Posts Tagged ‘meetings’

Get an extra person on your team

Career, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 22 2013

In my article “The Case for Masterful Meetings” (2006), I have documented that with a team of twenty people who spend an average of thirteen hours a week in meetings, just a 15 percent increase in the productivity of meetings is equivalent to adding another person to the team.

from The Secrets of Facilitation: The SMART Guide to Getting Results with Groups by Michael Wilkinson

I spend a chunk of my time in meetings. Do you? Do you find yourself doing one of the following?

  • Reading email on your phone
  • Updating your Facebook profile
  • Playing solitaire
  • Slapping yourself to stay awake
  • Thinking about how to look like you’re paying attention when your mind is doing something else altogether

Have I done those things in meetings? Of course I have.

An ineffectively run meeting is painful or boring or both. Ineffectively run meetings are the source of the moans and groans we hear whenever we talk about scheduling a meeting. The idea that a “meeting” is a forum for a lecture or a presentation is a cause for immense frustration.

Meetings should serve a purpose for all of the participants. More than that, I use the word participants deliberately, as opposed to the commonly used word attendees. A participant – well – participates. That individual is a part of the event, contributing and receiving in some balanced fashion. An attendee… attends. That individual is present. That individual may be passive, distracted, disgusted,…

Each of us has the opportunity to change this. Sometimes there are organizational or situational issues that present us, but it’s worth trying.

Facilitation Antipattern: Repetitor

Musings | Posted by Doc
Jun 29 2009

RepetitorMotto: It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating. It’s worth repeating.
Belief: You’ll only understand if I say it at least three times.
Behavior: Says the same thing repeatedly, frequently in somewhat different words, frequently two, three, or more times.
Characteristics: Articulate, filled with conviction, perhaps lacking confidence

In my last post, this would have sounded like this:

It’s about the subtleties. You know – it’s about the little things. It’s about the stuff that’s not so obvious – the subtleties… the things that others hear in what you say whether you were aware of it or not…

Repetitors are usually articulate. They are able to express themselves. In the positive way, without the unneeded repetitions, a Repetitor would be an Articulate. By repeating themselves, without checking to see whether the listener is understanding, the Repetitor turns a Pattern into an Antipattern.

Dealing with a Repetitor is as simple as a variant on the Facilitation Four-Step: Interrupt, Ask, Redirect, Commit.


“Excuse me, Frank.”


“Do you mind…”


“…if I check in with the others for a moment?”


“We’ll get right back to what you were saying.”

Action (yes, a 5th step 😉 )

“Sue, just so we’re clear, can you tell us what Frank’s point was?”

In this way, I validate that others have heard Frank, check to make sure that they’ve understood Frank, and break the pattern of repetition.

Related Pattern: Articulate

Looking forward

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 17 2009

Read the rest of this entry »

Taken to extremes

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 28 2009

Any pattern is a good thing, until taken to extremes.

Consider Curious George. Curious George, asking questions and exploring possibilities, helps to stimulate conversation and bring out useful information.

Curious George taken to extremes,  however, becomes an obstacle. His persistent and insistent questioning can become a new antipattern, the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor doesn’t ask questions for the purpose of moving the group’s goals forward. The Inquisitor nails her victim, drilling down, and tenaciously, even insistenlty, digging and digging until the victim gives up in sheer exhaustion. The Inquisitor takes the “five whys” to the point of absurdity, like a four-year-old who – when told that the sky is blue – asks “why” until you want to run screaming.

Even neutrality can be taken too far. While I’ve made it clear that I believe that one of the key attributes of a facilitator is neutrality, nonetheless, there are times when a facilitator must take a position and a stand, when it comes to the good of the group and the process. Failure to take a stand and take action at those times becomes a new antipattern, Wishy-Washy.

I’m convinced that most positive patterns, taken to extremes, can become antipatterns.

Is it possible to go the other way? Are the attributes that define antipattern behaviors capable of being beneficial patterns, when applied in more limited doses?

Facilitation Antipattern: Infantile

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 26 2009

infantileMotto: I want you to pay attention to me right now right now right NOW!
: Everyone else is supposed to pay attention, and do and say what I want them to, and I will behave however I want until they do because that’s the way it works.
: Takes things personally, and makes things personal, while behaving in attention-grabbing, discussion-dominating ways.
Characteristics: Childish, selfish, self-focused, loud, intrusive, dominant, manipulative

I thought about calling this one “Tantrum” or “Baby”. They all describe the same thing, regardless.

“Why aren’t you listening to me?” followed by attention-grabbing, self-destructive behavior. The equivalent of rolling around on the floor, screaming and kicking.

We’ve all met an Infantile. Somehow, no matter what the topic, if you don’t listen to them – and, of course, agree with them – somehow things turn personal and emotional. They make it clear that your failure to listen (the way they want you to listen), and your failure to understand (that is, agree), expresses your disrespect for, and even hostility toward them.

Infantiles have never learned proper socialization. They don’t share well, and they’re not usually interested in dialogue. Their focus is on what they want when they want it, or else.  The “or else” is not usually targeted at a single individual. Rather it’s aimed at getting everyone to pay attention to them, and then to give in to their demands because dealing with their behavior is too annoying/painful.

Of course, once they get their way, Infantiles can be most charming and pleasant.

A pattern of antipatterns (part 2)

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 25 2009

If you’ve been thinking about it, you’ve probably noticed the pattern of antipatterns and also the pattern of patterns.  In fact, I wrote about it indirectly in ‘The two faces of “It’s all about me!”‘.

Yup, IAAM- and IAAM+ are the two higher order patterns that I’m talking about.

Isn’t it interesting that these apply in our personal relationships and conversations, and in the world of meetings and facilitation?

Not surprising, though, because we’re always people, and always bring our blessings and our baggage with us, wherever we go and whatever we do.

Also not surprising, I expect, is that I believe that recognizing and taking action to change my beliefs and my behavior in one context will carry over into all others. Regardless of whether it’s how I relate to friends and family, how I participate in meetings, how I behave as a manager, or how I behave as an employee, they’re all tied together at one point: me!

Here’s my challenge to you: look at your own behavior, and ask yourself whether it is IAAM- or IAAM+. Are you focusing on the relationship or are you focusing on your own needs and desires? Are you behaving in a way that benefits others, as well as yourself, or just yourself?

This is difficult. I won’t pretend otherwise. Examining my own behavior, questioning my own motives, and exploring the impact on others is hard.

And worthwhile.

No pain, no gain.

Faciliation Antipattern: Prima Donna

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 23 2009

Motto: The world revolves around me. Right now.
: Well, really, whatever I do is correct. Because I did it. And you should pay attention to me.
: Insists on discussing whatever is important to him. Pouts, sulks, and acts put upon when the group does not do or discuss what he wants.
Characteristics: Petty, spiteful, selfish, demanding, irritable, sometimes arrogant

While it’s starting to feel like these antipatterns are all similar, each has some distinguishing characteristics.  The Prima Donna, for instance, might be the most arrogant of them. He feels that he is special, as a virtue of being smarter or more knowledgeable or just because.

The Prima Donna, like a number of the others, dominates the discussion based on what’s most interesting to him. Unlike the Evil Genius, the Prima Donna is not conscious or deliberate about it. He believes that this is what is due him – admiration, freedom to dominate the conversation, and freedom to be petulant if he doesn’t get his way.

The Prima Donna is also unlike the Orator, who actually takes pride in what he believes is his eloquence.

The two faces of “It’s all about me!”

Coping and Communicating, Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 22 2009

When you hear me say “It’s all about me!” (IAAM), do you think “How horribly selfish and self-centered!” or “How aware and evolved.”?

There are certainly more than just two faces to the concept, and yet these are the two extremes, in my mind.

Ego-Driven, Self-Centered “It’s all about me!” (IAAM-)

As I write about facilitation antipatterns, it’s clear that I’m focusing on the self-centered, ego-need-driven side of “It’s all about me!” Look at Professor Moriarty or the Orator or the Dominator. For each of them, they want – perhaps need – the focus and attention of the group.

IAAM- (the negative IAAM) clearly is driven by the needs and desires of the speaker/actor, rather than a focus on improving communications or teamwork or anything else. While the person exhibiting IAAM- may convince themselves that they’re doing it “for your good” or “for the good of the group”, I believe that their reality is quite different – that they’re doing it because they need it to feel better about themselves. They may start from a position of low self-esteem or insecurity, as surprising as that sounds.

There are many common behaviors, for those who don’t feel good about themselves. Two that come to mind here are “pay attention to me” and “make you feel bad so you’ll recognize my power”.  Both of these are instances of IAAM-.

I did it a lot, in the earlier days of my marriage. Having to be right, as opposed to having a dialogue with my wife. Explaining how she didn’t understand, instead of finding common ground. Taking the center stage, rather than participating and allowing others to participate. These are examples of IAAM-.

Taking Responsibility, Connection-Focused “It’s all about me.” (IAAM+)

In my writing (and talking and talking and… 😉 ) about communication, I tend to focus on a movement away from IAAM- and toward IAAM+ as an understanding of human behavior and interactions.

In IAAM+, it’s two-sided: understanding that my behavior expresses who I am, what I believe, how I feel; and understanding that your behavior expresses the same things about you. As I embrace and internalize that understanding, my behavior changes, because my focus changes. And sometimes, by changing my behavior towards what I would like it to be, I change my feelings and understanding.

Communication and Facilitation and Participation

It all comes together in many places and times. Including in meetings. When I find myself thinking “he always…” or “she’s doing that because…” and I assign motivations and assume what’s going on inside someone else’s head, I push myself back from IAAM- toward IAAM+.  At least, I try.

Facilitation Antipattern: Orator

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 21 2009

oratorMotto: I’m worth listening to.
: I know that people love to hear what I have to say because I’m so articulate and I have such a way with words.
: Dominates the conversation by talking. And talking. And talking. Not malicious, just unable to hear anyone besides herself.
Characteristics: Relentless, verbose, determined.

The Orator likes to hear the sound of her own voice. While she believes that she has a lot of value to contribute, it frequently seems as though her focus is on what she has to say, rather than whether it’s interesting or valuable to you.

The Orator’s self-focus is not malicious. She isn’t trying to dominate or manipulate. She just has a lot to say, and frequently will use ten words where one will do.

The Orator is very pleased with what she has to say and the sound of her own voice, seems to be able to talk endlessly without taking a breath, and rarely leaves an opening for someone else to speak until she’s good and ready.

The damage to the team is similar to many of the other antipatterns, regardless of whether the Orator is the facilitator or a member of the meeting. Her dominance of the proceedings through relentless takeover of the floor causes others to resign their passion, and become reluctant to even try to say something.

Exercises that force a democratic process, like the Circle of Questions or Starfish, are best for dealing with an Orator in the meeting.

If you are the facilitator and you are an Orator, well,…

Facilitation Antipattern: Dominator

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 15 2009

dominatorMotto: It’s all about me!
Belief: I have a lot to say, it’s important, and so I’m justified in taking the time and attention to say it.
Behavior: Turns the discussion to whatever is important to him.  Talks loudly, forcing his way into any discussion, and then turning it again.
Characteristics: Loud, forceful, relentless, determined, sincere, focused.

The Dominator dominates. Obvious, eh?

What’s not so obvious is that Dominators are not always egocentric or glory loving or outgoing. Frequently, Dominators have learned that the only way that they can get people to hear what they have to say, and to make their points, is by steamrolling everyone else. Outside of meetings/discussions, they may be timid or quiet. but get them into a meeting, and they will just take over.

Okay – there are also Dominators who do it because they do love to be the center of everyone’s attention. For these Dominators – the ones you probably thought of first – it’s not so much which point they make as that they make a point by overwhelming everyone else’s defenses. Their joy comes from the act and experience of being dominant.

Dominators have found that if they speak more loudly than everyone else, everyone else will be quiet and listen to them.

Dominators have found that by the force of their presence (similar to the Gladiator) they can achieve their goals.  But distinct from the Gladiator, the Dominator doesn’t want us to fight back. The Dominator achieves victory by shutting everyone else down.

The Dominator is happy when we say “Okay – whatever you say” as a sign of capitulation.  They’re happiest when we say “Oh, you’re SO right!” as a sign of recognition of their rightness, along with capitulation.

To deal with a Dominator, you have to break their pattern. This is hard, because they’re relentless.

Techniques that either involve the group without discussion (Starfish, Timeline) or that enforce a structure that gives everyone equal time and attention (Circle of Questions, The Margolis Wheel).

Note that Robert Chambers, in Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities, has an exercise he calls Dominator (pages 168-9), which he describes thus: “A lively activity to heighten awareness of verbal and non-verbal dominant and submissive behaviour and of the effects of physical position on relationships.”

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