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

Posts tagged with "Meetings"

Four Questions to Transform Your Meetings

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.

Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

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?

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

Participatory Decision-Making* : Dot-mocracy

Often when you are faced with a number of good ideas in a meeting, it is impossible or even undesirable to choose just one from a list of brainstormed options. Multi-voting is one way to poll the support that group members have for multiple options. To facilitate it, do the following:

  1. List the various choices on separate wall charts.
  2. Ask people to express their relative preferences by placing stickers or dots (hence “Dot-ocracy”) next to their preferred choices. Each person can choose to put all of their votes on one option or spread their votes over several options.
  3. Tally the number of dots that each option received to get a sense of the group’s combined preferences.

Multi-voting is good for taking a “quick read” of where the group is at, but take care to provide enough time for discussion in situations where understanding differences of opinion is important. Two further cautions:

  • Pay careful attention to how many votes each person gets. Generally, the number of votes per person can be calculated by dividing the number of choices by 3 (n/3).
  • Be careful not to assume that the “winning” option is automatically the group’s preference since the difference between two competing options may not be statistically significant. For example, if Option A received 39 votes, and Option B received 37, for all intents and purposes, it is a tie and the group would do well to acknowledge that choosing one over the other is really only meeting the preference of about half of the group.

 

Where/when may this tool be helpful?

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Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

5 Tips for Working in Large Groups

Dialogue Education can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with large groups.
  1. Match the WHERE with the WHO. When you know you have a large group coming to an event it is critical to find a space to allow everyone to sit and move around comfortably,  which enables you to easily work in groups. The learning environment has a direct impact on what types of tasks you can execute and how. If you have no control of the space,  limit the number of people. If you have no control of either,  find ways to have groups move to other nearby spaces for various tasks or portions of tasks.
  2. Sample. When work,  debate,  and engagement with new content has happened in groups,  there is no need to share everything again in the large group. The learning has already happened;  the time in the large group can be used to hear a summary of the work,  OR general observations about what happened,  OR pressing questions. This can be done by quantifying the responses (e.g. “Let’s hear one idea from each small group”) or hearing a few examples of what was discussed (e.g. “We’ll hear a few of your strategies”). Long periods of time talking in the large group can de-energize,  give select (often articulate and powerful) people time to talk, and exclude many voices.
  3. Use individual or reflective work. In addition to small group work,  time to work independently can help learners to individualize the learning by analyzing how it fits within their context and planning how they will use what they are learning. It can be helpful to follow up individual work by hearing a sample from the group.
  4. Ensure safety. Many learners do not feel comfortable sharing within a large group setting,  unless safety is well established. When facilitating dialogue or sampling within the large group,  invite participation but don’t require it (those who want to speak up will),  give lots of affirmation to those who do contribute without taking anything away from those who don’t,  have opportunities for learners to share in small groups or pairs before sharing in the large group and begin with open questions that invite dialogue about topics familiar to the learners.
  5. Use more pair,  trio and small group activities. The best way to raise all voices,  engage everyone at the same time,  and make all learners feel included is by using pair,  trio or small group work. Learning happens when new content is challenged,  debated and used. Reducing the size of a group by dividing it up is a great way to do this. It is also very energizing!

What has been helpful for you in working with large groups?

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