Archive for the Excellent Meetings Tips Category

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.

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.

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.

The Benefits of Facilitation

The Benefits of Facilitation

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a series of three excerpts from an article originally published in The Competent Collaborator blog of Fulcrum Connection. See Part 1, “Misconceptions about Facilitation” in the March 2016 issue of Coffee Break and Part 2, “The Truth about Facilitation Skills” in the April 2016 issue.

These five key benefits of facilitation are based on the descriptions of facilitation services provided by the Hayes Group and the Kinharvie Institute

Benefit #1: Facilitation improves meeting outcomes. Improving meeting outcomes is one way of increasing the return on investment for meetings. The meeting investment is the sum of the salary per unit-time multiplied by the time for each individual in the meeting. The return on the investment is the monetary value that the results of the meeting enable relative to the meeting investment. Therefore, improving the meeting outcomes so that the results of the meeting enable actions that lead to value for the organization is one way of improving the return on investment.

Benefit #2: Facilitation improves meeting efficiency. Improving meeting efficiency means taking less time to reach a given set of outcomes and reduces the size of the investment needed to get to a certain return.

Benefit #3: Facilitation manages dysfunctional group behavior professionally. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about who needs to be involved in a meeting. Dysfunctional behavior by an individual in a group can drastically increase the meeting time. In addition, dysfunctional behavior by an individual in a meeting can thwart efforts to produce value. In a nutshell, dysfunctional behavior in a meeting is the enemy of return on investment from that meeting.

Benefit #4: Facilitation allows the leader to participate in the group work. Typically, leaders who hire facilitators not only understand the value of collaboration to spark innovation and produce needed change, but they also are great collaborators themselves. Professional facilitators do not engage in group work because they need to stay focused on process leadership in order to achieve the agreed-to meeting outcomes.

Benefit #5: Facilitation drives the group to accountability. Professionally facilitated meetings are highly interactive. The content is generated by the participants themselves. In addition, professionally facilitated meetings have established outcomes that drive informed action following the meeting. By generating content, participants have “skin in the game,” and willingly sign up for next steps associated with the meeting outcomes.

About the author

Valerie PatrickValerie PatrickValerie Patrick, founder of Fulcrum Connection, has led over 40 highly successful and high-performance teams across over 200 organizations in the last 15 years of a 25-year career with multi-national Bayer in the areas of product development, sustainable development, and organizational change. Dr. Patrick served as sustainability coordinator for Bayer’s North America operations, Head of Bayer Material Science’s Creative Center in Future Business, and Head of Bayer Material Science’s Transportation Industry Innovations group. Dr. Patrick has B.S. (Bucknell University), M.S. (California Institute of Technology), and Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology) degrees in chemical engineering, and is a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) trained Creative Problem Solving facilitator, SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Qualified Climate Practitioner, and ADKAR Change Management Practitioner. Dr. Patrick is also author of both the Competent Collaborator Blog and Quadrant II Newsletter, and is host of the Science of Success: Social Secrets Podcast. (All can be found at http://www.fulcrumconnection.com.)

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

The Truth about Facilitation Skills

The Truth about Facilitation Skills

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three lightly-edited excerpts from an article originally published in The Competent Collaborator blog of Fulcrum Connection. See Part 1, “Misconceptions about Facilitation” in the March 2016 issue of Coffee Break. Part 3, “The Benefits of Facilitation” will appear In May.

A facilitator is a process leader who partners with a task leader to design and execute a group event that meets agreed-to outcomes and deliverables. The following sources were used to identify the five key skills needed for facilitation described next:

Key facilitation skill 1: Effectively manage your own emotions to stay neutral and objective on content, and to stay energized in the facilitation role in order to guide the group toward agreed-to outcomes. Some call this emotional intelligence. This skill encompasses a wide range of capabilities such as having the self-confidence to speak in front of a large group of people, trusting the potential of a group to generate high-quality content, and to maintain self-control in the face of criticism and other negative emotions from others.

Key facilitation skill 2: Demonstrate process leadership in preparation for an event/project that is both highly cognitive and highly collaborative in nature. This skill also encompasses a wide range of capabilities such as designing applications to meet client needs, preparing time and space to support the group process, and helping to clarify the purpose and outcomes for the event/project.

Key facilitation skill 3: Practice process leadership to deliver agreed-to outcomes. This skill includes being able to think on your feet, displaying excellent interpersonal communication skills, being able to effectively manage dysfunctional behavior, and adaptability to make needed changes to the facilitation plan on the spur of the moment, and in consultation with the client. This skill also involves a wide range of capabilities such as demonstrating effective participatory communication skills, ensuring inclusiveness, evoking group creativity, and guiding the group to consensus and desired outcomes.

Key facilitation skill 4: Form an effective and complementary partnership with the event/project sponsor/leader that is also highly cognitive and highly collaborative in nature. This skill includes such capabilities as demonstrating collaborative values, clarifying mutual commitment, and developing consensus on task, deliverables, roles, and responsibilities for the event/project.

Key facilitation skill 5: Develop yourself as facilitation professional. This skill includes maintaining a base of knowledge to support your facilitation work, mastering a range of facilitation methods, maintaining your professional standing as a facilitator, acting with integrity, and practicing self-assessment and self-awareness to continually improve as a facilitation professional.

I believe that the reason there are so few professional facilitators relative to the overall population is that many of these key skills are difficult to master because they are contradictory in nature. For example, practicing process leadership when preparing for an event means being credible in the preparation and being cognitively fully engaged in the task. But it also requires being collaborative which means listening to understand and value the ideas of your collaborator(s) as much as your own, and proceeding accordingly. So you have to create a plan for the preparation, but you also have to be willing to abandon the plan, as needed, in response to the evolving collaboration and consensus that occurs during the preparation. This also applies to the facilitated event. You create a facilitation plan but need to be flexible and aware enough to adjust the plan as opportunities and challenges emerge during the course of the event.

About the author

Valerie PatrickValerie PatrickValerie Patrick, founder of Fulcrum Connection, has led over 40 highly successful and high-performance teams across over 200 organizations in the last 15 years of a 25-year career with multi-national Bayer in the areas of product development, sustainable development, and organizational change. Dr. Patrick served as sustainability coordinator for Bayer’s North America operations, Head of Bayer Material Science’s Creative Center in Future Business, and Head of Bayer Material Science’s Transportation Industry Innovations group. Dr. Patrick has B.S. (Bucknell University), M.S. (California Institute of Technology), and Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology) degrees in chemical engineering, and is a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) trained Creative Problem Solving facilitator, SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Qualified Climate Practitioner, and ADKAR Change Management Practitioner. Dr. Patrick is also author of both the Competent Collaborator Blog and Quadrant II Newsletter, and is host of the Science of Success: Social Secrets Podcast. (All can be found at http://www.fulcrumconnection.com.)

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

Misconceptions about Facilitation

Misconceptions about Facilitation

Editor´s note: This is the first in a series of three, lightly edited excerpts from an article originally published in The Competent Collaborator blog of Fulcrum Connection. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the April and May issues of Coffee Break.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs in Belgium identified five common misconceptions about facilitation.

  1. Facilitation is another name for training. In training, information flows primarily from the trainer to the participants, while in facilitation, information flows primarily from the participants to each other and to the facilitator.
  2. Facilitation is easy. Like any professional skill, facilitation takes deliberate learning and time to understand, practice, and master.
  3. Facilitation is getting inundated with a whirlwind of ideas. Although idea generation is often a component needed in a facilitated session, facilitation is focused on delivering the outcomes necessary for a group to take informed action.
  4. Facilitation is a new buzz word. Facilitation began in 19th century France with an event called a charrette for group work focused on design and then became mainstream in 1994 with the formation of the International Association of Facilitators.
  5. Facilitation is tricks and gimmicks. The techniques of professional facilitation are grounded in science; for example, read Creative Approaches to Problem Solving by Isaksen, Dorval, and Treffinger, 2000.
  6. Certified Professional Facilitator, Geoff Ball, identifies some more misconceptions about facilitators to add to this list. See ClientAwarenessGuide.pdf

  7. A facilitator takes over the group. A facilitator complements the task leader who hires the facilitator as the process leader but it is the task leader that is in charge of the group and who has responsibility for results; in fact, the facilitator does not have credibility without the task leader’s endorsement and support.
  8. It is a sign of weakness to let someone else facilitate your meeting. The facilitator and the task leader form a collaborative partnership in which the facilitator acts as a consultant and coach to help the task leader look good, and to achieve the group outcomes needed to support long-term goals.
  9. Facilitation is “touchy-feely” like group therapy. Creativity and the willingness to learn from others are important components to facilitation. Science shows that emotion impacts both creativity and learning so awareness of emotions is part of what it takes for a facilitator to deliver agreed-to meeting outcomes.
  10. Facilitators are only involved in what happens in the meeting. As Bill Shephard points out in the Science of Success podcast, the work that the facilitator does before the meeting is the largest contributor to the success of the meeting.

About the author

Valerie PatrickValerie PatrickValerie Patrick, founder of Fulcrum Connection, has led over 40 highly successful and high-performance teams across over 200 organizations in the last 15 years of a 25-year career with multi-national Bayer in the areas of product development, sustainable development, and organizational change. Dr. Patrick served as sustainability coordinator for Bayer’s North America operations, Head of Bayer Material Science’s Creative Center in Future Business, and Head of Bayer Material Science’s Transportation Industry Innovations group. Dr. Patrick has B.S. (Bucknell University), M.S. (California Institute of Technology), and Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology) degrees in chemical engineering, and is a CPF (Certified Professional Facilitator) trained Creative Problem Solving facilitator, SOQ (Situational Outlook Questionnaire) Qualified Climate Practitioner, and ADKAR Change Management Practitioner. Dr. Patrick is also author of both the Competent Collaborator Blog and Quadrant II Newsletter, and is host of the Science of Success: Social Secrets Podcast. (All can be found at http://www.fulcrumconnection.com.)

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

How long should a meeting last?

iif-feb2016

When someone asks me “How long should a meeting last?” the underlying question often is “How can we avoid meetings that drag on with no apparent end in sight?”

The short answer to the first question is: as long as it takes to complete the stated purpose of the meeting. (Skip to the end of this article if you want a specific time estimate.)

The short answer to the second question is: by clearly stating the purpose and expected outcome at the beginning of the meeting and ending when that result had been achieved.

Too often, meetings are called without the team leader or meeting convener having completed this crucial sentence: “By the end of this meeting we will have….”

Here are some examples of outcomes for three different meetings focused on the same issue.

“By the end of this meeting we will have…

  1. …analyzed options for improving our security system and decided on steps needed in order to make a decision at our next meeting.”
  2. …decided on the priority improvements in the security system and selected a service provider.”
  3. …reviewed the results of the changes made in the security system and decided whether additional measures need to be taken.”

Given this kind of clarity about the purpose of these meetings, the convener knows exactly who to invite (i.e., those with a direct responsibility or specialized knowledge about the issue.) And those participants arrive at the meetings fully aware of the task before them. Ideally, they have received and reviewed relevant background information ahead of time and the leader or facilitator has designed an orderly process for discussing, deciding and clarifying next steps.

And then when the objective has been achieved, the meeting is adjourned.

Unless of course someone suggests additional items for the group to address. The justification for this is usually something like, “Well, now that we are here, let´s also talk about…”

RESIST THIS TEMPATION!

If these new issues were really urgent, they should have been included in the original agenda. Make note of them and agree to address them in a future meeting BUT NOT NOW. Do not trap the participants, who after all, have completed the task they were called to do, in a longer meeting. Everyone in the room has other things to do. Let them go, with thanks for a job well done.

While the exact duration of a meeting depends on the complexity of the issues and degree of controversy around them, as well as the effectiveness of the agenda design and the facilitation skill of the meeting leader, here is a rough estimate, based on the frequency of the meeting and the kinds of issues addressed. Download a summary of four kinds of meetings, what they might include and how long they typically last.

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

Imagine meetings that surprise and delight

Visualize your meetings

Imagine that the participants at your meetings arrive full of curiosity about the discussion to come and leave feeling energized by the work they accomplished together.
Imagine that the conversation during the meeting is focused, dynamic and leads to new insights, clear next steps and wise decisions.
Imagine that the decisions taken are skillfully implemented and also carefully monitored and adjusted as needed.
Imagine that people want to join your team in part because the meetings are so interesting and productive.
Imagine that your meetings set a new standard of excellence that others in the organization begin to emulate.
Imagine that the organization begins to thrive in new and surprising ways because of the quality of the team leadership and collaboration displayed in its meetings.

As John Lennon reminds us, you are not the only one dreaming of these transformations. Meeting participants everywhere are acutely aware of and frustrated by the 10,000 ways their time is wasted in meetings. But too few meeting leaders dare to imagine a different reality and take the steps needed to create it.

Over the years, I have shared many tips and techniques for creating excellent meetings. (See the published books, free resources and blog posts at www.iifac.org.) Today I am inviting you to take a moment to connect with your heartfelt desires related to how you and your colleagues meet and work together.

Take a deep breath.
Slowly re-read the “Imagine” texts at the beginning of this article.
Breathe.
Read them out loud.
Take another deep breath.
Notice what you feel in your body when you contemplate these possibilities.
What does your heart say?
What other details would you add to the dream?

Want to talk about it? Let´s schedule a short phone conversation about your meeting related hopes, dreams and fears.

When facilitation is not the answer

iifac graficos web -05

Facilitation, understood as designing and leading a participatory group process, can have a transformative effect. In the hands of a skilled professional, a facilitated process can help a group discuss difficult issues, resolve conflicts, make sound decisions and use its time well.

Facilitation is not, however, a panacea. There are circumstances in which even the best facilitator will not be able to function effectively – and others in which it would be unethical to try.

Here are few of those situations.

  • The decision has already been made. If the intention of bringing people together is to get them to “validate” or “buy into” a plan that they had no hand in creating and that they cannot modify or contribute to, a facilitator is not needed. A persuasive salesperson would be a better investment.
  • The only venue is an auditorium. As the same word suggests, an auditorium (from the Latin audire, to hear) is for listening. The fixed seats facing a stage do not permit group members to turn and face each other, form circles, meet in small groups, or otherwise exchange ideas and work together. If there are no other spaces where true participation can occur, a facilitator is not needed. A master of ceremonies will suffice.
  • No clear purpose or desired outcomes for the meeting. A facilitator can help a leader or organizing committee clarify what they hope to accomplish by bringing a group together. This planning is essential to creating an event that justifies the time and attention of those invited to attend. But until this work has been done, it would be better to cancel or postpone the meeting and take everyone out to lunch instead.
  • A miracle is needed – now. Facilitators can help groups achieve amazing breakthroughs, transform long-standing conflicts and/or deal with complex issues, but these kinds of results cannot be delivered “on demand.” Just putting key stakeholders in the same room for an hour or two is seldom sufficient to produce miraculous results. If you cannot give the facilitator time to prepare for a challenging job or give the participants time to work together, prayer may be your best recourse.
Want to know more about why, when and how to hire a facilitator? I recently created an online course that addresses these issues. You can learn more about this information-packed, three-session learning opportunity.

What to do about “conflictive” people?

In a recent workshop, “Excellent meetings at work,” this question came up: Is it valid not to invite someone because we believe s/he is conflictive or will create conflict?

The main reason to invite someone to a work meeting is that their contribution to the issue under discussion is important.

ilustracion blog_2-02

Question for the meeting organizers: Are we willing to listen and consider the “conflictive” people’s points of view?

If the honest reply is “no” then it is better not to invite them – and be prepared to explain the reason behind this decision. Besides, we should recognize that without their participation, the group might make wrong decisions due to not having considered the interests of these people. In addition, those decisions might spark resistance, rebelliousness, or attacks from the people who were excluded from the discussion.

Question for the organizers: Is it possible that “conflictive” people could have concerns that should be considered?

Following are a few examples of dealing with “conflictive” persons in work meetings. Each example includes a question with the intention of inviting the event organizers to reflect.

Example 1. The “conflictive” person always presents the same argument in each meeting, whether it is pertinent or not. S/he takes advantage of having an audience to express their beliefs. The conflict arises when the group gets tired of listening to the same “issue” time and again, especially when it seems to be irrelevant to the points under discussion.

Question for the organizers: Have you talked to that person apart from the meeting to find out what their intention is by repeating their message – that apparently has little or nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting – and to explain why you ask they do not?

Example 2. The group itself, and/or its leaders, are afraid of conflict and they do not know what to do when it arises. Instead of embracing different opinions and exploring them with curiosity, they tend to not allow those who bring up conflict to speak.

Question for the organizers: Have you got the tools to face conflicts calmly, confidently, and creatively?

The following five steps help cool down emotions and allow group members to listen to each other:

  1. Recognize there are opposing points of view.
  2. Remind the group what the issue under discussion is, and the expected outcome of the meeting (i.e., collecting ideas, prioritizing options, making a decision, etc.).
  3. Summarize the issues that are not controversial.
  4. Point out the issues yet to be resolved.
  5. Jointly find a process to work those issues out.

There are many options for dealing with point 5, but if you cannot come up with one at the moment, you can always ask the group for suggestions, saying, “So what should we do? What are the next steps to explore these different opinions?”

IIFAC offers coaching to help facilitators cover the challenges of working with groups. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.
Page 1 of 612345...Last »
IIFAC logo

LinkedinFacebookTwittergoogleplusyoutube

Home     |     About     |     FAQ     |     Services     |     Products     |     Free Resources     |     Contact

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.