Tag: meetings

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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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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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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There is nothing like the smoothness of a…good segue

Facillitation No Comments

The performances of the band I play drums in have transformed this year. We have largely done this by creatively mashing (or bashing) songs by different artists into and over each other. We have enjoyed finding new ways to create medleys of tunes so we can move swiftly from one segment of a song to another. From an audience point of view this helps maintain interest and energy. It took us a fair bit of work to learn how to do this, but it is now much easier to do. And it is enjoyable too.

When I am asked “what makes for a great moderator?”, I tend to think about what makes the difference between adequate and exceptional talent. And in answer to that, I think one of the key things is the same as what makes for a good (or in our case, improving!) band: an in-depth knowledge of how best to ensure a slick (or at least skilled) and interesting connecting between the parts. Of course there are plenty of other moderation skills (responding flexibility when a plan needs to change, starting a session well, building rapport, dealing with difficult situations), but this is a key one, that often gets overlooked.

As I have noted in a couple of blogs recently the aim of facilitation is to make things easy– and by using various pointers and rules of thumb we can build the suspense for, and attraction to, what is coming in the next chunk. As with a band, if this is got right, the agenda just flows. Even if there are problems and push backs it seems more like surfing in on a great wave, and rather less like struggling out through breakers in a stormy sea – to add another analogy!

The skill of Smooth Segues is central to this sense of movement. A common facilitation nightmare is of low energy in a group – and the art of segues helps address this.

So what are some examples of, and pointers for, a good segue?

1. Early on, do use what you notice in the venue or the press or in your travels that day. Make a metaphorical connection if you can. I once worked in a welding institute on the day there was a split in a boy band – with a group who were meeting to discuss partnership (once they had arrived through the gridlock of local traffic)…you can get a sense of some of the things I used!
2. Remind the group of the overall task regularly – be clear what question the session is designed to answer.
3. Confirm, both verbally and in writing (slide, poster, clip chart) what you are asking of a group at any particular moment.
4. Be ready to share what you have heard in a session that has interested you. Be ready with a question. Listen to all speakers (presenters, group members), and follow your curiosity with open ended, inquiry questions.
5. Use images, humour and stories to illustrate the links from one part to another – choosing what you say each time you get the groups attention (e.g. after small group work, after a break etc.) really matters. What tales from lunch, the days weather etc. can you use? Recently I was able to make a focused link into the last session where we were about to look for some small steps and actions, by reference to what I had learnt about the Swedish spelling of millionaire that day. Sounds dry? But it worked…ask me, you might get a feel from the slides (though maybe not!)
6. Linked to this, be prepared to be wacky: look for lateral links. For example, share what is trending on social media and ask what connections there might be to the day’s proceedings. How can you use any photos from the group or even the weather! Reflect back ideas you are hearing. For example, come back after a break having googled any key ideas or topics from earlier. Acknowledge people who make bold or boisterous points. Be brave – what seems risky is often fine, and playing it safe can be plain dull and lead to negative group dynamics.
7. Be creative in your use of energisers: tongue twisters, human histograms, guessing north, conducting music, group percussion, quizzes, games etc…let your (internet inspired?) interest and creativity run wild if the event allows it. And seek volunteers too…you will be amazed at what people know (yoga is common) or can imagine (charades on the days content) or are prepared to try on their colleagues (laughter therapy)!
8. Think of how you signal time – a visible clock, shout out reminders, music, chime, checking out if people are done, letting it go etc.

Good segues show you are listening, lighten the mood, lessen the load and lead to next thing. They frame and focus each session, reduce the anxiety groups members can feel (especially in large groups between the fear of abandonment or attack) and channel or even create energy. They reduce the likelihood of a facilitation nightmare, be it silence or rejection or fighting.

Overall – be authentic in what you offer.

But try to be balanced, not just doing the things you would like! A useful rule of thumb is to try and provide something for everyone, regardless of personality. For example, in terms of MBTI, try to provide both information and illustration segues that work for all participants, whether they are big picture thinkers or a totally into the detail, wanting freedom or a bit of structure, a logical thinker or much more intuitive.

I regularly use the ‘Goldilocks test’ to check anything from the speed of a meeting to the temperature of the room. I hope you find that by applying these principles your groups tell you things are “just right”.

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Getting it: facilitating understanding,in timely chunks

Facillitation, Plan No Comments

A friend was saying this week how she now ‘gets’ her iPhone. A shop assistant was describing a feature, and she just understood it. That wasn’t always the case for her.

In the late 1990s ‘Knowledge Management’ was at the peak of its fad cycle.  And at that time I heard US leadership expert Peter Senge explain a model of learning he finds helpful. He described two sorts of knowledge transfer:

A) First The Syntactical. This is where colleagues share many common assumptions – so there is a basic level of understanding that allows easy communication of meaning. Like two chess grandmasters, one person can merely outline a new idea (e.g. on a move), and the other person gets it. They tend to be equally motivated – and connected with sufficient trust and respect to value the other point of view too. This peer to peer approach is seen in ‘communities of practice’ where there is curiosity and enough common ground to allow the use of shorthand – so things move fast. In Syntactical knowledge transfer ‘straight transmission is easy and often swift – however, even dry talks and dense articles engage becasuse the content is so meaningful and shared.
B) Or The Transformative. Here a shared understanding needs to be built – and this requires relationships to be developed, different points of view understood and the meaning of words to be explained. The quality of the experience (whether a talk or a workshop session) really matters. It takes time.

As moderators and facilitators, we are concerned with both. However, it is easy for us (or bosses or clients) to make assumptions about how fast things need to move, assumptions that might not quite reflect the needs of the group.  Our desire for pace may be due to the ambition we have of completing certain things by the end of the day and our learning style/needs, not the groups.

When designing an event we need to think of the time required to ensure each session achieves its learning goals. Thinking and asking “is this a time for syntactical or transformative learning” really helps.

So when considering the design of an agenda, here are a few pointers:

1) A facilitated day tends to be made up of four 75-90 minute chunks – interspersed with breaks (i.e. arrival, chunk 1, coffee, chunk 2, lunch etc). Think of each of these chunks as the length of a film, many sports matches or a sleep cycle. After an hour and a half or so the human body needs some movement and transition. There is a natural cycle and rhythm at work – and we do well to remember that.

2) Remember a little known Russian psychologist for the Zeigarnik effect – the legacy from Bluma Zeigarnik is that the human mind finds it helpful to be reminded what is about to happen, regularly and especially at the end of one chunk (before the break and heading into the next chunk!). This creates a helpful suspense between the parts – when we state what is coming up, others start to anticipate it and move to wanting it – a bit like a trailer in a cinema.
3) Think about how long each part within a chunk is likely to need – what will it take for the group to understand a presenters point or work through an issue? This is where knowledge transmission A or B comes in: syntactical learning means participants are ready to apply ideas much more quickly. Think of this as about how long you would allow for a scene in a film if you were a director or scriptwirter. Or, as a home viewer, are you going for fast forward or slow-mo!
4) Even when you allow longer because you know transformative learning is needed, long talks are not required.  We see in the popularity of TED talks (at less than 20 minutes each) that any input is probably best being kept short before a group can reflect, speak and apply. Do you practise the key sandwich principles for adult learning? Do make sure: first, you start with where the group is at; before taking any input/talk;, then ensuring lots of time to consider and trial and review the application of what has been learnt.
5) And a recent blog, argues that even if a presenter has a short slot, keep it shorter than scheduled anyhow! Do you rehearse your speakers? Do you know how to timekeep a contributor in an relaxed manner, stopping a session in a way that seems calm and respectful (and in tune with interest of the group)?

I hope that made sense – I sort of assumed an type A audience…did I get that right for you?

All the best in applying the ideas…these relate to the Ps of participants, principles, potential risks and process in our 13Ps.

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On language and meetings

Meetings No Comments

This short, provocative piece sums up prevailing attitudes to meetings, and the sort of words used in conversations, in many organisations.

How we talk together is, in various settings, a key part of what makes us human – both 1:1 and in groups.

Meetings can be energising, relevant…

We think.

Do you agree?

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Max Mix Mobs for Meaningful Meetings

Checklists, Improvement No Comments

Following our last blog on planning perfect events, how far do you use a design team to help shape important sessions? We find them invaluable, especially when they represent a diversity of perspectives: senior, junior, different functions, enthusiasts…and also cynics. Their role is to work in the space between what is ‘pre-ordained’ by the sponsoring leader and make the best recommendations or decisions to improve the experience of the group that will meet in the venue (or online space) that has been chosen.

A great way to start the planning process with this sort of ‘max mix’ group is to ask: what are the best meetings we have ever been to and why; if this meeting goes well what will happen; if it fails miserably why might that be? If you are planning an event for a group that has regular meetings, it is worth reviewing the last or previous meetings with the After Action Review or the six thinking hats (page 15 here). Then you can carry on working through the 13Ps…


The 13 Ps for Perfect Meetings

Plan No Comments

You know of our love for alliteration (see the penultimate section) – and checklists!  Combining the two, you have had the 7Ps…now the 13Ps to help you perfect the planning for important meetings and events (the investment depends on how important they are and their scale):

1. Personal skills: what can you do (and what can’t you manage)…fill this self-assessment in on the basis of events you have led.
2. Personal preferences: think of great large events you have been to (from festivals and weddings to work ones)…what made them special?
3. Past: What is the context, history and story so far for this meeting?
4. Purpose: questions, aims, outcomes….what is the unique purpose?
5. Potential risks: what possible problems might there be…where might it go horribly wrong?
6. Pre-ordained: What is given by any leaders…what is non-negotiable? What must you do (or not to do)? What is your freedom to decide?
7. People: Thinking of participants, who is coming (or who would you like to come)?
8. Place: What is the venue, date, day of the week…what are the logistical options, costs and fixed points? How can you work around what you have if not ideal? See this for seating and other options.
9. Pre–work: what sort of survey, interviews or vox pop would research the range of opinion efficiently and clearly? Do you need to do more work searching for speakers, consultants, a better venue and thinking of how you use social media as a design team?
10. Principles: What is the style of the event you (or if working with others, the design team or leaders) want? How much of the meeting should be familiar – and how fresh would you like the experience to be? What is the degree of fixed structure and/or open flexibility you are looking to provide?
11. Process: Only now come to the agenda including online elements and connections – resist the urge to jump to here at the start!
12. Practice: what new elements are important to rehearse; are there any speakers to prep?
13. Post-event: What sort of record, gift or keeping in touch strategy do you want…plan this from the start (like how the best hospitals plan discharge – from the moment someone knows they will need to be admitted!)

In leading this planning work, especially for large meetings, try to get the triangle right in combining and balancing the views of senior leaders and staff and the potential (and barriers) the venue presents.

Good Luck!!

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Making Meetings Matter More #1

Teams No Comments

You know we like the work of Lencioni on teams.

His work on meetings is helpful too…from this sort of video to ideas like these;  from his early work in  ‘Death by Meeting’ to the more recent book, ‘The Advantage’.

We note quite a lot of others like his work too, such as this model of meeting types – from the regular daily ‘check-in’s’ to rhythm of longer quarterly sessions.

See what you think……..

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