Unfortunately, traditional conferences are poor places for this kind of learning to occur, since they’re filled with broadcast-style lectures, during which no interpersonal interaction takes place.
At well-designed meetings, however, participants have plenty of opportunities to engage with peers about topics that are personally important. The key learning modality at such meetings is peer learning.
Peer learning allows anyone to be a teacher and/or a student, with these roles switching from moment to moment. Potentially, everyone has something to contribute and to learn. Peer conferences first uncover the content and issues people want to discuss. They then facilitate appropriate peer learning around topics of interest. My books and this blog provide plenty of information on how to do this.
Of course, in order for peer learning to occur, participants need to share what they know.
And this is where trust and safety issues impact learning.
“It is important to stress that we are all connected through a complicated net of trust. It is not as if there is a group of people, the non-experts, who have to trust the experts and the experts do not have to trust anyone. Everyone needs to trust others since human knowledge is a joint effort…It is well known that low levels of trust in a society leads to corruption and conflict, but it is easy to forget the very central role that trust plays for knowledge. And knowledge, of course, is essential to the democratic society.” —Åsa Wikforss, Why do we resist knowledge?
Why people may not share their knowledge
Knowledge management author Stan Garfield shares sixteen reasons why people don’t share their knowledge. Here’s a key one:
“They don’t trust others. They are worried that sharing their knowledge will allow other people to be rewarded without giving credit or something in return, or result in the misuse of that knowledge.” —Stan Garfield, 16 reasons why people don’t share their knowledge
So, when trust is absent, knowledge fails to flow. But when knowledge flow is stemmed, opportunities for trust are reduced. This is a positive feedback loop that guarantees low trust and knowledge sharing.
This breakdown of trust can happen anywhere. Between individuals, in organizations, and at a societal level. And it is easy for it to happen at meetings.
Designing for trust, safety, and learning
In general, the more meeting attendees trust each other, the safer they feel. The safer they feel, the more likely they are to share their knowledge.
So when I design and facilitate meetings, one of my most important goals is to provide a maximally safe environment for sharing. This maximizes the potential for consequential learning.
That’s why I:
introduce group agreements upfront, one of which has participants keep what individuals share confidential;
create an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes (or where mistakes are impossible);
provide ample opportunities for group discussions, rather than lectures, around appropriate content; and
give people the right to not participate at any time.
The last condition is important. An attendee’s level of trust and feeling of safety may vary from moment to moment during a meeting. Giving attendees the freedom (and responsibility) to decide not to participate and/or share at any time allows them to determine and control what is personally safe to do.
Clearly, sense-making is a vital human activity. At a fundamental level, our brains are continuously, and largely automatically, making sense of our sense organ data. At higher levels of thought, we routinely attempt to make sense of situations that confront us. If we didn’t, the world would be a confusing and more dangerous place.
Our sense-making prowess allows us to build models of the present and make decisions about potential future behavior. Thus, sense-making is a key ingredient of our ability to plan and make group decisions.
The danger of our drive to make sense
There’s a flip side to our incredible ability to make sense of our perceptions and experiences. Dave Snowden, speaking about tactics used by the foresight community, says:
Dave Snowden coined the term retrospective coherence, aka Monday morning quarterbacking, when talking about the behavior of complex systems. (See Dave Snowden and Mary Boone’s classic article A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making to learn more about complex systems, a domain of the Cynefin framework.) Retrospective coherence means that, in a complex environment, it seems easy in hindsight to explain why things happened. Unfortunately, applying our sense-making abilities to complex systems doesn’t work, since cause and effect can only be determined in retrospect.
For those with short memories, the danger of retrospective coherence is that it inspires a false confidence in their ability to make correct predictions. To avoid such inflation of our predictive expertise we need to scrupulously compare our predictions with actual outcomes, and admit our limitations.
Premature convergence is our predilection to prematurely decide we have found the answer to a problem and stop exploring other possibilities.
Determining what is “adequate” time is one of the arts of facilitation.
During divergence, a facilitator supports the uncovering of relevant questions, information, perspectives, and ideas.
At some point, there’s a switch to the Groan Zone. Here, the participants discuss what’s been uncovered, develop a shared framework of understanding, and create inclusive potential solutions. At least, that’s how Kaner describes the process, though the Groan Zone has always seemed to me to have a lot in common with what Virginia Satir’s change model calls chaos.
People have proposed many ways to move from groan zone to convergence, and some of them are flawed. There’s no single “right” way to move to convergence. But you’re likely guaranteed to come up with a poor conclusion if you don’t spend enough time diverging and groaning beforehand.
Despite the pitfalls outlined above, we are sense-making animals and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Stay realistic about your limitations to predict future outcomes, and take your time moving through divergent & Groan Zone process, and you’ll avoid the dangers of our drive to make sense.
Last week I immensely enjoyed participating in a two-hour Zoom brain trust on moderating online panels. So good, it should be shared with a wider audience. So here’s a treasury of good ideas and resources we uncovered.
Huge thanks to the conveners and leaders: my friend, team performance and facilitation expert Kristin Arnold, and corporate innovation leader Scott Kirsner.
As you’d expect if you know these folks, the session was very well organized and facilitated. No mean task for a vocal group of 28!
Thank you Scott & Kristin for providing an agenda and (pretty closely) sticking to it! Here it is.
15 mins: Who’s here; what sort of moderating have you been doing?
5 mins: Scott shares some recent learnings from virtual events.
10 mins: Kristin shares some recent learnings from virtual events, and a quick overview of what’s in her book.
20 mins: Breakouts (in groups of 4). What are 1-2 of your online moderating pro tips? Capture these on a shared doc (Slido).
10 mins: How did that go? Report back and bio break.
30 mins: Is panel prep different in the virtual world? Speaker recruiting? Tools and techniques for engaging the audience. Debates on burning questions (like chat or no chat, prep call or no prep call, right length.)
30 mins: Additional Q&A and discussion time (if needed).
I usually put these at the end, but because this post incorporates large, sometimes verbatim, chunks of Kristin Arnold’s excellent session notes I want to give her full co-author credit. Any errors and omissions are mine. Kristin’s name appears many times in what follows; some of the comments are hers, some are her notes on what others said.
While I’m mentioning Kristin, the best resources I know on becoming a first-rate panel moderator are her panel-focused website and short but packed book Powerful Panels. Visit the former and buy the latter!
And now the ideas…
Some of what follows is verbatim; some is edited by me slightly. Editorial additions/comments are shown in red. When the contributor is known, I’ve added their name (with a link the first time they’re mentioned).
Pre-event calls with panelists
There are two kinds of pre-event calls, though these categories can blur, and might be covered in a single call:
Connecting with panelists. This includes getting to know them, moderator education, defining panel and panelist scope, discussing potential topics and issues
Prep/production calls. This includes technical run-throughs.
“I call it a ‘production call like you would have if you were going to be on The View or Live with Kelly and Ryan .” —Glenn Thayer
For sure, I help drive the attendee experience and engagement and deliver on the networking value of the virtual event. Much more than a security blanket. —Sarah Michel
We always assign a breakout room “table captain” pre-hand for who will moderate the breakout room. —Raza Shaikh
Zoom now has the feature to set a room topic too. —Kristin Arnold[I think you’re referring to Zoom Rooms, not Zoom Meetings. The latter has always allowed you to rename breakout rooms to a topic, issue, or group as desired.] • However, EVERYONE in the zoom room must have the latest version of Zoom downloaded or they won’t see the room options/topics. —Sarah Michel
At what audience size do you find that “all mics open” breaks down? —Andrew Lee Rubinger • Haven’t found a max yet. Did it up to 150 . —Jan-Jaap In der Maur
Integrate breakouts – put a panelist in each of the breakout rooms. —Kristin Arnold
On “intentionality”: I determine the story arc I want told in the session. It’s like a jazz performance – it’s all improv, but there are waypoints to hit. —Andrew Lee Rubinger
IME, well-designed problem solver panels are great and audiences love them. —Adrian Segar
To help ensure that participants know what to do in breakouts, when the breakout rooms are open, message them with instructions, time available, etc. Have this prewritten elsewhere, so it can be efficiently pasted into the platform. —Kristin Arnold
Do your research before you talk to the panelists. —Kristin Arnold
Curiosity is key. —Adrian Segar
Record prep call – use those recorded snippets for social media marketing for live event! —Kristin Arnold [Love this!]
Goal of pre-call that they feel comfortable enough that they could mock me. —Kristin Arnold
What questions, issues, what are you hoping to get out of this session at the beginning in the chat ? —Kristin Arnold
Know your moderator style. —Kristin Arnold
If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. —Daniel Seewald
General panel wisdom
Pre-empt attendee objections. For example, reduce fears about being in breakout rooms with strangers. —Demoed by Scott Kirsner during our session
Engaging the audience is not the same as involving the audience (giving them a task to do). —Kristin Arnold
Ensure your audience knows you care…AND your panelist knows you care. Watched a Comicon panel with Charlize Theron. Initially, she wasn’t engaged. Once the moderator asked questions that really showed she did her homework, she literally leaned in. —Kristin Arnold
The best and most engaging moderated event I’ve seen was a workshop on “visual thinking strategies” at Innovation Leader’s Impact conference, where the moderator of the discussion spent about 45 min having a group discussion about a Picasso painting. She just asked questions about what we saw and what we thought those symbols meant. It was genuinely like being in school — and I think that unusual dynamic made people excited. Then, after that discussion, she shifted to talking about how that could apply to business/corporate settings, and many participants said they were going to integrate what they learned in that session that day. —Lilly Milman
Use shared documents to seek feedback and capture insights from large groups. —Anonymous [During the session we used Slido to capture insights.]
Use object voting. For example: “If you agree, hold up something in your office that’s blue. Neutral or undecided, yellow. Disagree, red.” —Kristin Arnold
Interaction with panelists
Be about something, have a position, be honest about it. Push up against the walls. Be kind. —Kristin Arnold
Have the panelist give us a tour, give a demo, go get an object (from a trip you have been on). —Kristin Arnold
Give panelists an object and ask them to provide a greater meaning to it. —Kristin Arnold
Coach your panelists on how to use the camera and speak authentically . —Kristin Arnold
To share the questions with the panelists or not?
I almost always share prep questions with my panelists. Mostly because my panelists are tech people and not always the best speakers . —Kelley Kassa
Provide a loose framework of where we want to go….some potential questions. Any specific questions that need some vetting… —Kristin Arnold
I always try to email topics with the caveat that we’ll ask follow-ups and make it conversational . —Kaitlin Milliken
I like giving the first question so they will be comfortable AND the last question, that can be recorded and edited into a social media snack. —Kristin Arnold
You have to really listen to what your panelists are saying…and make decisions on what to probe further . —Kristin Arnold
Ask panelists to bring one question to the panel to ask each other. —Kristin Arnold
Design for the audience & connections
There is NO panel without an audience. —Sarah Michel
In the midst of this global pandemic, people are attending virtual events seeking meaningful connections. We must design panels for that . —Sarah Michel
The moderator is a champion for the audience. Everything has to flow from the audience. How does this make them better people? —Kristin Arnold
IME, audiences love well-designed problem solver panels. —Adrian Segar
Interview the audience before it starts . —Kristin Arnold
Content is not king…it’s context and connections . —Kristin Arnold
Drive to action…run a poll – who do you want to follow up with? —Anonymous
Get to know the functionality of platforms. Offer alternatives. —Kristin Arnold
Use an online poll to start the session. —Anonymous
Leverage chat. It’s gold. Be on chat early and ask the audience to answer a question. Keep the chat open afterwards. I have a love/hate relationship with chat as neuroscience says that we aren’t focused on the conversation . —Anonymous
Casual or Formal?
There is a whole business of a production studio in a box that gets sent to a panelist… —Anonymous
Some corporations don’t want casual they want big production. —Anonymous
I’ve gotten the box sent to me for an event. Lots of rehearsals too. —Anonymous
I ask my clients what backgrounds/level of production they want… —Anonymous
More hybrid meetings in future
Small in-person studio audience and a much larger virtual. Curate the studio audience… —Sarah Michel
More ideas from breakouts via Slido
Love asking panel members (or speakers) to change their backgrounds when you want to shift the energy or when you go to live Q&A, etc.
Set up a shared “group notes” document where people can contribute their notes from the panel. You can even give a prize for best note-taker at the event.
Whatever goes wrong with A/V last time won’t happen next time…relax over technical glitches. They are bound to happen.
Conversations don’t have scripts. There’s a road map of where I want to go but need to go with the conversations.
When clients are technologically not especially comfortable, ask for ONE thing to do vs. the world of possibilities .
Don’t tell your clients everything you will be doing…as they will defend/say no.
Sometimes, a heads up might be appropriate so they aren’t thrown off .
Ask panelists to stay for networking time between sessions. That way, the audience can meet them and have one on one conversations.
Have panelists ask each other questions – they usually have great questions for each other.
Fireside chats…work with speaker to cut into small pieces .
Every 6-10 minutes switch gears, do something different .
If an online gathering has less than 20 people, consider starting with introductions. Moderator calls on each name: 15 seconds maximum.
If you’re not a subject matter expert, ask panelists in prep calls: What matters most right now?
What would you tell me about in an elevator?
Put a pillow in your lap if you have a little sound echo in your room .
When there’s content that is very technical in nature, ask questions like “please explain X as if you’re talking to someone completely unfamiliar with the topic”. [Me: I often open by stating that I know less about the panel topic than anyone else in the room—but I do know how to moderate panels!]
Be punchy, concise. Less is more. Provide a digestible premise that people are interested in.
Pre-record segments – edit down into more focused conversation. Or cut at key points and stop to interact .
To run fishbowl discussions on Zoom, have everyone turn their camera off until they have something to say. When they turn their camera on, they float to top of Gallery View That makes it easy for the moderator (whose camera is always on) to see who wants to talk. [See third link above.]
Use Zoom breakout rooms for “hallway” conversations after a panel. Put the panelists into one of those rooms after the panel is over so people can “meet” them. [Also consider using online social platforms for breaks and socials.]
Give frequent, small assignments: e.g. write down your biggest challenge. Use that as a start to the conversation.
When you do an A/V check, make sure panelists use the same equipment and time of day!
On Zoom train and teach all people to use the blue hand raise button instead of physically raising the hand . [Depends on group size; I prefer human hand raising if the group is viewable on one screen in Gallery view.]
Ask everyone to keep their camera on as a way of showing respect and being present.
Have a 2nd device ready…like your phone…in case of wifi or Zoom problems.
Pre-record sponsor segments.
Put into chat what you want attendees to do!
Ask people to talk about one favorite object from a trip.
Practice as much as you can and prep for props/interactive elements.
Using the visuals and doing things like physically leaning in can engage people and create intimacy.
Love Mural, having a quick and easy task to begin with to get everyone up to speed helps. —Caitlin Harper[I prefer Miro.]
Use a visual notetaker [aka graphic recorder]! —Caitlin Harper
If you wanna hear about Kristin’s brilliance with the CAPS conference last week…. we interviewed her today on Webinar Talk Show about all their ideas and how they pulled it off. 35-minute interview. Watch it…cuz she had soooo many good points about being engaging. —Thom Singer
Slido for polling and capturing participant ideas/questions/etc.
If you’d like to see what a business partner and I started for people like me who want to PRESENT rather than PRODUCE, visit livestream-denver.com. This is a work in progress and not a sales pitch as we work almost exclusively with clients in the Denver area. —Mark Sanborn
One of the best and simplest ways to build active learning and connection into any meeting is to regularly use pair share. (See Chapter 38 of The Power of Participation, or Chapter 27 of Event Crowdsourcing for full details.) I’ve recently noticed that in some circumstances, trio share — pair share but with three participants — works better.
Advantages of pair share
Pair share has a lot going for it. It’s the most efficient way to ensure that every participant periodically switches into activelearning, which, as explained in The Power of Participation, provides:
Pair share duration is minimal. I commonly allow each partner a minute to share their response. Including instructions, a typical pair share might take around three minutes. Getting every participant to actively think and respond to a question or issue in this time pays rich dividends.
Comparing trio share with pair share
A trio share obviously takes longer than a pair share, given the same sharing time per participant. The example above would require at least an extra minute. I say “‘at least” because it generally takes longer (at least at in-person meetings) to create trios than pairs.
In addition, the conversational directness and intensity may be less in a trio share, since each participant is talking to two people instead of one.
On the other hand, each participant is connecting with two other people, rather than one.
None of these differences is a deal breaker. In the past, I have tended to use pair share, simply because my time with participants is limited and pair shares are quicker.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, however, I’ve noticed something new.
When trio share works better than pair share
Ultimately, you can’t force adult attendee participation. Nevertheless, at in-person meetings it’s rare to have people sit out pair sharing. The reason, of course, is unspoken social pressure. Anyone choosing not to participate is obvious to the people around them.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced meetings online, I began to see more people avoiding session pair shares. I’d allocate pairs into Zoom breakout rooms, and, quite often, one or two people didn’t join their allocated room but stayed in the Zoom lobby.
As the host, I’d gently check in with those remaining behind. Sometimes they hadn’t accepted the breakout room assignment and would do so. But more often than not, it turned out they were absent (it’s hard to tell when their camera’s off).
Their unfortunate partners who went into the breakout room had no one to talk to!
At in-person meetings, this is easy to handle. I ask anyone without a partner to raise their hand, and then pair up isolated people.
Online, this takes too much time, and those without a partner suffer.
Using trio share instead of pair share online
So I’ve started using trio share for online meetings. There are two reasons.
First, trio share reduces the impact on “orphaned” participants. If one person in a trio doesn’t join, the remaining pair can still reap the benefits of pair share.
And second, trio share gently increases social pressure for attendees to participate. Bowing out of pair share affects one other person. Avoiding a trio share affects two.
Whatever you do, some people will opt out of small group work. Their reasons are — their reasons. We need to accept that. Switching to trio share for online work is a small tweak that seems to improve participation. And creating a meeting environment where small group work is more likely to occur is always worthwhile.
What’s your experience of using pair share and/or trio share at in-person and online meetings? Please share in the comments!
Is it possible to routinely start online meetings on time? Yes!
Think about the last three meetings you attended. Raise your hand if all of them started on time.
Why don’t scheduled meetings start on time?
The reason that almost no scheduled meetings (in-person or online) start on time is that we provide one single time for meetings to both open and start.
Even with the best intentions, participants can’t and won’t all arrive simultaneously at the exact time a meeting is scheduled to start. With a single fixed time to open and start a meeting, everyone will either be “early” or “late”.
In addition, meeting invitations don’t supply information as to what the consequences of being early or late will be!
If you arrive early for an in-person meeting, you may find the meeting room locked or occupied by another, earlier meeting. You have to wait around until the room is free. You have no idea if anyone else may be early, which gives you little incentive to be early.
If you arrive early for an online meeting, you may find the meeting host hasn’t opened the online meeting platform yet. You will have to wait around until the host starts the meeting and lets you in. You don’t know if anyone else will be around beside the host, with whom you may have to chat to be polite. If you’re busy, the smart thing to do is to join the meeting at the last minute. And if there’s a glitch in the meeting platform technology or connection, you may end up being late.
If you arrive late for an in-person or online meeting, you may miss stuff. Things may need to be repeated for your benefit, annoying the folks who did arrive on time. Or you may effectively delay the meeting start because you (or enough of the other participants) are late.
Whatever happens, no one wins, time is wasted, and the meeting quality suffers!
Scheduling a meeting to open and start at the same time invariably ensures that it won’t start on time.
We reluctantly put up with this imperfect state of affairs for in-person meetings. Over time, repeated team or intra-organization meetings tend to create an implicit expectation as to when they will start. (For example: “We never get going until ten minutes past the hour“, or “the VP is always five minutes late and wants to be the last person to arrive“.) We adjust our behavior accordingly.
Starting online meetings on time is typically harder, because many of them include a specific mix of people who have never met before (and may never meet again as that exact set). There is no prior history to guide when you should arrive.
Although the following advice can improve the likelihood that any kind of meeting will start on time, I’ll focus on online meetings here.
How to start online meetings on time
Two small changes make it far more likely that an online meeting will start on time.
1. Include two times in your meeting invitation. The time when the meeting will open, and the time when the meeting will start.
For example: “We’ll open the Zoom meeting at 13:45 EDT, and start promptly at 14:00 EDT.”
2. To improve the meeting start experience further, let people know what (if anything) will be happening between the open and start time of the meeting.
For example: “Arrive a little early, and chat with our presenter, Lamar Moorel, before the meeting starts!”
Providing both an open and a start time for a meeting gives participants the information they need to plan when to join the meeting. People can join “early” if they are worried about getting the technology or connection to work, or if they want to chat informally with others before the meeting starts. And because it’s clear to everyone that there is a buffer time available to join the meeting, people are likely to understand and accept the expectation that the meeting will start promptly at the start time.
How much time should we allow between opening and starting the meeting?
The time difference between the opening and starting times depends on the meeting circumstances. For a small meeting using a familiar meeting platform, I’ll typically schedule 10 – 15 minutes. For a larger meeting, or one using an unfamiliar meeting platform I might open a meeting 30 minutes before it starts. This allows time for a help desk to assist anyone who has problems signing in.
Begin the meeting promptly at the start time!
Whatever duration you schedule between open and start times, it’s important to begin the meeting promptly at the start time! Unless a key person is missing, do not delay starting your meeting. By clearly communicating your meeting’s starting parameters, the onus to be on time falls on the participants, not you. And because most people will respond to the (invisible) social pressure created by your announced open and start times, you are likely to have many more people arrive “on time” than if you had just scheduled a single start time.
A final word about folks who are habitually late
Everyone is late to a meeting once in a while, for reasons beyond their control. But some people routinely arrive late to meetings, typically for two reasons:
Power dynamics — some folks feel the need to demonstrate they’re more important or busier than you.
Cultural differences — people from cultures where arriving “late” to meetings is normal. (For example: participants from such countries as Mexico, Greece, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Algeria, Ghana, India, Kazakhstan, and Russia may be habitually late.) Such folks aren’t being impolite — it’s simply what’s normal for their culture.
I don’t have a magic way to make people who are habitually late for meetings arrive on time. But by incorporating an open and a start time into your online meeting announcements, such people may get the message that you’re not going to delay the meeting start for them. If attending the entire meeting is important, who knows, perhaps they will stop being late for your meetings! (Only your meetings though.)
Do you have other strategies to start online meetings on time? Feel free to share them in the comments!
Sharing our experience of others directly with them can be incredibly powerful. Let me tell you a story…
Not long ago, I was working at a multi-day workshop with a 6-person group that included someone I’ll call D. D self-described themself as mentally ill, bipolar, and with psychological issues. They spoke slowly, and described themself as not emotionally available, and often confused about what they said.
D also shared that they:
Felt isolated and wanted to get better at connecting with people;
Believed that other people couldn’t easily understand them and didn’t like them; and
Had a hard time deciding whether to attend the workshop.
“I read once that the first time they put an escapologist in a tank of water, he or she will have one of two reactions, and which one determines the course of their life.
The first sort of escapologist is an ordinary person who has come to the trade organically, by whatever curious sequence of opportunity and happenstance—and that sort will panic. There is very little that is more appallingly unnatural or frightening than being lowered, bound, into a confined space containing an atmosphere you cannot breathe. … Some people just never go back in the tank. … Some get right back in and they master their fear and they go on to be as good as their skill allows. These last are most compelling to watch.
I’ve been facilitating The Solution Room, a popular plenary session, for 10 years. It’s a 90 – 120 minute session that engages and connects attendees, and provides peer-supported advice and support for a current professional challenge chosen by each participant. Participants routinely evaluate the session as a highly helpful and valuable experience.
Over the years I have made numerous small improvements to The Solution Room. Here’s the process I use, developed intuitively over time, illustrated with a recent tweak.
Obviously, if you’re going to improve what you do you need to practice. Each time I run The Solution Room is an opportunity to implement any new ideas gleaned from the previous time I ran it. Even if I don’t have any changes to make, practice typically makes my delivery and the consequent session a little better.
During The Solution Room, each participant has a turn facilitating exploration and support of another participant at their table. While preparing everyone for this phase, I verbally share a set of directions on how to do this. Here they are:
Read the challenge that is in front of you out loud.
Start asking questions of the person whose challenge it is to clarify the issue. If necessary, encourage everyone at the table to join in to ask clarifying questions and give advice and support.
Take notes of the ensuing discussion on the paper in front of you.
While running recent Solution Rooms I noticed that table facilitators had no problem implementing #1 and #2, but #3, the note taking, was sometimes skipped during the intense discussion that followed each challenge presentation.
Now I’ve noticed something that could be improved, it’s time to respond. “Respond” means think about what I might be able to do to make my process better.
Typically, for me, this involves musing over a period of time on what I noticed. (I typically run five or six Solution Rooms a year, so there’s no big time pressure to implement a change.) I’ve found this works best when I don’t immediately fixate on the first idea I get. Coming up with three or more options seems to lead to the best outcomes.
I considered rephrasing my instructions, emphasizing the importance of the note taking in some way beforehand or during the “rounds” of peer consulting. Finally I had the idea of creating a laminated card with the instructions on each table, and asking table members to pass the card around to each consultation facilitator in turn.
The next step then is to implement my potential improvement. For The Solution Room, I need to create the instruction cards and modify my instructions to participants so they remember to pass the card to the next facilitator.
At the next opportunity, I test my change, by implementing it and noticing what happens.
Continual improvement needs an action loop. We go back to practicing, noticing…
Conclusion: Improve your facilitation practice!
I hope this continual improvement practice I’ve shared helps you improve the quality and effectiveness of your facilitation. Do you have your own approach to improving what you do? Share your ideas in the comments below!
When I close peer conferences with a Group Spective, there’s always a moment that is hard for me. It occurs during the Plus/Delta, when people are sharing what they’d like to change in the event they’ve just experienced. Participants offer many suggestions, perspectives, and ideas that make the organization’s future activities and events better, and their sharing frequently helps me improve my own work.
And then someone, let’s call them John, comes up to the microphone and says something like this:
Imagine a group of people who need to make a decision about something. As the size of the group increases, the chance that everyone will be happy with what is decided falls exponentially. Unless there’s unanimous agreement, the group will use — either explicitly or tacitly — some kind of rule that determines whether a specific decision is acceptable. Groups often use tacit rules when the consequences of the decision are minor. “Harry, you feel strongly we should do this but Kerrie & I don’t care either way, so let’s go with your approach.” Or when “consensus” is only a pretense. “Well, I think we should do this. Any objections? OK, it’s decided.”
So, you may wonder, if a group wants consensus, where consensus is defined by an explicit decision rule, then what decision rule should be used?
Danger, Will Robinson!
The moment we start trying to define consensus with a rule that tells us whether we have got it or not, we diverge from the core reason to seek consensus.
The value of consensus is in the process of seeking it — not a “yes, we have consensus!” outcome as defined by a decision rule.
There is no magic formula that will create the maximum likelihood that consensus, however we define it, will be obtained.
The best we can strive for is what Hans, Annemarie & Jennifer Bleiker, who have trained over 30,000 public-sector professionals over the last 40 years, call Informed Consent, which they define as follows:
Informed Consent is the grudging willingness of opponents to (grudgingly) “go along” with a course of action that they — actually — are opposed to.
The concept of consensus becomes dangerous when we use process that forces a fake “consensus” outcome on a group. An example of this is what is sometimes called 2-4-8 consensus, as quoted here:
2, 4, 8 consensus is an excellent tool for prioritising in large groups. This exercise will take time, but will help a group reach a decision that everyone can live with! It’s usually best to impose tight time limits at every stage of this discussion!
Draw up a list of proposals in the whole group.
Form pairs. Each pair discusses the list of possible proposals and is asked to agree their top 3 priorities (it could be any number, but for this example we’ll use 3).
Each pair then comes together with another, to form a group of 4. The 2 pairs compare their lists of top 3 priorities and, after discussion, agree on a joint top 3.
Each group of 4 comes together with another to form a group of 8. Again, each group takes its 2 lists of priorities and reduces it to one list of 3.
Repeat until the whole group has come back together and has a shared list of just 3 priorities.
Seeking consensus, however you define it, is difficult for large groups. Techniques like Roman voting can help us determine how close we are to informed consent, and can pinpoint who cannot go along with a proposed decision and why. The journey towards informed consent is what we should concentrate on if we are to reach a “consensus” that everyone can live with.