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Passion, People and Principles

Hold Issue-Solving meetings

post # 325 — March 7, 2007 — a Managing post

I still get calls to help with planning retreats and other kinds of meetings. Alas, it’s still the norm to schedule a lot of speeches and force people into listening mode. Worse, there really isn’t much time planned for serious Q&A.

There’s a better way. Hold meetings where you pose a subject and ask for everyone’s input. Then build from there. People will get involved, they won’t feel threatened and they’ll come away understanding the subject. Even if there is not total agreement, there will be a greater consensus and willingness to try. Because, they always know there will be a point where they can challenge point/issue, etc if they feel the consensus point is not working.

This form of meeting also works to building loyalty—everyone feels they have played a part in the development of a solution. When they feel that what they are doing is their idea—they take pride and ownership in it and are more apt to work harder and be more dedicated to making it work.

Of course, if you’re the boss (or an outside speaker) and see yourself an “expert” in the field, it can take great self-discipline to do it this way! YOu always want to present YOUR latest and greatest idea. Tempting, but ineffective, usually.


Barry Wilkinson said:

I find it best to be explicit with client firms about my role.

When I am employed as a consultant, I am there to find both the right questions and hopefully the right answers, and make recommendations accordingly.

When I am there as a facilitator, my role is to find the questions which unearth the real issues (maybe even using the Toyata “5 times why” approach), and to help the partners explore the possible answers, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

It is definitively not my job to supply the answers.

Of course, my body language may betray my views, but there are limits to self-denial.

posted on March 7, 2007

Kathleen OBrien Thompson said:

We could not agree more, David! We have been to so many corporate strategy meetings where the Leadership talks ‘at’ the participants, usually employees. Then a dynamic speaker or consultant steps in, asks questions (and often will use our interactive keypad technology to give attendees a voice) and the meeting then changes to a more productive engaging session. Thanks again for always sharing your expertise!

posted on March 7, 2007

Ellen Weber said:

David – you hit the nail on the head with this one. How many long boring meetings we sit through with a few questions – only to be tol. Oops sorry – no time!

Seems we’ve come to accept this problem – as it happens daily!

Yikes, the who process works against the human brain and yet it is rarely ever addressed. Love your insights! Thanks!

posted on March 7, 2007

Steve Roesler said:

Well, David,

I was reading your post as an email came in from a client regarding an upcoming off-site meeting. Have been nudging toward a conversation on the issues vs. a parade of speakers.

You’ve bolstered me for the next go ’round…

Thank you!

posted on March 7, 2007

Anna Farmery said:

Hi David

Great post as usual. It made me smile because in reality meeting are one of the most underutlised and costly parts of business. Thought you might this take on meetings in the corporate world entitled Corporate Diarrhoea!


posted on March 7, 2007

Rebecca Ryan said:

I have a story that supports David’s suggestion about using provocative questions in meetings.

We recently started a quarterly meeting by asking teammates to get in teams of two, to ask each other, “What is it about working here that engages your passion?”

We had no idea what to expect. Would people be uncomfortable? Would they share? Did they even HAVE passion for what we do?

At the end of the interviews, each person had to tell about their interview partner’s passions and reasons for working here. It was very powerful. There was more passion than we even knew about…and we spent the rest of the morning talking about how we can pool our passions into even greater client service and care.

Another testimony to the power of questions.

posted on March 8, 2007

Susie Wee said:

I’ve stumbled onto a method that seems to work pretty well for me and my lab which I manage. In my lab meetings, I sometimes pose a question and let people answer and discuss, and while they are talking I become the note-taker, typing notes onto a laptop that is projected onto the screen that everyone can see. A few interesting things seem to happen:

  1. Since I am typing, people figure out they are supposed to be talking, as they can’t rely on me to talk.
  2. People start talking more because they see that I am capturing what they are saying. This lets them know that they know what they say is valued and will stick in some form, even if it’s just through the captured notes.
  3. People start correcting what I type to make sure I capture their thoughts accurately.
  4. People start making an extra effort to say things clearly so that I can capture them more accurately.
  5. People start doing a combination of talking to me and talking to each other, which is very important. And they start building on each other’s points.

If I don’t understand what someone is saying, I get to ask for clarification in the form of trying to capture the thought accurately; I think this is a non-confrontational way to ask a question without discouraging participation. I also get to nudge the discussion as I type by asking questions. An important thing is to capture everything that is said and to capture it accurately, whether you agree or disagree and whether you like it or not. After all, the point is to get inputs and broaden your thinking.

I guess this wouldn’t work for everybody. I happen to be a fast typer, so this works for me. Also, since I have managerial responsibility, my position in the group clear so I’m not mistaken as “just an administrative note-taker”. So, I don’t know if this works for a consultant who comes into a new group and has to establish his or her credibility. Is there an equivalent for slower typers and consultants?

posted on March 8, 2007

Kathleen OBrien Thompson said:

Susie, Kudos for sharing a great idea. Your ‘note taker’ method is ideal in a smaller group application, where, as you stated, you have “managerial responsibility”.

In answer to your question: “Is there an equivalent for slower typers and consultants”. I wanted to mention that one tool that is frequently used (in fact by David himself) is audience response systems (ARS) or sometimes more commonly known as keypad voting.

David is truly an expert at asking thought provoking questions that allow him to get valuable feedback and tailor his presentation and solutions to that specific group through the use of the technology.

The technology allows you to initiate the discussion with pre-programmed questions. Usually these are specific topics you have identified with the client- However the most exciting use is that, you can ask spontaneous questions to expand the discussion, real time, on the fly, and have the graphically represented responses show up on the screen for all to see.

In addition:

· The technology is particularly useful for larger groups; applications of 50 to 3,500

· Captured feedback leads to post meeting reports for data mining · The system is completely anonymous which allows for more honest discussion of issues

posted on March 9, 2007

Susie Wee said:

Kathleen- You’re right… I’ve used this note-taker method for groups up to about 50 people. I don’t think it would scale much beyond that. Your technology sounds interesting!

posted on March 10, 2007

John said:

In addition to what Kathleen mentioned, I’d also add that audience response systems not only help builed consensus, but also increase participation. Even the quiet ones get to “have their say” through the anonymous voting.

posted on April 25, 2007