Avoid Asking “How Do We Solve Global Hunger?” with Improved Methodology


Meeting participants are all too frequently confronted with questions that are too difficult to answer. When the facilitator receives a blank stare or extended silence after asking a question, there is a strong likelihood that the question is much to broad or vague, and thus difficult (rather than easy, as in facilitaere) to answer. Strive before your meeting to understand that Y = f (X) + (X) + (x) + (x), implying that your big question (Y) is a function of many questions, large (X) and small (x). Break it down to make it easier.

SINGLE-QUESTION APPROACH

The Single Question

The Single Question

Purpose

The following can be used to develop new questions that lead to a workshop method or agenda and the questions that ought be addressed during the meeting.

Larson developed the Single-Question agenda and here it is modified from Larson’s five-step agenda.  The approach is predicated on decomposing the big question that will provide the main answer or solution to a problem.  This quickly focuses groups on the essentials of the problem.

The Big Question           

What is the single question, the answer to which the entire group needs to know to accomplish its purpose?

Example:   A workshop to design a newsletter would begin with the single (and broad) question, “What is the content and format of this newsletter?”

Sub-Questions

What sub-questions must be answered before we can answer the single question we just formulated?  While preparing, talk to participants and find out what questions they need to have answered during the meeting.  Test your questions prior to the meeting for clarity, precision, and completeness.

Example:   Our newsletter workshop question can be answered when the following sub-questions are answered.

  • What are their interests?
  • What do they already know?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  • Which media would they prefer?
  • Who is the newsletter audience?
  • Why would they read a newsletter?

Sequencing                  

Sequence them in order—which need to be answered first, second, and so on.  This begins to yield topical flow—facilitators lead with coherent agenda steps that reflect a comprehensive list of questions.  The sequence is based on which answers help in answering subsequent questions.

Example:   For our newsletter, the questions might need to be answered in the following order.

  1. What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  2. Who is the newsletter audience?
  3. Why would they read a newsletter?
  4. What are their interests?
  5. What do they want to know?
  6. What do they already know?
  7. Which media would they prefer?

Organizing                  

Next group the questions. Participants participate better when we “chunk” information to create natural breaks.  Group the questions so that a single, definable product is developed at the end of each set of questions—or question.

Example:   In our newsletter example, we have four key products, Overall Purpose, Audience, Content, and Media.

  • Question 1 defines the Overall Purpose.
  • Questions 2 and 3 define the Audience.
  • Questions 4, 5, and 6 define the Content.
  • Question 7 defines the Media.

Example:  Our newsletter workshop simple agenda would be . . .

  • Introduction
  • Purpose of the Newsletter
  • Audience
  • Content
  • Media
  • Review and Wrap up

Comments

Advantages—Good if under time pressure and you need to build a 
solid agenda from scratch.

Disadvantages—Very difficult in conflict-ridden or very 
complex situations.

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 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.

15 Critical Guidelines that Are Followed by Highly Effective Facilitators


In the role of facilitator, you can be worth your weight in gold by following these fifteen simple, yet critical guidelines.

Worth Your Weight in Gold

Worth Your Weight in Gold

Guidelines

  1. Session leaders must observe carefully and listen to all that the group says and does.  Be there!  Totally immerse your body, mind, and spirit in the process of the group.
  2. Recognize all group input and encourage participation.  Your ability to convey interest and enthusiasm in the group about the importance of the deliverable will be critical in your success as a session leader.
  3. Scan the group for nonverbal responses (including observers).
  4. Facilitation is a helping process.  Ask questions rather than lecturing the workshop participants.  Listen and get involved with your group.
  5. Stay on the task.  Never lose sight of the holarchy.  Avoid straying to other topics no matter how informative the topic may be or how much it may interest you or the group.  Let the participants help keep the group on course if you are a weak process policeman.
  6. Stay neutral.  Do not lose your neutrality.  Eliminate your personal bias and opinions from the discussion.  The objective is for the participants to provide answers or options, not you.
  7. Learn to expect hostility, but do not become hostile with your group or any participant.  You must develop an attitude of acceptance.  You may not agree necessarily with what is being said, but you can listen, accept, and record their answers and opinions.  Let the group evaluate the content.
  8. Avoid being the expert authority on the subject.  You can be an authority figure, but your role is to listen, question, enforce the process, or offer process alternatives.
  9. Put the participants on break at no longer than 90-minute intervals.  Be specific about the length of breaks, typically ten minutes.  Adhere to your times and always be punctual.
  10. Use breaks to free a discussion when it is deadlocked.  Breaks give the participants a chance to clear their minds and likely come to a new understanding.
  11. Do not let your personal prejudices interfere with your role as a session leader.  Let go of the need to win everyone over to your point of view.  The group will do the work.  You are there to serve the group.  Assist them in reaching the outcome.
  12. During breaks, arrange the flip chart pages, taped on the wall, to build a histogram of progress made in the workshop.
  13. During transitions and before you break for lunch or the end of the day, summarize the workshop progress and next steps.  Give the group a thought to ponder and commend them for the amount of work they have completed.
  14. Do not keep people too long (eight to nine hours are about as long as people can remain productive).
  15. Stop a workshop if the group is sluggish and difficult to control, even if they wish to continue.  Explain that, when people are burnt out, no progress occurs.

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 a facilitative leader.

Three Simple yet Precise Questions that Improve Group Clarity and Consensus Building


We have learned during facilitated meetings and workshops, that it’s not easy for participants to respond to broad questions like “How do you solve global hunger?”  While meaningful, the question’s scope is too broad (and perhaps vague) to stimulate specific, actionable (ie, SMART) responses like “We could convert eight abandoned mine shafts in Somalia to create temperature controlled food storage areas.”

Extemporaneous leaders also have a tendency to transition during meetings with broad questions like, “Are we OK with this list?”,  “Can we move on?”, or “Anything else?”.  Facilitate with prepared structure and precision by modifying your transitions with these three questions, modified to your own situation:

  1. Do we need to clarify anything? (scrub for clarity)Questions
  2. Do we need to delete anything? (scrub for relevancy or redundancy)
  3. Do we need to add anything to this list? (scrub for omissions)

The three detailed questions make it easier for meeting participants to analyze, agree, and move on.

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.

Related articles

Questions about Size Factors that Impact the Amount of Meeting Risk (2 of 5)


This is the second of a five-part discussion, providing a method for evaluating the relative risk of a meeting or workshop.

Method

The method follows the steps below:

  • Review the risk assessment questions from prior worksheets or those that follow.
  • Use the FAST risk analysis worksheets to capture your answers and compute a score.
  • Use this score as a basis for the risk-skill matching described in the risk-skill map section.

QuestionsSize Factors

SIZE FACTORS

The size factors measure the overall project size of effort, scope, and number of workshops.  This is an important factor in determining risk due to the complexity of planning and coordinating large projects and the required resources.

Project Life Cycle

All questions in this size section refer to the entire life span of the project your meetings support—initiation through implementation.

  1. Work Hours: Total work hours (1,000s) for the project? This question refers to the estimated effort in thousands of work hours to develop the complete system.
  2. Duration: What is the project’s estimated duration? This is the elapsed (calendar) time to complete the project.
  3. Number Projects: Number of projects supporting the initiative or program? If a staged or prototype project, how many stages?
  4. Dependency: Is there another project on which this project is likely or totally dependent? This question focuses on the “weakest link” theory.  It asks if the implementation has one key project that must go right above all others for the initiative to be successful.  If yes, does intuitive feel for the situation say the risk associated with that project is high?
  5. Interfaces: How many existing “systems” will the new solution interface? Count the number of existing, distinctly different, systems that will provide or receive information to or from the new solution.
  6. Workshop Quantity: Estimated number of workshops required for the project? Count the estimated number of different FAST workshops required to complete the project.
  7. Different Types: How many different types of workshops are required? Count the number of different types of workshop agendas required.  If the project requires six workshops all using the same approach, count only 1 (one).  If the project requires multiple approaches and different types of workshops, count as appropriate.
  8. Beginning Phase: In which phase are the workshops starting? Identify the beginning phase of the project.

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 a facilitative leader.

40 Proven Questions to Determine and Mitigate Meeting or Workshop Risk (1 of 5)


This two-part discussion provides a method for evaluating the relative risk of a meeting or workshop.

What is Risk?

Risk is exposure to the following consequences:

  • Failure to achieve benefits
  • Hardware and software incompatibility
  • Higher implementation costs
  • Longer implementation time
  • Performance that is less than expected

Risk is not “bad”—failure to understand risk is dangerous.

Risk Defined

Risk shows up at three significant levels in a project:

  1. Business risk is the potential exposure to the business for an incomplete, inappropriate, or late project.
  2. Project risk is the likelihood of a given project failing, missing timelines, falling short of delivery standards, or grossly exceeding its estimates.
  3. Technique risk is the potential for failure or major problems using a specific technique or tool in a given situation (ie, workshop or meeting methodology).

SourceRisk Over Timeline

We worked with Harvard Business School experts F. Warren McFarlan and James McKenney to create an algorithm that provides as assessment of meeting risk.

Meeting and Workshop Risk Components

A facilitated meeting or technique aggregates up to four discrete areas:

  1. Size—a measure of overall project effort, number of dependencies, and numbers and types of meeting or workshop sessions required.
  2. Complexity—a measure of the newness of the methodologies being used, the preexisting structure of the business requirements, and complexity of understanding the new requirements.
  3. Politics—a measure of the controversy surrounding the project, cooperation amongst the groups, and general tendency of the participants to involve political considerations in a solution.
  4. Customer Organization (ie, heterogeneity)—a measure of the size, location, and complexity of the customer organization and potential logistical problems.

Assess each area using the questions and templates that follow in part two. Meanwhile, continue reading with a discussion about mitigation actions.

When To Assess

Assess risk for every significant meeting or workshop.  Perform the assessment as part of the initial preparation.  Reassess risk for each stage or phase gate meeting, decision reviews, and look backs.  If meeting risk is not going down as you progress through the project life cycle, your meeting or workshop is likely facing additional trouble.

Mitigating Meeting Risk

Finding that a meeting or workshop is high risk is not enough.  You must do something to mitigate the risk.  Following are guidelines:

High Complexity

  • Structure more participants in your workshops.  Have a speaker (not yourself) stimulate the participants with prototyping ideas and then drive additional creativity to inspire innovation.

High Politics

  • Use a politically savvy session leader.  Develop consensus and vision building with management by conducting a management workshop to develop the purpose, scope, objectives, and vision for the new business, process, or system.  Complete this workshop first.

Large Project

  • Conduct four to five requirements gathering workshops and then have a review with senior management to see if still on track.  When scheduling workshops, schedule them from Tuesday through Friday and plan to finish on Thursday.  That ensures that the participants have cleared their calendars for Friday in case the workshop runs over—otherwise, they go 
home early.

Diverse Organization

  • Lead meetings in a similar fashion as you would for a large project.  Also, schedule numerous face-to-face visits or conference calls for the preparation interviews.

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 a facilitative leader.

 

Considerations on How to Facilitate between Europeans and Asians


Purpose

An alumnus wrote about preparing for an executive workshop between Europeans and Asians between two different companies. The deliverable intends to capture a strategy document of their alliance to work with each other in their supply chain. Specifically the alumnus inquired about anything in particular to avoid or encourage.

Specific Solution

Speak with the participants to confirm their explicit expectations and then manage accordingly. When conducting confidential, one-on-one interviews, participants will speak more openly about “anything in particular to avoid or encourage.”

General Considerations

  1. Icebreakers: Consider ice breaker activities that allow participants to share some of their social values, such as asking about a favorite childhood memory or describing their favorite holiday (ie, vacation) destination and activities.
  2. Names: Since an effective facilitator will not use people’s names, rather substitute open hands and eye contact to draw in participation and to pass the talking stick. During breaks and social times, or when discussing administrivia such as evening plans, strive to use people’s last names and titles, including respect toward academic and medical titles. During private introductions, handshakes are a reasonable default standard, perhaps with a slight bow—avoid hugging, arm humping, and shoulder thwacking as too much physical contact.
  3. Protocol: Emphasize the difference in roles. For example, we treat our parent different than we treat our children. We may treat customers different from suppliers. During the workshop, emphasize leaving titles and roles on the other side of the threshold so that everyone has permission to speak freely. When the Joint Chiefs meet, they may wear sweaters over their military stars, so that four-star generals do not claim superiority over three-star generals in a workshop environment. If the armed forces can encourage equality of voice, so can we.
  4. Punctuality: Punctuality is important. Keep your stated promises about when to start, including after breaks and meals. If not, your broken promise will frustrate participants and cause some to challenge the integrity of the session leader. If the session leader claims punctuality but permits delayed starting time, they may be seen as someone who cannot be trusted. Be sure to use FAST timers to get people to return from breaks and start on time. If necessary, offer a ten-minute break every fifty minutes, but start on time.
  5. Rhetoric: Avoid slang, colloquialisms, and American jargon. It is not uncommon for Europeans and Asians to speak in English and understand each other better than an American. While facilitating and providing reflection, stick closely to verbatim words and expressions rather than “interpreting.” If the participants felt there was a better term or expression, they would have used it the first time. Unless the participant asks for language assistance, be patient and avoid volunteering content, unless asked.
  6. Breakout Groups: Use breakout group frequently during the agenda, especially during the ideation step within brainstorming. Carefully plan your groups in advance, based on knowledge you obtain during interviews, and be certain to appoint a CEO (ie, chief easel officer) for each group. Strive to creatively assign group titles or names that harmonize with the theme of the workshop (eg, star constellations). Simply calling out 1,2, 3 indicates that the activity was not important enough to plan further. Understand methodologically that some times it is appropriate to create homogenous groups (ie, think alike) and other times it may be advantageous to create heterogeneous groups (ie, embrace pluralism).

Method

Be certain to secure pre-meeting buy-in about the purpose, scope, and deliverables from the workshop. Ideally, explain your agenda through a metaphor or analogy. Next, assure that the method will engage the participants and not drag on and bore them. If you keep them engaged and focused, you will clearly have made it easier for them to build and decide. Do not discount the importance of a formal review and wrap-up. Plan on an approach the group accepts in advance to manage action steps or roles and responsibilities. Invest some time in the FAST Guardian of Change so that they agree on their primary messaging to other executives and stakeholders at the conclusion of the workshop. Moreover, be sure to obtain some feedback on your performance, so that you may continuously improve your talents as an effective, facilitative leader.

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 MGRush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI).

How to Facilitate an After Action Review


Purpose

Here is a workshop approach for reviewing a project, program, or initiative.  While given various names, we will refer to this workshop as the After Action Review.  It provides a group reflection by those involved to learn what happened so that we can improve future performance.

The After Action Review has also been referred to with titles such as After-Action Debriefing, a Look Back, a Post Mortem, or a Hot Wash, among others.  The After Action Review ought provide a candid discussion of actual performance results compared to objectives.

The input and perspectives required are the engagement participants who have insight, observation, or questions that will help identify and correct the deficiencies, or leverage the strengths, of the completed project.  An After Action Review is not intended to critique, grade success, or failure.  Rather, it is intended to identify weaknesses that need improvement and strengths that might be sustained.

In a learning culture, collaborative inquiry and reflection are highly valued.  The US Armed Forces approach has five basic guidelines that govern its After Action Reviews, namely:

  1. No sugar coating
  2. Discover the “ground truth”
  3. No thick skins
  4. Take notes
  5. Call it like you see it

With an After Action Review, being open, candid, and frank is highly valued.  Not many groups are capable of complete candor, but it should be encouraged and expected.  Participants are asked to identify mistakes they made as well as observations about others.  Any other use of the confidential discussions should be discouraged or prohibited, such as performance evaluations.  Focus  on what can be learned, not who can be blamed.

This workshop typical takes from one to five days.  It may include twenty to thirty people or more, but not necessarily everyone at once, with participation spread out over the course of the workshop.

Agenda/  Project or Major Activity

Introduction/  Standard introduction with emphasis on the project objectives and impact of the project on the organizational holarchy, including key assumptions or constraints.

Success Objectives/  Results are compared to the SMART objectives.  What worked and hampered are captured as input for later discussion.  Other questions are asked about why certain actions were taken, how stakeholders reacted, why adjustments were made (or not), what assumptions developed, and other questions as appropriate.

Goals and Considerations/  Results are compared to the fuzzy goals and other considerations.  What worked and hampered are captured as input for later discussion.  Questions are asked about why certain actions were taken, how stakeholders reacted, why adjustments were made (or not), what assumptions developed, and other questions as appropriate.

What Worked & Hampered/  Input from above stimulates discussion about options and conditions to be leveraged in subsequent projects.

Issues and Risks/  Assess or build risk management plan and other next steps or actions (eg, Guardian of Change) by the team.

Wrap-up/  Standard FAST review and wrap-up

This workshop can handle more than twenty people, with frequent use of break out groups.  Do not hesitate to partition the workshop so that participants may come and go as required.  The approach is intended to help shift the culture from one where blame is ascribed to one where learning is prized, yet team members are willingly accountable.

Some ground rules and guidelines that have proven successful in past include:

  • Focus on the objectives first
  • Do not judge success or failure of individuals (ie; judge performance, not the person)
  • Encourage participants to raise any and all potentially important issues and lessons
  • Conduct consistently after all significant projects, programs, and initiatives

For learning organizations, it has been suggested that the following are critical to understanding successful After Action Reviews, namely:

  • Some of the most valuable learning has developed from the most stressful situations
  • Use facilitators who understand the importance of neutrality and do not lecture or preach
  • Transform subjective comments and observations into objective learning by converting adjectives such as “quick” into SMART criteria (ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Relevant, and Time-Based) such as “less than 30 seconds.”

Effective use of After Action Reviews should support a mindset in  organizations that are never satisfied with the status quo—where candid, honest, and open discussion evidences learning as part of the organizational culture.

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.

Related articles

Five Compelling Business or Organizational Reasons to Hold a Facilitated Session


Purpose

The most important action most people take every day is to make choices, to decide.  Productivity is amplified if decisions are properly made about when to work alone, speak with one other person, or to pull together a group of people, typically called a meeting.

The advantages to a facilitated meeting or workshop include:

  1. 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 any person or group with more options at its disposal makes higher quality decisions.
  2. 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.
  3. Richer results: by pooling skills and resources, diverse and heterogeneous groups develop more specific details and anticipate future demands, subsequently saving time and money in the project or program life cycle.
  4. 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.
  5. Transfer of ownership: facilitated sessions are oriented toward further action by creating deliverables that support follow-up efforts.  Professional facilitators use a method that builds commitment and support from the participants, rather than directing responsibility at the participants.

Description

Conducting facilitated sessions includes preparatory time, actual contact time during the session, and follow-up time as well.  Therefore, successful sessions depend upon clearly defined roles, especially distinguishing between the role of facilitator and the role of methodologist (that are also discrete from the role of scribe or documenter, coordinator, etc.).  Carefully managed sessions also embrace ground rules to ensure getting more done, faster.

Much effort may be provided before the session to ensure high productivity, including:

  • Researching both methodological options and content to be explored
  • Review and documentation of minutes, records, findings, and group decisions that affect the project being supported with this particular meeting or workshop session
  • Completion of individual and small group assignments prior to sessions

When conducted properly, meetings with groups of people are strenuous for everyone involved, which is why they may be called workshops or workouts.  Therefore, avoid an overly ambitious agenda and plan for at least two, ten-minute breaks every four hours. Use our FAST ten-minute timers to ensure that breaks do not extend to eleven or twelve minutes. Strive to provide dedicated resources, such as a facilitator professionally trained in structured methods.

Discourage unplanned interruptions, especially through electronic leashes. “Topless” meetings are increasingly popular, meaning no laptops or desktop devices (eg, smart phones) except for accessing content needed to support the session. “No praying underneath the table” is another expression used to discourage people from using their gadgets on their laps, presumably beyond the line of sight of others, when in fact, everyone can see what they are doing anyway. For serious consensual challenges or multiple day sessions, sessions should be held away from the participants’ everyday work site to minimize interruptions and everyday job distractions.

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 Structure the Introduction to Meetings and Workshops


Three Components

Just as the life-cycle of a meeting or workshop has three steps (ie, Get Ready, Do It, and Review), we find that within each meeting, three components need to be carefully managed to ensure success.  All agendas should include a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Many meetings fail because they neglect to include all three components.  Even a lousy book or movie includes a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

Planning Predictable Results

Manage (and rehearse) your introductions carefully.  You want to make sure that your participants feel that their meeting has clear purpose and impact. Remember, to use the integrative and plural first person of ‘we’ or ‘us’ and avoid the singular ‘I’ so that you can begin to transfer responsibility and ownership to the participants since they own the results.

Have your room set-up to visually display the purpose, scope, and deliverable of any workshop.  If you cannot convert these three guiding principles into 50 words or less (for each), then you are not ready yet to launch the workshop. Let us repeat, if you do not know what the deliverable looks like, then you do not know what success looks like.

Consider displaying the purpose, scope, and deliverable on large Post-It paper, along with a set of ground rules appropriate to your politics and situation.  The following sequence is typically optimal for a robust introduction.

  1. Introduce yourself and explain the importance of the meeting, how much money or time is at risk if the meeting fails. Try to avoid using the word “I” after this moment. It is tough to drop the ego, but at least be conscious whenever you do use the first person singular.
  2. Present the purpose, scope, and deliverable and seek assent.  Make sure that all the participants can live with them. If they can’t, you probably have the wrong agenda prepared since it is designed specifically for your deliverable.
  3. Cover any of the administrivia to clear participants’ heads from thinking about themselves, especially their own creature comforts. Explain how to locate the lavatories, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and other stuff particular to your group and situation.
  4. Cover the agenda and carefully explain the reason behind the sequence of the agenda steps, and how they relate to each other. Relate all of the agenda steps back to the deliverable so that participants can envision how completing each agenda step feeds content into the deliverable, thus showing progress for their efforts as they get closer to completing the meeting.
  5. Share some (not more than eight to twelve) ground rules. Consider supplementing your narrative posting of ground rules with some audio-visual support, including some humorous clips, but keep it brief and appropriate. See your FAST alumni site for some wonderful downloads.
  6. For a kick-off, have the executive sponsor explain the importance of the participants’ contributions and what management hopes to accomplish. For on-going workshops, consider a project update but do not allow the update or executive sponsor to take more than five minutes.  Your meeting is not a mini-Town Hall meeting (unless it actually is).
  • NOTE:  For multiple day workshops, remember to cover the same items at the start of subsequent days (except executive sponsor or project team update).  Additionally, review content that was built or agreed upon the day(s) before and how it relates to progress made in the agenda.

The Middle

The agenda steps between the Introduction and Wrap comprise the middle steps. Most of our other blogs are focused on what you can do between the introduction and wrap to help a group build, decide, and prioritize.  We also provide a separate blog that deals exclusively with a robust approach to the Wrap-up.  See How to Manage the Parking Lot and Wrap-up Meetings for HOW TO manage the end of a meting or workshop.

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 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 Manage the Parking Lot and Wrap-up Meetings


At the conclusion of your meeting or workshop, review the outputs and deliverable (eg; decision, actions, information, priorities, reports, etc.), created during the meeting. Ensure that the pieces fit together and form one cohesive product. Use the documentation generated during your meeting to structure a quick walk-through. Review it, do not relive it. If the walk-through includes process (ie, a bunch of sequenced activities), insert some real-life examples to see how the sequence of activities performs.

Action Items

GANTT Chart

Use an action item step in every planning or problem-solving workshop.  Have your group list the action items that they have already agreed to or will undertake—starting with tomorrow. List the items, clarify them, have someone take responsibility, and have the group assign a deadline (month, day, year) for the action to have been completed.  Consider applying the RASI tool (Transform Your Responsibility Matrix Into a GANTT Chart) to convert your action items into a project plan.

Absence or silence is unacceptable during assignments so do not permit making assignments to someone who is not attending the meeting, either live or virtually.

Open Issues
(Parking Lot)

There are various ways of describing open issues that develop during meetings. Other terms used by organizations include Issue Bin, Coffee Pot, Water Cooler, Elevator Speech, Limbo, Chestnuts, Popcorn, and our favorite, Refrigerator (a term used in the Middle East because the items temporarily stored there can be preserved and cooked up later). Regardless of the term you use, or the phrase that is embraced by your organizational culture, open issues need to be managed properly rather than left unattended as a list of items without context or assigned next steps.

Complete your open issues step after the review of completed items and assignment of action items. During the meeting, record open issues as they arise. Now, review each open issue. First make sure the open issue remains valid. Over the course of meetings, some open issues are no longer “open” and if so, they can be deleted or marked accordingly (eg, OBE = Overcome by Event, or taken care of). Append each open issue with the following:

  • The issue status—along with a complete, coherent statement of description
  • Who is responsible for communicating back to the group on the status of the open issue (frequently viewed as who ‘will do’ or complete the open issue)
  • When completion is expected (month, day, year)
  • How progress or completion will be communicated to your group of participants
  • Give the file a name so that future ‘searches’ are made much easier
  • Consider email size limitations, file naming conventions, and file-server security restrictions

Alternatively

To – By – For

A simpler method for managing open issues is called the “2 by 4.”  Meant to connote a standard piece of lumber, the method suggests a quick, tripartite approach—namely:

  1. To:  Do what ?
  2. By:  Who and when ?
  3. For:  What purpose or benefit ?

Evaluation

Obtain comments on the method you used during your meeting (ie, the agenda steps) and your (ie, facilitator or session leader) performance.Use the evaluation questionnaire described in the FAST Continuous Improvement section or create two “plus” and “delta” columns to capture what went well and what could change to improve the next meeting. Others terms used to describe the “Plus/Delta” tool include OFI or an Opportunity for Improvement, “Benefits & Concerns” (also known as the “B’s & C’s”), “Star/Delta”, and Appreciative (+) or Opportunistic (-).

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 MGRush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

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