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Posts from the ‘meetings’ Category

A great team building activity, let’s do a budget

Picture by Ammar Abd RabboIf you are looking for an activity to increase team synergy in an attempt to develop a high performance team, what choices come to mind? A rally? An adventure race? A week-end away? A parachute jump?

Unless you are my wife, the thought of using a budgeting exercise to build team synergy seems ludicrous, especially when the team is mostly composed of senior software engineers and marketing people!

I knew that for most people, the thought of sitting for two full-days of budget planning would be more terrifying than a visit to their dentist for a root canal. Without fear or hesitation and listening only to my courage, I decided to leverage this important corporate exercise (aka. The Budget) with the goal to create a highly performing cross-functional team.

In line with a post recently published by Mike, I followed very simple guidelines to maximise the impact of the exercise.

Invite people to the exercise

In his book (The Right Use of Power), Peter Block suggests that proceeding by invitations when asking people to participate in an exercise or a meeting is much more powerful than deciding yourself who should (or shouldn’t) be part of the group. Since the cross-functional team I was working with needed to represent each area of the organization and I only wanted one representative from each unit, I asked for volunteers. In traditional organizations, the participants would have been selected based on specific criteria. Instead, I opted to ask for volunteers. This had the dual benefits of increasing active participation during the meeting and helping people buy-in to the results once the exercice was over.

Establish roles and responsibilities

To build a self-organized team, I wanted people to determine what each of the participants contributed to the overall discusion. Coming in to the meeting, each participant knew their role was to represent their community. As such, they needed the authority to make decisions on behalf of their group and have a good understanding of the business assumptions so as to know what could (and couldn’t) be changed in their budget. What is typically called empowerment totally applied in this case.

Establish clear objectives

The group was informed ahead of time of the objective they were to reach “x% operating income for the coming year”. All other variables were left to the group to decide. How each group would reach their own objective and how that fit into a global perspective and their strategy was left entirely to them.

Establish an agenda and ground rules

The agenda for the exercise was clearly established ahead of time in order to support the group in reaching their objectives. In addition to the agenda for the two days meeting, ground rules were established.

(translated from French)

Ground rules

  • Active participation in the discussions
  • Pay attention to what others are saying
  • Be open to constructive feedback (it is not personal)
  • You can enter and leave the room only when the door is open
  • Be on time
  • Accept to step outside your comfort zone
  • Express yourself (kindly) when you are upset
  • Have a bit of fun (it is already included in the budget)

I have seen too many sessions being facilitated without any ground rules or a clear agenda which typically leads to bad meetings. Wanting to avoid wasting a great opportunity to build team synergy, I made sure those two items were well taken care of.

Get a skilled facilitator

I took charge of facilitating the meeting. I have a few skills and facilitating meetings is one of them :-D

Conclusion

After two very intense days of work, the cross-functional team was able to reach an agreed upon target. Coming in to the meeting, nobody believed we could establish challenging targets for ourselves and most importantly, no one thought they would take full ownership of the end results once the exercise was over.

Once again, in traditional organizations where budgets are a top-down activity imposed by the CEO down the chain of command, ownership of each unit’s budget is un-heard of. In our case, people agreed that the exercise had High Value with a perfect 5 / 5 (see Utilité below), Return on Time Invested of 4.1 / 5 (see ROTI below), and a fun factor of 3.3 / 5 (see Fun below).

Not bad for an exercise that was originally compared to a visit to the dentist !

Comments from the peanut gallery…

Let me start by affirming I am in favor of democratic structures in “for-profit” organizations. I believe people should have a say in decisions, no doubts about that. In my opinion, the concept of democracy is closely related to the wisdom of crowds where diverse opinions from a larger group of people systematically leads to better decisions and solutions.

Comments from the peanut gallery

Comments from the peanut gallery

Now that’s established, I want to make a distinction between democracy (participating in the selection of the decision) and the discussions leading to decisions – which I will call the debates.

The debate is not a democratic process. Let me use an example to explain why I have an issue with opening debates to crowds.

Following another disappointing loss of our local hockey team, a few colleagues gathered in the cafeteria were loudly debating their opinion on the cause of the team’s poor performance…

  • Paul: “Price [the goal tender] doesn’t deserve to play with the team, he lacks consistency…”
  • Mario: “What do you mean? Price did what he could but he can’t do everything. With Markov’s and Gill’s injury our defensive line is weak and Price is too often left to himself…”
  • Richard: “Did you guys watch the same game I did? We have no offensive line. We gave a lot of talent to bring Cammalleri to Montreal but he is just not the scorer we need and nobody actually has the right skills…”
  • Mary: “No, no. It’s the referee who influenced the game…”

I’ll stop here but that is enough to show my point. How many of these people do you believed played in the NHL? None.

How many of these people took coaching training or even played junior hockey? None.

How many of these opinions are actually useful to make the right decision? None. That’s right!

This is what my wife calls the “comments from the peanut gallery“.

Let me use another brief example to prove my point further.

Assume a skilled people manager joins his highly technical team for a brain storming session. The team is looking to improve performance of their Java application and the tension in the room is high.  The manager – for sake of clarity, doesn’t have a clue about computer programming except maybe for a 3 hours introduction to Microsoft Excel taken 5 years ago – suggests to replace the framework and maybe the sorting method. What are the chances that his suggestion will be accepted? None.

The same situation applies when people with no management experience or training jump into a discussion about people management or organizational strategies. To take part of the discussion there needs to be a few pre-requisites. It is not enough to want to participate in the discussion, to really contribute people need: knowledge of the topic being discussed, experience, and a willingness to move the debate forward.

What is not needed is a personal opinion without facts, knowledge or experience but this is exactly what happens when a debate is open to the general public. When these conditions are met (knowledge, experience, and willingness), people should be welcomed to join the discussion so to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. When these conditions aren’t met, people should stay on the sideline waiting for the debate to end and propositions to be open for selection.

Just like in the Canadian Parliament, a selected (elected) number of people were selected to represent others in the discussion. Once options are selected, the democratic process can allow people to vote.

Using silence as a communication tool

 

Using silence as a communication tool

Using silence as a communication tool

Have you ever heard the expression “You have two ears and only one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you speak”? What about “Silence is gold”? It doesn’t matter if you have never heard these expressions, you will still be able to take advantage of this under-utilized ability.

Chances are, you have participated in meetings or conversations where people talked, and talked, and talked for no apparent reason only to show-off in front of colleagues or their boss. When you sit back and listen, you often notice that despite the noise, the conversation isn’t moving forward. In these instances, people are concerned with demonstrating something (their knowledge, their communication ability, their decision-making power, etc.) rather than really communicating. Most of the time people talk too much. Way too much.

Over the years I have found that using silence is very useful. Contrary to what a former boss told me, being reserved in a meeting and participating when necessary is much better than talking all the time in order to get noticed. If the only way for you  to get noticed in your organization is by talking a lot during meetings, you are in trouble. I would think that conversations are probably as shallow as the level of competence of the management team – but I digress.

Many people assume that communicating is simply talking nonstop. They are not aware of how they are being received and perceived by others. Using silence on the other hand is very useful. As a communication tool, silence provides a few interesting benefits:

  • it allows you to actually listen to other people’s perspective;
  • it lets your colleagues complete their thoughts without rushing;
  • it provides space for people to express their opinions or feelings;
  • it makes people feel their perspective is valued;
  • it allows you to organize your thoughts and emphasize one point or another;
  • it builds anticipation in your audience and allows them to follow your message;
  • it leaves room in the conversation to allow people to share something they might want to tell you but weren’t quite ready to do so;
  • during negotiation, it adds a little pressure on the other person to possibly offer a better deal;
  • and as a bonus, it improves people perception of you – you no longer appear self-centered and in need of visibility.

When your ego and your need for power drive your conversation, you are certainly missing out on critical pieces of information. Humility and serenity will increase your communication ability. If you are able to develop the ability to remain silent for a certain amount of time in a conversation, you will quickly discover the benefits.

Facilitation Approach used to Define a Commercial Vision

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to organize and facilitate a half-day meeting with the objective of defining a Commercial Vision. Similar to a corporate vision, the commercial vision is a long-term endeavour used to align and inspire people and communicate a common objective for the organization. The distinction with the commercial vision is that the commercial vision is strictly from a business development and commercial perspective. The commercial vision is a sub-section of the overall corporate vision.

Below is the facilitation approach I used and judging from the level of involvement of the participants, the energy level in the room throughout the morning, and the results of the end-of-session feedback, I would have to say it was a success. In an attempt to share the approach I am publishing the steps and activities used during the meeting. I welcome your comments.


Preparation (before the meeting)

  • The topic for the meeting was : Vision 2020.
  • To set the stage, I posted on the wall 20 newspaper articles from 2020.
  • I also put up 30 words, each on their own 8.5 x 11 sheet.

[Note: In addition to creating some interest, participants immediately started sharing their thoughts about the newspaper articles. The newspaper articles were a nice ice breaker]

Wall Decoration

Wall Decoration

Wall Decoration

Wall Decoration

Wall Decoration

Wall Decoration

Welcome (10 minutes)

  • Thank the participants for attending the meeting and ask them to keep an open mind – beside establishing a Vision for 2020, there is no set goal for the meeting.
  • Explain to the participants that the purpose of the exercise is to provide a common framework for the commercial development of the organization.
  • The end result (the Vision) is not cast in concrete – it is simply a direction.

Round Table (10 minutes)

  • Ask each participant what their expectations are from the meeting?

[Note: In addition to getting people to start opening up and initiating conversation, the round table is useful for the facilitator to understand the expectations and aim to achieve them]

Reason for the meeting (10 minutes)

  • Ask each participant if they are wondering why we want to talk about a commercial vision?

[Note: The objective is to anticipate and address any reservation that participants may have before getting into the meat of the meeting]

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Presentation of Apple’s video.
  • The Vision traces a common goal without dictating the means to achieve it. Our goal is to provide a Vision and then allow individuals the opportunity and means to achieve it.
  • The actions and behavior of people will be in line with the Vision once it is clearly established.

Tantrix Game (15 minutes)

  • To create a break from their other thoughts and create a space for creativity, I invited the participants to play the Tantrix Game.
  • The goal of this exercise is to force a break from routine activities so participants can then focus on the meeting.
  • In addition to creating a fun environment, the game allowed for some friendly competition – each participant wanting to complete the game before their colleague.
Tantrix Game

Tantrix Game

Defining the Vision (60 minutes)

  • When participants are ready to share their idea of a commercial Vision, they share their Vision with the rest of the participants and then write a summary of the Vision on a 4 x 6 index card.
  • The game has 2 simple rules: when a participant builds on the idea of another participant, he must begin his sentence with “AND“, and it is strictly prohibited to use any negative terms such as but, however, no, can’t, etc. to express the Vision.
  • In the latter case, the use of negative terms leads to a consequences for the offending participant (10 push-ups).

Break (10 minutes)

Aggregation of Ideas (20 minutes)

  • The group is divided into teams of 3 to 5 participants.
  • The facilitator gathers all the index cards and splits them into as many piles as there are teams.
  • Each team receives a stack of 4 x 6 index cards.
  • Each teams work independently to determine 3 to 5 main themes based on the cards they have received.

Presentation (10 minutes per team)

  • Each team selects a representative to present the rest of the group the 3 to 5 main themes.
  • The objective is to derive common themes in order to build upon them in the second part of the meeting.

Lunch Break (60 minutes)

Writing the Vision (30 minutes)

  • Once again, the group is divided into groups of 3 to 5 participants.
  • The teams can be the same or different from the previous exercise.
  • The objective of the exercise is to ask the teams to write a one-page magazine article to complete the news the appeared on the cover of the October 14, 2020 “Fortune 3000″ magazine following the commercial success of their organization.

Sharing the Vision (10 minutes per team)

  • Each team in the group reads the contents of their magazine article.

Aggregation of the Visions (15 minutes)

  • As a single group, participants work to write an article covering the perspective of each team to achieve a common vision for the whole group.

Reading the Vision (5 minutes)

  • As a conclusion to the exercise, one participant reads the final version of the magazine article (the Vision) to the entire group.

Retrospective (30 minutes)

  • Participants voice their assessment of the meeting by answering the following questions: what part of the meeting were pathetic? what elements of the meeting went very smoothly? what could be added to the meeting in order to improve next time.

Wrap-up (5 minutes)

  • The facilitator thanks the participants for their contribution and dissolve the meeting.

Monthly Strategic Meeting

As a follow up to my post about our Strategic Planning Meetings and our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Monthly Strategic Meetings.


Every month, the strategic meeting is an opportunity to monitor and track the achievement of our objectives. It is an opportunity to assess what has been accomplished, to revise our goals and to adapt them based on external and internal changes. In short, this is an opportunity to inspect and adapt. It is also a time to consider new opportunities that may arise.

Objectives

Making decisions on proposals made to the strategic committee and support the people responsible for the various goals by helping the remove the obstacles they encounter.

During the meeting, presenters should explain what they need to achieve their objectives and propose a plan of action that can be accepted (or rejected) by the strategic committee members. The strategic meeting is not intended to present the work completed to date – since it is the responsibility of leaders to ensure that their tasks are completed – but have a plan of action that allows the successful achievement of the objectives.

Frequency

The meeting is held every month (the last Friday of the month).

Attendance

Who can be present at the monthly strategic meetings?

All employees interested and available can attend the meeting as “chickens“.

Participation

Who should be present at the monthly strategic meetings?

Each blue bubble (see diagram below) must have at least one representative present at the meeting. In addition, at least 2 of the following 3 people must be present: President, General Manager, Process Owner.

Organizational Structure

Strategic Committee

Voting

Who has the right to vote for decision-making?

All members of the strategic committee present at the meeting are entitled to vote.

Following the vote, what rule should be used to make a decision?

The decision-making will be the super-majority (2 / 3 of the votes). For a proposal to be accepted, the number of votes in favor of the proposal must be greater than or equal to twice the number of votes opposing the proposal.

Weekly Tactical Meetings

As a follow up to my posts about our Strategic Planning Meetings, our Monthly Strategic Meeting, and our strategic planning process, this blog post describes the Weekly Tactical Meetings.


Every week, the tactical meeting is used to plan the goals for the week and choose our priorities based on our current capabilities.

Objectives

  • Establish a quick plan for the week to come
  • Consider possible options for improvement and set priorities based on our ability to achieve them
  • Prioritize tasks and assign resources to support the activities.

The weekly tactical meeting is modeled after the daily stand up meeting used in Scrum with a key distinction. The group is much less interested in knowing what has been done but prefers to focus on what needs to be done within the next 5 business days to complete an objective. The meeting rarely lasts more than 30 minutes.

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