February 11, 2016 Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
✓ Getting off subject
✓ 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
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.
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.
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.
- ❖ 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 Solution—Improve 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.