Herding cats. Very opinionated cats
September 12, 2014 5:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm leading a relatively short meeting with a lot of ground to cover. How can I structure that time to yield feedback, healthy discussion and ultimately (it is to be hoped) consensus? Appreciate any novel ideas for effective brainstorming and feedback capturing. What are your best resources for this type of thing?

I'm leading a meeting for a team of half a dozen folks who do the same job in different regions. I would like to (1) get feedback on implementation of "Initiative X" so far, (2) vet 3-4 specific proposals to help achieve "Initiative X" goals, for which we need group consensus, and (3) invite other ideas for continued progress. I have three hours.

To clarify, these folks do not report to me--my function is to support them in implementing "Initiative X". So it's important to build in ample time for input before asking the group to converge.

I am familiar with tools like the impact-effort matrix and I'm considering using a number of stickynote boards and/or "dotvoting". Books like Gamestorming give loads of ideas but--which ones have actually worked for you? How do I string together a coherent session without sticky-note overload?
posted by ista to Work & Money (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If it were me, I'd do a lot of "pre-work" before the meeting, so that you have as much information as possible before the meeting ever starts. Talk to them all individually to get their feedback. Then try to come up with some kind of framework that incorporates the most-useful feedback, and then use the meeting to get consensus around that framework.
posted by alex1965 at 5:07 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also keep a "Parking Lot" board for ideas/issues that come up in the meeting that aren't on the specific topic at hand, to be revisited later. So that people don't have an excuse to get sidetracked.
posted by lizbunny at 5:31 AM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

You're right to focus on tools and effectiveness. A lot of being successful at this, as you surely know, is about being super structured and setting expectations from the outset. You're smart to plan for a little bit of drift and unexpected useful discussion (that is where some magic happens!), but letting people know from the get-go what's going to happen is great.

I try to start every such meeting with literally saying "The purpose of this meeting is x, y and z. I'm here to help you with [blah stuff]." An agenda with a schedule would be great, something like:

1. Introductions and purpose of meeting (10 minutes)
2. What happened? Review of implementation presented by X person (15 minutes)
2.5 And how well did that happen? Discussion and feedback of the implementation (20-30 minutes)
3. What happens next? A presentation of three proposals, by these 1 to 3 people (30 minutes)


4. Discussion of proposals (one hour)
5. Moving forward: what can we do better? (30 minutes)
6. Closing, thanks, and information about the dissemination of the information and action items from meeting.

Obviously leave yourself an extra 20-30 in there.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:12 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to say be a facilitator. Feel comfortable saying, "that's an interesting point, and I think we should make it an agenda item for the next meeting." That way you won't get into the weeds about something that's not germain to the actual issues being discussed.

Parking lot!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite resource is the Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision Making. I think it provides a good theoretical framework for these types of meetings as well as concise and specific descriptions of methods to use -- I've been using this reference for the past 20 years or so.

I think the main thing with these kinds of meetings is to keep the discussion on track and don't let one or two people dominate the discussion. For keeping things on track, I suggest framing the discussion in terms of outcomes or results you are looking for rather than just topics. I.e. list pros and cons of approach A to date versus "what is your experience (or worse yet opinion) on approach A."

I am also a stickler about taking visible notes on a whiteboard or flipchart and separating fact from opinion. That helps with those who like to dominate a meeting and repeat the same thing over and over again.
posted by elmay at 9:30 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

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