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 third item, the missing ingredient in most meetings, referred by us as “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:
- WHY is something important?
- WHAT are we going to do to support it?
- HOW are we going to get it done?
The brainstorming method likewise follows the triumvirate form of discipline. Its three steps are frequently called:
- Diverge (Input)
- Analyze (Analysis)
- Converge (Output)
The executive decision-making process follows a similar threefold discipline, although expressed in completely different terms:
- Facts (What?)
- Implications (So What?)
- 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.
You will be incredibly successful when you CAP waste and prepare yourself and your participants thoroughly with:
- Clear thinking (ie, yields consciousness about WHY it is important)
- Active listening (ie, yields competence about WHAT could be done)
- 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 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.