Meetings Category

Just Governance

Measurement, Meetings, Organisations, Teams No Comments

My colleague David Dowe and I were chatting recently.  We got onto thinking about what it takes for an enterprise to be ‘governed’ well and to avoid governing systems going wrong (or at least not work well enough).


There is a wide variety of ways organisations are established and led from owner run SMEs to the largest offices of State. ‘Governance’ is more likely to be explicitly discussed and not just assumed where there are formal structures such as Company Boards with non-executives, Charities with Trustees or campaign Steering Committees.


For many years now, there has been a bit of a fashion for ‘Good Governance’.  What does that mean – and how can it be assured?


In answering this question, we have drawn on our experience of working in all sorts of environments over the last couple of years: from technology accelerators to school systems; professional associations to conservation charities; improvement projects to academic institutions.


So, this is our governance ‘top ten’:

1)   The FRE framework for organisational success brings three fundamental roles for governing groups to mind.  The first part of FRE is thinking of Focus: is the purpose of the organisation shared? Is the strategy clear – is it understood? Has the governing group set out its intentions (and limitations) for the wider staff to work toward and within? Second in the FRE framework is taking Responsibility: do governing boards avoid overstepping the mark and resist micro-managing the executive? The third part of FRE is the Example of senior leaders, including board members or trustees, in setting the cultural tone for an enterprise.  This is a crucial, and often neglected, role of those involved in the governance of an organisation.  The remainder of this checklist probes further into this territory of direction, scope and culture.


2)   Governing groups are often expected to be many things: a sounding board giving advice; maybe providing a sort of litmus test before an idea is rolled out; and frequently a decision-making body too.  It is a heady mix trying to be a critical friend to the executives and part of checks and balances in securing the best decisions and way forward.  It is necessary to be clear on the scope of the governing roles – and to be sure that the governing group has the skills, and more important, the attention and awareness to do the job.  Is the group clear what its primary purposes are? Does it spend time giving an overall direction with an overall strategy?  Does it recruit and support a good CEO and then give them a clear sense of their autonomy and limitations, including how their performance will be reviewed?   How far is the governing group involved in assuring itself that overall goals are being achieved, the finances are secure and the best possible organisational culture is established?


3)   There are many cautionary tales of governing groups failing to take an interest, or get an accurate impression of, organisation culture (for example).  Many boards govern through dashboards and metrics – but organisation leaders can game the measures and Boards find them hard to discern.


4)   The mechanics of governing group meetings can be inefficient with an astonishing amount of managerial time spent preparing for board meetings, reporting, following up issues.  There can be a degree of gaming and a seeming disconnect from the actual business sometimes.


5)   Finding ways to keep in touch with both team delivery and organisation performance without overstepping the line into micro-management is a key balance and challenge for governing groups.  Boards tend to deal in papers and presentations.  It is very hard to really understand what staff are feeling and know whether the CEO is doing a great job or not. Their information often comes from others inside and outside of the organisation which introduces a time lag.  Finding ways for the Board to get early warnings of unrest, confusion and non-attainment are important. Useful indicators can be the experience of interacting with staff who are only occasionally and unexpectedly encountered further into the organisation, spending time out and about and being alert to ‘weak signals’ (e.g. through complaints).


6)   In doing its difficult work, is the governing group willing to have Critical conversations not just around issues of strategy and organisation process but also culture?  For true consensus to emerge important issues need to be named and given sufficient air time on frequently packed agendas.  In shaping the agenda and discussion it is important to recall previous discussions and reports – not just taking ‘matters arising’.  Finding ways to remember previous promises made by the executive and have time to explore and question that productively and collaboratively.


7)   Given these challenges, there are often choices about how to arrange (or, frequently, rearrange) governing systems.  In our experience, there tends to be an over focus on the structural options at the expense of the behavioural.  For example, a committee structure is more likely to be reviewed than the sort of decision making and scrutiny discussions to achieve a real improvement.  There is a sort of ‘Inverse Attention Law’: where the changes that are most needed are less likely to be considered. Using a biological metaphor, sometimes the ‘Anatomy’ (that is, the structure of a board or its sub groups) needs changing, but more often it is the ‘Physiology’ of how the existing parts work together that is crucial.  Getting the governing groups ways of working right is often more necessary than the overall wiring.


8)   The role of the Chair is crucial. There are many high-powered Boards where strong personalities are quite deliberately given a platform to speak as separate voices.  It is possible for the management team to take away different opinions on direction or performance. It is easy for chairs to either let all the voices speak (wishing to be seen as inclusive) or become too dictatorial.   Pulling together a wider ranging debate into a clear corporate line can be difficult to achieve.  This summing up is sometimes avoided to allow personal agendas to be pursued through the ‘smoke and mirrors’ after a meeting.  Chairs are often chosen for their sector knowledge.  However, the key role is to manage a good discussion and lead the development of a strong team (where you can disagree well en route to agreeing a collective line that all are publicly committed to, and where the group holds each other to using the best possible behaviours).


9)   It is possible to invest too much power in the board, council or steering committee.  Sometimes board members are very high powered and sit on lots of governing groups, possibly collecting too many appointments and not having sufficient time to give to their role.  So it can be useful to find other ways to improve the advisory architecture so that checks and balances are in place.  Setting up working groups and advisory groups can be used to show organisations are engaging more widely – but they can run into the many dozen, leading to a lack of consensus or good ideas get lost.


10)   Given all this, what is a useful way forward?  Well quite simply, take time to review how you are doing.  Be prepared to question the “Inverse Attention Law”: the structure might need rejigging and processes rewiring.  However, it is likely that securing the best behaviours will be a key task: achieving the physiology rather than the anatomy.  Do you meet well?  Do you have good conversations?  It might seem a bit prosaic, but reviewing how your meetings go can be a good place to start, using something like this assessment – which can be presented in a variety of ways including as a wheel, and can be tracked over time.  It is a simple first step: governing made easy.


So “Just Governance”?  It is not necessarily simple and straightforward.  And yet it needs to be thought through and fair.  It can then provide amazing value added oversight with a light touch.  Helping the right things to happen, and helping avoid things going wrong.



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What DEE-cisions?

Do, Improvement, Meetings, Organisations, Reflect, Teams No Comments

Imagine the scene. A producer pitching the idea for a film: in Africa, people are living insecure and impoverished lives; thousands of people decide to start an exodus to Europe; they walk and walk and walk, and they talk to the media covering their movement – “we are poor because you are rich”; those in the North are fearful of the mass migration from the South.

The surprise about this film? Well, firstly it is has already been made. By the BBC. A long time ago. In the 1980s a pitch something like the one imagined above actually happened. ‘The March’ was made with leading figures in front and behind the lens. It was broadcast over 25 years ago.

Even so, the surprise is not that it was so prophetic – the story remains prescient.

Rather, it is striking that the film is almost totally forgotten. It has never been repeated. You can’t buy it online – even through the BBC bookshop. It has just about disappeared, other than a couple of YouTube clips, for example.


This film was an insight – into insecure lives and the challenge of economic development.  Today, in our work (and lives) we are offered insights all the time. Sometimes our colleagues or bosses or contacts expect us to act.

We have four options in any situation:

First, we can IGNORE the information and time to decide.

Or, we might DO something. Possibly instinctively.

These are the two main responses. Both can be due to cognitive biases. The complexity or anxiery might just be too much for our busy life – so we ignore it. Or we are a bit discombobulated and just want to do something – so we rush to action.  Either way, we may (over) rely on our intuition.

Or possibly we want to take our time. Our third option is EXPERIMENTATION. We might want to give something a go. We might wish to try something out.

The fourth and final possible choice is EXPLORATION – wanting to find out more, or reflect.

When viewers saw ‘The March’, my hunch is most ignored the implications. Maybe it seemed too fanciful. Or worrying. Some probably signed up to the campaigns for third world debt relief that were popular at the time. Others maybe chose to give supporting a particular charity a go. Some others might have decided to read more about the issues and think about how best to respond.

In our organisations we can manage our DEE-cisions by:

1) being totally clear of the criteria for ignoring a topic or possible choice. Maybe it is the responsibility of another group. However, ignoring should be used sparingly.  Often issues that are important are not on the radar. Methods like ‘scenario planning’ help shift some issues from being tuned out to ones that have further effort put into them – i.e. making the shift from ignoring to exploration or maybe even experimentation.

2) Deciding and acting is important for progress. Even here, ‘do and review’ is both poetry and philosophy. When will you take time to see if your ‘no-brainer’ decision had indeed worked?

3) Setting up some trials is at the heart of experimentation. What ‘improvement cycles’ or ‘prototypes’ can you try? The 90 day cycle is really valuable – what will you take stock of in a Quarter? Or 30 days? Or even after a week? This tweet remains a very popular tool for managing this spirit of trial (and error) and taking stock.  Experimentation builds momentum.

4) I do believe in the ‘art of procrastination’ in decision making – and this is where exploration can really come in.  The ‘art’ thing is the difference between ‘ignoring’ and ‘exploring’ – the difference between unecessary or unproductive delays and choosing deep, insightful thought. Keeping an eye on a topic or deciding to come back to an issue before making a decision can very helpful – or it can be avoidance. A symptom of a troubled group is continually revisiting and changing prior judgments – very sloppy governance indeed. But if it is well managed (sparingly, with strict deadlines and some effort) then exploration is helpful time to ponder and consider – and helps limber up our thinking for a future experiment or action.

So why not try triaging your next set of decisions in the group you work with. What can you ignore? But most importantly, what would DEE have you decide? What should you DO? What could you EXPERIMENT with? What might you EXPLORE a bit more?

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The Exchange (from an exchange of ideas)

Meetings, Teams No Comments

Just after the millennium I was planning a conference with a group of colleagues. In those days I called it ‘producing’ an event if I wanted to sound ‘hip’. Now I might say curating an experience! (Both are probably a bit naff, but let’s leave that for another time).

Anyhow, I expected about 150 people. But we started differently and that created a whole chain of events that led to a conference format unlike any of the others I had become well known for delivering during the 1990s.

What was the first step? The letter (email actually) that went out to invite participants to apply to come was unlike a typical one. Firstly it asked people to come only if they were really enthusiastic and ready to share their interest and create further excitement with others. Places were not limited to a few per organisation, which was normal, with the expectation of director level attendance. So secondly, in those days before social media, those who received the letter were asked to pass it on to others who might be interested, whatever their role. Thirdly, as the ‘price’ of entry those registering were asked to note their offers and requests on a registration form: they had to clearly state what they wanted to get (learn) and give (as ideas to share in the coffee queue or a table top discussion or a poster presentation).

The result? Over 650 applied. Fortunately we had to stop there as we had just bust the capacity for the venue, as usually configured. We didn’t even send one chasing up invite – again the norm for that sector at that time.

So, we then shifted gear to discovering a way to make it work, and came up with a format I still call Exchange. We focused on answering a question: “What if we could redesign the traditional conference: taking out the boring bits and the need for everyone to sit together at the same time?”

The Exchange method involves
a) A blend of more familiar conference formats: Open Space, trade fair and academic conference
b) Ensuring things are creatively captured – with artists, video – so those not there (and no one can attend everything), can get a sense of the whole, the proceedings.
c) Making use of music and media to create the right mood –including humour.
d) Promoting responsibility for finding your way – making good choices about what to go to, and how long to stay…so the meeting is self-organising within a clear framework and set of written briefings.
e) Simplifying catering – going continuous, brown bag…
f) Using overflow spaces if necessary – a barn and a marquee in this instance (sometimes linked by video)
g) And largely designing out plenary sessions (a couple of optional ‘magazine style’ fringe sessions in the round where most came, gathered round, sat on the floor)

I am happy to share the photos and video from this event – still quite moving getting on for 15 years later.

Subsequent innovations over the other Exchange events I helped with over the next 5+ years led to
1) Electronic systems to register, share ideas and pick and mix your own agenda.
2) Café sessions as an option – world, knowledge.
3) TED style punchy presentations (in the days before TED!).
4) Innovation with voting methods.
5) Motivational inputs with speakers, actors, music.
6) Introductory and ‘Masterclass’ level training – plus learning sets, co-consultancy
7) Visits and ‘raids’ to near by places.
8) Use of the emerging technologies and social media to link in colleagues and site remotely.

Whilst these days the technology for this sort of process is getting easier (especially with Twitter etc), all of these improvements arose from engagement with a classic design team. There are other things that more recent ‘exchange’ conversation with design groups are raising: how to add in a simulation or some of the ideas from this resource.

So the key for success?
a) Inviting passion, questions and contribution in those coming.
b) A Design Team to imagine what might be and to challenge assumptions – iterating and developing the ideas as they go
c) A bespoke approach – cherry picking the best and most useful of other tools and methods.

Fundamentally, the overall lesson in the success of this story is the innovation that invented a new format. And at the heart of this innovation was being deeply curious about
1) How could we say yes to all – we did build it and they did come! So, we spent time imagining ways to host all (including an option that involved a trek outside for some – a walk and talk with a task that connected to the overall theme).
2) How to make it a memorable (yet recognisable) meeting by copying and reusing elements from other formats – it was fresh and familiar at the same time. Tried and trusted methods were combined in new ways.

So, the open and respectful exchange of ideas in the design process led to The Exchange.


Responsible…for the conference call?

Meetings No Comments

You probably saw this funny illustration of a conference call earlier this year.

What it doesn’t pick up is the even more frustrating system that is sometimes used!

The video assumes the dial in method.

The other is the ‘dialled in’ – where some poor person (often a hapless PA) dials people in to the clever switchboard computer that connects the voices. The downside? The need to keep redialling as those on mobile phones keep losing signal strength or when someone is not available.

The most robust system? The one with higher responsibly. The dial in one.

A useful metaphor for most organisations – decentralising power is likely to increase performance…giving control to the margins, to the team.

…promoting responsibility for customer service, strategy, team performance – rather than centralised action and mandates.

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The perspective of the rear view mirror…

Engagement, Meetings No Comments

Getting on for 10 years ago I had an idea.

Blogging + Photos = Photos to Make you think (PTMYT).

This was before shifts in technology were heralded with the iPhone…

So then it became…

Blog + Photos + Smartphone = BOOM …you know the ‘social’ answer…Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter etc.

And the reason for sharing this?

Not for how I missed my calling as a social media billionaire…

Rather, I am not a fan of ‘icebreakers’.

However, in many events, for many years, I note how groups have found it energising (or at least cathartic) to a start with this ‘setting the scene’ exercise:
1. In pairs
2. What has happened (over the last x years, or in y sector) that has surprised you?
3. What was predicted (assumed or widely anticipated) that has not come to pass?
4. Shout out some of the most striking (and surprising!) findings
5. Capture to screen

This is a method that works very well in a strategy retreat or scenario workshop.

And it works well in many team development, service improvement and conflict resolution situations too.

Ps If you have read this far, then this year old blog on ‘pictures’, might interest you.

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To vote or not to vote…or, at least, HOW to vote: Heads, shoulders, knees and toes (well thumbs, fingers, movement and technology)

Measurement, Meetings No Comments

When was the last time you were in a meeting when something was put to the vote? If you work in Government you probably see a lot of voting. Or you might work somewhere where the leader ‘senses’ the group view. Maybe you lead a team where you decide, so don’t really look for a majority view. I have written about voting in a musical context even! In a ‘workshop’ or facilitated meeting voting has a particular usefulness – and can be fun too.

Helping explore the range of opinion in a group is a core facilitation skill. Voting methods help achieve an understanding of where other people are on a particular issue. And, importantly, only rarely is voting used for decision making. However, polling methods can be popular for the life they bring to a meeting – both in terms of the highlighting of certain ideas and the kinaesthetic action that most votes involve (you have to move something for all of them).

Voting is a useful tool to learn how to deploy – and is suitable for groups of any size, though especially for larger groups where the issue of helping individual ‘voice’ is particularly important and where the meaning of silence can’t be assumed (as assent, difference, reflection time etc).

There are three parts to good voting. You might imagine these as a 3 legged stool, that would topple over without all three parts:
1. The crafting of good questions,
2. The choice of an appropriate voting method and
3. Knowing how to get a useful discussion of the results.

This blog is focused mainly on the repertoire of methods (the second part). However, the first part ‘stool’ is important – posing a good questions requires incisive listening to get the topic right and clear communication so what you are checking is understood. Sometimes a group can get lost trying to agree the question to vote on. This might indicate something of the complexity and contentiousness of the issues – or the failure of the facilitator to ‘make it easy’ for the group!

[If you want to know more about crafting a good question have a look here.

The Opportunity of a good questions comes from
a. The right Orientation – as in Heron, are you supporting, challenging, opening up…
b. A clear Purpose – The famous Kipling poem gives some options for how to start a question from why to where, what to who, when to how, (as in ‘how do you do?’). However, sometimes the best first word in a question is ‘given’ or ‘in light of’ etc…such as “Thinking of the ideas presented so far in this blog, what do you rate as your degree of engagement in what you are reading (___/10).”
c. What Power words open up the mind and get the creative juices going: critical, simplest, significant, challenging, relevant…and any other adjectives can be used.
And remember to think through the response format: how far will any question be a few categories (eg in response to a proposal, such as “This day is going well – yes, no, bit of both, no idea”) or pick up a numeric score (“out of 10, 10 being high”).]

The third leg of the ‘stool’ remains important. Even if the question is powerful and useful, and the voting method is engaging and illuminating too, there might be a failure to sufficiently discuss the insights from the results. Alternatively the discussion can go on too long.

So, back to the second leg (or part) of good voting: choosing the right voting method…

Voting is often assumed to be useful in helping a group decide – but most organisations and events are not democracies. Some people’s views matter more than others when it comes to agreeing action (the far right of the decision making diamond). However, in a group session voting can help ‘divine’ the group view. The purpose here is to inform subsequent thinking and discussion. A bit like the Delphi Method, the opinions that are seen more clearly in a vote give members a chance to re-calibrate their opinion.

Voting helps in the exploring. It can be used on ‘process’ issues as well as the content of meeting – eg to test acceptance of any agenda change. For example, using SPOG  you might use a vote to check if some vocal members of the group are representative of the whole.

Voting is useful in helping keep plenary sessions lively, see this.

A number of low-tech methods include:

1. The Traditional: arm up and down (with the possible twist of using two hands or stretching if you REALLY agree).
2. The Bobbing: people standing up and down in response to the question.
3. The Caesar: thumbs up and down – or wavering in the middle.
4. The Goldilocks test: eg too warm, too cold, just right.
5. Giving the finger(s) – showing your score to a question (out of ten, five) with your fingers.
6. The Sticky Strip: dots, thumbs up stickers, arrows, gold stars (NB – you can allocate a fixed number of stickies per person, or allow colleagues to ‘use all they need’) .
7. The Anonymous: hand in a piece of paper on arrival or on the way to the break (to summarise and feedback later on). Other ways to collect these bits of can involve throwing in a screwed up ball to be caught in a bin – or making them into paper planes to come to the front.
8. Balls in buckets: place a ball (or other object, like a rolled up piece of paper or cork) in a receptacle labelled to indicate a particular view.
9. The Poster: getting a sub group to agree their score to a vote on poster – before feeding it back to the whole group.
10. The Human Likert Scale: standing on a line (eg from 1-10 or low to high or Fear to Hope etc).
11. The Run-around (or the Human Histogram) – With places for those giving a particular number to stand (see p24 here).  A version of this is to explore the number of ‘Ayes’ ‘Noes’ and ‘Abstentions’ as per the political division process.
12. The Clap-o-meter: based on the loudest clap (to explore degrees of support from ‘pitiful’ to ‘massively enthusiastic’)
13. The Voting Card: which can be used in a variety of formats and ways. Please let me know if you want some of the idenk cards  f.o.c, or want to know the sorts of ways they can be used – from RAG ( to supporting wonky tables : )

This is probably not a definitive list of lower tech options. I’d be interested in the methods you use and can imagine (such as sitting in certain sections of a room, depending on your opinion; signalling your view with your body language). Some methods favour certain sorts of questions (eg hands up and down for those questions with a few fixed categories, to scales from 1-10 when using fingers or standing on a line).
It is worth noting that most of these are not anonymous. In groups where trust is low, then the insight might be questionable. Also, and more importantly, any method that allows colleagues to see what others think before they declare their result runs the risks of contagion (or groupthink). Asking people to all vote at the same time (when using hands) – or think hard to clarify their thoughts before moving to stick dots or walking standing in a particular place – can help.

Some of the methods require no props, others require some investment and packing in advance (eg voting cards, pre-prepared voting sheets). All voting requires some attention to the necessary ‘kit’ to capture the results and insights – from a camera to pre-prepared slides and spreadsheets to swiftly bring up the results for discussion during the meeting – or to feed back in the record. Even a pen and paper summary of a vote can be interesting when photographed and projected up.

As well as these low tech methods, there are some electronic options too:
14. The e-survey: getting a vote in advance (or on arrival or by going online in breaks). Note it is possible to then repeat these scores in low tech votes (or repeat and capture on review cards too).
15. The xls: getting people to fill in a pre-questionnaire (often an assessment of some sort).
16. Electronic voting: the is a very common method, but regularly used very poorly – with unimaginative questions and insufficient discussion: hence, the stool falls over! Try coming up with provocative questions (such as word association: “I say leadership, you think dictator, where, brilliant, pants…”) with engaging, plain English categories (“I have absolutely no idea” or “I have lost the will to live”).
17. Tweet: counting tweets to specific hash tags – or text numbers
18. The Apps: the more fashionable end of e-voting, such as Poll Daddy.

Beware: these electronic ones can seem attractive (and regularly appeal to leaders who commission events), but tend to cost more and are harder to use ‘in the moment’. They are best used when they can pass the Heineken Test: achieving something no other method can (such as handing complexity, cross tabulation etc).

And note, the GrandDaddy of digital insight Hans Rosling has gone a bit analogue recently, with his plastic boxes. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple with methods that are easier to amend and busk.

So, overall, voting provides a way of engaging head, heart and hands – and doing it in a way that helps a group to move through the ‘Decision Diamond’.

And…which ideas did you find most useful here…vote now…



Options for avoiding ‘death by feedback’

Facillitation, Meetings No Comments

In my facilitation training I am often asked what my ‘nightmares’ are. I find that hard to answer, but I do know the things I think about a lot.

These are the issues which I have worked on the most.  A few of these ‘points I ponder’ include:
1) Very ‘introverted’ groups – I now make sure I give people lots of private time to think.
2) Long post lunch plenary sessions – I use voting and humour and physical activity to keep it lively.
3) Very long panel discussions – I use controversy or comedy. I use buzz group conversations to surface any questions (to avoid the long silences that can happen when opening the floor to a large, unsure group – silences that can depress, further dampen or unsettle a group). Some colleagues like to pump prime a few people to lead off with comments and questions from the wider group. I find that a bit artificial.
4) Teach or communicating something I know only very shakily (eg directions, a concept) – I get someone else who knows, to do it!

One issue I think about a lot is how to ensure all plenary feedback is successful. In most large meetings there are times when small groups meet. And after that there is often the expectation that there is some sort of report back.

Some of the options I think about at this time of plenary expectation (and risk) include:
a) Is feedback really needed? Maybe participants will be happy to find out what happened over tea. Or you could just ask for one point from each group. This will then create time and space for other ways of working – such as the neglected Q&A or reflection (“what have you learnt; what is bothering you; what is the single key issue we need to crack” etc).
b) How can feedback be focused and brought to life? I like the use of posters to focus both group work and feedback. As well as a gallery of charts with a host to explain them, do consider getting photos of each poster on a screen and asking a rapporteur to point out a couple of key points. If the posters ask for images/doodles, you have a natural discussion point. Getting a question to put to the vote (and discussion) from each group is useful too.
c) Might asking each group feeding back to use photos and bullet points on a slide or two help?
d) Would a ‘fishbowl’ with representatives from each group be more interesting (due to the theatricality of the moment)?
e) If a design team has been working on the event, then their involvement can mean there is more ownership and a better vibe. These groups are often about 10% of the whole, so the ripple effect in terms of concentration, interest and buzz can make a very big difference.

Have fun experimenting!

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The sound of (more than) one hand clapping

Feedback, Meetings No Comments

There are (at least) 10 uses of applause in a conference:

1) To thank a speaker (“let’s applaud…”)
2) To appreciate someone you have just done group work with (“let’s acknowledge…”)
3) To reach out to someone who has just frozen in ‘stage fright’
4) To encourage someone stumbling in a language that is not their own
5) To acknowledge the whole group
6) To vote (noting the relative volume)
7) To express frustration (the slow clap)
8) To warm up (clapping more than just hands)
9) As part of a listening or co-ordination game

I was at a meeting where nearly all of these were used at one time or another.

And at one point someone said “at the end of the day we are all here to make money”. Most nodded vigorously. A few clapped.

Then something happened.  There was a spontaneous round of applause.  And I was I was left thinking “what a lovely clap”. Which one? Clap 3.

No noble purpose in sight. Money was in focus. And yet there was care…for a stranger. At the mic.  Stuck in the headlights. Frozen with fear when it was their turn to speak.  Helped out of that hole by the generous applause of the group.

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My Moderation Checklist

Facillitation, Meetings No Comments

I was speaking with a friend and client earlier. We were chatting through our respective approaches to moderation.

After some syntactical knowledge exchange we came up with the checklist – which regular readers know will have made me very happy.

If you are booked to ‘moderate’ are you clear what you being asked to do?  Do they want you to facilitate, for example, see this tweet – the big difference being how far you suggest the agenda and lead pre-work such as surveys and speaker coaching…and maybe the propensity to split a large group into smaller conversations too.

And are you clear what sort of moderator the client is expecting – a sage, joker or host? And can you do what they are asking – best to say no at the start than be found out as not very funny or wise!

1) Prepare well
– Do you know how the speakers have been briefed (what have they been asked to do, for how long, is there breathing space between them for you to use for a comment, humorous aside, summary etc?). The bigger and more formal the meeting the more important it is for all speakers to have been rehearsed…by the event company probably, though you might want to get involved too, which can cause tensions with others who don’t see the importance of this (both speakers and conference organisers).
– What is your pre event routine…depending where you are on our reactions assessment, things like making sure you sleep well or do not arrive with a coffee OD after a party the night before, really matter. Personally I like to try and get 8 hours sleep, go for a run, do a short meditation and visualise the day – all before getting on site 2 hours before it is due to kick off.  You can see I try to get to bed early the night before!
– Know your contingencies – for example if the day is flat or you go over time…use a buzz group or shorten a Q&A.

2) Know how you will set the tone for the whole meeting.
– First things are fateful and what you say and do in the first 10 minutes really, really matters. If you run through housekeeping and just introduce the first speaker the die is cast, the day is lost – the meeting is almost certain to be passive and dull unless you are lucky to have totally brilliant speakers.
– As an expert moderator you might want to include your SCQ early on. In our Brilliant Thinking Made Easy course Ross shares the Minto Pyramid. This starts with Situation, Complication and Question. You might wish to outline what you’re hoping to discover as you listen to the days proceedings – you can then keep referring back to what is emerging for you and keep asking the group about it too.
– As a performer you might want to tell some jokes – and even other types of moderator might want to find some smirkful segue
– As a community builder finding out a few things with a show of hands can make a huge difference even when you don’t have time for any sort of small group discussion that would meet the facilitation principle of “all use their own voices in the first 10 minutes”. For example, my ‘human pie chart process’ asks who has travelled the furthest, what first languages are spoken, who knows less than 10 people and who over half, what job roles and organisation types are represented etc.

3) Keep track
– Keep an eye on time – are you on schedule for breaks, key time points?  Do you know where you have flexibility to catch up? (eg Q&A sessions, long breaks etc)
– Do track speakers as they work through any slides – reminding a speaker who looks like they are going very slow at around half way through their allotted time.
– Do notice and use in real time what is happening in social media about the event, for example hashtag comments on Twitter. These sort of illustrations make great segue!

4) Managing conversations
– Are you a fan of Buzz groups – these can work even in large events. But in the wrong hands (or at the wrong event) are a bit naff.
– What about setting a question for the group to take to coffee – and asking for a few responses to it later?
– And what about asking people to hand in questions, comments to you on paper (a sort of conversation with you!) – you can read out some on arrival. You can even get them to try and throw them in as paper planes for a prize if you are feeling playful.
– I am not a fan of stacking Q&A to the end of a whole morning or afternoon…I sometimes suggest what I call the “seminar sandwich” – with Q&A or table work etc every two speakers….
– The degree of ambient light in the room (natural or artificial matters)…the more light the more you are signalling interaction and less a show. Sometimes those working on the AV side of an event don’t get it when you ask for more house lights. Some clients like the theatrical darkness too. By the way, so do I for some things (eg a selection of photos with music before a start, a video after a break etc).

5) Knowing how to manage panel discussions
– This is the hardest thing for most moderators – especially after lunch! However a lively and interesting panel can be THE event highlight.
– Be clear how far this is a broadcast show or really a chance to engage the audience. Panel discussions are more of a “sell and tell” event format, less of an “engage and shape” one – so if you don’t think it is relevant say so and find other uses for the time (NB though, a ‘pure’ moderator doesn’t challenge the client agenda and ‘merely’ seeks to bring it to life).
– I recommend choosing a TV or Radio interviewer (news anchor, chat show host etc) you admire and who you think has a relevant style, and try to imagine what they would do – tone of voice, sort of interactions, how they play guests off each other. Give it a go.
– Do you want to play it nude or natty! Do you want to dive straight into the discussion or start with some witty CV summaries…”And in her last/on twitter job Lisa said…” to kick it off.
– Try to avoid pre prepared reflections to start from each panel member. At the most you might allow some quick, spontaneous comments from each member of what they have learnt if the panel is about the day – or what they are wanting to discover/explore if the panel is a new topic.
– How will you engage others in the audience – will you leave the stage and bound around with a mike, or use runners?

6) Capturing the event
– how far are your comments part of the record?
– who is capturing the meeting and how – video, cartoon, narrative record (idenk style for example) etc.

Once again, be authentic. However, as a rule of thumb, plan to take 1 or 2 risks a day, things that are out of character: what seems safe is often the most risky thing to do, for a dull day is lethal…it won’t be neutral. It will be good – or bad. Try to bet on good.

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From nightmares to no cares

Facillitation, Meetings No Comments

In my one to one coaching I often use a framework adapted from scenario planning. I get clients to describe 4 futures they think they could encounter (and possibly create): the Dream, the Disaster, the Default and the Do-able. When coaching someone to develop their facilitation skills and repertoire, I find that the disaster scenario features prominently – where things could go horribly wrong looms large. Our online facilitation skills assessment has a tenth category that surfaces these fears – and that ‘facilitation nightmares’ section regularly reveals low scores!

So what are these nightmares? The same ones come up time and time again and include these four:
1) Will the group start talking – “there’s no energy, will they interact with me?”
2) Will I be able to stop them – “will some people go on and on, boring everyone and distracting the process?”
3) Will they fall out – “how do I stop them getting into conflict with each other?”
4) Will they reject my agenda, will they reject me – “what if I don’t know what to ask them to do or they don’t like it?”

Which do you worry about the most?  For me, you might be surprised to know, is 2).

What would you do?

In my facilitation training we explore lots of top tips for these. Briefly, a few of my favourite tactics are:
i) Too Quiet: Get people to work in pairs or trios within the first few minutes of starting – and whenever the mood seems flat
ii) Too Talkative: I find that humour, reminding all of the time and seeking other peoples views works
iii) Too Argumentative: See conflict as good (something to be harnessed and embraced even, not avoided), and frame the day as about exploring different views…and then methods like the six thinking hats, Thomas Kilman, scenarios, hexagon mapping, iceberg, polarity management, dilemma resolution, the idenk agree/differ process kick in!
iv) Too Resistant: I like using the SPOG process…

The ‘SPOG’ method is helpful when you experience sustained pushback to your suggestions:
 Summarise the Situation
 Propose a process, maybe sharing the alternative options you see too
 Outline the output you believe it will achieve
 Gather the views of the group: what do others think of your suggestion? Check what they think might be useful to do…

[And a more facilitative alternative: Before you share your view of what to suggest next you might call time out, tea or set up a trio – to create you breathing space or time to go over things with any colleagues or client. This can lead to a version of this called SGPO where you jump straight from 1 to 4 – and then maybe back to 2 and 3 after some conversations in groups or trios – and with your co worker. We are firm believers in the ‘power of pairs’ to help at times just like this! ]

And what can be done to avoid nightmares?

There is lots to do in rehearsal – the second D of the 4Ds of Facilitation (design, dry run, do it, debrief)…and one of the 13Ps too!

And in the heat of the moment..
A. First think about what is going on – what are your hypotheses for what is happening under the surface (see the iceberg or Deep Think model here  – maybe even working this explicitly with the group)
B. Explore your options: using the Heron framework and this list from one of the best facilitation books

C. Have a go!
D. Then reflect: what went well, what would you have done differently, what are you curious about (what do you think might have been going on), what will you do next (you can journal this process with a pen and paper in a book to keep or type in an e-file)?

The more you do this, the easier it gets. Building your capacity to reflect regularly after a session increases your chance of seeing alternatives and options ‘in the moment’.

And revisiting the promise of this blog: from Nightmares to No Cares? Well not quite, but less worry is certainly possible!

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