile Facilitator

Becoming a More Agile Facilitator

  • Consensus building, NOT voting
  • High participation
  • Providing a variety of stimulating activities
  • Structured collaborative tools
  • Time boxing
  • Visible agendas

Some of the benefits espoused from the agile approach to facilitation practices are shown below:

  • Collective knowledge about product and process decisions
  • Early identification of high-benefit opportunities
  • Encouraging flexibility and adjustments toward unexpected developments
  • Frequent re-assessment to identify appropriate course corrections
  • In-depth exploration of more factors than normally considered

Since we are not ScrumMasters ourselves, we borrow some of this from Cara Turner, who provides richer detail about the relationship of agile methods and neuroscience at her blog site, facilitatingagility.com. Cara, along with numerous authors and scientists she uses in support, refers to eight concepts that all facilitators ought consider, namely:

  1. Conceptual Challenges: Keeping participants conscious to “be here now” burns a lot of fuel. Additionally, keeping multiple concepts in mind, at the same time, is virtually impossible for a group since individuals cannot typically think about more than four concepts at once, and thinking about only two at once is optimal, therefore . . .
  2. . . . Focus: The hardest part of any session is getting a group of people to focus on the same thing at the same time with the same meaning and intent. Be sure to schedule ample breaks.
    1. Conduct frequent breakout sessions to keep energy flowing.
    2. Consider ergonomic stretches and breathing exercises to keep participants vibrant.
    3. If necessary, use time boxing rather than burning out participants. Subsequence meeting can pick up where you leave off, with fresh energy.
    4. Schedule the most important stuff the first part of the meeting, and if it is critically important, schedule that meeting for the first part of the day.
    5. We believe that two ten-minute breaks are superior to the traditional 15 to 20 minute break offered each morning or afternoon. We do post timers however, and do not allow them to become eleven-minute (or more) breaks. Do NOT penalize people who are on time by waiting for people who are not.
  3. Get Graphic: Visual imagery also stimulates making it easier to analyze. Images (ie, iconic) and sketches (ie, illustrative) are more efficient for capturing complex relationships than narrative (ie, written) terms. If you work in a multi-national organization, they also mitigate some of the challenges associated with translations and transliterations.
  4. Mapping Stimulates: The power of patterns remains unchallenged and continues to be supported by most scientific research across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Mapping, such as logical models and process flow diagrams, make it easier to identify omissions and more fully explain the complex relationships that exists among the components being discussed.
  5. The Zen of the Experience (use all the senses): When physical/ spatial, visual, and sound (and optimally even taste and smell) harmonize, we create more vivid associations that improve our memory recall. Who cannot recall the smell, standing at the seashore, of an “ocean breeze”?
  6. Think Deeply: Here the basic challenge advances our short-term thinking to embrace long-term implications and consequences. What are the deeper associations? Because the cost of omissions, that is ‘missing stuff’, is exorbitantly high (especially with information technologies), we need to more fully value and appreciate some of the longer exercises that may be required to bring the discussion to a higher level that removes the myopic view from your participants and forces them to be integrative with their thinking. Simply put, causal diagrams take longer than ideation sessions.
  7. Use Analogies: Educators have known for centuries that learning is amplified when explained via analogy or metaphor. We have ben promoting the concept of an analogy as a way to explain the agenda and how the pieces fit together for nearly thirty years now.
  8. Write it Down: In addition to providing visual stimulation, if it is not written down it will be forgotten. In other words, if it is not written down, it did not happen. Do not waste everyone’s time, please write it down. It is easier to delete later than to recall what was said, “back then.”

Combined, the concepts above make it easier (ie, faciltaere) for your participants to act on knowledge accessed and developed during your meetings and workshops. For additional activities to support your sessions, look at her post or some of the worthwhile bookmarks provided below that support collaborative sorting, experience prototyping, idea generation, and other simulations to build consensus and higher quality deliverables, FAST.

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 SolutionImprove 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.

Balanced Scorecard Demands Strategy-Focused Organization & Facilitation


The nineties are arguably the most worldwide productive in economic history. Productivity accelerated, market values rose, and unemployment fell to record lows. However, in a Zook survey, only 13 percent of organizations achieved shareholder returns greater than the cost of capital. History will show a pattern of “excessive exuberance” to quote Alan Greenspan, and a shift from strategy to tactics, such as:

  • First to market
  • Operational excellence
  • Customer relationship management

As companies abandoned strategy, they began to pay the price—proven by the implosion over the next fifteen years, leading us to, today. Compound that abandonment with a shift from a manufacturing era to the age of knowledge. Notice the transformation in the workplace . . .

From To
Functional (silo) Process (integrated)
Incremental change Transformational change
Management Leadership
Production driven Customer driven
Tangible assets Intangible assets
Top down Bottom up

Five principles of successful organizations emerged from Kaplan and Norton’s research on successful Balanced Scorecard adaptors. The five principles describe the key elements of building an organization able to focus on strategy and deliver breakthrough results, and they depend heavily on effective facilitation and group ownership. Note . . .

  1. Align the organization to the strategy—Nobody is smarter than everybody and robust alignment requires multiple perspectives. An effective, neutral facilitator is the best choice for securing alignment among a group of people.
  2. Make strategy a continual process—The journey is more important than the destination, and there is no better guide on a journey than a well-prepared facilitator using an appropriate methodology.
  3. Make strategy everyone’s job—Ownership is key and facilitated sessions can secure individual commitments that must be met to save face. The key output of any facilitated session is agreement on WHO does WHAT and WHEN.
  4. Mobilize change through executive leadership—Big egos demand great skill and facilitators earn their income over and over when forced to deal with executives, who many times embrace being rational as what is best for them, rather than the entire group. Facilitation helps avoid such fallacy.
  5. Translate the strategy into operational terms—Requiring a life cycle of activities a groups transform from the abstract to the concrete, no better leader can be found than one who manages context on behalf of the subject matter experts.

The message is clear, if you want to accelerate results, you better place a high value on the role of facilitator. They can pay for themselves many times over, and frankly, generate more economic worth for the total organization than other role, even the CEO. The CEO who has the answer but is unable to realize these five principles within their own organization, will likely generate sub-optimal returns.

Balanced Scorecard

Balanced Scorecard

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 SolutionImprove 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.

Categorize as Quick Wins, Tried and True, Wild and Crazy, or Hail Mary Passes


The Payoff Matrix shown in the “two by two” below provides the classic means of prioritizing your options. Using return (ie, Impact of the Solution) and investment (ie, Cost of Implementation, typically time or money) as the criteria dimensions, it sorts your options into one of four categories:

  1. Quick Win (aka, Quick Hit)
  2. Major Opportunity
  3. Special Effort
  4. Time Waster
Return on Investment Payoff Matrix

Return on Investment Payoff Matrix

Perhaps a more engaging and stimulating way to frame the options, substitutes Probability of Success for the investment or cost dimension. If so, the updated matrix would look something like this:

  1. Quick Win
  2. Tried and True
  3. Wild and Crazy
  4. Hail Mary Pass
Probability Based Payoff Matrix

Probability Based Payoff Matrix

Method

Once you have built the options, code them onto small Post-It® notes. Typically alpha coding (ie, A, B, C, etc.) is preferred to numeric coding (ie, 1, 2, 3, etc.) so as not to permit any subtle bias about the relative importance of each. Consider iconic coding as an alternative to strip away all possible bias (ie, ✚, ♢, ✇, etc.)

Place your dimensions on a large white board. Facilitate from the zero point, or middle of the matrix and work one dimension at a time, asking is it more or less than others previously posted, until the groups is satisfied with the array.

Alternative

Break your team into three groups and have each group complete their own coding, probably on a large sheet (ie, 50cm * 75cm) and bring all three matrices to the front. Create a fourth and final matrix by merging the three, facilitating discussion about the differences until the group is satisfied with the final array.

Next Steps

Complete your prioritization effort with two more steps: assign roles and responsibilities for further development and conduct a Guardian of Change to agree on what participants will tell others after your meeting has concluded.

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 SolutionImprove 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.

The Primary Reasons for Hosting Workshops Differ from Hosting Meetings


Meetings are typically held for one of the following three reasons:

Workshops and Meetings Support the Life Cycle of Projects and Other Initiatives

Workshops and Meetings Support the Life Cycle of Projects and Other Initiatives

  1. To endorse or decide
  2. To inform
  3. To monitor and review

Workshops on the other hand tend to focus on singular topics and strive to build impactful deliverables. Successful workshops depend on the following:

  • Building a workshop method to engage participants
  • Defining specific deliverables
  • Grouping information gathering activities
  • Policing the workshop method to accomplish those goals

Over the years we have catalogued the various workshops we have facilitated and share the reasons with you, sequenced below in alphabetical order, rather than frequency, importance, or randomness:

  • Any initiative requiring decision-making or consensual agreement between two or more people
  • Business area analysis
  • Business case development (including process optimization)
  • Business performance management (BPM—including balanced scorecard and dashboards)
  • Business process improvement—design or optimization
  • Content management prioritization
  • Executing your strategy, building action plans
  • Gathering requirements
  • Innovation, at least the creativity and ideation portion
  • Key performance, measuring and management indicators
  • Knowledge management (including decision support)
  • Maintenance activity to solve for missing descriptions of changes, precision with requirements, or problem identification
  • New system or business development initiatives
  • Problem situation requiring arbitration or neutrality
  • Project management
  • Problem solving
  • Product development processes
  • Scientific inquiry or challenging paradigms
  • Six Sigma® and Lean or other quality initiatives
  • Strategic planning at any level in the organizational holarchy
  • Team charters (including management perspectives and supporting strategic planning activities or tactical assignments)
  • Virtual meetings and workshops
  • Voice of the customer or advisory groups

Meetings frequently follow workshop activity. For example, numerous meetings will follow a project charter-planning workshop across the life cycle of the project being supported. While dozens of life cycles exist (eg; IPCC, DMAIC, etc.), each workshop has its own life cycle with at least three phases:

  • Preparation—getting yourself and the participants ready
  • Workshop event—gathering the information, making the decisions, and documenting the results
  • Review and resolution—distribute and integrate deliverable, typically into project

Over the next few issues we will take a look at various components required to support each phase, with required and optional roles that support a successful workshop endeavor.

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 SolutionImprove 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.

Does a Facilitator Need to be a Subject Matter Expert? (Content vs. Context)


Some of the best facilitators are NOT Subject Matter Experts within the topic and scope of the discussion; however, NOR can they afford to be subject matter ignorant. They need to be subject matter conversant and understand the terms being used and the relationship of those terms to the deliverable, but they do NOT have to have an ‘answer.’

Effective Facilitators Avoid Content Kowtow by Participants

Effective Facilitators Avoid Content Kowtow by Participants

For example, this author facilitated sessions in North America, Europe, and Asia with radiologists and directors of radiology for a manufacture to help them design their next generation of CT (Computerized Tomography) scanners. While NOT a physicist or radiologist, with strong preparation to understand the basic and essential principles of operation, we were highly effective at facilitating discussions around pain points and possible solutions.

Neutrality, curiosity, and willingness to challenge assumptions are far more important facilitator skills than being expert on the topic. Without the humility that encourages one to ‘seek to understand rather than being understood’, participants will drop out, go quiet, and disengage because they are thinking: “If this person (the leader or facilitator) already has the answer, then why are they seeking out my opinion?”

The better challenge or question may be, “What is the unit of measurement for distinguishing between ‘subject matter expertise’ and ‘subject matter conversant’?” For us, the answer is simple.

Before the session begins, the facilitator and participants ought have properly prepared. Optimal preparation includes writing down the meeting purpose, scope, deliverables, and simple agenda before the meeting begins. Make sense? Hopefully you understand that the facilitator, at minimum, better know the reason of the meeting, WHY it is important (ie, purpose), WHAT will be covered and NOT covered during the meeting (ie, scope—that is necessary to prevent meeting scope creep, the number one killer of meetings), WHERE the group is headed (ie, the deliverable or what DONE looks like), and HOW they are going to get there (ie, the agenda or prepared structure).

Therefore the unit of measurement becomes the glossary or lexicon. To what extent does the facilitator understand the terms being used in the prepared meeting purpose, scope, deliverables, and simple agenda? To what extent does the facilitator’s understanding of those terms harmonize with the understanding of the participants, their culture, and the project team or work that must occur after the meeting concludes? To what extent do the participants share the same or identical meaning of the terms being used?

We illustrate this importance by challenging you to explain the difference between a ‘goal’ and an ‘objective’. To us, they are NOT the same things. We prefer an operational definition suggesting that ‘goals’ are directional and somewhat fuzzy. For example, a mountain climber may have a ‘goal’ of getting some good photographs when they reach the summit. An ‘objective’ however is truly SMART—ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable (our preferred deviation from Deming’s original definition of Achievable), Realistic, and Time-based. For example, a mountain climber may need to be sheltered in a tent and sleeping bag at 3,000 meters by 17:00 before a storm blows in or they risk freezing to death.

Some culture define ‘goals’ and ‘objectives’ the opposite of our preference, defining ‘objectives’ as fuzzy and goals as SMART. A good facilitator is agnostic, and can use either set of definitions, but knows the importance of determining the optimal definitions BEFORE the meeting begins. They are responsible for controlling the context (ie, contextual expertise) and not the content (ie, subject matter expertise).

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 SolutionImprove 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.

Secret Sauce Part 3: Clear Thinking, Active Listening, & Prepared Structure


The secret to leading more effective meetings and workshops reminds us to put a CAP on wasted time and energy by embracing three behaviors:

Prepared Structure

Prepared Structure

  1. Clear thinking (ie, yields consciousness)
  2. Active listening (ie, yields competence)
  3. Prepared structure (ie, yields confidence)

The effective meeting leader learns to cap waste—to maintain control over direction, environment, and contributions of meeting participants. To be highly effective, requires a servile attitude. Here we cover the third item, the missing ingredient in most meetings, referred by us as “Prepared Structure”.

Prepared Structure

A leader should be disciplined and not unstructured. Prepared structure when working with groups, teams, and meetings refers to discipline, or the order of things. Meeting and workshop structure is like a road map for a trip. You can always take the scenic route or a detour, but you need a clear directive to know where to return.

Ironically, the more structured the meeting, the more flexible you can be. Without structure, or a road map, you can never tell exactly where you are, or more importantly, how much remains to be covered. With structure, you can divert from your plan and take the scenic route knowing that if the team runs into a dead end or gets bored with the scenery, you can always return to your map and planned guidance.

Left to their nature, groups tend to start “solving” before they complete proper and rigorous analysis. The leader needs to play the role of a process police person, and should never be too nice. Teams do not want a nice leader; rather they want a leader who will get them where they are going, on time, and within budget. “Nice” can take place after the meeting is over, in a different role.

Naturally the situation demands professionalism, respect, and common courtesy—but leading is not like having a group of friends, rather it is a group of associates, bound by a common cause.

The nature of building consensus mandates that we seek understanding first about WHY we are doing something. If we cannot reasonably agree on WHY something is important, it is highly unlikely that you will later arrive at consensus. We define the term consensus as something “you can live with.” It does not mean “favorite” nor does it necessarily imply total agreement. It does mean that everyone agrees to support it, and that no one will lose any sleep over it.

Agreement would be like everyone playing the same note on the same instrument. That would be boring after a while. We are seeking harmony, or better yet, the harmonization of different notes being played on different instruments—something akin to music, whether a symphony or hip-hop.

The leader dictates tempo, volume, and who plays when. The leader does not however pick up an instrument and start playing on behalf of the meeting participants. It is the participants’ responsibility to play their instruments. It is the leader’s responsibility to provide cohesion.

Once you get a group to agree on why something is important, next you guide them through the appropriate analysis. There are numerous approaches and tools to consider using. There is usually more than one right answer (or option).

Each option brings a discrete risk-reward that you need to consider, in advance—ie, prepared structure. WHAT type of analysis is best suited for ‘this’ group, given constraints, assumptions, urgency, etc?

The last thing a groups needs is for their leader to turn to them and ask them HOW they want to continue. They need a leader with a strong spine who will tell them HOW TO proceed; what is the question being asked, how it will be answered, and how does the answer support next steps and the deliverable.

Most forms of effective leadership sequence the WHY of understanding before the WHAT it means or WHAT can we do to support it. For each fact or piece of evidence that supports understanding (WHY) there can be more than one implication. Therefore, learn to separate the WHY and the WHAT and structure them separately.

The final part of structure is the HOW we are going to act upon the WHAT we are doing—accomplished. Again, for each WHAT there can be more than one HOW, and you need to lead a group through an understanding of its options. Generally speaking, the WHAT is abstract such as “pay bills” while the HOW is concrete such as “write cheques.”

In summary, the trivium of team discipline is:

  1. WHY is something important?
  2. WHAT are we going to do to support it?
  3. HOW are we going to get it done?

The brainstorming method likewise follows the triumvirate form of discipline. Its three steps are frequently called:

  1. Diverge (Input)
  2. Analyze (Analysis)
  3. Converge (Output)

The executive decision-making process follows a similar threefold discipline, although expressed in completely different terms:

  1. Facts (What?)
  2. Implications (So What?)
  3. Recommendations (Now What?)

Be a disciplined leader and know your structure before the meeting begins. Once you develop awareness about where you are leading a group, rigorously apply the discipline of structure to decide how you are going to lead them.

Secret Sauce
Summary

You will be incredibly successful when you CAP waste and prepare yourself and your participants thoroughly with:

  1. Clear thinking (ie, yields consciousness about WHY it is important)
  2. Active listening (ie, yields competence about WHAT could be done)
  3. Prepared structure (ie, yields confidence about HOW is will happen)

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 SolutionImprove 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.

Secret Sauce Part 2: Clear Thinking, Active Listening, & Prepared Structure


The secret to leading more effective meetings and workshops reminds us to put a CAP on wasted time and energy by embracing three behaviors:

  • Clear thinking (ie, yields consciousness)
  • Active listening (ie, yields competence)
  • Prepared structure (ie, yields confidence)

The effective meeting leader learns to cap waste—to maintain control over direction, environment, and contributions of meeting participants. To be highly effective, requires a servile attitude. Here we cover the second item, the core skill of effective facilitators, commonly referred to as “Active Listening”.

Active listening

Groups make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group. Why? Because groups, when properly led, are able to create options that did not exist before the individuals walked into the meeting. Input from one participant may cause another to think of something they had not considered before the meeting. For a group of nine people, we are looking for the tenth answer. With strong leadership and a little luck, that answer may also include or instill the spark of innovation.

Discipline and structure support thorough analysis, but so will the active listening method and use of stimulating visual prompts. Ultimately we are not facilitating “words” in a meeting, so much as the meaning behind the words. Obviously, meetings occur without the use of the English language at all. Non-English meetings will still be effective because words are only the tools used by participants to signify their intent, meaning, and relationships behind the words. Subsequently, pictures and models are frequently more effective tools than narrative descriptions.

Be prepared to challenge participants. Active listening is a four-step process that is NOT like having a conversation. In a conversation we make contact and absorb what the other person is saying. With active listening we need to feed back the reasons for what we have heard, confirm whether we got it right, and challenge for substantive omissions.

The differences are in the following table.

Active Listening

Active Listening

Having a conversation takes less time. Active listening however prevents misunderstanding and can help push the envelope towards options that were previously not considered, thus improving the quality of the decisions made.

We will take a deeper view of the importance of prepared structure, methodology, and tools in our next post.

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 SolutionImprove 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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