IIFAC Blog

The Leadership Team’s Guide to Making the Meta Decision

This post is excerpted from the article Making Decisions in Meetings, originally published on the Lucid Meeting blog.

Making good decisions is one of the leadership team’s primary job responsibilities. But decision making is tricky stuff. Recent research by cognitive and behavioral scientists shows that the way individuals make decisions is far from logical, and it doesn’t get any easier when you get the group involved.

Even then, making a decision is just the start. Decisions should lead to action. The process used to arrive at a decision has a big impact on both the quality of the decision and the team’s commitment to the follow-up action required.

When a leader identifies a decision that requires group involvement, either to make the decision or to carry out the actions that follow, what process can they use to get the best result?

Making the Meta Decision

The Meta Decision is deciding how to decide. To figure this out for the decision at hand, ask:

What kind of decision is this?

Determine whether the decision is risky or especially rewarding, and if the situation is simple, complicated, or complex.

Who has the authority to make this decision?

Some decisions can be made by a single person, and if they’re minor, should be. Others are complicated enough that they should involve a group. Some decisions can only be made by the Board or another governing body.

Who needs to commit to this decision for it to succeed?

Decisions lead to action. Some actions can be completed by the person making the decision; most require cooperation from the group.

Do you have or can you quickly determine viable options?

Before you can discuss the pros and cons of different options, you have to understand the real problem you’re solving and have some options to discuss. Some issues are too complex or too sensitive to work through all this during the meeting in real time.

Here’s an illustration of making the Meta Decision.

iifac-blog-june2017

The answer to the Meta Decision is:

JUST DECIDE AND ACT

  • When the decision is minor and you can execute it yourself.
  • When you can delegate the decision to someone who can decide and execute.
  • In a crisis, act quickly to stabilize the situation. You can worry about your decision-making process after the fire’s out.

MAKE A COMMAND DECISION

  • When the decision is minor and you have the authority.
  • When you need to act quickly and can minimize the risk of failure.

CONSULT THE DECISION MAKER

  • When the decision is minor, and additional expertise or buy-in is desired.
  • When the decision is major or complicated, but the responsibility for execution clear.
  • When the decision is nearly final, but needs additional vetting and buy-in.

COUNT VOTES

  • When meeting with the Board or another group legally required to do so.
  • When you need a tie breaker, deciding between two options with equal and passionate support. Why isn’t Count Votes on the map above? Because you don’t need a map to know when you’re in a board meeting, and for other situations, Counting Votes shouldn’t be one of your go-to processes.

USE CONSENSUS

  • When the decision is major and requires buy-in from the team to succeed.

You see that Consult appears twice on the illustration? That’s because the Consult decision-making process works best for most leadership teams most often.

“Who’s got the decision here?” starts a Consult decision meeting. Naming a specific decision maker in this way:

  • Creates clear accountability for the decision’s success; teams that can’t take personal responsibility for their decisions have no way to correct poor decision performance.
  • Provides a mechanism for group input; having the final decision doesn’t mean that this person has to think it through alone, or that they’re the only ones with a valid opinion.
  • Saves time, as there’s no need to go through a big process to build formal consensus.

There is both a science and an art to making decisions, and we’ve only scratched the surface here. To begin with, share this article with your team and bring some clarity to your decision-making meetings. When your team recognizes and can talk about how a decision will be made, they are much more likely to arrive at a quality decision.

———————————–

Elise Keith is the founder of Lucid Meetings, a company working to transform what it means to run successful meetings in the digital workplace. She lives in Portland, OR USA with her three children and husband co-founder.

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Similar but Not Identical: Speakers, Trainers and Facilitators

At first glance, the roles of speaker, trainer and facilitator look very similar.

  • All involve standing in front of a group and talking.
  • All require excellent communication skills.
  • All call for self-confidence without arrogance, combined with respect for those we serve.
  • All need to stay centered when faced with challenges.
  • All do best when their professional skills are matched by human warmth and a sense of humor.

Given the similarities of these competencies, it is easy to see why many professionals (myself included) offer all three of these services – and sometimes struggle to keep them separate.

Becoming crystal clear about the difference between the roles of speaker, trainer and facilitator is important if you:

  • Contract these services – so you know what skills and deliverables to ask for.
  • Provide these services – so you can help your prospective clients determine what they need (even when they mix up the terms).
  • Consume these services as a member of a group – so you can anticipate what the trainer/speaker/facilitator will ask of you.

Let´s start by looking at this (very simplified) chart.

cb-apr2017-chart-eng

Even at a quick glance, it is obvious that some of the categories overlap. For example, speakers are often on the agenda in a meeting. Good trainers share the speaker´s desire to inform and inspire as they develop their students’ capacities. Similarly, the best trainers use facilitation techniques to encourage participation in class and support the learning process.

Who talks the most?

Perhaps the characteristic that marks the principal difference between the speaker, trainer and facilitator is the amount of time each one spends talking while doing their job. That speakers mostly talk comes as no surprise; after all, that is what they are invited to do. Their listening is mostly confined to question and answer sessions – assuming they do not run out of time and skip that part of the program.

Trainers need to talk to transmit concepts and skills, but they also need to listen to discover what, if anything, those in the class are learning. Their talk-to-listen ratio, therefore, is close to 50:50.

Facilitators, however, speak very little during a meeting. Their primary interventions occur at specific moments:

  • At the beginning, to present the purpose, agenda, ground rules and expected results of the session.
  • To explain how a certain part of the meeting will be conducted (in plenary, small groups, brainstorm, open discussion, etc.).
  • To summarize the key points mentioned by the group members.
  • To conduct the decision-making process.
  • To signal where the group is in the meeting process and what comes next. (“After the break, we will address [topic X]”).

The meeting participants do most of the talking. And because many of them are poor listeners, habitually “tuning out” certain colleagues or being distracted by their cell phones, the facilitator must listen for everyone.

Meeting facilitators must not, however, take sides in the discussion or express their own opinion about the issues under discussion – much less start teaching or giving a speech.

As professionals, we need to be clear which role we are assuming, make sure our clients and audience/students/group members understand what the role entails, and then once we are in front of the group, resist the temptation to slide into another role.

As the psychologist, Daniel Goldstein, said about this kind of self-discipline, “It’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.” So let´s practice staying in one of these roles at a time.

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Meetings as Ritual

iifac-blog-march2017

Consider for a moment the possibility that meetings are rituals.

By rituals I do not mean religious rites, although they too are rituals. Nor am I referring to personal routines, such as brushing one’s teeth, especially those that are performed unconsciously, out of habit. For the purposes of this reflection, ritual is defined as a repeatable cultural performance, a specific act performed on a specific occasion. Rituals are culturally coded behaviors that give us a heightened sense of identity and meaning. Rituals help define us as a community; they remind us of who we are, how to behave and what is of ultimate value.

The human species has invented itself through ritual. Human cultures are a product of ritual — and ritual is our primary cultural product. Because rituals both shape and mirror cultural evolution, they are a rich source of information about the social order and a powerful tool for its transformation. I am suggesting that meetings are one of the dominant rituals of our times and therefore, properly used, could serve as an effective instrument for social and cultural change.

What if we saw meetings —understood as gatherings to discuss issues of shared importance and to make collective decisions— as a basic human need, like food, sleep or sex? What if meetings were treated not as a boring obligation, but as essential for survival? What if meetings connected us to our psychic depths, to our local community, and to the great mystery? What if meetings reminded us of what is sacred, of what must be treasured and protected? How would meetings be different if we saw them as an opportunity to educate, guide, nourish and heal ourselves? What if we entered into meetings with passion, reverence, and a sense that our participation was of vital importance?

The Link Between Myth and Ritual

Myths are the “big stories” we tell about our role in the evolutionary journey of the universe. They are the narratives that, when joined to ritual, create a web of meaning out of which our individual and collective identity emerges. We are the stories we tell and the rituals we perform. So how can we harness the dual power of myth and ritual to make our meetings more bearable?

Fear and Loathing of Ritual — and Meetings

As local cultures all over the planet have become marginalized and even eradicated by the interests of multinational corporations and the governments who serve them, many rituals have lost their connection to the sacred. Most of us no longer celebrate the new moon, the solstice, the harvest or the return of migrating birds. Instead we flock to the shopping mall, pack the sports stadium and go to ugly, boring, embarrassing, oppressive, alienating, and infuriating meetings.

The rituals practiced in most meetings produce a specific kind of suffering. Decision-makers who already know what they plan to do are required to pretend to listen to the opinions of others. Participants are obliged to sit through meetings in which it is obvious that their ideas, if expressed at all, will have no real impact on the final decision. People talk too much or not at all. Agendas are too full, poorly organized or non-existent. Discussions meander, priorities are unclear, and the decision-making process swings between despotism and anarchy. And so forth!

Applying the Criteria for Good Ritual to Meetings

Here are some of the lessons we can learn from ‘good’ rituals, meaning those that inspire and energize us, that might make our meetings more meaningful and effective.

  1. Be clear about the purpose. In general, those who attend a wedding are clear about the purpose of the ritual. They do not confuse it, for example, with a football game. Do we know the true purpose of the Monday morning sales meeting? If we did (and had a choice), would we bother to attend?
  2. Know your role. The godparents at a baptism understand that they are committing themselves to the on-going spiritual education of the child. What is the role of those who attend a condominium meeting? To complain about the neighbors? To listen to committee reports? To advise the board of directors? If their role were clearer, would they behave differently?
  3. Plan ahead. Good rituals require careful preparation. A meeting in which the room is clean and the chairs in place, an agenda has been drafted, the right people are present and the needed materials are at hand sets the stage for an effective session.
  4. Make it special. Rituals transform the ordinary into something special. When we take the trouble to put flowers on the table, bake cookies for the coffee break, or simply greet people with a smile as they arrive, we send a message that beauty, caring and human connection are some of the values that guide our work.
  5. Take time to get centered. The world is full of difficulties and distractions that need to be set aside in order to enter into ritual space. A moment of silence can help get everyone mentally ‘in the room’ and focused on their intention for being there.
  6. Vary the timing and texture. Rituals can be short or long, formal or impromptu, complex or simple. Meeting formats should vary according to their purpose.

The Meeting Facilitator as Ritual Leader

If meetings are a contemporary ritual, then the facilitator can be viewed as a kind of “process priest(ess)” who helps set the tone, maintains the focus and guides group through the various stages of its work. A novice facilitator, like a recently ordained priest, may be a little insecure at first. A more experienced facilitator can handle larger, more complex groups. A seasoned facilitator who has done his/her own inner work, can serve a more shamanic role, accompanying the group through confusion and confrontation until some resolution is reached. A long or complex meeting, like a ‘big’ ceremony, calls for an experienced team of facilitators, as well as other process roles, to hold the energy. If, as suggested at the beginning of this article, meetings are culturally coded performances, then they can be modified to meet the urgencies of the times. We need meetings that invite dialogue, promote understanding, encourage collaboration, stir creativity, and meet our fundamental need for meaning and belonging. We need meetings that engage our hearts and minds and give us an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. If we settle for less, we are wasting our time.

Do these ideas resonate for you? Please share your thoughts on the concept of meetings as ritual.

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The Deceptively Simple Question That should be in Every Facilitator’s Toolkit

The Deceptively Simple Question That should be in Every Facilitator´s Toolkit

The setting: A meeting to resolve an important issue, about which there are conflicting points of view.

Scene 1: The facilitator has just explained the purpose of the meeting. WHAT IS THE QUESTION THAT THE FACILITATOR ASKS THE GROUP NOW?

Scene 2: The facilitator has just reviewed the agenda developed to accomplish the purpose of the meeting. WHAT IS THE QUESTION THAT THE FACILITATOR ASKS THE GROUP NOW?

Scene 3: A member of the group has just presented background information related to the issue to be resolved in the meeting. WHAT IS THE QUESTION THAT THE FACILITATOR ASKS THE GROUP NOW?

Scene 4: A member of the group has just presented a proposal to resolve the issue. WHAT IS THE QUESTION THAT THE FACILITATOR ASKS THE GROUP NOW?

HINT: The question is the same for each of these moments.

Here is the question: ARE THERE ANY CLARIFYING QUESTIONS?

The key word is “clarifying.” You can amplify the question by adding, “Is there anything about the meeting purpose/proposed agenda/background information/proposal (or other part of the process) that is not clear to you?” or “Are there any words or phrases that you do not fully understand?”

Asking for clarifying questions gives participants the opportunity to pause and reflect about what they just heard and to bring into the open any confusion about what was said.

BE CAREFUL: You are not asking “Do you agree?” Opinions will be welcome later. At this point the facilitator is simply making sure that everyone in the room is focused on the same issue at the same time and that the words used are understood by all.

Speed Bumps. Like speed bumps on a busy road, asking, “Are there any clarifying questions?” BEFORE diving into the pros and cons of an issue intentionally slows down the discussion. The question sends a clear signal that mutual understanding is essential to reaching a wise decision, and encourages participants to share any doubts about the meaning of what others have said.

Here are some examples of clarifying questions.

Scene 1 (meeting purpose). If the stated purpose of the meeting is to decide on the location of a new office, a clarifying question might be, “Does this mean that today we will not be discussing what new equipment will be purchased for the office?”

Scene 2 (agenda). A clarifying question about the agenda might be, “At what point in the meeting will we discuss the timetable for moving to the new office?”

Scene 3 (background information). After a presentation of the background information by the search committee, a clarifying question might be, “Was access by public transportation taken into consideration in your search?”

Scene 4 (proposal). Once the proposal has been presented, a clarifying question might be, “How does the rent for this space compare with the other sites you considered?”

The five-second rule. After asking for clarifying questions, the facilitator should wait for five seconds, scanning the room for signs that someone wants to speak. If necessary, repeat the request for clarifying questions. If there are no questions or after all the clarifying questions have been answered, the facilitator then moves onto the next step in the process.

The challenge. If the issue is highly-charged and participants are eager to express their opinions, some may interpret the request for clarifying questions as an invitation to jump into discussion. When this happens (and it will!) the facilitator must intervene immediately, remind the group that, at this moment, you are only asking for clarifying questions and that the space for open discussion will follow.

Who benefits? The practice of asking for clarifying questions helps the group in the following ways.

  • Confusion caused by technical terms, jargon, acronyms and other language barriers can be eliminated.
  • Misconceptions can be corrected early.
  • Newcomers and others who might be reluctant to speak are invited into the conversation.
  • Leaders show that they are willing to explain unclear ideas or concepts.
  • Participants are better informed and more aligned in relation to the task at hand.
Do you ask for clarifying questions? If not, are you willing to try it? Let me know your experience with this versatile facilitation technique.

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A Cure for “Failure to Follow up” Syndrome

A Cure for Failure to Follow Up Syndrome

One of the most frequent complaints I hear about meetings is that there is no follow up to the discussion. The meeting is held, issues are debated, decisions might be made, but once the meeting ends, nothing happens. No constructive action occurs. It almost seems as if the meeting never took place.

So at the next meeting, there is no progress to report, only missed deadlines and lost opportunities. Group members are blamed for being apathetic and irresponsible. The leadership team, if there is one, looks incompetent. Frustration and disenchantment set in. And the unresolved issues need to be reopened…

To reverse this downward spiral, add NEXT STEPS as the last item on the agenda. Do not let anyone leave the meeting until a list is generated with specific commitments about WHO will do WHAT by WHEN.

Time saving time Tip 1: Specify the next steps as they arise during the discussion. Write them on an easel sheet or white board titled Next Steps or ask the person taking the meeting minutes to keep a running list of the “to-dos.” This will make it easier to consolidate and review the list at the end of the session.

Time saving time Tip 2: While you still have everyone´s attention, remember to set the date and time for the next meeting.

“We mean it” Tip 1: Include all this information in the meeting minutes and in the reminders sent out before the next meeting.

“We mean it” Tip 2: Conduct a status update on all the commitments at the next meeting.

“We mean it” Tip 3: Adopt a ground rule that says “Do not commit to tasks that you know you will not complete.”

Reality check: Ask yourself and your team these questions:

  • Do we have a written agenda for every meeting?
  • Are “Next Steps” an integral part of every agenda?
  • Do we leave enough time (5-15 minutes) to review and refine the proposed next steps?
  • Do we get a formal commitment from each person assigned to a task?
  • Do we make those commitments part of the written record of the meeting?

If the answer to some or all of these questions is “no” or “sometimes,” the team needs to become more disciplined regarding Next Steps.

If your answer to the Reality Check is “yes, but we still have trouble with accountability,” consider providing more support for those who assume specific responsibilities. Assigning an “accountability buddy” (another member of the group) to stay in touch with each person who accepted the primary responsibility can strengthen team solidarity and increase the probability that the task will get done.

Drastic measures: If “failure to follow up” syndrome persists, STOP HOLDING MEETINGS that perpetuate the cycle of “all talk and no action.”

When good faith efforts to implement these suggestions do not produce significant change, the problem goes deeper than lack of clarity about what needs to be done and who will do it. Take a break. Bring in a consultant. If necessary, dissolve the group. If possible, start again – and from now on be sure to put Next Steps on the agenda for every meeting.

Need help getting post-meeting follow up? Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your meeting challenges.

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Power and Consciousness in Groups

A few days ago I was invited to talk about my experience with sharing power when facilitating a group.

This challenging proposal made me look back in time and remember the day in 2000 when I met Beatrice Briggs at a social gathering in Uruguay.

Just to start a conversation I asked her, “Consensus? What is it all about?” She replied: “It is about sharing power in groups.”

Something in me stopped and I asked, “How is that possible?”

All at once I was flooded with the memory of being a survivor of a thousand lost battles in countless groups where the lack of consciousness about power-sharing had led to disaster.

My husband had been insistent about my meeting Bea and I always replied, “I have taken many courses, met many teachers. . .”

Nevertheless, after this conversation I took the course she offered at the Chemistry department of the University of the Republic in Montevideo.

And there I found a totally different universe. An incredibly powerful door was opened for me. I had a feeling of expansion and clarity that I could not yet find the words to express.

I have always been passionate about working with groups and had been involved in many, but this was different. I felt completely open, expanded, focused, living and manifesting my personal power. What made it different? The answer was—and is—the PROCESS, the HOW.

I learned that designing processes consciously is about knowing where every move comes from.

Little by little I discovered how to design a structure that permits the “expression of the self,” the sharing of each participant’s soul and personal power in a way that is functional, clear, orderly, and accessible to all.

Once I began to understand that consensus seeks solidarity, not unanimity, I realized that as facilitators we need to find ways to allow the inherent diversity in the group to flourish. We need to create a safe container in which all participants can express their truth. We must encourage each human being to show the best possible version of themselves.

So now I understand that my job as a facilitator is to shift power from the front of the room—the traditional focus of authority—and let go of my own impulse to control the outcome. I am there to serve the group in its quest for a decision that they can support.
I have learned the importance of asking two key questions: Who decides? and, How are decisions made? And now I observe what happens when a group begins to answer these questions, noticing if the participants open up or shut down, claim their power or hide from it.

When the approach to conversation changes in a group, the field of knowledge changes. The people in the group begin to relate differently to each other and co-create very different results.

Now, I invite you as leaders to consider these questions: How do we design our meetings? How do we make decisions? Are we conscious of the importance of allowing for the expression of each individual’s personal power?

Others have said it: Power is not outside. It is not scarce. It is in each person. Our responsibility as leaders is to create a group field that changes how we conduct conversations.

Remember, the indicators are in the group field and each person’s body connects us to that field. Expansion, joy, light, are good hints that each individual’s personal power is present.

Do not forget: this is possible. It only requires consciously designing and sustaining the field in order to achieve change.

Thank you!!

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About the author:

Ana has been a professional facilitator since 2002. Her expertise includes training facilitators in Latin America and Portuguese-speaking Africa. She has assisted Beatrice Briggs in the design and continual improvement of the professional development programs offered by IIFAC.


Editor´s note: This text is based on a talk given by Ana at Human Camp Leaders, Montevideo 2016. You can see the video here.

The Boss with Bad Meeting Habits

I hear with alarming frequency from employees who report that when they suggest ways to improve their organization´s meeting culture, they encounter resistance from managers who do not believe in meeting preparation or in keeping track of what has been decided in meetings.

The questions in the headlines in bold capture my emotional response to those reports. My more rational —though still strongly-worded— response follows in plain text.

What????

In other words, these managers think that is it acceptable to waste the company´s financial and human resources in meetings that produce no documented results.

And these people get promoted???

Here are the absolute minimum requirements for holding a meeting:

  • A clear purpose for bringing people together.
  • A written summary of the outcome of the discussion, including next steps.

Taking the time to think through the “who? what? and why?” of a meeting before calling people together is not optional; it is a requirement for intelligent leadership.

Documenting meeting results, including timelines and commitments for next steps, is not a personal choice; it is a managerial responsibility.

Why is running an effective meeting not a basic leadership skill?

Bad meeting habits like the ones described should not be tolerated; they should be transformed. The cost of meetings that have no clear purpose and no documented results should not be ignored; they should be quantified. Executives and managers should not be left on their own to decide how to run meetings; they should be trained and coached to bring out their team´s best work in meetings.

Your next steps
If you are an employee who suffers from “bad meeting syndrome,” download this free resource: From Tedious to Terrific: How to convince the boss that your meetings need to be more focused and productive NOW. http://english.iifac.org/tedious-to-terrific

If you are a boss curious about how to correct common meeting mistakes, download this free resource: Guide to excellent meetings at work. Five common meeting mistakes and how to correct them. http://english.iifac.org/guide-to-excellent-meetings

If you are an executive interested in exploring how to transform meeting problems into powerful meeting results, contact me, and we will set up a time to talk.

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The Balance between Results and Relationship in Meetings

results in meetings

Some people experience a tension between achieving results and building relationships in a meeting. They see these as two competing – and possibly mutually exclusive goals.

For me this is a false dichotomy. Good meeting outcomes are reached by people working together. Sharing ideas, working through differences and reaching agreement require human interaction. Meeting participants do not need to be best friends, but they do need to listen and learn from each other.

As facilitators, we need to consider both results and relations when planning a meeting or other group process. Here are four questions that every meeting facilitator should consider:

  • Do the participants know each other? If not, you must invest time at the beginning of the session to create enough trust and safety for the group to be able to communicate and collaborate. Even a simple check-in round or a request that people introduce themselves to someone they do not know can help establish a human connection.
    Key concept: Make sure that every person´s voice is heard by at least one other member of the group in the first few minutes of the event.
  • Is everyone clear about the purpose of the meeting? Sadly, many meeting organizers are not very explicit about why the group needs to gather. This lack of clarity creates a breeding ground for boredom and frustration and can be interpreted as a lack of respect for the participants’ time.
    Key concept: Help the convener define the purpose and expected outcomes from the meeting. This will give the participants a common cause and motivation to relate to each other.
  • Does the agenda include time for working in pairs or small groups? Long meetings in which all discussion occurs in plenary are a recipe for isolation. The extroverts talk a lot while the timid sit in silence and the rest are surreptitiously checking their email.
    Key concept: Create a results-oriented process that stimulates interaction among the group members.
  • Do group members collaborate between meetings? Not everything can or should be accomplished in meetings of the whole group.
    Key concept: Committees and other small work groups are an excellent way to both make progress on important tasks and for people to get to know one another better.

In short, every meeting has two priorities: attending to the (clearly stated) business at hand AND building the relationships that transform a group into a team.

Need help finding the balance of your skills as a facilitator? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

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The Facilitator’s Tightrope

The Facilitator Tightrope

Inserting a facilitator into a group´s existing power dynamics is a risky business.

Often a facilitator’s help is requested because dysfunctional behaviors are inhibiting the group´s effectiveness. The client allegedly wants the facilitator to transform the way the group works together, generating miracles in the form of more participation, creative thinking, team collaboration and decisions that get implemented.

But do the conditions exist that would allow such profound changes to occur? Is the leadership really on board? Will the group accept intervention from an “outsider”? Is the facilitator skilled enough to deliver the desired results?

In the face of such uncertainty, the facilitator´s first step is to establish a healthy, collaborative relationship with the leadership team. Remember, they are taking a risk in hiring us. If we fail, they will look bad. We need the leaders to be very clear about the role of facilitator and the rationale for the participatory processes we propose. Without their understanding and support, our transformative mission is almost sure to fail.

Our next challenge is to earn the trust of the meeting participants. We cannot assume that just because we have reached an agreement with the leader, our presence will be welcomed by all. Many are likely to be skeptical or suspicious about our presence. Everything that we do (or say) will be subject to scrutiny and judgment. Everyone is watching.

We walk a tightrope on which we must set clear expectations about the group´s task at hand and also adjust to emerging ambiguities. We need to emanate confidence, but not arrogance, be respectful but not servile. We need to find ways for the traditionally silent or excluded to be heard, and apply strategies to prevent the habitually verbose from dominating the discussion.

And as we negotiate these competing demands, we must remember why we climbed up on that tightrope in the first place: to help the group achieve its highest aspirations. We are in service, not in charge. We have a responsibility to the group and those who hired us, and no authority to control the final outcomes.

So to walk the facilitator’s tightrope we need courage, poise, daring – and humility. As the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, s said, “The leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Need help making the best use of time spent in meetings? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

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Hidden Agendas in Meetings

hidden agendas

When you hear the words “hidden agendas,” what comes to mind? Clandestine plots? Power games? Conspiracies lurking in the meeting room?

What if, in the planning phase of a meeting, the group leader tells you that some participants have a hidden agenda and intend to manipulate the meeting outcome to serve their personal interests?

Even though these concerns may arise from the leader´s own insecurities rather from a real threat from within the group, facilitators need to be prepared to detect and deal with hidden agendas. Fortunately, we have the perfect tool: THE FACILITATOR´S FLASHLIGHT!

Like cockroaches, hidden agendas tend to scatter when exposed to light. And if a participant´s resistance to a proposal is based not on a conspiracy but rather on a lack of information or a simple misunderstanding about the issue, then light may dissolve their opposition.

Here are opportunities to use your flashlight.

1. At the beginning of the meeting. Clarify the purpose and expected results of the session. For example, “Our primary focus today is on the site for the upcoming staff retreat. By the end of this meeting we will have established criteria for the site selection and generated a list of possible locations. Are there any questions about our task? “

If a meeting participant believes that the group should not have a staff retreat or that some other issue is more important to discuss, you have provided an opportunity for him/her to express their difference of opinion. Even if the person says nothing at this this moment, you have established a clear point of reference that can help maintain the focus if later in the session someone tries to drive the conversation in a different direction.

On the other hand, leaving participants in the dark about the purpose of a meeting creates uncertainty, breeds mistrust and practically invites people to insert their own agendas.

2. Set ground rules. The nine ground rules for effective groups described by Roger Schwarz in The Skilled Facilitator are excellent examples of agreements that, properly used, can serve as powerful tools to shine light on hidden agendas. Imagine the possibilities for transparency and mutual understanding that agreements like these can promote:

  • Test assumptions and inferences
  • Share all relevant information
  • Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean
  • Explain your reasoning and intent

Do you propose ground rules that have the strength to illuminate power dynamics and improve communication in meetings?

3. Have a personal conversation. Find a time outside of the meeting to talk with the person suspected of having a hidden agenda. Share the behaviors you observed in the meeting and your assumptions about the meaning of those actions. Ask the person if he/she has a different interpretation about what happened. Be genuinely curious, not accusatory. You may be surprised by what you learn!

Need help dealing with hidden agendas in your group? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation to discuss your situation.

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Calle Doctores no. 99A casa 8, Colonia Lomas de Jiutepec. Jiutepec, Morelos CP. 62566 | Phone: (+52) 777 320 6712

Our logo features an Aztec glyph representing the sun. This golden image evokes its transformative power and reminds us of Mexico’s rich history and culture.