The Craft of Facilitating Online

One of the questions I am exploring with a group of students at Aarhus University is how I have transformed my practice from facilitating groups face-to-face to the pandemic practice of being virtually based….what theoretical models have helped me to do this. Initially my response was that I do not really have a theoretical base for my work, and then I was baking, and I realized that much like a skilled baker, I can adapt, add spices, change timings, but there are certain things that have to be put in place for the magic to happen. So this is my attempt to explain some reasoning behind some of the things that I do as a facilitator (often without conscious thought)

Experience not Theory

Once you have opened your session just get started! If you need to deliver content and provide detailed overviews about your speakers why not do this in advance? People can choose to watch. Aim to get people talking and connecting with each other within minutes by using the chat, polls, breakout rooms or annotation tools (and thanks to Phil Walsh for his tip on using WordSearch as a way of helping break the ice!)

I learnt early on my career the importance of stepping aside so that people can get on and participate and the work of Christine Hogan and frequent inspiration from the World Cafe movement helped me to develop my thinking on this further. We must give groups the opportunity to experience virtual collaboration and provide easy to understand instructions and then stop talking and let the magic happen!

Photo by Tobias Bju00f8rkli on Pexels.com

Space to Think

Some people find it easy to think whilst they are talking. Many others need a bit of thinking time first. The advantage of providing a structured period of time in first is that you will get richer conversation and content. It is easier to do in the online room. I simply invite people to turn their cameras off and spend 1-2 minutes getting their thoughts prepared. Then move to the breakout groups.

The principles behind this hold true in the virtual space, and you can read more about it here in our blog Not Everyone Wants to Talk First

Hierarchical Planning

One of the first formal facilitation training sessions I attend was based on the work of John Heron. One of the models that has stuck with me from that session was the idea about different styles: hierarchical, cooperative and autonomous and how important it is to choose the right style for the dimension you are working in. You can read some more about the model here and for me the essence of this is deciding when I need to use my power over a group and when I can release that power. We often think that hierarchical power is wrong but in my experience the facilitator using that power initially in a facilitated session helps to create a safe working space so that the group can become more autonomous over time.

My facilitation practice is based on a process approach, I am not involved in therapeutical facilitation so having structure and giving clear guidelines helps the group to get their work done. Online collaboration is still unfamiliar to many and so in my experience we need as facilitators to use our hierarchical power to create supportive structures and to make the space feel safe.

Equality of Contribution

Online collaboration should provide a space where everyone can contribute. This is where timing on contributions can be so important. If your breakout session is only 15 minutes and there are 5 people and the first person talks for 10 minutes then the rest of the group have less than 2 minutes. I wish more facilitators would use their maths wisely and work out timings that make it possible for everyone to contribute AND then use an actual timer to make it happen.

For formal events I now have a set of neat timers that sit above my head to give a visual reminder of time

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Orientation: Positive and Possibilities

Online sessions are often short and can be very draining. We can help avoid the drain by choosing questions wisely. Go for questions that explore positive experiences and that encourage possibilities. If you are new to facilitation then explore the theory of appreciative inquiry to gain valuable insights into the power of positively framing questions

Harvesting Data

I love the idea of Harvesting and have borrowed it from the work of the World Cafe movement. What this means is thinking about what you want to do with the “stuff” generated at the end of the session. Sometimes harvesting can be left to individuals, they can take away new connections and ideas, but usually a more purposeful harvesting of the data can help people to see different connections than they first thought and can help a team to move forwards.

Using digital tools can really support the harvesting process. Tools like Mentimeter and Vwall mean that everyone can post their comments anonymously and you can quickly share the results at the end.

Building On Line Facilitation Practice

My experience has taught me that what is critical to the success of an online facilitated event is using the skills of a professional facilitator to help shape the process, humanize the technology and create structures that work. Being a digital expert helps but the thing that really stands out is the craft of facilitation and the core of this remains the same as it was during our face to face practice.

Avoiding the Facilitator Vanity Trap

The new world of virtual facilitation has given us an ever-growing selection of shiny tools to choose from. It is easy to get over-excited about the options and create confusion for participants by adding more and more tools to demonstrate our amazing ninja skills in the digital world. I am definitely guilty of this at times. So…. how can we avoid falling into the facilitator vanity trap? How do we make sure that we are using the right tools that will support people get to their desired end point easily?

I am going to share with you five questions that will help you facilitate using a “less is more” approach

Five Ways of Swerving Facilitator Vanity

1. Am I competent in this tool?

Facilitators have a Magpie tendency. We hear someone else mention a tool or technique and we are off onto Google to look it up, sign up for a free trial and then find a way to use it.

Whilst experimentation is valuable we owe it to both our participants and the designers of the tool/process to have road tested it first. We run regular “Playshop” sessions in our team where any of our facilitators can test out a tool or process that they are considering. We do our best to “break” the tool and to simulate what happens when someone does something random.

We need to be sure that we know how the digital platform works, and have explored all the functions before we take this into a live group situation. It is very easy for groups to lose confidence in the virtual platform when the facilitator is stumbling.

Photo by Petr Ganaj on Pexels.com

2. Do we need a report or formal output?

Some times the purpose of an event is to bring people together, to facilitate them to build a connection and then to leave them to make things happen. These are the types of events where previously you might have just taken a few photos of the post-it notes, circulated these and that was the post-production work done.

On the other extreme we might be facilitating events that will help our client create a roadmap, complete a consultation or develop a new set of ideas for the company’s future innovation focus. In these situations it is vital to be able to capture information in the right format.

V-wall is one of our favourite tools for events where capturing the participants individual thoughts is important. It is one of the easiest tools for everyone to engage with and the report is generated within minutes post event into Word so that it can be easily read by other stakeholders. Mural, a tool we love for many events, is much harder to generate a quick report from, it is a more messy process and not ideal for sharing with other stakeholders. Mentimeter bridges the 2 tools and is an easy to use process with output that can be exported and added into a formal summary report.

3. Do we need to gain consensus?

After a process of idea generation it is easy for a group to be overwhelmed by the quantity of ideas. Most facilitators will help the group to navigate through the output with some kind of prioritization method.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

This will often start with clustering of similar ideas and then some form of prioritization will need to be put into place. This could be dot voting or it could be a discussion where participants use coloured cards to show whether they agree with the proposals.

We have found Dotstorming to be a useful tool for participants to post ideas, comment on ideas and finally vote on ideas. Vwall also has facilitator tools that help structure the clusters into voting. But just because you can cluster and prioritize does not mean that this is the most appropriate thing to do. It takes a lot of time, and you may decide to simply let participants to pick out verbally the elements that they find most relevant to the challenge being addressed or for some events we have left the participants to prioritise after the event.

4. Am I just using this tool to impress the group?

This happened recently when I wanted to impress a client by using Mural because they were data scientists and I knew that they would easily pick up the skills to use Mural and would enjoy interacting with it in the focus groups. But because this was a focus group process, reporting was vital and the project team needed a quick, robust report output. I know that Mural is awful at that!

We used Vwall which looks old-fashioned and did not have the “wow” factor with the group for being cutting edge technology, but it has an excellent reporting functionality, so we could quickly and easily share the content with all the stakeholders.

5. Can I make it any simpler?

The final question challenges us to review the process and tools again and to work out if we can make it any easier.

One question I often ask is whether it is possible to just use functionality within the meeting platform? I recently joined a networking session with other facilitators and the Zoom polls, the Zoom chat and the breakout rooms was enough tech for the purposes of this event.

I have supported a colleague who is a more traditional classroom based trainer to convert her programmes online. We tried various methods and decided that what worked well was using a physical flipchart in her Zoom window, so she could write up the feedback from her group and then share them as a photograph in the chat. She felt confident doing this, the participants like the change in focus and the end result was as effective as trying to use the whiteboard or other digital tools

Using these 5 questions will help you to check whether the tool/process is right for the group and what they want to achieve. It will help you to avoid falling into the facilitator vanity trap and choosing a tool which you are attracted to and which makes you feel good!

To find out more about our digital work check out our website: www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Using ORID for Team Reviews

Today our team choose to sit watching the sunset from our respective home offices and to listen to each other talking through our reflections on the year. It was a structured and creative process.

Purpose

To provide space for each team member to explore their reflections on the past period using the ORID structure (Observation/Reactions/Insights/Decision)

Observations: What Happened

The initial phase of the ORID process is designed to capture initial responses – what you noticed happening, what the main differences were. This can often be the easiest way of starting into a reflective process.

  • What were the main learning insights for you?
  • What did you noticed changed for you?

Reactions: WHAT WAS THE IMPACT

The next phase in ORID takes us into a more personal reflective space by encouraging us to explore our reactions to the situation/changes

  • How do you feel about those changed?
  • What surprised/frustrated you?

Insights: so what?

The ORID process then encourages us to consider the value, meaning or significance of the this period of time and the wider personal implications of the changes?

  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • What options does this offer you for the future?
  • How might this affect the way you approach things?

Decision Questions: now what?

The final stage in the reflective process is to consider any decisions that you might want to take. This could be immediate decisions that you intend to implement, or it could be a longer-term decision about how you want to go forward in your work.

  • What will you do differently because of the insights you have gained?
  • Longer term what are some of your ambitions?

Learning more about ORID

http://www.meeting-facilitation.co.uk/blog/files/focused-discussion.html

The Complexity of Virtual Collaboration for Large Groups

Over the last month we have facilitated conferences for 40- 70 people that were planned as face to face event pre Covid19. In March 2020 we agreed with our clients that we would all take the risk and attempt to convert these planned events into virtual events. We were excited and a little nervous about taking this step but the option to postpone would mean that our clients would not be able to consult with their communities and this would hold up the planned strategy for 2020. We all agreed that it felt worth taking the risk and giving virtual events a go as “something would be better than nothing”.

Feedback Matters

It was a huge relief that the feedback from the events has been overwhelming postive. People have been surprised about how much was achieved and how engaging the virtual environment could be.

“You’ve set a new standard in terms of virtual workshops”

“It was an awesome interaction.  For me I benefited hugely and I look forward to future engagements”

“A really impressive event, I’m still thinking through many of the observations and learning points I took from it.”

Learning Insights

In March 2020 we were experienced at facilitating virtual meetings for small groups of people, usually for planning purposes, we had experimented with digital tools within face to face events and we had completed some training in virtual facilitation. Scaling up the process and finding ways of bringing to the virtual world the warmth, friendship and engagement that we generate in face to face collaborations would be a challenge, and we were excited (and a bit scared) about how to make this happen. Here are some learning insights we have picked up on the way that are helping us to raise the game for virtual collaboration, to make it both possible but also enjoyable.

  1. Keep it Simple

In our first event we were keen to capture data from people at every stage and we were guilty of overcomplicating things. We have learnt that initially having breakout groups with no more than about 5 people and providing a simple conversation structure is enough. Keeping it dialogue only allows people the chance to meet, to engage with each other, to get used to being together virtually, without the barrier of another technological tool to get used to.

2. Provide Support and Structure

The virtual space still feel awkward for many people and the usual cues that start and end conversations are not as evident. We have found that having a table host helps to smooth this process. The table host can help the group to focus on the question, can bring people into the conversation and keep an overall awareness of time.

The table hosts have been from our team of trained virtual facilitators or subject experts provided by the client. All table hosts need to be competent and confident in using the technology and so training and support for them in their role is critical. Time and resources for this has to be factored in.

3. Make Digital Tools feel Familiar

Our events have been collaborative consultations and our clients needed to capture information and share that information between people. We have been using Mural as our preferred interactive tool. The advantages of Mural is that the interface is relatively intuitive to use and people can view and edit without having to set up an account.

We have set up the Murals to look like a typical group flipchart space with piles of post it notes and arrows and some easy to follow instructions.

4. Sharing Feedback

In large scale events it is always a challenge to share information across groups. In our virtual space we have swapped groups around so that people can view and add to the flipchart Murals created by previous groups. We have provided space for groups to report back briefly verbally so that they can share their main highlights and we have used a shared polling tool like Mentimeter as a way of groups sharing insights across the groups.

5. Screen Breaks

The common complaint about virtual events is the concentration which feel more intense than in a face to face event. We have learnt to build in regular screen breaks and to give people permission to turn off their video whilst we take a reflective pause. The moderator will turn off their video to cement this permission giving and then will turn their video back on with 1 minute to go and gently ask people to turn their videos on again when they are ready.

We Need to Talk about Money

This is awkward for everyone at the moment, to be very honest most facilitators are glad of any work right now so it was great to be able to invoice something. The reality is that we are a business and going forward we need to make a living from facilitating events or our businesses simply will not exist. The cost issue also applies to internal facilitators and organizers

These large scale events were planned and contracted for before they went virtual. We agreed to deliver them for the same price as the face to face events. I think we all recognize that this is not sustainable as a business. The costs for these types of complex virtual events are DIFFERENT but not cheaper than a face to face event. These are not events where you simply have someone speaking at the group with a bit of text chat. These events involve complex participatory dialogue and are designed to develop collaborative communities.

There are huge savings from the hire of a venue, the food for the event, the travel expenses, the overnight accommodation and all the glossy event materials. Our team saved time by not needed to pack and travel to the venues. But any savings on physical costs will be spent on the preparation time for the organizing team. The planning has to be much more precise than in the face to face world, everything needs to be created and uploaded in advance. You cannot just whip out a flipchart and a few post-it notes. To make a process be really engaging you have to meticulously plan the process, test the process and ensure that everyone involves knows exactly what they are doing and when. You have to communicate more and engage participants before the event and post event.

As a rough estimate I reckon our team spent 4-5 times longer working on the design and planning of the virtual events as we would have spent in a face to face event. With experience, practice and the value of being able to use existing templates this time will reduce but it is probably higher than we and our clients initially expected and as a business this is something that we have to seriously consider and discuss with our clients when we are providing cost estimates for events.

Would we do it again?

We have loved the challenge of working virtually. It was great to find ways of making the virtual tools work for larger groups and to find ways of creating events that combine on line and “offline” contact and connection.

There are huge benefits to the virtual format. We are facing a global climate emergency, and we have to reduce the amount of travel and the waste that is generated at events – there was no wasted food or surplus plastic at these events!

We recognize that virtual events enable people to participate who cannot travel easily to events, particularly those people with disabilities, caring responsibilities or who live in remote places with inadequate transport links. This can create much more diverse, inclusive consultation processes.

Virtual events offer a way to collaborate in a more intimate close up manner than is possible in physical settings at the moment. Given the choice of a virtual event or a “living with COVID-19” face to face event… we believe that virtual events will make it easier to collaborate than sitting 2 metres apart, wearing face coverings and not sharing any materials.

The more we facilitate virtually the better we can make the process and this period of experimentation gives us the opportunity to really develop the work and to find a way of making virtual events a viable option beyond the current restrictions on social interaction.

Next Steps and More Learning

We are moving into the next phase of virtual experimentation with our next events being planned from the start as virtual events and supporting people to use theory of change in collaborations, to develop new networks and form collaborative teams.

If you would like to be part of this experiment in virtual collaboration then do get in touch to talk about ways in which you can continue to collaborate, consult and engage with others whilst living in the Covid reality.

Contact Us

Are Facilitation and Training the Same Thing?

The term facilitator is used to describe people who may be doing very different roles. This confusion can mean that expectations are not met, and people find group processes frustrating. Our team of facilitators are experts in process facilitation, and sometimes we might facilitate some training but although the two things are similiar…they are not interchangeable roles at all.

Facilitative Training

Many clients seem to prefer the word facilitator to trainer and this can be confusing. We use the term “facilitative trainer” to describe situations where there is prepared content for the session and the trainer is using methods that are “facilitative”. This could involve participants working in groups on learning activities and will usually involve discussion sessions in the whole group that are facilitated so they keep on time and the task. There will usually be theoretical content, delivered in an interesting and engaging way so that participants can use the learning outside the workshop format in their working lives.

In a training session the participants will expect by the end of the workshop to have learnt something new and to have been taken through materials which have been designed in advance eg slides and handouts.  The learning could be related to the development of skills in leadership, diversity or learning how to solve problems.

Process Facilitation

By contrast a process facilitator has no theoretical content that they are expected to cover. They will work instead with a road map for the workshop. There will be a clear destination defined and the group will work together to find the best way to reach that destination. The facilitator will design structures to encourage participants to talk to each other, to reach consensus, to avoid group think and to make action plans together.

If a process facilitator was tasked to facilitate a leadership session the destination might be about making real tangible change in the leadership style in the organisation, however the facilitator will not defined what that change will be like, this is defined by the participants who will be supported to come to a consensus about leadership style. They could create a shared vision for leadership in the organisation and from this identify what needs to stop/start/continue happening so they can achieve this vision.

The facilitator will ask questions and suggest structures to help the group to share views and make some decisions, but they will not offer “models of Leadership” or present any theoretical overviews of Leadership approaches. The focus of the work is about how to create a change in the organisation and its leadership and the people in the group are the right people to make this change.

Not Better: Just Different

Process facilitation is different to training. Both facilitators and trainers focus on outcomes that are agreed in advance with clients. Both will design activities that will engage the participants in the outcomes. The difference is in the type of outcomes –process facilitators work with the group to achieve progress on an agreed challenge. The facilitative trainer is working towards outcomes that will help people to learn about the topic so they can choose to change their approach in the future.

Process Facilitation OutcomesTraining Outcomes
Agree on the focus areas for the next 6 months for the project teamUnderstand the importance of setting project targets and reviewing these
Create a draft of the 2025 team strategyExplore different methods for writing team strategies
Make connections with potential collaborators for ongoing projectsDevelop networking skills and reflect on techniques to build collaborative relationships

If you want to have a chat with us about whether a process facilitator or a facilitative trainer is best suited to your needs just get in contact with us and we can explore what is best for you.

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

How to Improve Project Collaboration

Complex projects will involve teams from different parts of your organisation or from multiple organisations, some of whom could be competitors on a different project. It would be hoped that the common goal of project completion will encourage the different interests to work together to resolve any problems quickly so that the task gets done on time and to specification. Our experience has been that hope alone is rarely enough for effective collaboration to thrive.

“Although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success” Gratton and Erickson, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2007 

If you want your team to work successfully  in a collaborative manner you will need to take positive action to embed the behaviours that will encourage co-operative and will  overcome the natural tendencies to privatize knowledge and to be competitive.

Feeding back 2

You could put on a training programme but this can often be theoretically and not always applied in practice we find it better to make a number of live interventions once a project team has mobilised. Of course these interventions will only work if the culture of all the organisations involved are supportive to collaboration and if this is something that senior leaders consciously demonstrate during their work. If the culture is in place then our three easy interventions will help you as the project leader to drive the change you want so that collaboration becomes a key element to your project success.

Stage One: Establishing the Collaborative Team

This stage will involve a number of activities but a crucial element will be a face to face event. The value of face to face conversations are hard to fully replicate in other ways so unless it is just impossible  find a time and place to physically connect. The amount of time for this varies but often the 24 hour retreat – 13.00 – to 13.00 works well, as it provides time to connect socially as well as professionally.

This event is an opportunity for your team to work collaboratively together on a number of real challenges and tasks you need to do to kick off the project. This will include the following activities:

  • Setting the project vision – appreciating the different expectations of success can help your team to find “win win” solutions to challenges that they will face during the life time of your project.
  • Exploring Expertise- highly intelligent and skilled professionals often do not explain their expertise in an accessible manner and this can be a source of conflict when their expertise is not fully utilised later in the project. Providing time for your team to share and appreciate the range of skills and expertise they have will work much better than playing any number of “trust games”
  • Exploring Behavioural Expectations – this is a really important activity because it will involve you sharing your expectations of behaviours to support collaboration. You can use the results of this activity later on in project reviews to provide an easy forum for team members to address behaviour that is not supporting the project.

Groups discussing

Stage 2 – Project Team Collaboration Reviews

The number and timings of these collaborative reviews will vary but the critical element is that there is space provided to specifically explore collaboration and not just talk about the project goals and milestones. Sometimes these reviews are done virtually and sometimes a combination of virtual team meet ups and face to face sessions are used.

  • Reviewing the Vision – you can review the vision from the start-up session and ask the team to identify the activities that have directly addressed the overall vision for the project. You can explore alignment between the collaborative behaviours and the project vision.
  • Updating Expertise– sharing learning and identifying any gaps in knowledge, skills or behaviour will help your team make better use of its resources. A useful method for this are action learning groups. These give you a face to face or virtual space to explore learning from the project and identify any gaps in knowledge/skills.
  • Reviewing and resetting expectations – you can covert the discussion about behaviour in the start up to a quick “temperature” checking tool. Your team can self assess the levels of collaboration in the project team. You can collate the resut and share these with the team to help you all explore both successes and challenges in behaviours and agree a options to further develop your collaborative work.

Clustering postits large scale

Stage 3 – Celebrating the Collaboration

A frequently overlooked intervention is an opportunity to review and celebrate your project collaboration . This can be done with a series of interventions, it does not have to be a face to face event. Some elements you will find useful include:

  • Reviewing the Vision– reflecting on your shared vision at your first project session and exploring how this differs from the project outcome. This is a great time for you to ask questions about the difference between aspirations and the realities of projects and to explore the impact of this mismatch
  • Celebrating expertise and skills – during the project your team  will have developed their skills and expertise so it is about providing a way of charting this growth in a shared format.
  • Reviewing behaviour – if your team are likely to bid for future work on collaborative frameworks then taking time to honestly reflect on the collaborative behaviours shown is a the best way to prepare your team to perform at even higher levels on the next project.
  • Recording the story of the project creating a story board of all the photos and key stages to your project can be a good way of celebrating your journey. This can be done easily using an on-line pinboard facility.

2016-01-15 13.22.48

The interventions outlined above are things you can do as the project leader. You may to engage a neutral facilitator to work with you so that you can participate in the discussions and leave someone else to worry about the process. Whether you work independently or with a facilitator you will find that giving this focus on collaboration will help your team avoid some of the conflict that can often set project team behind schedule.

If you want to have an informal, free chat with one of our team we have facilitators working across the  the UK and Europe and we can call by for a face to face dicussion or connect virtually with you to talk about improving collaboration

Christine Bell

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Communication for Collaboration

One of the challenges for project teams where there is collaborative between different organisations and professionals is the lack of a common language. We all use short cuts in our language and descriptions within our own circles and it is easy to assume that others will understand you without needing any further assistance.

As facilitators we will often run sessions at project kick off meetings to help explore the project goal or problem by explaining it by using visual methods. One of our more challenging recent projects has been to bring together people working in the energy industry, systems engineers and academics to agree the research programme needed to develop an energy system for the UK.

The breakthrough for our client and for the participants was an early activity when we invited participants to explain the challenge of the future energy system by creating a model. Our client from the UK Energy Systems Catapult team commented that for him the highlight of the event was

“watching the construction and explanation of models of the energy system put together using balloons, card, pipe cleaners and sticky back plastic”

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Initially he had been concerned that this activity would be too radical and too “playful” for this group of senior professionals but he realised how the activity helped created a level playing field for the communication across all the different professions in the room.

We agreed that created a shared visual understanding enabled the group to work more constructively together so that they were able to complete the task of creating the future research programme and were able to build potential collaborations for the future.

We only get out the pipe cleaners if they have a clear purpose, there are many other ways to explore a topic to reach a shared understand and the power of visual communication can really help with your team collaboration so take a risk to communicate differently!

Christine Bell

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Making Business Meetings Productive

Business meetings are often limited to 1 to 2 hours. They need to be tightly controlled to avoid overrunning and to make sure that you make effective use of everyone attending.

Contrary to some popular belief, meetings can be useful if run effectively.  Many organisations use meetings well to:

  • Have a dialogue to reach a decision of importance the organisation/project/team
  • Identify key themes for a future strategy or plan
  • Share challenges and explore options to address these

Last night was a significant achievement for the club. We made key decisions about important issues and were finished by 9.30. There were smiles and people are now looking forward to future meetings. Thanks for helping us to change the way we do things – Paul Luxton

To create a useful meeting a few simple steps can help you along the pathway to productivity.

participation-2

Clarify the Purpose

What is the meeting for? Too many meetings exist because historically they have always done so. In the days before electronic communication meetings were an effective way of getting a message out to everyone at one time but to just use a meeting as a one way information giving forum is a total waste of time. Using email, social media and discussion boards will achieve this end more effectively.

Once you are clear on the purpose of the meeting you can decide who needs to be involved and then get down to the business of setting the agenda about what needs to be discussed. Check out ABC of meetings

Manage the Agenda

Your agenda for your meeting is an essential planning tool. It should set out why each item is being discussed, what outcome you need from the meeting (eg a decision, a commitment for action) and should give an allocation of time based which is agreed with the item presenter.

We intervened with a community sports group who had a regular business meeting which started at 7.45 and often did not finish until 10.45. The team recognised that they had a problem and that “the kind of meetings we have now are neither enjoyable, productive or sustainable”.

We worked with the chair and secretary to analyse the last three meetings and to review the purpose of their face to face meetings. We used this to create a list of guidelines to club members setting out the criteria for bringing items to the committee and some other options that could be used to disseminate information.

The result was that the following committee meeting had a limited agenda and was over in 1.5 hours leaving the committee time to talk to each other and socialise, sharing their love of their sport.

agenda-2

Reviewing agendas

Making Decisions

Most items discussed at a meeting will result in a decision. Be clear about whether that decision needs to be made by a majority vote or by reaching consensus. If aiming for consensus you need to provide more time to allow clarification of concerns to be raised and have a clear process to follow

A major engineering project was starting to fall behind schedule due to communication issues and conflict between the three project teams. We facilitated a process so the teams could outline their expectations of each other’s behaviour. It was important that everyone was involved in the decision about behavioural expectations so we used the colour consensus cards so people could flag green for agreement, red for disagreement and yellow for some concerns.

Items were only accepted if we could reach a mainly green/yellow consensus. If there were any red cards showing after the consensus discussion the item had to be put to one side.  Although this is not a quick process it does make sure that only items that have full commitment are agreed to.

Other methods to make decisions are to take a vote of members and make the decision based on the majority viewpoint.  In smaller groups it is better to ask each attendee to state their position by going round in turn. This can help the views of the minority be heard and also makes it harder to make a decision because the chair assumes everyone is in agreement.

We worked with a community gardening project who had reached stalemate on a decision, they just could not reach consensus. We guided a structured process to explore both the advantages and disadvantages of the two options and then did a final round to hear what everyone’s preference was for. It was clear that the majority preferred one option and it was helpful for this to be heard so that although consensus could not be reached the two members who opposed the option were able to accept that this was the overall preference for the whole group and they stepped back from their opposition.

“I know we did not reach a consensus and we are losing two people but this has happened in a moving forward and respectful manner” Roxanna Summers, Back to Front

Allocate Actions

A meeting with no action is pointless. You also want to avoid the actions all being allocated for one person (often the chair!) Two tips which often help are:

  • Prepare a wall chart with everyone’s name on it and then space for actions to be recorded against their name, this avoids some leaving the meeting with lots of actions and some with none. It makes it very visual and can help to prompt the chair to remind people to commit to a specific action.
  • The chair of the meeting can respond proactively to comments made during the meeting to convert these into action – “thanks for that x, can you follow that up with x and email out the outcome, we will record that in the action plan”

who-agenda

Minutes

The minutes can be drafted in advance based on the purpose of each item so they use the agenda to shape an introduction to each item and the purpose of the discussion and then record the actions to be taken.

It is useful to summarise the planned actions in an action plan as well so that there is an easy document to track progress before the next meeting.

Part of the planning for the next meeting will involve the chair or secretary reviewing the agreed actions and checking on progress so this can be minuted in advance of the meeting and a very short verbal overview given.

Review what went well and how to improve

At the end of the meeting set aside 5-10 minutes to share what worked well and to give constructive tips for the next meeting. Read our blog on Agile Team Working – making time to talk

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

If you would like one of our facilitators to talk to you about how to make your meetings more focused, engaging, productive and shorter then give us a call.

 

Why People Resist Change

Resistance to change is the act of opposing or struggling with modifications or transformations that alter the status quo in the workplace.

 Reading an article I was reminded what a great impact resistance to change can have on the success of a change programme.

82% of contributors indicated that the main reason for change failing was resistance to the change .

In 2011 Bauer And Erdogan classified resistors based on individuals reaction to change.

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Attitudes to Change

Active resistance is the most negative reaction to a proposed change attempt.  Those who engage in active resistance may sabotage the change effort and be outspoken objectors to the new procedures.  In contrast, passive resistance involves being disturbed by changes without necessarily voicing these opinions.  Instead, passive resisters may dislike the change quietly, feel stressed and unhappy, and even look for a new job without necessarily bringing their concerns to the attention of decision makers.  Compliance, however, involves going along with proposed changes with little enthusiasm.  Finally, those who show enthusiastic support are defenders of the new way and actually encourage others around them to give support to the change effort as well.

The reasons why individuals show passive or active resistance to change are:

  • Disrupted Habits Individuals often resist change for the simple reason that change disrupts our habits.  Habits make life easy.  For this simple reason, people are sometimes surprisingly outspoken when confronted with simple changes at work.
  • Personality Some individuals are more resistant to change than others. Some may view change as an opportunity to shine others as a threat that is overwhelming. For individuals who are risk-avoidant, the possibility of a change be more threatening.
  • Feelings of Uncertainty Change inevitably bring feelings of uncertainty. The feeling that the future is unclear is enough to create stress for people because it leads to a sense of lost control.
  • Fear of Failure Individuals also resist change when they feel that their performance may be affected.  Those who feel that they can perform well as a result of the changes are more likely to be committed, while those who have lower confidence in their ability to perform after changes are less committed.
  • Personal Impact of Change Individuals tend to be more welcoming of change that is favorable to them on a personal level such as improving their quality of life or work life balance, or removing conflict.
  • Prevalence of Change Any change effort should be considered within the context of all the other changes that are introduced in a company. If other recent changes have failed there will be an increased resistance to further change.
  • Perceived Loss of Power One other reason individuals may resist change is that change may affect their power and influence in the organization. Any loss in prestige and status, even if only perceived will result in resistance to the change.

Do we do enough when managing change to support those showing resistance to overcome their concerns and increase the number of enthusiastic supporters?

Taking the fact that 82% of change fails as a result of resistance to change as an indicator; there is a need to do considerably more than we currently do.

Ensure you have the capacity to spend time with individuals.  Take the time to understand:

  1. What the specific changes will include
  2. Who the changes will impact
  3. How these changes will impact on an individual basis
  4. Why each individual might resist the changes

You will then have a degree of empathy to support each individual with his or her specific concerns and follow this understanding up by:

  •  Having open and honest conversations
  • Giving a strong and powerful rationale for change
  • Creating opportunities for collaborative working
  • Involving those that do the work in shaping solutions to problems
  • Agreeing how to continue to support the individual and commit to follow-up
  • Keeping anything shared in confidence to yourself

To discuss ideas for how to get people more engaged with changes before, during and after implementation contact us

Lucy Brownsdon, Director, Centre for Facilitation

Time to Innovate

One of the reactions to our stories of facilitating the EPSRC Sandpit process is surprise about the amount of time that it takes. A fully formed Sandpit/Innovation Lab is a five day event which is a fully immersed residential community experience. There is a process to which provides a different focus for each of the five days and as facilitators we keep the process keeps moving forward so that at the end of the event the funding decisions can be made in a robust and fair manner.

Clustering Ideas Open Space

If you put a group of people in a room and tell them to come up with a new and totally radical idea that has never been thought of before it will take time. Initially people will share ideas that they were already thinking about. By using a process of reflection, challenging, discussion and creative thinking a process can start where these ideas get put to one side allowing space for the truly radical insights to emerge.

Developing Ideas Groupwork

It is possible to do innovation events in shorter periods of time. Sometimes a few hours is all that is available to bring people together to develop new ideas for products, services or research. The time together allows people to start to share emerging ideas, to develop these ideas and to then go away either individually or in teams to work up these ideas into a project/idea proposal.

Using a short burst approach works well if the follow up is part of the process. We work with groups to make sure that by the end of the “innovation lab” workshop  initial ideas are captured. These are written up and shared with the group. Further follow up conversations are initiated to see which of these ideas are worth exploring further. Having a presentation event planned for 6 weeks after the innovation event can provide enough of a focus to keep the momentum going and allow people time to further develop their ideas before sharing them for consideration for further funding or research.

To discuss ideas for Innovation events contact us directly