Enhance Meeting Productivity

Of the 60+ meetings per month attended by professionals, research indicates that over 50 percent of this meeting time is wasted.  That translates to 4 days of lost productivity per professional every month if each meeting is one hour long!  Can you afford not to invest in more effective meetings?  Do the math for yourself. How much could you save with even a 25% improvement in the productivity of your virtual and in-person meetings?

Nearly all organizational leaders, professionals, and managers can greatly benefit from developing competence in facilitating effective meetings, and understanding when to seek facilitation assistance.

Bring our productivity enhancing courses in-house!


Prevent Conflict Before the Meeting

Here’s some really good news! “Almost all meeting conflict can be prevented by good preparation, clarity about roles, responsibilities, ground rules, expected outcomes, and decision-making methods.” — Facilitator’s Fieldbook

Everyone hates wasting time in meetings. Whether you are facilitating the meeting, attending as a participant, or making arrangements for a client, ensure you are clear about, and agree to, the OARRS. Doing so will go a long way toward creating Great Meetings!

  • Outcomes: Why are we meeting?
  • Agenda: What topics will we address, when, & how?
  • Roles: What will be expected of me?
  • Rules: How will we work together?
  • Scope: What are empowered to do?

Learn how to design and facilitate productive, positive and engaging meetings: Masterful Facilitation Institute courses.

Staying on Topic: It’s Easy to Stray!

Do you distinguish between different meeting purposes?
If not, you may find that your “quick’, regular information/status meetings are getting hijacked into problem-solving meetings. How can you stay true to the meeting purpose as emergent issues arise and not get detoured from your purpose?
Whether your team holds regular progress meetings through 15-minute standing check-ins, online/web meetings, or regular in-person huddles, you likely have struggled with the meeting digressing from status reporting to issue resolution. Resist dealing with an issue as it surfaces! Otherwise, you will waste the time of those for whom the issue is not relevant, and erode the time available for others to give their progress reports.

TIP: Here’s how to stay on topic. Park any issues as they are flagged. At the end of the scheduled status meeting, quickly establish who needs to discuss each issue on the Parking Lot. Either task who will schedule the appropriate next meeting(s), or, after you’ve adjourned the original progress report meeting, continue with relevant participants.

Enhance your facilitation skills today – bring our courses in-house. See Masterful Facilitation Institute courses.

Four F-Strategies for Setting Group Norms

“How do we want to work together as a group for greatest success?”

Groups that agree on their meeting code of conduct, or session norms, are more productive and achieve better results.

TIP: To facilitate the task of gaining agreement on meeting agreements, you might try one of these four facilitation strategies:

1. FAST: Offer a starting list of possible ground rules, and refine as needed.

2. FULLY OWNED:Help a group develop their own norms by asking, “Think of the characteristics of effective meetings. What can we do to support each other in achieving this?”

3. FULL PARTICIPATION: Create a level playing field between participants of different ranks by targeting norms that encourage everyone to leave their ranks at the door.

4. FUN: A team that will work together over time to playfully list the behaviours they don’t want to see ☺!

Enhance your facilitation skills today. Bring our courses in-house – see Masterful Facilitation Institute courses.





Engaging Meetings

LifetoMeetingsLife is too short to waste time in meetings. We all need to learn how to cut through the confusion, reduce the stress, and transform bad meeting habits into productive, focused and positive results. Engaging meetings have LIFE, and are characterized by:
  • Lively Meeting Process
  • Interactions for Authenticity and Health
  • Focused Meeting Outcomes and Visible Record
  • Engagement of People


Somehow when most of us went through our schooling, whatever system we were in just assumed that either: 1) we already knew how to design and facilitate great meetings, or 2) we would pick it up by osmosis through the keen observation of our bosses and peers. Not!

Great meetings depend upon designing a variety of activities to time-efficiently and productively achieve the meeting goals, and facilitating each exercise in such a way that participants feel alive, enthused, and energized. A good meeting design is actually a plan of what will happen, when, and in what way to ensure everyone contributes for maximum results.


Every meeting is an opportunity to foster authentic and respectful exchanges that build relationships. Why is this important? Human beings are nested in webs of relationships through many networks. The existence and strength of those relationships is an important contributor to enabling the success of meeting results after people leave. Whether the meetings you facilitate are within organizations (e.g., intact or project team, management groups or Boards) or span a diversity of community groups (e.g., citizen or parent meetings, multi-stakeholder groups, global advocacy networks), learn how to build trust, mutual understanding, and shared values during the meeting through healthy and learning-focused participant interactions.


Clarity of purpose, goals and outcomes are critical to solid meeting results. Too many meetings waste people’s time because of insufficient upfront work in clarifying the key questions of ‘why, what, who’. Confusion can also arise from poor records of the key points, ideas, actions and agreements . Visible work records (with graphics and visuals if possible!) help enlist both head for understanding and heart for alignment.


“None of us is as smart as all of us. …the problems we face are too complex to be solved by any one person or any one discipline. Our only chance is to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who can refract a problem through the prism of complementary minds allied in common purpose.” (The Secrets of Great Groups –Warren Bennis)

Long gone are the days when management alone, elected officials alone, technical and economic experts alone, can find the right answers. Almost every issue and topic today is vast and complex. Collaboration and wise action requires engaging the right people appropriately at the right time through the right processes, in right timing around the right questions. If you believe that participation, involvement and engagement of people are needed for better outcomes, then you must also be committed to learning how to design and facilitate great meetings.

Enroll in one of our Masterful Facilitation Institute courses and learn how to bring LIFE to meetings.

Better Quality Brainstorming Results

Here’s an interesting finding just brought to my attention by fellow IAF-CPF Cameron Fraser through the IAF list- serve: electronic brainstorming on wicked and difficult problems yields higher quality results than verbal brainstorming (either in-person or on an synchronous virtual meeting).

A synopsis of the research findings extracted from the publication: Improving Human Effectiveness for Extreme-Scale Problem Solving was a single year effort by Sandia National Laboratories to investigate tools and methods for bringing very large groups of people together to solve difficult problems. In particular, this research explored how computer mediated collaborations might attack “wickedly difficult” problems, which are characterized by a lack of agreement about the very nature of the problem itself. The experiment compared the effectiveness of individual versus group electronic brainstorming on a number of quality ratings including originality, feasibility and effectiveness. Two interesting findings emerged:

  1. Individuals in the study produced an equivalent number (quantity) of ideas whether brainstorming took place in electronic group sessions (EBS), or individually through a nominal group process, regardless of how long the period of time devoted to the activity.
  2. More interesting, though, is that the quality of the ideas in the nominal condition was significantly better across all three quality ratings in electronic group brainstorming  (EBS) than in verbal brainstorming.

The reasons seem to stem from a combination of factors:

  • Production blocking – the inability to simultaneously present ones ideas, while others are verbally brainstorming (e.g., session rule may be that only one person can speak at a time). Several members can contribute at the same time through EBS, eliminating this tendency to edit/withhold.
  • Evaluation apprehension – the tendency for people to hold back their ideas for fear that others will negatively evaluate them. In EBS, ideas and responses are submitted in an anonymous fashion, eliminating this social concern in live groups.
  • Social loafing – individuals have been shown to invest less effort in group projects than they do in equivalent individual work. EBS has mixed results here, though some research suggest that being assured that one’s ideas are logged and counted, and viewing others’ ideas, may work to mitigate this tendency.

The implications of these findings demonstrate that employees may effectively use computer-mediated nominal brainstorming as a cost effective means to work on wickedly difficult problems. This suggests a time- and cost-savings potential for companies, from shorter meetings, increased participation by remote team members, better documentation via electronic recording, improved access to the meeting records and, importantly, cash savings (Furnham, 2000). When quality is used to benchmark success, these data indicate that work-relevant challenges are better solved by aggregating electronic individual responses rather than by electronically convening a group. The downside of EBS includes: 1) a less rich communication experience for participants than a face-to-face session; and slower feedback on ideas.

Continuum of Engagement – Ask Who Does It Primarily Serve?

This Sunday January 18th at beautiful Rivendell Retreat on Bowen Island, BC, my colleague Brenda Chaddock and I are co-presenting Facilitating Wise Action: Engaging Groups in Meaningful Conversations Around Complex Issues. The program is focused on conversational methods that foster mutual understanding, learning, partnership, and co-creation.

In past offerings (this is our third), participants have found the questions from our Engagement Process and Continuum to be enlightening, especially those related to purpose, convener, participants, and methods. We suggest that the continuum of engagement can be distinguished according to two broad types: unilateral/bilateral, and multilateral. The purpose for unilateral and bilateral forms of engagement primarily serves the convener. In multilateral engagement, all participants are equally served by the purpose, including the convener. Viewing the purpose of engagement through this lens sheds some helpful light on the role of the convener, on who should be invited, and on what are the best methods for the engagement. For those interested in learning more, please download a PDF extract of the Engagement Process: Continuum of Engagement which is part of our Facilitating Wise Action curriculum. A summary follows of the above categories:


Type: Unilateral & Bilateral (Serves Convener)

  • One Way Communication: We Tell You Our Story (inform, educate)
  • Hearings & Research: We Invite Your Input (listen, gather data, input)
  • Two-Way Consultation: We Listen to Various Sides (discuss, obtain feedback; hear sides & stories)

Type: Multilateral (Serves all participants)

  • Mutual Understanding: Together, We Learn/Reframe Conflict (learn together about common issue; transform conflict)
  • Partnership & Co-Creation: Together, We Decide & Collaborate (generate solutions; collaborate; partner; co-create)

Stakeholder Engagement Methods & Purpose

Stakeholder engagement is a new competency area that many organizations are realizing they need to acquire in today’s connected, aware, and sophisticated world of networks and relationships.

  • Yesterday I had a long conversation with a program manager in an oil and gas company who is trained as an engineer, yet is routined called upon to mediate and facilitate multi-stakeholder meetings who have a multiplicity of interests and needs. He was exploring whether our upcoming program, Facilitating Wise Action: Engaging Groups in Meaningful Conversations Around Complex Issues, might provide him with useful tools. He asked me, “How do you turn these meetings where everyone is focused on their own WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) into a more productive conversation where we can also talk about what we have in common. For example, sometimes we should be asking, what are we all going to do together to leave something behind in situations where we all realize we can’t continue to do what we’ve all been doing? How do we get business, government and NGO’s to be willing to innovate, risk and do something different together?”
  • Two weeks ago, I spent a morning with some 40 members of a parks consultation community of practice interested in learning how Appreciative Inquiry might be an appropriate engagement method for their various stakeholder meetings.
  • A few months ago, a colleague in a large resource company commented to me that the time their senior Executive Team devotes to stakeholder issues now often overshadows all other priorities, which is in stark contrast to the way things were a few years ago. He attributed this to the much smaller world we live in, the rise of stakeholder awareness, sophistication and activism, and the increasing expectation by people generally to be consulted and involved on issues that affect them, not only by their governments, but also by businesses and social profit agencies. We were exploring how their company might develop a more effective strategy for building long-term, trust-based stakeholder relationships.

In all of these cases, a key part of my message has been the importance of knowing one’s broad purpose for engaging stakeholders, and then adopting the appropriate method to support it. As illustrated in the above table, if the starting purpose is to provide information, tell your story, obtain input and undertake some type of market research (all one-way or to some extent transactional forms of engagement), then certain methods are appropriate. If the reason for engaging is to build awareness and trust, learn together, build common ground, resolve conflict, collaborate and work together over time, then other methods will be more effective.

Key Questions in Large System Change Solutions

I love technology! I had been taking Otto Scharmer’s online Presencing course with some 125+ folks from all over the world (a most worthwhile course by the way that I highly recommend!), and had not been able to complete the last couple of classes. So I just signed in yesterday, and there was Otto, as vital and interesting as the morning he originally taped the lectures live.

The fourth class topic is about the right-hand side of the U-curve, and prototyping, or how to put vision and intention on its feet with experiments that would allow an exploration of the future by doing. Otto shared seven great questions to ask in order to sort out which of the many possible ideas/solutions to prototype. I share them here, because I believe they have applicability not only in this type of situation, but also for just about any type of implementation planning. Here they are, with the source fully acknowledged as: Otto Scharmer, Presencing Global Classroom, Session No. 4, Prototyping, Weekly Thursday Sessions, March 20-April 17, 2008.

  1. Relevant: Does it matter to the key stakeholders involved?
  2. Revolutionary: can it change the system – the structure that created the problem in the first place?
  3. Rapid: can you do it quickly?
  4. Rough: can you do it small scale? Is it doable and doesn’t cost millions? Can you pull off in a couple of weeks or months?
  5. Right: have you got the right dimensions? Does the microcosm mirror the whole? Do you see in the experiment the core issue that really underlies the fundamental situation you are wishing to address?
  6. Relationally effective: are you leveraging the existing networks and competencies? When you deal with a number of other organizations and players, you want to come up with something where you can leverage the existing competencies in the network, and doing so will give you a jumpstart in addressing the challenge.
  7. Replicable: can you scale it up? Could this go viral?

Collective Learning & Co-Creative Engagement

“None of us is as smart as all of us. …the problems we face are too complex to be solved by any one person or any one discipline. Our only chance is to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who can refract a problem through the prism of complementary minds allied in common purpose.”

Whether our quest is to solve complex social issues and wicked environmental problems, or our need is to create sustainable value in partnership with the entire value chain of suppliers, employees and customers, Collective Learning is an essential process for integrating and aligning diverse perspectives and knowledge. Over the past 25-30 years, our collective grasp of the interconnectedness of economic, environmental and social systems has risen greatly. We increasingly recognize that more synergistic, innovative and sustainable solutions can ultimately be developed when the collective intelligence and multiple perspective of many minds is focused together.

Collective Learning occurs though group conversations around questions that matter. Such conversations can take place either through one-time, multiple or ongoing activities involving in-person meetings or workshops, online- or tele- conferencing, or multiple engagement processes involving a combination of all of these. The goal of Collective Learning in an organizational or community group is to increase the collective knowledge, understanding, and capacity of members around the issue, such that independent individual action and decisions, as well as any collective action, can be aligned with the system’s interests.

Collective learning involves thinking and reflecting together about complex issues in order to generate new insights and possibilities. Such thinking must rise above the lowest common denominator of understanding often associated with debate to tap the full potential of collective intelligence and wisdom in the group.

Read the full paper I wrote in 2006 about Collective Learning and Co-Creative Engagement including such topics as:

  • Collective Learning Antecedants
  • The Art and Practice of Collective Learning
  • Collective Learning Questions & Practices
  • Co-Creative Engagement Methods