Archive for December, 2009

Favorite Sites, Links, Blogs & Other Useful Stuff

Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

There’s so much available on the ‘net now that it’s hard sifting through it all to find what’s useful to your needs. I’ll be doing a series of blogs on a few places to go and things to do we’ve found useful in our client work and for staying on top of the information and resources important in our field of communications, media, coaching and public affairs.

Facilitation 101 – Two places to check out what we do in our facilitation work and how to get a sense of what really matters are the IAP2 and IAF sites. IAP2 is the International Association of Public Participation – if you want to know about best practices, here’s the place. IAF is the International Association of Facilitators; mostly a place for us facilitator-types, however, it gives you a good idea of the kind of standards and ethics you should expect from a pro.

More to come in future posts. Just a few to get you thinking and experimenting. If you have favorites of your own, pass them along and we’ll take a look and post here what we think our connected world might find useful and interesting.

Great New e-Book to Inspire Your Creativity, Courage and Leadership

Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, whose blogs daily provide inspiration, self-reflection and challenge. He’s compiled a new e-book that’s worth the read, and I encourage you to check it out. It’s in a crisp, slide-driven format that facilitates easy links to the various authors, many of whom you’ll know as thought-leaders, successful entrepreneurs and communications experts.

Check it out. We’re sure you’ll find at least one morsel you can make use of today.

How We Get Our News

Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

Interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about how the American public gets its news and information. What caught my attention, and is a growing theme, is how ideologically partisan the news has become. Event more interesting is how the “middle,” as it’s described in the piece (meaning news that seeks to balance both sides of an ideological position), comes in last out of the two major views (liberal vs. conservative) in the televison news category. This would probably make Edwin R. Murrow shake in his grave, and was predicted in the closing scene of the movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, as something to be concerned about. That time has surely come.

For our fellow public opinion research aficionados, enjoy the piece and let us know your thoughts!

Quick Tip for Effective Dialogue: Making “I” Statements

Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

Communication can be a challenge whenever it involves more than one person (sometimes, we can even confuse ourselves all alone with our own internal self-talk!). A quick tip from the world of therapy can be applied in our day-to-day communications with profound impact. Try it and let us know how it works for you. More to come in future posts.

Make “I” statements – This doesn’t mean looking people in the eye, though that will help also! Start your communications with the word “I” rather than “you.” When you use “you,” it variably puts your listener on the defensive and can be viewed as an attempt to relieve you of your own responsibility in the communication. Conversation usually deteriorates rapidly.

For example, instead of “You really bother me when you don’t show up on time,” try “I get upset when people arrive late.” (Of course, you also want to be aware that you’re responsible for your own feelings and actions, so this statement means you have to look at your own responsibility for your feelings about how you react to what others do; what you feel is an option, not a mandate.) Even better is “I appreciate it when you show up on time,” which represents your thoughts about an issue. It also allows you to make an aspirational statement about what you expect from another.

Next time you’re in dialogue with someone, remember the role you play in talking about yourself, your feelings and your thoughts, and describe both what you want and need from the other person. Your next job is to listen. That’s why it’s called dialogue.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

No matter how the current economic challenges may be constraining your workplace, it’s important to maintain a sense of balance along with the extra effort and hard work these times demand. A good book for helping develop inexpensive, creative and resourceful team-building reward and recognition opportunities is “Managing to Have Fun: How Fun at Work Can Motivate Your Employees, Inspire Your Coworkers and Boost Your Bottom Line” by Matt Weinstein.

 A fun, yet practical guide, “Managing to Have Fun” has lots of ideas, from the simple and easy to more big-organization suggestions that are sure to help with employee morale and team-building. We recommend it when we do retreats, planning sessions and training, and often suggest that a different staff member take responsibility for using the book each month so it rotates throughout the organization. It’s also a chance to let others express themselves in terms of their own preferences about workplace reward and recognition. Worth checking out, you can usually find an inexpensive copy at Have fun!

I Just Can’t Wait to Get to My Next Meeting!

Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

When was the last time you found yourself saying, “Gosh, I just can’t wait to get to work today so I can attend all my meetings!” Many view meetings as a waste of time and effort, a drain on really productive work, with no real, tangible return. Yet, for most of us, meetings are one of the most commonly used tools in the workplace. One tip for ensuring meetings are effective and produce results is the use of an agenda. And one way to be certain there is one, is to ask in advance, “When will the agenda for the meeting be available?”

 If you attend a meeting and there’s no printed agenda, you can always ask for an informal one before the meeting gets started. “Before we begin the meeting, I’d just like to ask if we can review what we’re going to cover in the time we have, what the priority issues are, and what we need to accomplish?” Setting the tone for a productive experience begins with a clear statement of the purpose of the meeting, then an agenda, even if informal, to guide the discussion. This will keep attendees focused and will allow all participants, whether the meeting convener or not, to pull everyone back on topic with the suggestion that, when off-topic discussion occurs (and it invariably does!), “Perhaps we can put than on the agenda for a next meeting, since it seems we’re not on the agenda topic we agreed to at the beginning of the meeting.”

 Once there’s an agenda in place, everyone can play a role in keeping the group focused. Try it next time and let us know how it works for you.

Decide How to Decide… It Will Be the BEST Decision You Make!

Posted December 13th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

One of the most interesting aspects of my work is watching how individuals and organizations make decisions. Often, there’s no overt process of how decisions are made. That leads to confusion about roles and responsibilities, questions about transparency and authority and outcomes that are not necessarily strategic nor focused on a common mission, vision and goals.

Before any meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a major gathering of executives or board of directors, one issue that should be settled is how decisions will be made. Does the final authority rest with one individual? Will there be a voting process? Majority? Certain overrides? Will a consensus-based framework be used?

Deciding how to decide on any issue before the discussion process begins will help those involved understand their role, their influence on both dialogue and outcomes and institute a transparent, strategic approach that will withstand second-guessing and ineffective results.

The Course to Consensus: Building Teamwork on the Journey

Posted December 12th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group

Establishing maximum participation and a risk-free environment of communication is vital to a successful facilitation process.  We’ve developed a framework for engaging and developing the client team in a measurable, achievable, successful process… with outcomes they own and help them achieve their mission.  The protocol we’ve developed is customized and guided by the objectives, as defined in a company, organizational or project mission.

Any process of this nature is only as effective as the facilitator and team members are able to agree on the initial parameters for leading and developing the team to achieve its goals.  Facilitation requires a “shift” in trust and responsibility so the team and its leadership focus efforts on the process and content of its goals.  The facilitator’s role is to effectively “manage” the team’s expectations, process, milestones, group dynamics and functions, as well as all related internal issues to achieve maximum performance.

Elements of an Effective Process

An effective and productive facilitation establishes early on (first session) parameters and guidelines for all of these mutual efforts through the various tools and processes we’ll describe later.  In addition — and equally important — the team (with the assistance of the facilitator) must establish trust and rapport with the team’s leadership and participants in order to create the risk-free environment that will draw out the best, most honest and essential “content” from each of the team members.

Through a standard set of guidelines and principles, and the individual facilitator’s experience and style working with strong leaders and groups with diverse levels of experience, personalities and work/leadership styles, a seasoned facilitator’s goal is to build these key team agreements in the initial session.  Checkpoints are built in along the way to affirm them and make adjustments as the team achieves its working style with the guidance and leadership of the facilitator.

Contributions of a Seasoned Facilitator

As the team progresses in accomplishing both content and process objectives, the facilitator’s role shifts more to management of group dynamics, information collection and confirmation, milestones monitoring and the occasional crisis intervention normally inherent in group dynamics.

The final role of the facilitator is to ensure that outcomes reflect the initially agreed-upon goals and objectives and that the team has experienced a process that is fair, built on trust, mutual respect and free and open participation. It’s now important that the facilitator is confident that the team can embrace the outcomes from the process, for example, the strategic plan (or other team mission), as a comprehensive set of solutions and guiding principles for implementation.  The adoption of the team’s “point of view” perspective and direction on the project is essential.

The end goal of effective facilitation allows for wide variation in differences of style, attitude and personality while producing “ownership” of the outcome for each and every team member.

Following are some of the milestones and highlights of our successful facilitation protocol.

Setting the Road Map

Here, we establish team goals and objectives and then clarify them with the project team.  We have a number of tools we introduce and employ during our process, including facilitation guidelines, levels of consensus tools, decision trees, spectrum chart for public/non-team participation and the individual viewpoint to common “point of view” framework.

We set specific, measurable objectives and milestones for the project and for the process itself.  We define success and what we’ll need to accomplish to achieve it.  We talk a lot about how we need to achieve it by defining the model of a successful process.  We review leadership style and roles and identify timeframes for measurement.

On the Journey to Success

While allowing a certain amount of individualism for the group to find itself through team-building, there are a number of tools we believe can maintain focus and progress.  We appoint a timekeeper to ensure regular, ongoing buy-in from team, a kind of check-in agreement.  There’s also a regular progress reporting process and confirmation of consensus/non-consensus at each session.  The team is guided by a milestones and a key decisions chart as well.

Our process develops majority and alternative views in its framework, as appropriate, which becomes the final product.  This includes an executive summary, highlights of insights and learning, conclusions and adoption the group’s “point of view,” majority and alternative views, recommendations and actions and support materials and addenda.

Lastly, we delineate how we will evaluate attainment of our goals and objectives through success measurements for both content and process post-planning session.

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