In my blog post Facilitating the “Angry Mob” meeting – Part 1 , I talked about the core things the facilitator needs to do to prevent problems in an “Angry Mob” meeting. Now we need to talk about what to do when problems happen. Some common problems are:
- Side-Bar Conversations
- Endless Discussion
- The Power Grab
- Slow Decisions
- Malicious Silence
- Going too Deep – Dealing With Minutia
- Staying on Time
In my blog post Part 2 I commented on dealing with side-bars, endless discussions and conflict problems. This blog post will comment on the remainder.
The Power Grab
As dangerous as side-bars, the power grab is a maneuver normally conducted by a single member of the meeting to negate the impact of the facilitator and influence the outcome of the meeting. The power grab manifests itself in behaviors like the following:
- talking through or interrupting the facilitator
- taking strong positions and refusing to provide credit for any other ideas
- constantly stacking the deck by only talking about the positives of one approach and the negatives of all other ideas
- responding to answers when other people are asked the question
- presenting suppositions as facts
“Jeff, hold that thought. Right now we are just generating ideas. We want to the ideas on the table before we are talk about the pro’s and con’s” . This type of response will help reduce the negative opinions being expressed in the early stages.
“Jeff, thanks for that. Okay let’s take a few minutes and discuss the potential down-sides of Jeff’s suggestion. Barry, I’ll start with you and we’ll go around the table…” . This reminds the power grabber that they are in a facilitated meeting and there is risk to not playing by the rules and rebalances the analysis.
“Jeff. You seem to have a very strong opinion on this. Assuming this team here makes another choice, are you going to be able to live with that choice?”. Put the issue on the table in black and white. Is any other option acceptable, if not then then this persons participation is not needed and may perhaps need to resign or be removed from the group.
“Jeff. You indicated that the Senior Management team had already decided in this approach. Can we table the document that provides this insight?”. Challenge suppositions that are presented as facts by requiring proof of the fact or restate to the team. “Jeff, Thanks. At this time in order to move forward I believe we must conclude that the Senior Management team has not made a decision on this and that assuming otherwise would be inappropriate until validated.”
“Jeff, we have heard some focused ideas from you but now, I’d like to give that same opportunity to some other members of the team.”
As the facilitator you alone must be responsible for determining whether the lack of a decision is a product of insufficient time,discussion and information or simply a collective unwillingness to decide. Some decisions are hard, they have consequences and the associated accountability for the decision may not be desired by the decision-makers. They would much rather it be SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem). The best way to facilitate a decision is to leverage a decision process. First decide up front the team’s time budget for the decision. Just how important is this decision and what investment of time is it worth to get a decision. Set a time budget, explain the process to the participants, gain their agreement that the outcome of the process will represent the joint decision of the team and then initiate the process. Sample:
- Define the situation/decision to be made and specific constraints
- Identify the important criteria for the process and the result , and rank weight the criteria
- Consider all/some possible solutions
- Score the solutions against the criteria
- Choose the best option based on the outcome of the scoring
In very tough situations where there is a unified inability to make a team decision, set-up the process as above but with 1 additional factor. A default decision. If you get to the scoring and people cannot agree to a result, then the default decision applies automatically. Normally the specter of a default decision is enough to spur-on discussion and resolution without actually taking it as the decision.
“In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
This is a tough problem for the facilitator as it is difficult to ascertain whether participants’ silence is truly because they have nothing to add or whether they may actually have strong insights and can derail the process by withholding that information. As the facilitator you need to ensure that no one gets to sit on the bench. Ask questions that are not binary and can probe into the silence.
Don’t – “Kim, do you have anything to add?” (Kim shakes her head no)
Do – “Kim, with option 2, what do you see as the main challenge, what would you or perhaps the IT group worry about most?”
Going too Deep – Dealing With Minutia
Accountants, Lawyers and IT people are the worst for going too deep in discussion. It’s in our nature to be detailed and to sweat the small stuff. As the facilitator with teams that like to go deep, you must constantly challenge the team to prove that the level of detail is necessary to reach the decisions required. It may be necessary for the facilitator to down-play their own knowledge or abilities to focus on keeping the discussion at the right level.
“Marnie, Sorry perhaps I don’t understand. We are developing the criteria by which we are going to select a product for enabling dynamic business process change. Can you help me link where the current discussion on class libraries relates to enabling dynamic change?”
Keep two charts in the room. Parking Lot for Unresolved items and a “for further study” for minutia that will likely never really be investigated but it’s a great way to get it off the discussion agenda.
Staying on Time
Some people simply don’t believe that time is important. As a facilitator you will not change that belief but you can make it seem like it’s important. Start on time. If anyone is late, stop and carefully replay the full content of what has been covered, followed with “I look forward to everybody being on-time, so we don’t have to have these instant replays every day!” Set time objectives for the process and communicate those objectives to the team, get agreement in advance on contingency plans (over-time, after-hours etc.) if the schedule is not maintained. Track your performance to the objective and communicate this to the team at the start of each meeting.
- Create sub-groups to discuss and present findings for parking lot issues before the next scheduled meeting
- Try not to invoke over-time rules, but remind people of the commitment to get results on schedule
- Do “trial-closes” on the topic frequently. This will remind participants of what has been agreed, what remains and what specifically the focus of the decisions need to be.
“Ok, so we have agreed on the criteria, the evaluation of the 5 options, it seems that only 2 of these are practical. I have not heard any significant opposition to Option 2. Can we make this our recommendation?” Remembering that it is a trial-close not the real decision but it will help focus the discussion on what really needs to be talked about.
I am not a proponent of forcing meetings to a close because they were booked for 90 minutes and the time has expired. The time I believe is important to manage is the overall process. When do we need to get to certain milestones in the process? Even better if a meeting runs shorter than the allotted time. Give the time back and stay committed to the scheduled milestones.
If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’ – Dave Barry
On the other hand, the Angry Mob meeting only occurs when people care about the topic. Your job as facilitator is to take that passion and to redirect it to a solution that everyone can support. Facilitating the Angry Mob….