Saturday, December 26, 2015

Learn from the Past to Make the Future Better

“Retrospectives” or "Lessons Learned” or "Post Mortems” are a key part of improving your personal and organizational behavior. This article will walk you through some tips for making your future better as a result of learning from the past.

It’s the day after Christmas and we are sitting around the breakfast table discussing all the fun that we’ve had.  The questions that we asked was, “What is the best Christmas you remember?”. 

The Best Christmas that I remember was the year that I went to bed in my room on Christmas Eve and woke up in the living room on Christmas day.

The door handle on my room was taped shut with masking tape and a bow was placed on the knob.  My dad suggested there might be wild animals in the room or some other rather scary scenario.  

Eventually I got to open my door and inside was 8’x4’ table with entire slot car track and HO scale train set winding through curves and hills on the imaginary countryside.  I had that train/car table for almost a decade (8 years to 18 years) and enjoyed hundreds of hours of fun both racing the slot cars, running the railroad and also completely remaking the entire circuit numerous times.

The next questions was, “What are some of your favorite things about Christmas traditions?” 

We had answer like, “Going to a christmas tree farm and getting a tree.”  Or “Eating French Dip sandwiches after officially finishing tree decorating.  Or “The traditional family Christmas Eve party that we always have.”

Guess what we just did?  We reminisced about our favorite things.  In technical terms, this was a retrospective, but was obviously a lot more fun than perhaps the same type of adventure you might have at work.  And when you apply this to a work scenario, planning is quite important.  Mainly because the quality of the retrospective is directly proportional to the planning effort.

The definition of a successful retrospective is: “At least one action items is identified and scheduled to be executed before the participants leave the meeting. "


This is the 7th article in the series of Better Meeting Magic.  The introduction to this series, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life with Meeting Facilitation (aka Meeting Magic) describes how to revolutionize collaboration with teams.

Tip #1: Plan the Retrospective

When it comes to creating a retrospective, it’s always good to know what you want to get out of the retrospective before you conduct this part of the meeting.  A random question like, “How did this meeting go?” will likely result ambigous and voluminous feedback. The discussion will likely be more like a shotgun blast than focused actionable feedback. 

If you want to conduct a retrospective as a normal part of your meeting, have your retrospective questions planned before hand.

Here are some example questions that you might want to ask at the end of the meeting.

Note: Some questions will help you determine if you are being an effective facilitator.  Other questions will help you determine if you got the result you wanted out of the meeting.
  • “How well did we meet the meeting goal?
  • “Did we create a satisfactory plan of action?”
  • "How happy are we with the plan?”
  • “Did we correctly identify the root cause of the issue?”
Notice how these questions are a little right brained.  In other words, people are reaching into their sense of values rather than just the facts.  These right brained questions can really get outstanding feedback. If you couple these questions with Tip #2, you can keep the retrospective in a small time box.  If you allow people to speak freely on these questions, you might overrun your time allocation.

Tip #2: Use Simple Tools

If you conduct an hour long meeting, you won’t have a lot of time for a RETROSPECTIVE. One of the fastest feedback mechanism that I know about is called fist of five.  Here’s how it goes.
  1. Identify two extreme’s to quantify the meeting success or failure.  For example:  Failure is no actionable content was derived from this meeting. Success is clear and concise and actionable steps were derived from this meeting. 
  2. Ask the question of the participants, “I want everyone to vote with your fingers by holding up 1,2, 3, 4 or 5 fingers"
  3. Explain more, “A vote with 1 finger means we have created no actionable steps from this meeting.  A vote with 5 fingers means, we’ve created clear, concise and actionable steps that we can immediately implement.”
  4. Now call the participants to action, “On the count of 3 hold up the number of fingers that represent your view on how the meeting went.”
  5. Count and record all the votes on a whiteboard.
  6. For votes that are 1, 2 or 3, ask the participants why they thought it was average or less than average.  For vote of 4 and 5, you can skip getting feedback if you are pressed for time.  
The outliers will provide excellent feedback.  Usually you will learn how people’s expectation may have been different from what you advertised in the meeting goal.  Or you may find some interesting and subtle things about how the meeting missed the mark.  I love getting outlier feedback…it’s the input that helps me the most change my behavior and perform better.

Tip #3: FOCUS

Focus on getting only 1 or 2 top priority issues from your retrospective. When conditioning a retrospective, you will need to find a mechanism to focus the feedback in a very specific and narrow category in order for it to be useful.  This is especially true if you conduct retrospectives at the end of a meeting (which include only analyzing the flow and content of a single meeting) or at the end of 2 week agile software development cycle (which includes only 2 weeks of team behavior).

For an excellent resource on retrospectives, read, "Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great".

I recommend looking at multi-voting for a quick decision making framework. You can read more about that technique in the article, "Always Enter a Meeting with a Goal, Always Leave a Meeting with a Decision."

Leave a comment on how your most recent retrospective went?  Did you have success at getting action items?  Let me know?

Best Way to Plan Your Vacation Itinerary - A Thanksgiving Story

IMG 3362
Inside of the Governor’s Mansion in Colonial Williamsburg

My family went to Colonial Williamsburg for Thanksgiving.  It was a great time to gather with my Mom and her Husband and my Aunt and Uncle.  We had 9 people from ages 11 to 72.

We spent a total of 7 days and 6 nights at a timeshare and we had way to much to do…below is a sample of the activities for 1 week Colonial Williamsburg…what an eye chart.  Events start at 8 am and end around 10:30 pm.  In addition to events, there is map with four quadrants of the town that includes about 40-50 houses, shops and restaurants.

These are different from the events and entering each shop is an adventure into the past with authentic tools for carving silver or walk through the 18th century legislative building with a knowledge host guiding you through the history of the chambers and talking about the famous people or important events that were part of the building’s past.

Williamsburg guide

How does one go about making decisions about this type of family adventure: Use a process that is collaborative and inclusive. In other articles I’ve introduced the concept I call Better Meeting Magic.

In the family vacation situation, you definitely need to be more relaxed about structure and rules and more lenient with time constraints, because you don’t want to spoil the vacation feeling.

I’ve done a similar exercise in past Thanksgiving vacations and you can read about that in my article, “How to Plan Your Family Vacation Using Post-It Notes (aka Sticky Notes).”  For this particular activity plan, I found a prominent wall to being our planning and put daily heading across the wall.  I always recommend using 8”x 6” post-it notes(tm).

Initial Wall 

IMG 3360
I began to post numerous stickies on the wall with places and events.
This wall was edited in the morning and evening as we dynamically changed our minds about what we wanted to see during our stay in Colonial Williamsburg.

As Stephen Covey recommends in the 3rd Habit of his excellent book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we put all of our Big Rock (important things) on the wall first.  You can see “T-Day Dinner” is clearly identified early in the process.  You got to have awesome food on Thanksgiving.

Wall After Day 2:

IMG 3363

As you can see, there a a number of items that have been checked off.  
You can also see there are also a few new items on the board.
SUN is now on the board.
The order of things is also shaping up as we became more familiar with the map of Colonial Williamsburg.

 We probably spent about 5 minutes each morning and evening updating things.

The Final Wall

IMG 3385

And the final board before on the day we left.  

This had most everything checked off and some new things we added.

A great success in terms of getting everything done that we wanted.  

Or at least most everything.

I encourage you to read through some of the articles on Better Meeting Magic for a deeper immersion on how to utilize good processes to make every collaborative and creative engagement better.

Tell me about your planning for vacation.  How did it go? What were the challenges?
Visit for more tips and tricks.

Always Enter a Meeting with a Goal, Always Leave a Meeting with a Decision

One of the biggest time wasters in the corporate world and even in your personal life the delayed decision making.  Interestingly, the cost is not just dollars, but also in dreams and goals.

One of my most frustrating experiences is having a meeting twice when it could have been done once.  I either facilitate or participate in 1 to 2 meetings per day.  On a monthly basis I facilitate a couple business unit status and brainstorming meetings. In some cases, there is a clear path that is desired and other times there is a very vague notion of the future.

When there is a clear path, it is time to seize the moment and move forward. It’s at this point that many people begin to pause and mentally stutter about moving forward.

There is art and science in the timing of decision and I find making decision quickly seems to result in getting to your goals sooner.

When I enter into a meeting, I usually have the word, “Decide” in the meeting goal so that people are pre-programmed to know that we intended to put some down in writing and agree. Here are some examples:
  • Review Architecture Options and DECIDE on Architecture for Initial Release
  • Review Subcontract options from vendors and DECIDE on which vendor to go with
  • Review and Update Development Process proposal (DECIDE is implied with the word “Update”)
The Better Meeting Magic Deciding … always leave with a decision.

Tip #1: Leave time at the end of your meeting (10 minutes) to review your meeting and make sure you’ve achieve your meeting GOAL

If you’ve followed my series of posts from the beginning, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life”, you are aware that having an effective meeting is not by accident.  You must create an environment for effective collaboration and decision making.

As part of your meeting plan, give yourself time to review the goals at the end of your meeting. Review the “GOAL” statement in your own mind and then ask others if they agree that you’ve met the goal.

Tip #2: Use multi-voting to DECIDE on the 1 or 2 things.

Multi-voting is one of my favorite decision making tools.  I use this all the time to help decide among a set of well understood options.  To make DECIDING easier, you needed to complete BRAINSTORMING (see my article, "In a Meeting What is Best for Creative Problem Solving? Total Freedom or Well Defined Process?”) and NARROWING (see “How to Find Great Ideas from a Massive Sea of Brainstorming Information”).
Here’s the process of multi-voting:
  1. Pick the number of results that you to get out of the process…you want to start working on 1 idea, then give each person 1 vote.  Or you want to get the top 3 ideas, then give people 3 votes.  This process works best when you want start working on 2 to 5 ideas 
  2. If you have sticky dots, had out the number of sticky dots equal to the votes to each person.  You can pass out markers if you don’t have sticky dots and then use the honor system to insure people count their votes correctly.
  3. Have each person vote by placing a dot or mark on the sticky note or idea on the white board.  
  4. Each person vote distribute their votes any way they like (e.g. all dots on a single item or 1 dot for each of their priorities).
  5. When finished, you will usually have a majority of the votes on the item that people think is the highest priority.
Caveats: If you play this game with really smart people, you should make them vote privately, because I’ve had people game the system in the past by waiting for everyone else to post votes and then the tricky smart person stuff one particular item 5 votes and thus threw of the entire process.

Tip #3: Send the meeting minutes and a summary of decisions as quick as possible

  • Take pictures of the whiteboard and/or wall with sticky notes, dots, markers etc.  
  • Include all this information in a word document or on SharePoint site or OneNote page or Wiki or Confluence page. 
  • It needs to be accessible for everyone.
  • Make sure you summarize the major decisions.

I’d like to hear how you facility the decision process? What works for you?


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How to Find Great Ideas from a Massive Sea of Brainstorming Information

What if your team gives you way too many ideas to process when you ask them, "What needs improved"?

What do you do if  brainstorming results in a massive amount of information? How do you filter, focus and hone the important pieces?

You’ve just finished a meeting with your development team to discuss the next set of features for the upcoming release.  You’ve got a list of what seems like a hundred ideas. 

There is a massive list of unordered, yet very awesome ideas and you got those by BRAINSTORMING.  Now you need a fluid process to take that list of great ideas and make it something actionable.  

I introduced the Better Meeting Magic process in a previous article: Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life with Meeting Facilitation (aka Meeting Magic).

This article is a discussion of NARROWING.  NARROWING is the process that reduced a large set of data into a easily digestible chunks of information.  NARROWING is a natural part of all decision making. Whenever you talk to your friends or significant other about where you want to eat out, you begin a process that looks similar to the Agenda/Activity Cycle.  The group begins to throw out ideas, otherwise known as BRAINSTORMING:
  • “I feel like Mexican food” or 
  • “Italian sounds good to me” or 
  • “Chinese would really hit the spot” or
  • “I would really like some BBQ” 
Then someone might NARROW the choices by saying,
  • “I don’t like BBQ” or 
  • “Last time I ate Italian I got a really bad heart”.  

After that the group returns to BRAINSTORMING to further identify the possible restaurants
  • “How about Olive Garden?”
  • “What about Taco Bell?”
  • “Have you guys tried China Garden?”
  • “My favorite Mexican food place is Fajita Grande”
  • “What about that new high end restaurant  call Senior Primo’s?"
The group would then throw out Taco Bell … because they want to have a relaxed enjoyable dinner with a reasonable expectation of quality.  The group might also throw out Senior Primo’s because they are looking for a reasonable cost and casual dining.
NARROWING is done at this point at the point where you've prioritized the list and deduplicate the possibilities. The group has down selected to “Olive Garden”, “China Garden” and “Fajita Grande”.  Notice how a systematic process has been organically applied in this natural decision making cycle.  This is typical of the way we think and interact with each other. 
In the next article I’ll talk about the DECIDING step and how to apply some tips and tricks in that phase.
In a business setting or even at home, you might apply NARROWING to features for a product or vacation plans. In particular if you go to a destination like Disney World or a Resort where there are lots of things to do, you may need a decision process to help you decide which things are important enough to do or see.  On my recent family Thanksgiving trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I led my relatives through the entire Agenda/Activity Cycle a few times to consider the voluminous ideas and then reduce the list to a manageable size.  We had three days passes and the list of activities would easily fill 6 days so we had to prioritize. 

Here are some tips for NARROWING...

Tip #1: Duplicate Narrowing

If you recently finished BRAINSTORMING you are likely to have a large number of sticky notes or ideas. You will inevitably have many ideas that are either similar or identical.  When people start trying to prioritize the ideas, they will immediately want to find and group duplicates.

With sticky notes the simplest mechanism for de-duplication is to send the entire group of people to the wall or whiteboard and have them discuss and agree on how the items should be grouped. Have the participants physically arrange the sticky notes in groups.  Either overlap the sticky notes or move the sticky notes into clumps on the wall or whiteboard.

Tip #2: Timeline Narrowing

When it comes to a project timeline or feature timeline or anything time related, I like the timeline NARROWING.  Timeline NARROWING has the following rules:
  • The entire set of sticky notes must be arranged in a single line
  • There cannot be any overlapping sticky notes
  • There cannot be any wide spots in the sticky notes (two sticky notes above or below each other)
  • SINGLE ROW from start to finish
  • Entire group can work to move stickies forward and back in the timeline
  • Sometimes a large portion of the stickies must be moved left or right to accommodate for an insertions … no problem.
You might have noticed that I got a little redundant in writing this list. Most people do not like the single row rule. They say, “these things happen at the same time”.  While it’s true that things might happen at the same time, you must stick to the rules in order for our brain to do the hard work of prioritizing. Don’t make any exceptions no matter what someone says. Just say, “These are the rules to the exercise”.  Typically, people will find a few redundant things in the list and remove them as the timeline evolves.  NARROWING is all about prioritizing and eliminating, so have people do the hard work of thinking through the priorities and reflecting those priorities with the timeline of sticky notes.

Tip#3: Two Dimensional Narrowing

One of the most common two dimensional NARROWING activities EFFORT vs. IMPACT graph.  Using EFFORT on the vertical axis and IMPACT on the horizontal axis, create a graph on a wall or whiteboard. Then post your sticky notes into a two dimensional space with increasing EFFORT on vertical axis and increasing IMPACT on the horizontal axis.  Here’s how the exercise works.

  1. Have the group get into a single file line.
  2. First person in line can move a single sticky to a location he or she chooses.
  3. That person now goes to the end of the line.
  4. Or if the person does not want to reorder anything, then he or she can sit down.
  5. This exercise finishes when no one want to move anything.
  6. Repeat starting at #2.

  • Keep this exercise going faster by making it a no-talking exercise.
When you are finished you will have your list of items distributed in a two dimensional space where you can extract information on ‘LOW EFFORT/HIGH IMPACT”.  This provides a runway for your next task: DECIDING.

Thanks for reading.

Please try one of these strategies in your next BRAINSTORMING meeting and please leave a comment on how it went.  If you’ve done this before and have an observations, I’d love to hear about the result...write your experience in the comment section or send me an e-mail.



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In a Meeting What is Best for Creative Problem Solving? Total Freedom or Well Defined Process?

Problem solving meetings should harness the energy and creativity of those who participate. 

Many people think that innovation and creativity are better expressed by allowing people to work without constraint or boundaries.  That works well in isolation, but if you want to harness the creativity of a group, you need a little structure.

For example, let's say on a Friday you task a brilliant person to come up with a great idea. He or she goes away for the weekend inspired and then come back on Monday with an outstanding solution.

Interestingly, this can be a double edged sword.  The solution can be suitable for a single solution or maybe even the enterprise, but it can also lack the necessary input to make it the best cross domain solution or perhaps be somewhat insufficient for a broader range of applications.  Other times, it can lack the buy-in from strategic stakeholders who might be behind it except for the fact that they didn’t get to walk through the process of understanding the trade-offs or “trade study” that went into the decision process. 

This is where a well structured Better Meeting Magic engagement can get you buy-in and collaboration and also bring the decision processes to closure relatively quickly.

In my previous article, “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life,” I introduced Better Meeting Magic, a way to change the culture and productivity of a team, department, division or company that embodies the spirit of collaboration, inclusiveness and focus.

The box around “Agenda/Activity Cycle” reflects that this part of Better Meeting Magic is an iterative process that may be repeated many times during the course of a meeting. In some meetings, especially very long or multi-day meetings, you may have several decisions to make and you’ll need to run through the “Agenda/Activity Cycle” multiple times for each specific agenda item.  

BRAINSTORMING is the very heart of the “Agenda/Activity Cycle”.  Harnessing the flow of creative and collaborative thinking is the goal for the entire meeting, and BRAINSTORMING is the process of funneling the creativity into a specific thrust.  It’s super easy to be creative by yourself.  It’s also easy to be collaborative.  It’s harder to be collaborative and creative because people bring Bias into their decisions.  It’s extremely hard to be collaborative, creative, unbiased and deliver a good solution with time constraints.  The Better Meeting Magic “Agenda/Activity Cycle” can produced the desired result.

For any meeting where you need to get results quickly and come to a decision, you will need to formulate a game plan.  The game plan could be a simple 1 pass through the Agenda/Activity Cycle such as, “Brainstorm with sticky and select the top 3 ideas.”  Or the meeting could be a multi-day engagement where you have 10-20 iterations of the Agenda/Activity Cycle for multiple different topics. 

In either case, the facilitator of the meeting must plan in advance what activities that will be best suit for meeting goal.  In a recent meeting with a couple teams at my company we needed to re-work some of the network infrastructure.  Before the meeting I collected all the major network nodes and printed the names of each one on 8x10.  I brought the stack of printouts to the meeting and instructed to team to layout the network on the wall by taping each sheet of paper in the appropriate location using blue painters tape.  After they completed this initial activity, we began to restructure the network.

There are infinite ways to approach the brainstorming part of a meeting, and you can let your creative juices flow. But as the facilitator must come to the meeting with a plan for the activities.

Tip #1: Brainstorm with Sticky Notes

Using a physical piece of material (e.g. sticky note and fat markers) for capturing brainstorming is so powerful. 

First there is the cognitive aspect of the writing things down.  
Second there is the small amount of space that forces people to focus.
Third there is the capability to easily move and categorize.

Tip #2: Always have people write down their own thoughts

In some meetings, there is a person at the whiteboard who is capturing thoughts.  I think there is value is this type of facilitation, but I do not recommend it for most BRAINSTORMING activities.

I recommend that the facilitator of the meeting plan enough time for people to write their own sticky notes and then personally walk up to the board or wall and post them.   This has a couple great effects:

  • The act of writing down your own thoughts gives ownership to the ideas and content.  If you summarize someone else’s thoughts in your own short hand, the words will likely be slightly off in meaning and tone.  That’s not always true, but it’s best to let the author of the idea carve their own art work.
  • The act of physically getting out of the chair is sometime uncomfortable for people. Maybe even awkward in some environments where sitting, staring at each and talking is the norm.  However, in meetings where people move around, there is much more energy and engagement. I usually insist that people get up and post their own notes keep the meeting lively. If you want people engaged, make them get their whole body in motion.

Tip #3: Create activities that engage both quiet and the talkative

It’s important that you engage both ends of quiet/loud spectrum in your meetings.  By default, meetings where people sit around and talk will be dominated by out spoken people.   Collaboration toward the best idea requires engaging all the stakeholders.  If a quiet stakeholder doesn’t speak out during the meeting, he or she may be holding the keys to a golden egg and never express the idea. Or he or she may be a position of having key knowledge and possibly power to veto the idea following the meeting.  Here is an examples of how to engage people on the loud and quiet spectrum.

‘At Least One Sticky’ Exercise

  • Instruct participants to write at least one sticky related to the current discussion
  • Instruct participants to walk up to the whiteboard or wall and post their idea
  • Either during the act of walking up or after everyone has posted, have each individual briefly describe their sticky 
Extracting at least one sticky forces engagement for everyone.  In my previous posts I talked about OPENING the meeting and having meeting rules.  I usually post the rules ‘Everyone Participates in Activities’.  In the event I have people who are resistant to be involved in activities, I re-iterate the rules from our opening.

When people talking through their sticky this enables the more verbal oriented people the capability to express themselves.  Since people want to both figurative and literally be heard, this part of the activity drives engagement.

Break out your sticky notes and create a super engaging meeting for your participants.

Go try this in your next meeting where you need to make a decision.  Please leave a comment on how it went…either good or bad or ugly.

If you like this content, please e-mail any friends and colleagues who would benefit.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Change People's Preconceptions and Prejudice into Powerful Learning Activities in Your Toughest Meetings

Dread!  That is the word that describes my feeling about attending some meeting. Recently I was asked to facilitate a meeting between IT and a business unit to discuss a how to modernize a development network. The two departments have a long history of strife, frustration, finger pointing and verbal sniping.  You could easily say that this meeting was one to dread.

In this article I'll address you how to turn dread on it’s head and sew the seeds of cooperation. Applying the third step of Better Meeting Magic, Bias Check, will create a more collaborative interaction among antagonistic teams or really any group of participants that have a history of discord.

For further context on Better Meeting Magic, see the articles on “Planning” and “Opening.”

This article is focused on Step 3: Bias Check

Why Do I Need a Bias Check?

  1. People need to vent their emotions.  Venting emotions in a meeting setting usually creates discord because the venting usually has a target person or audience which is personified as the Bad Guy or a the source of the trouble.
  2. People come to meetings with a fixed mindset about a topic.  Humans have a tradition of coming up with ideas and getting attached to those ideas.  So when you put a few humans in a meeting room and they are all attached to their ideas, it can be difficult to come to a consensus

Tip #1: Try to encourage silent exercises that involve writing or physical movement

If individuals come into a meeting with a lot of charged emotion, the last thing you want them to do is start talking out-loud. The talking part is not so bad, but the unfiltered words that come out can create early emotional damage and set the meeting on a precarious edge.

A good strategy for starting this meeting might be to have individuals agree on a set of meeting rules (how they will behave) and then pepper the meeting with writing and physical activities right from the start. These type of activities keep a person’s 'executive' brain involved instead of their more primitive 'mid' brain.

Once you get people THINKING they can usually stay on track and avoid EMOTING.

Tip #2: Use “Hopes” and “Fears” exercise

With this exercise, you gather will important personal perspectives from the participants and those perspectives will be shared with everyone in a non-threatening way.

SIDE NOTE: You must have large sticky notes. Basically every exercise I use requires 8”x6” sticky notes. And you need participants to use markers not pens or pencils.  I MEAN IT. Don’t scrimp on this because if you choose small sticky notes or pens, then no one can read the material and you will just frustrate everyone.  If someone starts writing with pen, I always interject and require they use markers. And I always bring an ample supply of large stickies and markers to meeting. 

  1. On a couple of sticky notes or a whiteboard write two headings: “HOPES” and “FEARS.”
  2. Give a small stack of 8”x 6”sticky notes and a marker to each participant.
  3. Instruct the participants to write at least one sticky note (only one idea per sticky) for each heading and post it on the wall or whiteboard.  Participants can write more than one, but they at least need to write one HOPE and one FEAR.
  4. Once all the notes are posted go to the wall, walk through every sticky note and allow the person who posted the note to add a couple sentences of clarification so there is universal understanding about the posted thought.  This might sound time consuming, but compared to an uncontrolled heated discussion it’s very small.  And it typically cuts to the heart of an issue and  help you and others guide the rest of meeting in productive ways.

What Does this Achieve

  • Everyone’s got to vent.  It’s important and people want to say their piece and be heard. 
  • Writing on paper encourages thinking vs. emotion.  Because the instructions included writing before talking, individuals think about their hopes and fears before expressing them and in doing so they tend to use good filters instead of a gushing unfiltered emotional responses.
  • Understanding is increased. Very quickly everyone in the room becomes aware of how people are thinking and where they are coming from.  And it happened without drama.

Tip #3: Use “Walk the Line” exercise

For topics with diametrically opposing views, this exercise is fantastic to allow people to express their view without getting into a long debate.

This exercise requires several feet of linear floor space and some blue painters tape. 

  1. Place a strip of blue painter’s tape in a straight line on the floor (minimum about 10’ long and probably no more than 20’ long depending on the number of participants).
  2. Using your prepared questions, ask each participant to stand on the line where they think they agree with either point of view.

  3. a.     Sample: “The far end of the line represents the statement, “company culture dictates how meetings operate.”  The near end of the line represents that statement, “company culture has no impact on how meetings are run.” Please stand on position of the tape line representing where it represents your belief within these two perspectives.  Some of you might say this question is a no brainer.
          I used this recently in training session and the results were very revealing.  Many people who I expected to stand on one end of the line, where very solidly on the opposite end of the line. Sometimes the learning that you can achieve with this exercise will surprise you.
    b.     Sample: “The far end of the line represents the statement, “teams work best with a strong single leader.”  The near end of the line represents the statement, “teams work best when self-directed.” Stand on the line where it represents your perspective.

  4. After each person has picked their spot on the line, ask each person to describe their perspective.

What Does this Achieve

  • Everyone want to be understood. It’s important and people want to know that others can appreciate their perspective.
  • Requires people think through their perspectives before they express their opinions.  This exercise helps people evaluate themselves and take a moment to consider their motives.  It’s not a counselling session, but just a few moments can help people become less emotionally and more contemplative. 
No one is inclined to check their bias at the door, but these simple activities will keep meeting participants thinking and sharing.

What was the most difficult meeting you’ve ever attended?  What went wrong?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turn Tough Meetings into Successful Outcomes With an Excellent Plan and Meeting Kickoff That Creates Focus

Picture yourself in a meeting room.  You arrive early and people start trickling in.  It’s a few minute pass while you all   Who will do the most talking?  Who will be THAT GUY who won’t agree with anything. Or THAT GIRL who won’t stop talking even though nothing relevant is being said.

This is how things start in many of your meetings.  Put aside the bliss of the “status” meeting where you just sit and consume information.  That’s not the meeting we are talking about.  We are talking about the meeting that really needs people to express incredible creativity. The meeting where people need to solve those intangible problems that people keep saying, “we should do that some day.” 

Energy and time are needed to solve tough problems in a meeting.  Actually you need ENERGY and TIME and FOCUS.  With the proper start of each meeting you have a chance to give participants a turbo boost of all three of those things.


Energy comes from expressing a goal and instilling into others the sense of urgency to reach the goal. 

In a previous article “Change Your Meetings and Change Your Life,” I introduced Better Meeting Magic, a way to change the culture and productivity of a team, department, division or company that embodies the spirit of collaboration, inclusiveness and focus.

Then in a subsequent article, "Improve Your Focus and Improve Your Team's Performance in Meetings", recall that Planning Is Indispensable because you have created a runway to achieve high altitude performance during your meeting.  You created a meeting GOAL.  You included the GOAL in the invitation. And now you are going to paste it on the wall in the biggest font you can find.

This is step 2 "Opening" in the Better Meeting Magic.   You will open a meeting with some administrative tasks, setting expectations and preparing the participants for an excellent collaborative experience.

Tip #1: Post the Meeting Goal for High Visibility

On an 11”x17” paper print “Goal:  Decide on the Marketing Strategy and Create a List of Step to Achieve It”.  You can also write on a flip chart or even on whiteboard. It must stay as a focal point for the whole meeting, so make sure whatever surface you use to present the goals stays visible and does not get erased.  Make it public so everyone can see it and read it. You might need to revisit the goal during the session. 

Tip #2: Post Meeting Rules for Everyone to See

Also on an 11”x17” paper print “Rules: …”.  Same operating principles apply to the Rules sheet as applied to the Goals sheet.  Make it visible and keep it posted throughout the duration of the meeting.

Reiterating and publishing the goals ENERGIZES the participants because they know that this meeting will not waste time and that achieves the criteria of successful meeting key #1.  A goal also FOCUSES the participants and achieves the criteria of successful meeting key #2.  And if you start on TIME and end on TIME, you will achieve the criteria of successful meeting key #3.


Allocating the correct amount of time to a meeting is essential and must be part of the planning process.  But now that you are in the meeting, you have to keep yourself and the whole party on track to achieve the goals. Part of this journey is starting on time. The end of this journey will be better appreciated if it ends on time as well.


FOCUS is the essential ingredient to make a meeting work and you’ve started off with right foot forward if you’ve posted the Goal(s) and Rule(s) and started on time.  The rest of the meeting is going to be better because you know your purpose.  Just like an aircraft flying from Los Angeles to New York that will fly slightly off course 99% of the time, you too will continue to adjust the course of the meeting ever so slightly when you see things getting off track.

Focus! Focus! Focus!

Put time into understand the purpose of the meetings. Then post Goals and Rules.  Then monitor and gently correct.

Tip #3: Make a Parking Lot for Off Topic Ideas

I almost forgot the Parking Lot.  This is a jewel and you cannot forget to put this up on the wall as well.

In order to keep the meeting on track, explain that you have a Parking Lot and put notes into that space. Write on whiteboards or flipcharts or post sticky notes for any items that don’t fit into the context of the meeting, but are burning issue for some of the participants.  Be sure to follow-up on this items.

Do you have an interesting story about how a meeting went so off course?  Please write a comment and share your story.