Structure can help or hinder interaction and co-creation. Can you find the right balance?
Do you use design-thinking tools?
Are you tired of endless, actionless meetings? It is up to you to change interaction patterns.
In contemporary leadership, we feel that facilitation connects structure and relation. By using the right structure and methods you can create effective relationships and productive interactions between people.
It is essential to master the art of using structure and various methods to shape the communication and interaction between people. If you cannot achieve this, unwanted dynamics (e.g. where the same people dominate each meeting, there is no clear focus, a lack of outcomes, negative feelings, frustrations, etc.) arise, which can kill productivity as well as creativity and create a harmful atmosphere.
Start every meeting or conversation by creating a brief framework for that meeting/conversation. That is, specify the subject, goal, approach and duration of the meeting. This is a simple way of managing expectations and guiding participants’ contributions. In particular, establishing a clear goal will shape the expectations and mind-set of those in the meeting. For example, when talking about a particular challenge (this is the subject) you can formulate different goals by making a statement such as:
– ‘I want to inform you about the different elements of this challenge’;
– ‘I want to get your ideas on the main causes of this challenge’;
– ‘I would like to get your ideas on possible solutions’;
– ‘I want to reach a consensus on the best way forward. We need to decide what to do together.’
It is easy to see that the goal you choose will have a significant impact on the meeting.
Concerning the approach, tell participants how you want to proceed, e.g. ‘Let me first explain the goal and then let’s have a short round of initial reflections. Afterwards, we can brainstorm causes and solutions, and finally I would like to decide on who will do what and when.’
In terms of duration, explain how long the meeting will be, e.g. ‘We have 2.5 hours for this meeting.’
By specifying these elements you can discover where your behaviour falls on the leadership compass. Creating a framework puts you in an active position, which will encourage people to follow you. A goal that gives the team more power places you in a lower dominance position and will encourage people to take ownership. Finally, the more freedom you give co-workers to find their own solutions, the more you will be on the ‘we’ side of the compass.
The leadership funnel is very useful for structuring a discussion or redirecting a discussion when it is stuck. When you look at the levels of the funnel, you often see that people in a meeting are talking on different levels: person A is giving some shocking facts while person B is already selling their solution and others are talking about the criteria they consider important, such as quality, speed, customer focus, etc. You can avoid this by using the funnel to structure your approach to a given challenge. With your team, go through the different levels from challenge to solutions. If a discussion begins to flounder, you can always refer to the funnel and redirect everyone to the same level of discussion.
Looking at the leadership funnel, make sure that when solving a problem or making a decision, the upper levels are clear and supported. That is, make sure everyone understands the challenge, the ambition and the playing field. Do this before looking for solutions and making decisions.
In my experience, people like to talk. At all levels of the leadership funnel, people are eager to start discussing a topic. For example, when defining the challenge in terms of facts, someone will put one fact on the table and everyone one else will start discussing it. The same goes for ambition, playing field and solutions. This can take up a great deal of time without it ever being established that the topic being talked about warrants detailed discussion. So, at each level of the pyramid it is useful to first list all the ideas in the room and then decide which ones to discuss in greater detail. For example:
– when talking about facts, say, ‘Let’s first list all the facts we can think of’ (use Post-its to note down facts and put them in clusters on a flip chart, repeat when talking about ambition, playing field and solutions);
– when talking about ambition, say, ‘Let’s first list all our ideas on what our ambition should be’;
– when talking about criteria for the playing field, say, ‘Let’s first list all possible criteria we have in mind’; and
– when talking about solutions, say, ‘Let’s first list all possible solutions before starting a discussion about any one solution’.
So, always diverge at first and then converge.
Try to avoid long, tough meetings where people sit in the same room for several hours talking and discussing as a group. Easy ways to achieve this include:
– have more frequent short meetings to align and inform people;
– use Post-its to list ideas, categorize them and then discuss; and
– use buzz groups where people can reflect and talk in small groups to answer a question, come up with ideas, redefine a problem, etc.
Have a look at https://compassiontolead.net/toolcard-10/ for ideas on how to refresh meetings.
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