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Our New Workbook

Cover, Moving Experiences

Elevate Your Meeting Techniques with the Advanced Facilitation Laboratory

Chris and I have completed the Moving Experiences workbook with skillful assistance from our editor (and daughter), Kelly-Rose McNeil. It was a true family affair and a labor of love, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share the news (and one downloadable design!) with you.

We had a great time teaching 20 internal consultants for a major Fortune 100 company on the West Coast this fall using Moving Experiences, and we hope you find the exercises as useful as they did!

Read on for more information about Moving Experiences, our facilitation, and to download an example design!

Moving Experiences is the latest version of our designs, exercises, tips, and practices we have shared over the years through McNeil Consulting’s Action Facilitation Laboratory.

If you like what you see, contact us for more information about our consulting, our group work, and our facilitation workshops. Give us a call and we’ll even teach you one of the designs to try out at your next meeting.

Below is a description of the laboratory and its value to participants. 

The 25 Great Designs

This workshop combines Facilitation Skills Training with a solid Action Research Foundation. The skills of collecting group data, publishing it, comprehending it, and acting on it are all systematically covered in this unique workshop. Each Action Design builds on the one before it, creating a natural progression of Action Research, which allows time for practice, reflection, and feedback. Participants are immersed in this work from the moment they enter the workshop. Working in pairs, participants learn how to:

  • Facilitate classic Action Research Designs from the information provided in the materials
  • Design meetings and team experiences that bring issues to light and move performance forward
  • Read group dynamics “in-the-moment” – the missing skill that today’s leaders need
  • Recognize your own feelings and manage them effectively in meetings
  • Make powerful interventions to refocus your team and improve their performance
  • Use silence, pauses, and other simple, powerful techniques to help team members reflect on the group process
  • Design “on the spot” to help teams change course and move away from unproductive processes

You will be immersed in Action Research from the very beginning of this workshop, and learn from facilitating and participating in the designs. At the end of the workshop, you will have a new array of designs that you can apply in practical ways with real teams.

High-level meeting facilitation is a complex skill. It is learned through repeated practice over time. This workshop delivers a solid foundation on which the participant can build a practice. The exercises are taught through the concept of design so that the principles learned can be applied in a variety of settings. The real value comes through each and every meeting successfully facilitated. The return on your investment comes from increased meeting performance and strategy execution.  We have seen incredible results by investing in your high potential leaders and developing their skills for designing, convening, and facilitating critical meetings.

Click here to download your design from Moving Experiences!


Download

 

Hope to hear from you soon!

Rob

rob@robertmcneil.com

(610) 331-4187

Your Next Meeting Needs a Beekeeper

Everyone wants productive meetings. Often people come together in meetings and fall into a predictable pattern of behavior. The same people speak, the interaction is routine, the outcome is known, and the results are less than stellar.

Instead of complaining about your next meeting, why not do somethings differently? I offer the metaphor of a Hive to help give you some alternative possibilities. In nature, bees live in hives. Besides being home, a hive is an amazing place of highly evolved communication. The hive offers the means to live through interaction and communication.

Certain kinds of groupware can offer you and your team a new way to approach your meeting and a way to achieve extraordinary results. We love GroupMind for this work. We liken our groupware to a Hive. A question is posed. Thoughts appear in real time. Some are valuable others are not, but all are considered. Everyone in your meeting has a voice, and it becomes fun and exciting to see everyone’s thoughts at once, live and in person. We call this brainwriting as compared with brainstorming. The difference (and it’s a big one) is that the group facilitates its own process as new ideas emerge.

The sheer volume of ideas that are generated is often surprising to teams. New energy is released as everyone has the chance to share their thoughts on a topic. Brainstorming with a facilitator or with stickies is so slow and time-consuming in comparison. Brainstorming is especially problematic if the loudest extraverts take over the board and start judging the entries. We all have been in these sessions and they are slow, painful, and often forgettable.

The answer is a good beekeeper a solid process and an extraordinary set of tools. It’s a three-legged stool: facilitation, process, and technology all working together to give your team an entirely new way to think together. Let’s face it. Thinking is hard work, thinking in groups is even harder, and prioritizing what has been revealed in the discussion is the holy grail of meetings. To give this short shrift is to accept that your team will probably have another unproductive meeting.

What I am recommending is simple, but it’s not easy. Thinking well is a discipline, and in groups, it needs to be an inclusive discipline. Visual dialogue can be helpful and in our experience, it comes afterward. Pictures can help to create meaning by connecting ideas to concepts by creating metaphors that we can all understand. We see it all starting with words and sentences. Meaning is constructed out of our thoughts. As these thoughts become visible we see patterns, and patterns create avenues for divergent thinking. Later we can use convergent techniques to narrow down the most valuable ideas so that we may move forward together.

A highly trained beekeeper (facilitator) can help the group do its thinking work. She can suggest “moves” (techniques to advance thinking, compare alternatives, prioritize ideas etc.) that advance the conversation while tracking time, recording decisions and designing on the spot. She remains neutral, while the “bees” do their work, converting raw data into honey to maintain and sustain the team through time. A beekeeper can help design the before, during, and after experience of your meeting giving new continuity, energy, and life to your mission-critical decisions.

Some of the best companies are on to this type of thinking in groups. The technology has been around for the last 30 years and it’s been one of those best-kept secrets of high performing teams – especially global teams. Maybe now is the time to give it a try for you and your team. You might consider stopping talking about “design thinking” and learn how to design your teams thinking. We can show you how to get started with team beekeeping. To do what you have never done, you have to think in ways you have never thought. Our intensibe beekeeping school is starting soon. Request a description.

Stem Cells for Group Process

Sometimes a well-placed metaphor is just what a group needs. A while back I consulted to a department in trouble. This area was mission critical to the success of the company. Three divisions comprised this function and although successful completion of the work required interdependence among them, the very structure of the department fostered irrelevant competition. Furthermore, everyone knew about the issues, but these had become “undiscussable.” What to do?

At an off-site, we divided the group randomly into three smaller groups. We gave the groups the following assignment:

In a fairy tale, tell the story of our department. You may use all the characters usually found in the great stories we remember from our youth, dragons, kings, princesses, queens, elves, goblins, etc. The tale must begin with, “Once upon a time . . . ” It also must end with, “And they lived happily ever after.” You must write this tale and read it to the entire group. The tale will describe our current state, only in fairy tale language.

We gave them thirty minutes to complete their work. Their presentations were fantastic. They were creative, hilarious, and filled with healing, self-deprecating humor that loosened their perceptions and allowed them to see themselves differently. Their issues were smaller than they thought. And now they had just become discussable!

Towers that stood alone surrounded by deep forests with large thorn bushes became laughable in the telling. However, there were still real feelings connected to a history of real hurt and pain. The group needed a way to transcend these historical sources of rancor.

A solution came from one of the groups in the form the most creative metaphor I have ever seen. A team member suggested that we could implant “stem cells” in places where old patterns needed to be replaced by newer ones. She said that stem cells were undifferentiated cells that could adapt and change into what was required to bring about new health, flexibility, and vitality. In her words, these stem cells needed to contain both feedback and forgiveness. The combination of both would allow for a new sense of collaboration.

Three new groups formed, and they worked separately on where to place the stem cells. They worked for an hour. When the groups presented back, they surprised themselves with their consistency. Team members signed up to make the changes and to create the new ways of working. The team also thanked the leader for being vulnerable enough bring the issues to the forefront so that they could work on them.

And the moral of this story is that group issues don’t go away on their own. They must be worked. Nothing beats a good story and a great metaphor for innovating new group processes.

Team Tune-Up

Team Tune-Up

Group issues don’t go away on their own. Teams need to work through their problems by talking about them, not in pairs, but in the context of the whole group.

What teams need is a model and a map to get them started. We make use of the Drexler Sibbet Team Performance Model to illustrate the stages a team goes through on the way to high performance. The model helps by focusing areas for team members to discuss what they see and what they want.

 

As you might imagine, a professional facilitator, with a lot of experience will help the leader and the members to put the difficult issues on the table and work through them. We make use of what we call the Tune up Kanban process to guide teams through these topics. The model serves top point out in where the issue resides and, the Kanban board allows members to surface their description of the problem and its effect on team productivity.

Teams identify the problems as “options to solve.” They pull one of these options to the “Solving” column, and they work on it. We call this Action Research, and it involves a few steps.
1. Describe the issue/problem and state how it affects the team’s productivity.
2. Jointly agree on how to approach the concern (collect more data, interview each other, etc.
3. State the findings and own the issue/problem.
4 Generate solutions.
5. Choose a solution and jointly agree on actions, point person, and time frame.

Tune-ups are energizing. They can be done in a day or linked with other strategic priorities as part of a larger meeting. Like constructive feedback or robust debriefs, Tune-ups are an acquired taste. Doing them often and well can lead your team to high performance quickly.

Here is an example of a team Kanban Board using Trello. You can also use a flip chart and sticky notes. Have Fun with this.

Upgrade Your All-Hands Meeting

Calling all your people together is a powerful intervention. I recommend approaching it from a design perspective. Think of it as an event as opposed to a meeting. Design it well and make a real statement about the company, the leadership, and the employees.

Here are a few ideas that will help you to design a great All-Hands meeting:

Get the Whole System in the Room (or as much of it as you can)

These days it’s much easier to have large conversations. Use groupware to transcend time and place. You want a large face-to-face presence, and you can get remote sites into the conversation as well. When we facilitated sessions for East Coast CIGNA, we held them in the early morning and invited their Scotland office to participate. It was noon for Scotland and early AM for headquarters in Wilmington. We had lunch together after the morning meeting in Delaware, and Scotland had drinks and dinner after theirs. Everyone loved the experience.

Use Round Tables

We like round tables that sit no more than six. Seat people randomly so that they can meet others. As a leader you are designing norms of behavior. You want people to feel safe and included. Six is a great number for cafe style conversations. If you are using groupware and decide at some point your want to record the collective voice, you can start the conversation at the table groups, and pass the critical contributions through the groupware for all to see. You need only one collection device and someone to manage it for each table. Instantly you can tap into the group mind, get everyone involved. You can also do this manually using small tabletop flip charts. Have the table pick a spokesperson.

Create Fast Feedback Cycles

Keep the presentations short. Make sure your presenters rehearse. They need to be crisp, enthusiastic, and high energy. Have them ask for feedback. Use the table groups as above. A quick way to get a lot of useful data is to prompt the table groups to converse about the presentation capturing “highlights” – what stood out for them. Then ask for any concerns they might have. End with asking for any additional questions. Keep the whole experience to 20 minutes or less. Repeat with another speaker. Do two and take a break.

Use a Theme Team

Before the meeting create a “Theme Team” consisting of a cross section of the group. No more than six. Their job is to create summaries of the data collected from the group during the feedback portions of the meeting. They are a consensus seeking team. They present back to the whole group short summaries of the information to the large group. If you have high potentials that you want to see in action, appoint them to the theme team. The ability to organize information, reach consensus, and present information back, candidly, with a bit of polish, energy, and humor is a complex skill. There is no better way to develop this skill.

What’s Next?

These are a few ideas. If you’d like to get better at helping leaders to hold killer All-Hands meetings, ask to join our guild. This work is a craft. It’s both an art and a science.  You will need to practice, you will need to take risks, and you will need feedback. Our guild provides all of these. Most of all it’s fun! Of course you could always ask me to come and help you design your next large conversation. We will work side by side and you will learn first hand.