Archive for November, 2014

Improve collective decisions by overcoming “group grope”

Dick and Emily Axelrod waited until they had developed the perfect methodology for effective meetings before publishing Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.

Rather than simply contribute to the “noise about meetings,” they waited until they had something new to say. They present what they call a “seismic shift (not a set of tweaks) in the way you view, use and participate in meetings.” Let’s Stop gives you a logical system that will help you restructure your meetings so that work gets done; everyone is engaged and respected; the meeting is energizing rather than draining; and time is valued, not wasted.

Today, we wanted to highlight the meaty part of every meeting: decision making. The entire group must be clear about the following items to make a decision: who is making the decision, how they will go about deciding and what they are deciding.

The group will bring different levels of engagement based on if it is giving ideas or collectively making the decision. Clarity of the process will prevent frustration caused by believing one way (e.g., the group will make the decision) and discovering the other (e.g., the leader is actually making the decision) is happening.

Do you want your group in the loop?

Leaders can either make the decision, seek advice from the group but maintain the final say, work as an equal with the group, or delegate the decision to the group and let the group decide. Victor Vroom, BearingPoint Professor of Management and a professor of psychology at the Yale School of Management, along with Phillip Yetton, suggests that if there is clearly one right answer and people will accept it, make the choice yourself. “If, however, you need a high-quality decision and you need everyone on board with the decision, then you should shift toward a group decision-making process” (Vroom and Yetton 1973).

Overcome “group grope”

Because a group decision requires each member to resolve his/her logic and emotions, the authors give four ways to combat group grope (when a group has trouble making a decision):

Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down: This is used to see if you have spent enough time discussing an issue. Majority rules to end or continue the discussion.

Voting: most effective after a high-quality discussion where all views are represented. The group can decide if it is majority/two-thirds, etc.

Put on your Thinking Hat to Answer these Questions: What are the facts that surround this proposal? What is your gut reaction to this proposal? What are your pessimistic thoughts about this proposal? Why won’t it work? What are your optimistic thoughts about this proposal? Why do you think it will work? How could you build on this proposal and make it even better? What conclusions can you draw from this discussion? All these questions cover the areas needed to resolve emotions/reason and optimism/pessimism.

Don’t try to eat the meal in one bite: Decide what you can agree to right now. Move ahead on some parts and create time for further discussion on the others.

Then, you need to identify the next steps and who is responsible for each step. The leader can appoint people, ask for volunteers, or appoint a task leader and ask for volunteers to join the task group.

When we asked the Axelrods what was most important about their meeting framework, they responded, “Clarity about the decision process is critical to success. In his review of Let’s Stop Meeting Like This in INC magazine, Ilan Mochari said it best when he said, “If you’re holding a meeting to canvas the opinions of your staff–but you know there’s a strong chance you’ll disregard those opinions–let them know early on. The deception of democracy bothers them more than the transparent absence of it.”

Ask yourself if your meeting topics genuinely merit group effort or if you’re better off simply updating the group about your decision and rationale. If you do enlist the group, enhance the process by enlisting the authors’ strategies for overcoming “group grope.” Learn more about all of the Axelrods’ effective methods for getting more done in meetings.

See also:

World Cafe: Shaping Our World Through Conversations That Matter

Death by Meeting

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Save time and get more done in a “Meeting Canoe”

Meetings can be wildly successful and help your team reach new heights in performance or they can be an expensive waste of time. Unfortunately, many large and small organizations experience more of the latter. Authors Dick and Emily Axelrod have dedicated their careers to understanding and promoting what makes an impactful meeting in Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.

The Axelrods explain step by step how to participate in highly effective meetings no matter your role: a leader, contributor or facilitator. The Meeting Canoe™ is an approach that helps readers understand the importance of order, shape and flow to your gatherings.

Are your meetings like a raft or canoe?

“The Meeting Canoe™ is a complete rethinking of the meeting design, execution and follow-up,” say the Axelrods. Compare the canoe with a raft, for example. When we think of rafts, we envision a lazy drift down the river that’s subject to the current while a canoe involves a team of oarsmen and the crew controls the direction. The Axelrods think there are too many meetings that feel like rafts when they could be canoes.

According to the authors, the Meeting Canoe™ is a relevant and useful system because:

The Meeting Canoe™’s parts influence each other.

The Meeting Canoe™ interacts with its environment as the crew adapts to changing conditions.

No single part is effective without the other parts.

How well the Meeting Canoe™ functions depends on how well the parts work together.

We’ve excerpted our interview with the Axelrods below to give you a sense of how their framework can transform your meetings and a look at bad meeting habits.

CausePlanet: Thank you for adding the Meeting Canoe™ framework to the body of literature about effective meetings. It’s a terrific addition. Which part of the Meeting Canoe™ do most users find most transformational when implementing the approach?

Dick and Emily: Welcome, Connect, and Attend to the End. Most meeting agendas call for a perfunctory welcome and do not spend time connecting people to each other and the task. The result is they fail to build a solid foundation to do the meeting’s work. Similarly, most meeting agendas ignore attending to the end. This results in people being unclear about what was decided during the meeting as well as next steps following the meeting. Failure to spend time discussing how to make future meetings better leaves the group without a self-correcting mechanism. We learned from an architect colleague that how people enter a space and how they leave a space is as important as what happens in the space. We believe this is true for meetings as well. By paying attention to the Welcome, Connect, and Attend to the End parts of the Meeting Canoe™, meeting designers create a complete, productive meeting experience.

CausePlanet: In your research or client experiences, did you discover why most people accept and perpetuate bad meeting habits?

Dick and Emily: The first is that when we asked meeting participants whom they thought was responsible for a meeting’s success, the most frequent response was “the leader.” This habit is an abdication of responsibility for what happens during the meeting, which allows meeting participants to sit idly by while a meeting goes downhill. We believe another cause is that people have come to think about meetings as painful experiences that must be endured. They do not think of them as a place where productive work occurs. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you begin to think about meetings as a place where people do work, then you can design your meetings using the five proven work design principles:

Autonomy: the power to influence the meeting’s direction

Meaning: the meeting has importance or significance to participants

Challenge: a call to engage in something that tests your knowledge, skill, ability or courage

Learning: acquiring new skills or knowledge through experience, study or being taught

Feedback: information that lets meeting participants know whether a meeting is making progress toward its objectives.

When you apply these design criteria to your meeting, you create the conditions for productive work to occur.

A quotation in Let’s Stop Meeting Like This by author, speaker and consultant Peter Block aptly describes the challenges the Axelrods address with their model. Block says, “If you look at the way we meet in organizations and communities across the country, you see a lot of presenters, a lot of podiums, and a lot of passive audiences. This reflects our naiveté in how to bring people together.”  If you find your meetings have fallen into an unproductive or passive pattern and you feel like you’re swimming upstream, get your team in the Meeting Canoe™.

See also:

World Cafe: Shaping Our World Through Conversations That Matter

Death by Meeting

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Making the ask requires preparation: Have you considered 3 essentials?

“Asking is an essential and fundamentally important part of anyone’s life,” says The Ask author, Laura Fredricks. “If you are involved with a nonprofit in a primary, part-time or volunteer position, you need to know how to ask for money. Particularly when economic times are challenging, everyone needs to be involved in the fundraising effort—not just the hired fundraiser.”

When we asked Laura Fredricks where nonprofit leaders most commonly experience challenges when asking someone for support, she answered, “Asking for a specific dollar amount.”

This answer emphasizes Fredricks’ earlier point that every ask should be treated as its own specific campaign. Fredricks adds, “Raising money takes organization, structure and focus because every person we want to engage deserves our dedicated time, attention and passion so that we can inspire him/her to be our lasting partner and key supporter.”

In recent posts, we’ve highlighted Fredricks’ emphasis on follow-up and ideal characteristics of the asker. In light of her response about asking for a specific amount and the importance of organization, structure and focus, today we’re looking at the elements that must be considered in advance of the Ask and that point toward preparation, such as the setting, the appointment and the “role of paper” in the Ask.

The setting

The location of the Ask should be one where both parties feel comfortable and that is quiet with no distractions. The ideal places are those where you have met during cultivation, including the home or office of the person being asked, a private room at the organization, the CEO’s office or a private club.

Avoid making the Ask where food is involved unless the person is only available during meal times because the distractions increase with wait staff and fellow diners and you have to deal with the check. Also avoid the following: cell phones and other noisy devices; glaring sunlight or other lights; background or outside noise from computers, music, other people, traffic, etc.; and asking in a public space like an elevator.

You must dress crisply and professionally and emit positive energy and enthusiasm. Also, pay attention to your body language and tone of voice. Sit upright, make eye contact and don’t fidget or chew gum. Your voice should be clear and convincing.

Making the appointment

Fredricks discusses how to make an appointment for the Ask, using this example: “Brandon, I’d like to meet with you in the next week or so to continue our discussion on how you can make a real difference with the organization. I have a few ideas that I’d like to share with you in person. We generally meet at your office at 8:00 a.m., so can we meet there early next week?” The conversation should state the purpose, either tying it to a previous discussion topic or a new one, and share how the person can make a difference. The asker should make the appointment via phone, not via email, as well. If the person is reluctant to set up the meeting, he is not ready so more cultivation is necessary. Also, confirm the date, time and place a day before the meeting.

The role of paper

If the Ask is for a large amount, a proposal should be written, which includes the purpose of the gift, the amount, detailed budget for the program or project, how it can be funded, the benefits it will bring, etc. Fredricks clearly states her recommendations: 1) Do not send the proposal before the Ask. Always ask in person first. 2) Don’t give the paperwork in person until after the Ask or it may serve as a distraction. 3) You can always send the paperwork afterward, addressing all concerns, and include a thank-you note.

Learn more about Laura Fredricks’ guidance for the entire Ask process in her book where you can determine how to select the right people at the right time and in the right location to make the Ask. You can also gather solutions to a myriad of responses to the Ask through sample dialogs and apply the author’s guidance on the crucial business of follow-up.

See also:

Fundraising the SMART Way

Fundraising When Money Is Tight

To Sell Is Human

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