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Meetings capture a huge investment of time. Unproductive meetings affect your cash flow, morale, and the potential growth of your biggest asset, your people. As frequent and important as we attend meetings, little (if any) structured training has been provided to help us become better meeting participants, and more importantly, meeting leaders. To build consensus, you and your teams are dependent on improving three areas of behavior.

CLEAR THINKING – WHY (Leadership)

Leadership training ensures that we begin with the end in mind. WHY we are meeting equates with what does DONE look like? Highly effective facilitators know what DONE looks like before the meeting begins. They are able to clearly describe the deliverable from the meeting. Effective facilitators and meeting leaders can also explain what is at risk if the meeting fails. They prove value by the amount of money or FTP (ie, full-time person) wasted if the group fails to deliver. Effective meetings begin with clear deliverables.

Even a lousy facilitator will succeed at building consensus when they draw line of sight from the meeting deliverable to the quality of life of the meeting participants.

The best facilitators in the world will fail miserably if they don’t know where they are going. Poor facilitators still succeed when the deliverable is clear and impacts the quality of life of the meeting participants. When meeting output directly impacts participants, the meeting participants (aka subject matter experts) help the facilitator become more effective.

3 Behaviors Guaranteed to Build Consensus

How to Build Consensus: Leadership (WHY), Facilitation (WHAT), and Meeting Design (HOW)

Knowing ‘where’ your group is going provides a strong sense of leadership. It is easy to follow a leader who knows where they are going. Conversely, when the leader is uncertain what they need, what they are asking, or what they should be doing, it is easy to disengage from the session and disown the results.

An effective leader knows what DONE looks like for every step in the agenda. They know how each step relates to meeting deliverables and the logic that drives the sequence of steps in the agenda. They can effectively explain the white space, or the space between the lines on a simple agenda.

Before your meeting begins, you better know what each step looks like, in advance of asking for subject matter perspectives and content. We call this insight contextual control. Are you building a list, a statement, a matrix, a model, or something else? If crafting a policy, determine if the policy statement should be five words, five-hundred words, or five pages long. The only wrong answer is when the meeting leader does not know what DONE looks like before the step begins.

CLEAR REFLECTIONS – WHAT (Facilitation)

Once it has been made clear where we are going, facilitation skills make it easier to know WHAT to do to make a meeting successful. Effective meeting leaders can become doubly effective when they combine their line of sight with facilitative skills.

Active listening while providing reflection of BOTH what participants are saying and why they are saying it, along with remaining neutral and non-judgmental, are the most critical skills to effective meeting management. Reflection does not always need to be verbal. Facilitators that use easels to write down participant input provide a visual reflection that is both immediate and easy to confirm.

Experienced facilitators know that more is better. They capture participant input verbatim which will never get them in trouble. You should also embrace the principles of Brainstorming at all times. Quickly gather all substantive input without discussion (diverge) and then go back to clarify, challenge, and modify the original input (analysis). Do NOT combine gathering and discussing at the same time in an unstructured discussion. After the analysis of the raw input, your refined output can be confirmed (converged) as content the group can support (professional test of consensus) and not lose any sleep over it (personal test of consensus).

Unfortunately, we have developed poor muscle memory over the years. Some behaviors need to be ‘unlearned’ before new behaviors are embraced. The only way to change such behaviors is through practice and immersion. Talking heads (ie, instructors’ lips are moving) won’t do it.  Only active participation and practice will work at instilling effective and facilitative behaviors.

CLEAR MEETING DESIGN – HOW (Meeting Design)

Even a great facilitator who knows where they are going (ie, What DONE looks like) still needs help. They need to know HOW they are going to build consensus and get a group of people from the meeting Introduction to the Wrap. While the best meeting design (or methodology or approach; ie, Agenda) has more than one right answer, there is one wrong answer — if the meeting leader does not know HOW they are going to do it.

Even when you know where you are going and have competently embraced the skills of facilitative leadership, you will still be challenged with HOW are you going to lead a group from the Introduction to the Wrap. The sequence of steps, activities, and questions captures the meeting design (or method) you may use to lead your group. pathway implies more than one right answer but the WRONG answer is if you have no method or do not know how you are going to build your deliverable.

During MG RUSH Professional Facilitative Leadership classes, we provide clear instruction, demonstration, and student practice on six different methods of prioritization. Each applies at different points along a decision-making continuum ranging from simple to complicated through complex. Take time to build and document your method before your meeting begins, because once the meeting begins, you need your energy to focus on leading, listening, and overseeing your participants.

Consider these three questions before any meeting or workshop.

Prompted by “Three (Incredibly Simple) Questions The Most Successful People Use To Change The World,” Forbes contributor Mike Maddock published an article that could have been cut and paste (figuratively) from the MG RUSH Professional Facilitation Reference Manual. Indeed, to lead a successful meeting, these three questions (slightly modified) should be considered for every meeting or workshop, that fully align with the preceding discussion on the WHY, the WHAT, and the HOW of incredible meetings.

#1 Before the Meeting You Must Know — What is the deliverable?

(Forbes: What’s the outcome I want?)

For meetings, our focus is clearly on output (ie, a thing) rather than outcome (ie, a new condition) since we are typically unable to generate new outcomes before the meeting ends. We can however create the input required to catalyze new outcomes, and that is the purpose of the meeting.

#2 You Should Know — What are the problems and challenges I foresee?

(Forbes: What stands in my way?)

Excellent facilitation depends on thorough preparation and interviewing your participants in advance. Especially stress preparatory time when collaboration and consensus become absolutely necessary. What people, issues, or components of the culture are going to get in the way of collaboration and consensus? Your answers yield insight necessary to build optimal agendas and activities for each specific meeting situation.

 #3 You Could Know — Who has already created this type of deliverable?

(Forbes: Who has figured it out already?)

You are not the first session leader in the history of mankind to confront your type of deliverable and situational challenges. Find others that have already done it. The manager of one MG RUSH FAST alumnus calls it, “Once stolen, half done.” Focus on others within your own organization through formal networks like a Community of Practice (CoP) or Community of Excellence (CoE) and informal relationships and friendships. Learning from the experience of others will jumpstart your chances of success, so please do not be shy about asking for help.

Three behaviors guaranteed to Improve your ability to build consensus

Click on image above to view our video tutorial on YouTube

Three Behaviors to Build Consensus

Remember, there are three clear and critical behaviors required to build consensus:  Leadership, Facilitation, and Meeting Design. Embrace all three when you lead a group of people, and do the following:

  1. Articulate your meeting purpose, scope, and deliverable. Put them in writing. If you can’t effectively describe where you are going, you are not ready to lead. Know what DONE looks like before your meeting begins.
  2. Be more facilitative and exhibit less “command and control”. Take what you know and put it in the form of a question. And, STOP using the first person singular, especially the word “I”.  If you already have the answer (as in, “I think . . .” or “I believe”), then don’t host a meeting. Meetings are an awful form of persuasion.
  3. Provide an agenda. Even if you deviate, at least have a planned road map that details how you expect to get us from the Introduction through the Wrap generating the deliverables your participants need to build consensus and label your meeting successful.

If you start embracing these three behaviors in every meeting you lead, you will be exponentially more successful.  We guarantee it.

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Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

Want a free 10-minute break timer? Signup for our once-monthly newsletter HERE and receive a timer along with four other of our favorite facilitation tools, free.

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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