"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Four Questions to Transform Your Meetings

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It just appeared in your calendar — the mysterious 1.5-hour meeting. You are one of eight invitees. The attached agenda has four topics you’ve heard something about around the office. You click “accept” and quietly say goodbye to 1.5 hours. 

At Global Learning Partners, we teach practical tools for planning and leading effective meetings — the kind you want to click “accept” on.  But let’s face it, you are not always the one planning and leading the meeting! 

So, for all the invitees out there, here are four questions you can ask (nicely!) to transform the quality of your contribution to meetings.

BEFORE THE MEETING

1.      Why are you bringing me in for this meeting? People often EXPAND meeting invite lists unnecessarily. Sometimes for that buzzy prize we call “buy in”. Sometimes, just to be sure they are not excluding someone. But, the best meetings are the ones where the invitees have an important stake in the topic. What’s an important stake? Your input is required. You will need to make the decision, and therefore need to hear the perspectives of the group. You will be required to take action on the outcome of the meeting.

This question is not just to get yourself out of the meeting. It is to clarify what your stake in it is. So, when you are invited and really don’t know what your stake is in the topic at hand, pick up the phone and ask the meeting owner! He/she should be able to clarify it for you, and if not, begging off saves your time and everyone else’s.

“Hi Mike, this meeting for Tuesday just showed up on my calendar. I am not really clear about why I am being invited. Can you tell me why you are bringing me in? Is there something specific you will want from me on these topics?"

2.      Which agenda items will you want my input on? Sometimes, meeting agendas have a host of topics. Perhaps topics 1 and 2 are relevant for everyone, but the other topics are not.  If that is the situation, you can suggest joining for the relevant segments. That might encourage the meeting owner to arrange the agenda to accommodate the relevant “guests,” or even breaking it into two shorter meetings for different groups.

"Hi Susan. There are four topics on the agenda. I don’t think I am involved in all of them, but wanted to check with you so I can be prepared. Which of these agenda items will you want my input on? "

DURING THE MEETING

3.      What will we be doing or deciding with this topic? We recommend that meeting planners map out “achievements,” rather than agenda items. An agenda item is something like this: “New Campaign Poster Design.” An achievement looks like this, “by the end of the session we will have reviewed the new poster design and offered suggestions for the next draft.” If your meeting owner doesn’t specify the achievement, this question can help him/her to define it. He/she likely has one in mind. This helps the whole group to focus on the task at hand, and can avoid a long presentation — or an unfocused discussion — about the poster.

“Just so I know how to focus my comments here, can you tell me what we will be doing or deciding with this topic?"

4.      What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? It is all too common to end a discussion without confirming what just got decided and who is taking the lead on it. You may feel relief to move onto the next topic, but watch out! If we didn’t get to a finish, this item is going to come back as another meeting to have the same discussion. So, as you move from one agenda item to the next, use this question to confirm where the group has landed.

“Before we move on, I am not sure what just got decided here. What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? Who is taking the lead on that?”

What tricks do you have to transform the meetings you attend?

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Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

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Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

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Numbers have a whole world of information beneath them. Making decisions on numbers alone can get you into trouble.

At a recent meeting to evaluate and adapt the pilot of a six-week online course, my colleague Jeanette Romkema and I shared the numbers about level of completion and typical number of comments participants made each week. We used a simple line chart and recreated the chart on the wall using yarn and push pins. One participant suggested we add more data — the amount of time each person dedicated to the course work (both online and on the job). Each team estimated their time and we added a new line to our chart. That led to new comparisons and insights.

The group annotated the chart, filling in what was going on for each person in their work world, and in the course itself.

Some things, we already knew. We knew that Week 3, which had low levels of completion, was a shorter week. We did not know that for some people, that was the week where they invested a much larger amount of time offline, with their agency partners debating the direction they would take.

We knew that the closing face-to-face gathering created a pressure for participants to move through their assignments and be ready to share their work. We did not know that this meant they would minimize their “comment time” and that they did not feel ready to post their assignments online before the meeting.

Participants learned too. They said that some aspects of the work had not been fully explained. As they analyzed their own work in the course, they learned that they really had not done all the reading in the first weeks, and that created more confusion for them than others experienced.

As people described their own experiences, and annotated our wall chart, we ended up standing around the chart, and digging into the story that was emerging. The chart, which started as numbers on a wall, became a much fuller story and provided a rich backdrop to the decisions we took that afternoon.

What techniques do you use to fill in the story around your data?

******

Christine Little is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

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From Head to Heart

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I was working with a small group of women executives in a peer exchange leadership development program. They had moved through two tumultuous and revealing days together, and had generated some real insights about their unique leadership styles. A capstone activity of the program was to meet with emerging women leaders from one of their institutions to share their learning. 

I walked into the room and was disappointed to see a microphone, a podium and 50 women sitting in rows. 

My disappointment grew as each of the executives walked to the podium to deliver a technical, formal and impersonal speech. It was so different from the authentic and informal exchange they had been having. 

From the podium came descriptions, numbers, and advice. From the chairs came polite attention, fidgeting, and silence. 

My quiet disappointment turned to panic when I heard my own name come from that podium. One of the executives, perhaps reading the room (or perhaps irritated at me for including this exercise in the design) was introducing me and inviting me to take the podium. I had nothing planned and about 20 seconds to figure it out. 

A phrase from Jane Vella’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, came to me: “I have to get them out of their heads and into their hearts.”

Here is what I did:  I said, “You have just heard leadership examples -- women who met considerable obstacles, and figured out how to move beyond those, to make big changes. Think about a time in your own life, when you exercised that kind of leadership. You met with a considerable obstacle, and you figured out how to move beyond that, and make a big change.”

I had no plan, and there was not much time, so I suggested they write a note to themselves and to share the story with partner. I predicted — and I was right — that the polite attention would turn into engagement. I did not predict what came next. 

For the next 20 minutes, one woman after another stood to tell a powerful story of personal leadership, stories that their CEO could not have known. Stories that inspired tears and laughter. For that 20 minutes, the women in the “audience” were not talking about leadership, they were leading. The podium — that symbol of power that suggests there is but one leader in the room — remained empty. The learning space was being led from those chairs. 

We don’t often deal in heart issues in business settings but they are always operating and leaders, facilitators, presenters, teachers do well to figure out how to get people “out of their heads” and into their hearts.

Three ideas for helping groups to “get out of their heads” and into their hearts:

  1. Use stories. A story contains so much more than mere statistics, advice and descriptions. The most powerful moments of that leadership exchange centered around the stories they shared. Stories convey information and they evoke emotion.
  2. Find a way for people to be seen, and to see themselves in the story. Change rarely comes anonymously. Organizations create too many opportunities for anonymity.
  3. Look for, and study, moments of accomplishment, triumph, and perseverance. Problems are interesting. Positive stories are powerful. They illuminate the assets we have with which to change the world. 

 

What stories do you have about getting groups out of their heads and into their hearts?

* * * *

Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

 

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An Action Package for Managers, Part II

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In Part One of this blog series we shared a story about how Global Learning Partners (GLP) and pro mujer collaboratively built the skills of managers in the context of their day-to-day work. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video about that process, enjoy it here.

In this post we briefly show how the structure and implementation of the learning program for managers reflect critical principles of adult learning.

To start, take a close look at the snapshot, above. The green paths are three, six-week periods of self-directed on-the-job learning. The red circles are four in-person gatherings, called “refueling stations.” Each of the carefully facilitated in-person gatherings:

  • is built on a concrete set of learning objectives that name what the managers will have done by the end of the time together;
  • balances action with reflection, allowing time for managers to exchange past experiences around a particular aspect of their work, and plan for how they will approach that aspect moving forward; and,
  • focuses on relevant content, prioritized through both self-assessment and outside perspective.

During the weeks of self-directed learning, managers used personal workbooks with a consistent structure to try out new skills on the job as exemplified in the box below. On the recommendation of managers during the rapid pilot phase, each workbook begins with a proposed timeline for pacing themselves through the self-directed learning.

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Key Skills

Step One: Reflect

e.g. Reflect on which leadership qualities you exhibit most consistently.

Step Two: Discover

e.g. Read this one page resource about feedback and select one strategy you’ll use this month.

Step Three: Try It Out

e.g. Select three staff from whom you would value feedback on your work. Adapt this draft invitation for their feedback and review these tips for how to accept their feedback well.

Step Four: Plan

e.g. Use this action sheet to capture one thing you will continue and one thing you might do differently as a result of the feedback you received.

________________________________________________________________

We congratulate pro mujer staff in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia for the collaborative design and implementation of a practical action package built entirely on the true meaning of “learning by doing.” This has been exciting work!

What ideas for “learning by doing” does this two-part blog inspire in you?

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

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An Action Package for Managers, Part I

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Do you sometimes find that training doesn’t stick? Watch a four-minute case study with a creative approach to taking new skills out of the workshop and into the workplace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbeMNxFubvA&feature=youtu.be

Keep an eye out for Part Two of this blog for a closer look at this work.

What ideas for your organization does this blog inspire in you?​

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

 

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