Posts Tagged ‘Facilitation’
Posted November 18th, 2011 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended another Cinema Society of San Diego event run by my friend Andy Friedenberg. I’m not sure how he does it; his timing is impeccable when it comes to delivering movies just right for our times. Thanks, Andy!
After posting my recent blog about dysfunctional group dynamics, and receiving so many responses about how useful it was to folks, personally and professionally, Andy delivered with a touching, tender, poignant and timely movie called “Being Elmo” that was right on point!
So, why Elmo? The movie (releasing late December 2011, and you won’t want to miss it) is about an eight-year-old boy’s dream; a dream to become a puppeteer. More than that, it’s about the soul of this boy and how his character, whom we later learn is Elmo, reaches full expression in his life. Through Elmo, he touches a world of children and adults with love, compassion and care. His message is one of acceptance without judgment. No labels, criticism, put-downs or name-calling. How refreshing. And how timely.
The heart and soul of Kevin Clash, the tender, compassionate, caring boy whose dream actually becomes Elmo, is the heart and soul of this character we see develop on screen. We learn how congruent this is for Kevin and Elmo’s lives, if you will. By the way, Kevin is not a ventriloquist, putting a voice into a lifeless puppet, he’s a real, live human being putting his own heart and soul into Elmo. Touching lives. Caring. Carrying a message that says, “We’re basically all alike, regardless of who we are and where we come from; take the time to see that in others, see their dreams and hopes, and encourage and care for them.”
I never watched Sesame Street, Elmo’s home, only because I was from a different era. Learning about Kevin Clash, and his “Elmo,” gave me an appreciation for how much we could use his message in our tension-filled world, and in our distracted lives. How much we could all use a little compassion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard.
And maybe a re-visit to Sesame Street.
One of the many benefits of Cinema Society is we often meet the writers, directors, actors, producers and others connected with a film. We did that night. And also met 51-year-old Kevin Clash, who fulfilled his dream, and still carries that heart and soul on his sleeve, and, of course, in Elmo.
Listening to him talk, watching him connect with the audience, both in and out of character, was an inspiration. I’d like to take him to a few meetings with me; the tough ones I facilitate, where opinions and egos get in the way of sharing, caring and collaborative, mutual gains problem-solving. Kevin (in the character of Elmo) has a lot to say, and do, to help us in these challenging times, when communication has become so tragically dysfunctional.
I walked away that night with a refreshing sense of hope. I was touched by Kevin, even more, his Elmo. And it made me wonder if he couldn’t inspire in all of us a little more, to find that place in our hearts and souls, for reaching out to someone, friend or foe, and practicing in our own lives a little more… of Being Elmo!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
Posted June 6th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
I was recently asked to attend and facilitate a small planning meeting. Before we got started, one of the attendees asked the question, “Why am I here?”I could tell it was not about the meaning of life nor was it rhetorical! It actually startled everyone, and I realized immediately not everyone was on the same page as the person who ‘called’ the meeting (in our business that’s commonly referred to as the ‘convener’).
Meetings are one of the biggest issues I hear folks in my world talk about, question and criticize. In fact, the word ‘meeting’ and the phrase ‘waste of time’ are often either synonymous or at least heard in the same sentence. Rarely do people seek my services because they have such great meetings and just want to make them even better. Usually, as part of the executive coaching, team-building process and overall improvement program, they want to know how to make their meetings work.
The question was one of the most direct ways I’d heard of asking that series of questions we should all ask when we’re planning to attend or, if it can’t be done prior, actually attending a meeting. Why am I here? What value do I add? What value will this meeting add to my work, what I need to produce for the company, how I support my peers, satisfy my customers, enhance my skills, etc.? Is this a meeting I need to be in face-to-face? Can the results be achieved in some other manner that’s less costly and time-consuming and more effective? What’s expected as a result of my attendance? What will I do differently, more of/less of, as a result of this meeting? You ever ask yourself these questions? Out loud? In front of your peers? Try it.
It’s the convener’s job (remember, that’s the person who calls the meeting) to be crystal clear about the meeting purpose: what key outcome(s) need to be achieved that warrant(s) those in attendance being there to achieve that purpose. The second job of the convener is to select the right participants. Who is, and why are they, necessary to achieve that purpose? This isn’t determined by title or even the job they hold in the organization. It’s more important to consider what ‘value add’ each participant will have to achieving that meeting purpose. Another key question for the convener is what exactly do we need to accomplish in the meeting, and how should the meeting be structured to accomplish that, in order to fulfill the meeting purpose? Finally, ask what materials and information participants need to have in advance and/or at the meeting to wisely use their time and produce the outcome. (This is guided by the proviso that a meeting should never be used to ‘read’ information to participants!)
If you’re a convener, don’t call your next meeting without answering these questions. If you’re a meeting participant, don’t be afraid to startle your colleagues and the convener with this critical question, “Why am I here?” If you want to be part of effective, high-energy, high-impact meetings, apply this simple question and encourage a business culture that supports it. Your company, co-workers, customers and you deserve it!
Posted May 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A client and friend recently sent me a Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Acceleration Trap.” Important reading if you’re leading a company or organization and you’ve gotten caught up in the ‘more is more’ addiction and find yourself multi-tasking and using technology to ‘stay in touch’ at all times. The reason the concepts they highlight are so startling is that the authors have studied the impact all this 24/7 ‘in-touchness’ can and is having on the work environment. What we think is making us more productive is actually hampering our effectiveness… and there’s a big difference between being efficient (for example, staying in touch at all times with lightning speed response to e-mails, tweets, texts, etc.) versus being effective (actually achieving productive, meaningful, tangible, mission-driven results).
I facilitate a lot of medium to large meetings, retreats, team-building and training sessions, strategic planning events and other types of in-person meetings, including some with just one or two people. For years we’ve been applying some common-sense ground rules about the use of technology in those sessions, the importance of being ‘present’ to have effective interaction with peers and team members and how to productively engage with others in a way that creates meaningful outcomes. Technology, and its applications that try to keep us in touch with what’s happening ‘outside the room’ can actually be a big deterrent in those settings. With some playful and thought-initiating exercises and ground rules, we establish an important commitment from participants to connect with those in the room.
I’ve had more friends and colleagues admit their e-mail addictions recently than ever before. So, what can we do to make ourselves the master of the technology we have at our disposal rather than how it’s become/becoming our master? How do we avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking and re-learn how to focus and regain effectiveness (and our sanity!) and how to be present in the moment?
Some simple tips: 1) Read the HBR article. It will get your attention if you’re responsible for your or others’ results and the achievement of goals and priorities. 2) Ask yourself, when you’re with someone else or in a group setting, how important is it really that I check the latest e-mail, news, tweet or some other external information source? How will that add value to who I am with and what I’m doing at this moment? 3) Learn to be present… in the moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to ensure you are truly (intellectually and emotionally) connected to the person(s) with whom you’re supposed to be communicating and interacting. 4) Disconnect on purpose. Plan some times when you are completely off the technology grid. Use the time with family, friends, peers and colleagues. Or even invest in time to be alone. 5) Build a habit of shutting off your ‘connected devices’ when you’re in a meeting and invest instead in actively listening and engaging in the discussion. You were asked to be present because your presence matters. Make it matter intentionally. 6) When you find yourself getting caught up in the ‘acceleration trap’, ask yourself if doing more is the same as achieving more. Create and apply a litmus test that will guide you to determine if more and faster actually equals better.
Bottom line: It’s up to you to make time to take a break from the pace and impact that our technological connection has created. Stop to smell the roses. Just promise you won’t snap a picture of the roses on your iPhone and tweet it to your Facebook friends!
Posted April 18th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
When you’re responsible for a meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a group, in-person or by phone, teleconference, etc., try this effective technique for driving solid, measurable results from the time and effort you’ll spend with your meeting participant(s). The process can be used in a brainstorm session with others who are involved in designing and making the meeting successful, or you can do it on your own. The key element is to do it in writing until you’re crisp, clear and focused on the three outcomes from the following question.
“Thinking about the participants (again, this can be a meeting with one or more), what do I want him/her/them to think, feel and do as a result of this meeting?” Sounds simple enough, right? Now try it quickly with an upcoming meeting you’ve generated or one you’re planning.
First, what do I want them to think: Depending on your meeting, you should come up with “I” statements as to what the person(s) should be thinking about you, your fellow meeting planners, your proposal, project, etc. “I like this idea!” “I believe this will provide us what we need.” “I want to hear more.” “I like the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this proposal.” The more “thoughts” you generate that connect with the feelings you want to elicit and the action you want to lead to, the better.
Second, what do I want them to feel: People are often motivated by the feelings generated during an experience. Feelings are typically one-word statements like, “confidence,” “encouraged,” “excited,” “invested,” “respected,” “trust,” etc. You get the idea. Any time you follow a feeling by the word “that,” “like,” “as,” or similar words, you know you have a thought, not a feeling. Put those responses back in the first category.
Finally, what do I want them to do: Based on the thoughts and feelings you’ve created by your presentation, discussion, interaction, etc., you should end up with a crisp, concise, thoughtful and strategic “do” from this session. Homing in on this will help you build the discipline to use your and your audience’s time wisely, respectfully and productively. The length, format, venue, number of participants, etc. for the meeting don’t matter.
Next time you’re planning a meeting, even if it’s a stand-up five minutes, use this brief exercise wisely, complete it in advance and write it down. You’ll quickly find your meetings generating thoughtful results and engaging your participants respectfully and productively.
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.
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.
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