Good bye acute meetingitis! Plan your day-to-day meetings as a true KMer…

Another post fished from my Agile KM site that should have featured here… And now I’m caught up across my blogs.

Agile KM for me... and you?

On this blog I talk a lot about (large) events, how they’re designed, facilitated, useful, successful, impactful… or not. There is a related, mundane, day-to-day topic: the case of everyday meetings. We spend sometimes so much time that we might want to think about how to make them as useful.

And in this post, I just want to stop and consider how to plan your time in these day-to-day meetings in the best possible way, from a KMer perspective (also because good KMers are innovation conveners – and good practice-shapers).

So many (bad) reasons to hold a meeting - time to reverse the trend (Credits: Axbom) So many (bad) reasons to hold a meeting – time to reverse the trend (Credits: Axbom)

So here are some principles to get your started in planning your (attendance at) meetings:

Come prepared

Long preparation, short war so… If you’re not prepared, you’re likely going to be wasting your time and others’. And as I keep referring to meeting cost calculators (such as Meeting Ticker

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Do you suffer from acute ‘meetingitis virtuales’? Here’s some antidote

Another post fished from my Agile KM site that should have featured here…

Agile KM for me... and you?

Does this sound familiar? (Original item here)

But then repeatedly, several times per week or per day even?

You are clearly a patient of acute meetingitis virtuales (or MV88 – 88 standing for infinity infinity), a modern virus that is affecting more and more people every week, far from the public attention it deserves…

How has MV88 become such a widespread disease? We are a globally connected world, where people increasingly pay attention to their carbon footprint and try to reduce their travels (look here to calculate, very very roughly, your carbon footprint).
That’s all very well… except we can’t suffer from that typical homo socialus affliction without doing something about it!

Here are some ways to deal with THE virus of our times…

Know your enemy (the symptoms)

All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services) All the good (bad) reasons to have a meeting (credits: Brooks Language Services)

Meetings are the mega virus of which

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Net added value in an event: networkshops and the power of contextual webs

Another post fished from my Agile KM site that should have featured here…

Agile KM for me... and you?

I’m going to preach against my chapel here: Is there actually much of a point to design workshops to get the best user experience? It seems obvious from various studies and own experience that unless a workshop (or event) is embedded in someone’s own context (see this brilliant IDS report on capacity for a change which refers to this problem), experience, current needs and aspirations, the results of any event matter little. Because they are islands of focus, of luxury of resources, of delusion or rather luxuriously delusional focus – rather than continents of realism.
In other words, unless specifically tailored for a group of people, the applicability of any event’s contents is – arguably – usually rather low.

Where the real value of these events lies is the networking. Echoes of colleagues past and present “I’m just going there to talk with x, y and z and…

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Use quality face-to-face time for synergy, not for logorrhea

I should have reblogged this earlier, just noticed it wasn’t on my agile facilitation post when it should have been 🙂

Agile KM for me... and you?

How many meetings (even one on one) are spent to regurgitate something, to present ‘stuff’ of various relevance and quality, to eruct presentation upon presentation as if the audience needed to know everything ever written about the topic at hand…

Logorrhea - and it's only getting worse... (Credits: Scott Adam) Logorrhea – and it’s only getting worse… (Credits: Scott Adam)

How many events with an avalanche of information, and so little co-creation?

Hey, I’d get it if we were in 1983 and there was no other way to get that information. But in 2015, almost everyone has a phone that can provide all the information we need. Share if you care.

Death by Powerpoint (Credits: Tom Fishburne) Death by Powerpoint (Credits: Tom Fishburne)

This single-route approach to face-to-face is not only another (often not so) disguised attempt of inducing death by Powerpoint, but it is also: a completely missed opportunity to develop something new, an insult to our intelligence and capacity, a deliberate attempt at…

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Taking stock: facilitation videos

So what videos about facilitation are out there?

This was a question one of my ‘group facilitation skills‘ trainees asked me last week. I didn’t know what to say. I learned facilitation all by myself, observing others and reading and observing my own practice, until I got myself trained on group facilitation skills last year.

So I had to dig for those videos…

And I have to say, I’ve been left hungry on this one… Rather unimpressed with the top suggestions by supposedly omniscient Google.

But I have to do due diligence to the people who asked the question to me. So hereby a tour of facilitation videos I personally encountered, with my short commentary on them. There are many more videos I checked but not enough was worthy (in my eyes) of sharing those videos for.

So here you are for my totally subjective take on useful facilitation videos. They are split between videos that a) explain generally what facilitation is and what facilitators do, b) share some tips and tricks for more effective facilitation and c) show in practice what it looks like.

What is facilitation, who are facilitators, generally?

The art of facilitation

This TedX video is by a facilitator (Jay Vogt) introduces what facilitation is for him and highlights his specific experience, whose aim is to “transform the way we meet”… It’s a bit longer than the other videos but really shares some of the ‘what happens when there’s no facilitation’ and Jay Vogt gives me the idea he’s got a practice that I would really value. Selfless, supportive, engaging. A good introduction!

Facilitation best & worst practices

Already introduced in my last post, this video features – in an animated whiteboard kind of format – some of the fundamentally good and fundamentally wrong practices that facilitators (might end up) do(ing). I don’t agree with everything (e.g. documentation is not necessary a requirement for facilitators) here but roughly this video is getting it ‘right’ (in my totally objective opinion ahem).

What do facilitators do

This video is probably the closest to explaining what a facilitator is. You can also read my recent post clarifying what a facilitator does, as opposed to a moderator, chair, MC etc.  In that same post I covered this video in more details. Even though I’m not raving about the video itself it’s probably the most sincere attempt at explaining what facilitation really is.

Four essential functions to facilitating meetings

The set up of this video is a bit strange but the tips given are also on the ball – with my reserves on the drawing/documenting at the same time as facilitating, and on the fourth part where this type of facilitation seems to also push to consensus.

Some tips…

Facilitation tips and tricks for newbies

Viv McWaters is one of the facilitators that is listed on the list of background resources on this blog and for good reason. In this long recorded webinar (47’06”) that unfortunately has a not-all-too-great sound, McWaters explains very articulately the moments when you need a facilitator (e.g. when you’re stuck / when you need to frame / when you need to disrupt) and gives five tips and tricks for facilitation groups. This is possibly the best video of all the ones here in terms of its content. And an extra emphasis on this tip: remove the tables, as they get in the way!

Six quick facilitation tips

This video is much closer to my own practice than most of the other videos (McWaters’s aside). And though the 6 tips are quickly served, they are good! Have a check 🙂

Seven key skills of workshop facilitation

This presentation is a quick glimpse onto some of the basics of facilitation, particularly in terms of the attitude the facilitator should adopt. Nothing ground-breaking here but some good tips – with the caveat that ‘challenging’ is ok at design stage, not in the conversation itself (when they should be managing the process)…

The importance of energy in facilitation

Michael Wilkinson is one of the commercially busiest facilitators. I’m not won over his style, which makes facilitation sound quite mechanical, but in this TedX video he touches upon the important aspect of energy in facilitation – or rather energy in the facilitator, which helps energise the topic, the participants and the facilitator. Pity this video doesn’t talk directly about the energy of participants. Still, a good point is being made here. Inform-excite-empower-involve in the first 15 minutes!

Facilitation techniques – part 1 of 3:  

This guy clearly has quite some experience, and he introduces some interesting basics of facilitation. So overall the point is there. But his approach has a number of aspects that I don’t feel really excited about – to say the least – e.g. ‘no stories’ reinforces the point that participants should shut up (NOT a good idea); I’m also not convinced about the ‘justification rule’ – sometimes you can’t justify every of your point and it might condemn you to shut up if you feel you can’t justify. The presenter also confuses ‘paraphrasing‘ for ‘mirroring’.

Meeting facilitation

About this video, I would like to just point to the useful HALT acronym in this video (Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired). The facilitation approach suggested is quite pushy otherwise.

Facilitation in practice (demonstrated)

This has been difficult to find. But my KM4Dev friends came to rescue and:

Nancy White mentioned that the site ‘Liberating Structures’ has peppered its pages with videos. Some of them are available here: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/km-marquee-projects.

And these videos featuring friend and fellow facilitator Camilo Villa (in Spanish but giving an idea of the dynamics):

With International Organization for Migration: https://youtu.be/ADN9Vtge-IU
With WorldBank, MetroLab in Argentina: https://youtu.be/iq-y_8NAhkw
Sophie Alvarez also mentioned: Our wikipage for the Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) methodology, which has, sadly, been a bit abandoned lately, has some facilitation of parts of a PIPA workshop in videos, here: you can see problem tree and network drawing in action (in Spanish, with English subtitles), and some ways we facilitate it.
Carl Jackson mentioned: “here’s a nice video of using Open Space facilitation to support CLA strategy development for USAID Indonesia Country Office: https://youtu.be/WJaPFKTXQTg”.
At last, Chris Grose mentioned: “Our videos at IMA International highlight much of our face to face work.  They can be found here: http://www.imainternational.com/video_gallery” 

And finally – a facilitation model for group dynamics

 

This is a different video, featuring Sam Kaner talking about ‘Participatory Decision-Making in Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations’. The group dynamics framework he offers is explained from minute 51 or so. As usual there’s some really rich content there so I hope you find this useful too!

What facilitation videos do YOU refer to?

 

What is the role of a facilitator (and of a moderator, MC, chair etc.)?

I briefly touched upon this topic on the ‘about’ page to this blog. But not quite seriously enough.

And as I gave training on group facilitation skills last week, this question came up in various shapes until I had to nail it down, on the spot, thus without additional resources on the topic.

So hereby some attempt at clarifying what a facilitator does… and what some related functions are all about.

What is a facilitator? (Credits: Brefi Group Ltd.)

What is a facilitator? (Credits: Brefi Group Ltd.)

When I started drafting this post, I had just read this blog post by Martin Gilbraith, a former chair from the International Association of Facilitators. The video he featured has interesting features – particularly on the architect metaphor – though I wonder if there’s not a better local metaphor than the airplane pilot or the rowing galley leader to what a facilitator is and does.

In my view the facilitator metaphor might even work better with an object perhaps: a reflector (like a mirror), agent provocateur, lighthouse… for sure there’s no clear-cut answer to this question. Perhaps a facilitator is some kind of ‘everyday shaman’ who helps people reveal their own visions, though we (facilitators) don’t use magic mushrooms, lick magic toads’ backs or do other funky things to invoke any kind of magic… Perhaps a facilitator is simply a group coach…

Or using the Community at Work language, the facilitator is someone who ‘stays out of the content and manages the process, to help everyone do their best thinking’.

What can be confusing is that in practice many people have different definitions. So let’s have a look at a number of functions that are commonly associated with or confused for facilitator:

Moderator

The moderator (Credits: Gaspars Karda/FlickR)

The moderator (Credits: Gaspars Karda/FlickR)

As this post is helpfully clarifying, “A moderator at events, meetings, and networking gatherings will concentrate on keeping the communication and information flow clear and accessible to everyone that participates, at all times. So, the moderator is sort of like an information manager. In an Internet-based environment, he or she monitors the flow of communication, makes digests and summaries, approves posts, and even maintains the online environment. The moderator is usually invisible, but still very essential.” The same post continues saying: “An event moderator offers assistance to presenters and the audience. A facilitator keeps things moving along and makes sure everyone is participating.” Here is where things get more complicated: in French ‘Modérateur’ is often the name used for facilitators. But here you have a technical distinction…

Key distinction: The moderator works on getting content flowing VS. the facilitator focuses on the process that helps everyone participate in the best possible way.

 

MC (Master of Ceremony) 

The Master of ceremony (Credits: Martin)

The Master of ceremony (Credits: Martin)

The video below gives a short aussie glimpse of the difference between MC (also interchangeably called host) and facilitator. It suggests that “the MC, in very formal settings, conducts the event” – like a TV presenter would. This means they could really meddle with the content, not care so much about the feelings of participants and actually probably focus more on the on-stage guests than on the audience etc. A facilitator really has to pay attention to remaining neutral (on the content and on relationships) and acting in the best interest of all the participants. So there you have it!

Key distinction: The MC is the host to a formal event conductor who focuses on the speakers and guests VS. the facilitator is brought by a host to help focus on the process and on the participants.

The chair, to the left (Credits: OECD)

The chair, to the left (Credits: OECD)

Chair

This post offers one reason behind the confusion: these two functions are often played by the same person – though they are very different and “The Chair is responsible for the meeting’s outcomes and work product. The facilitator is responsible for the process of the meeting(s).” The same site suggests that when there is a high(er) chance of conflict in the meeting or process, hiring a separate facilitator is a good idea. In my experience with academic events, the ‘chair’ is also the person that tends to introduce the speakers and sometimes summarises key insights at the end. So a chair(person) is definitely a content-rich and high-stake function, whereas the facilitator “stays out of the content and manages the process” and is not the person calling the shots for what has to be achieved with the meeting but rather helps the leader with ‘how’ to achieve the objectives that matter to them.

Key distinction: The chair focuses on outcomes and work product VS. the facilitator focuses on getting all participants to these outcomes by bringing in their best thinking.

The leader (Credits: Christian Pierret)

The leader (Credits: Christian Pierret)

Leader / person in charge 

The leader – or person in charge – is the person that makes the decision, gives direction, calls the shots, decides about hosting a meeting or an event, has to clarify what their intent and expected outcomes are about it and thus it is someone that has important stakes in that event. They are the person(s) that the facilitator should come back to when some decisions need to be made on e.g. ‘spending more time on this conversation’ or ‘moving on to the next agenda point’ etc. The leader is a sparring partner for the facilitator when designing events. But the facilitator clearly should be a distinct function from the person in charge, even though it’s not always possible…

Key distinction: The person in charge decides the topics and objectives (the what and why) VS. the facilitator focuses on the process (the how) that gets participants to address the former.

Time keeper 

The time keeper (Credits: ios online)

The time keeper (Credits: ios online)

As indicated, this function is about keeping track of the time. Which is often what a facilitator also has to do – among many other things – but this is not the most important of his/her many tasks. And actually it’s usually more helpful for a facilitator to not really manage the time and rather manage the process and the relationships with all participants (making sure that everyone feels involved and valued). This is a very narrow window to the world of facilitation.

Key distinction: The time keeper makes sure things stay ‘on course, in time’ VS. the facilitator focuses on getting people to engage most meaningfully, even if that may mean getting over time.

The rapporteur (Credits: European Parliament)

The rapporteur (Credits: European Parliament)

Rapporteur 

Sometimes the facilitator is being asked to document conversations or the entire meeting. And that can be fine – though not alone and certainly not when the facilitator is ‘facilitating’ but typing up charts, sharing other notes etc. can be ok. The formal rapporteur of an event, however, really has a 100% mandate and dedication to their very job: paying attention to every point being shared, clarifying anything that is unclear and making sure that the entire content is captured and reported in a formal ‘output’ whether verbatim or usually in a synthesised format. So once again a very different role from the facilitator’s.

Key distinction: The rapporteur writes the formal content report from the event and shares it afterwards VS. the facilitator manages the process of the event while it’s happening.

Chart writer 

The chart writer (Credits: TheGraphicRecorder.com)

The chart writer (Credits: TheGraphicRecorder.com)

Another kind of person that ‘documents’ meetings in a specific way is the ‘chart writer’. The chart writer works in tandem with the facilitator to live ‘chart’ the key points that the facilitator is feeding him/her (as they take the cue from the facilitator’s paraphrasing). This function is about ensuring the collective group memory is kept and everyone sees their comments validated etc. But in any case facilitator and chart writer work together and are thus not the same function, even though in practice with my colleague here we alternate facilitating and chart writing for each other.

Key distinction: The chart writer collects and writes ideas from participants (often fed by the facilitator) VS. the facilitator manages the conversation process to hear these ideas.

So there are many possible distinctions – and aside all of the above the facilitator often plays different roles:

The many roles of a facilitator (Credits: IAF)

The many roles of a facilitator (Credits: IAF)

And here I’m not even covering other specific functions such as the graphic facilitator – as that deserves a dedicated post on its own, for some other time. And there are yet other distinctions…

Trainer vs. facilitator vs. consultant (Credits: Doug Caldwell)

Trainer vs. facilitator vs. consultant (Credits: Doug Caldwell)

This post is also just an invitation to my next post on this blog, which will be – by public demand from the same group of trainees this week – about videos on facilitation…

For now, here’s just a teaser that points to some of the fundamentals of what a facilitator does. Don’t mind the commercial ending (better: stop the video when it starts 😉

This video is not perfect – and the take on ‘documenting’ is not a requirement for a facilitator, just an option, but it certainly points to some of the basics. More (and deeper) soon!

Don’t run without your facilitator(s), unless you like backfire effects

You have been thinking about this event, you know what you want to do with it and why, you have been convinced – and it’s a good thing – that you need a facilitator to help you with your event.

Dare to rely on your facilitator for collective success (Credits: G. Salokhe)

Dare to rely on your facilitator for collective success (Credits: G. Salokhe)

It sounds all good, and on paper you are all set for success… unless you follow any of the following traps, which could irremediably turn your event into a Murphy’s Law festival.

You have developed a precise agenda

This might be your first problem: as you couldn’t wait for the event to take shape and give you a concrete ‘feel’, you have drafted an agenda, day by day and to the minute. The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. You may not have thought carefully enough about the topics and objectives that should absolutely precede the (participation formats and) processes you will include in your event;
  2. As a result you may have widely unrealistic expectations – and not only that but you are now putting your facilitator in a difficult position because a) they will have to work backwards with you on all that preceded this agenda and b) you are strait-jacketing them into an agenda that may not reflect something they are comfortable facilitating…

Just leave this to your specialist in facilitation, it’s their job to help you get there by following a thorough design process that will make sure you have very clear objectives and an agenda that reflects this. Your facilitator is also not

Designing an event is also about reinventing at every step of the way (Credits: GapingVoid)

Designing an event is also about reinventing at every step of the way (Credits: GapingVoid)

You have shared the agenda with all participants

What can be worse than the previous scenario? Having developed the agenda and shared it with the participants, who now have their expectations higher up and may not like to hear that the plan has completely changed (after you’ve discussed it with your facilitator).

Again: resist the pressure of sending something too early, or send something quite vague that focuses mostly on the topics you will address. You have plenty of time and reason to work this out with your facilitator and do it properly.

You don’t really care about who comes and who should come

That is a big mistake! Your facilitator may not be a specialist of your industry, but you are (supposedly) and you should have a pretty good idea of who would be interested in the topics you want to address, who would be concerned by the objectives you’re setting for yourself and who should thus participate. Spend a bit more time thinking about who this event targets, who should be interested, who should come as resource persons (giving contributions) and who should come as audience…

Of course you could have a totally free and open registration, but there must be a few folks that should be on your radar screen… And think about ‘who would be typically missing’ from such an event, and take that extra effort to invite them, perhaps?

You have invited ‘resource persons’ to provide (too many/long inputs)

Contrary to the previous scenario, you may have a very good idea about who you want to see bring in some inputs, but you might have gotten too enthusiastic and basically invited them to:

  • Submit (for instance) presentations that are way too long (typically, above 10 minutes most people start switching off their concentration, so think twice about the length);
  • Submit too many inputs, to the extent that you will now have difficulty arranging a compelling agenda that presents all that information without boring participants or overwhelming them…

This is again an area where your facilitator can help you strike a balance between content and processes to absorb that content properly. There are various ways of dealing with a lot of content (from shorter and different inputs to parallel sessions, or agreeing that the event will be mostly type 1 – sharing information…) but again this should be part of a conversation you’re having with your facilitator(s).

Death or poisoning by Powerpoint is looming (Credits: Scott Adams)

Death or poisoning by Powerpoint is looming (Credits: Scott Adams)

You have booked a venue that you like – but may not be appropriate

Here is another typical mistake of running without your facilitator: you select a meeting venue that doesn’t lend itself to the objectives you (will) have set. It could be a place that has terrible acoustics, unmovable seats, large pillars or columns that prevent people from seeing parts of the room, no option for putting flip-chart sheets on the walls, or all of the above, and more… really not ideal! So go visit the venue with your facilitator or ask them for their list of requirements, and select a proper venue, accordingly…

So what is left for you to do?

In summary, if you’re bored but want to move on with your event, some of the useful things that you can do include:

  • Thinking about the topics you want to address, and the objectives you have
  • Thinking about your audience and some of the key resource persons you’d like to involve
  • Requesting venue requirements from your facilitator to do some scoping of good venues that comply with these requirements

…and plan a meeting with your facilitator, virtually or not, as soon as possible, to discuss some of the above and make progress to seeing your event as a real hit!

Combined with ‘10 advices to dramatically improve your un-facilitated meetings‘ following these tips above could be the difference between making and breaking your goal…