One of the things that facilitators worry a lot when shifting from facilitating in the room to facilitating on line is not being able to “read the room.”
But what if they've been “reading the room” inaccurately?
Sometimes people's body language is super obvious yet most of the time in the workplace it tends to be more subtle. Facilitators may have been engaging in mind reading when they think they are reading the “vibe” in the room yet they really did not know what the participants in the group were thinking and feeling.
"Reading the room" online
What if facilitating online actually meant you paid more attention to “reading the room”?
How might you track it?
One of the tips for facilitating online is to check in more frequently with the group that you're working with.
Here are four ways to think about monitoring progress.
The first is to make sure that you're establishing connections and setting expectations at the beginning of your meeting. What is some pre work that people could engage in so that they could do some thinking beforehand? How might you spend a few minutes to help people get to know each other a little better? How might you use a tool like OARR - Outcomes agenda roles and rules --to orient people as you start out?
Signaling your turns
The second category is making sure that you're helping people track your progress in your process. You might use polling to assess your engagement, understanding and effectiveness. You might do a quick “POP” check in on purpose, outcomes and process. You need to ”signal your turns” so that you are clear about when you're moving from one agenda item to another. Take a pause to make sure everyone is with you especially if you are moving from using one technology tool to another. You can also use visual tools to help you track progress
Are we in agreement?
A third category is checking for understanding or checking for consensus. You'll likely want to do this more often in an online meeting than you would in person. This means that you need to allow more time to achieve the outcomes then you might have normally budgeted in an in-person meeting. It's slowing down and questioning your assumptions. Taking the time to make your thought process more explicit. Some tools that you might use included a quick check in what's called a “fist to 5.” You ask people to make a show of hands/fingers where they are. You designate what the fist means and what 5 fingers mean. Let's say 5 fingers means high agreement or understanding. This can be used in lots different ways. Another is the gradients of agreement which helps breakdown what consensus looks like. I've described using this tool another post.
Carol, how are you doing?
The fourth way to approach monitoring group progress online is to check in with individuals. In some ways online platforms makes this easier than in person. When I am in front of a large room of people it's unlikely that I'm going to be able to see all their name tags. Nut on a Zoom call I can see at least a first name or some kind of identifier to ask people individually how they're doing. You will want to have some discussion around group norms about whether it’s ok to ask people who haven't talked much to chime in and share. This may depend on the where your group is in terms of its evolution and development.
with you whose job it is to pay attention to and monitor the group. You might have a co-host who's monitoring reactions and gallery view while you're focused on facilitating the meeting. You will want to come to agreement beforehand that they can interrupt you and ask questions of the group. Most important (this certainly is true in an in person as well but even more so online), do not assume that silence means consent. Or assume it means discontent.
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Groups often fear working on a consensus basis because they are afraid of the time it will take to make a decision. They are afraid of being caught in a spiral of discussion, more discussion and yet more discussion and no resolution. They may be afraid of this because they may assume that everyone has to be 100% behind a decision for the group to move ahead.
When a group is considering an issue, ideally there is a discussion that considers a wide range of options. Then the discussion comes to a clear end point with a decision. Once a decision is made the group moves to action. This image illustrates this ideal.
Americans tend to be quite action oriented and in our culture we can get impatient easily, wanting to jump to a decision. And thus more frequently it feels like this:
Part of the group thinks a decision has been made and others thinks the item is still up for discussion. And still others may not be clear what decision is on the table.
Once the group is clear about what they are deciding, a useful tool for testing the level of agreement is the consensus continuum.
Applying the continuum
I was part of a board that used this continuum when it was deliberating about a very challenging situation. There was no good solution to the high stakes problem we were facing. There were only several bad choices to choose from. Which bad choice was better than the other? We deliberated for a long time. Deliberation happened over multiple meetings, over multiple weeks. Ultimately we were able to make a decision that everyone in the group could live with even if it was not their preferred option by using this tool.
How many people you need to have in the 1-3 zone will depend on how high stakes a decision it is. Using this as a check in can move along even decisions that may seem like they are low stakes but are taking a long time. You may find it is higher stakes for some in the group.
Making time for process
Groups often want to jump to action and resist taking time on ‘process’ issues. Being clear about how the group makes decisions is a core process issue that rarely gets discussed. Taking the time can actually save the group both time and angst in the long run.
Have a group that needs help with how they are working together? Reach out for a coaching session.
Despite the popularity of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” leadership groups often have trouble staying at that level. Think of a time when your board or leadership team was meeting and someone brought up a new idea for a new program. It’s likely that without a lot of discussion about why you should or should not do the program, the discussion jumped into how you would do the program.
Is this new initiative strategically important?
I was working with an organization and another organization had come to them with an idea for a partnership. The senior leadership charged with managing the strategic direction of the organization assembled to consider the proposal. Rather than staying in the ‘why’ – why should we enter into this partnership? Is it in alignment with our mission? Does it support the goals articulated in our strategic plan? Will it help us reach a key audience? Will it build our brand and reputation? Does it capitalize on our core competencies? Will it help us strengthen key capacities? Will we be filling an important gap in the market? Instead they skipped right over those questions and had a long discussion about how the partnership could work. Who would be involved? When would be good timing to get started? So the key question of whether the partnership was important for the organization was missed.
Why are we working on this project?
Too often when teams start working together on a project they make the same mistake. Without talking about why they are assembled, what is important about the project, what they each bring to the project, they jump to project management. They start outlining and assigning tasks. This is why I find the Drexel-Sibbet model of team development particularly useful. It reminds the group to start with why. Its second stage considers who is in the group and takes some time to get to know each other. Only after why and who has been answered is the group truly ready to shift into what and how.
So the next time you are starting something new – considering a new idea for a new program or initiative or starting a new project, spend some time discussing the why. Why is this important for us? And if there is not enough ‘there, there’ when you answer why, remember you can also choose not to pursue the new idea!
Need help with an important conversation in your organization? Reach out for a coaching call.
Your organization is designed for a specific mission with the goal of having an impact in the world. The world will be different in some way because of the work you do. Homeless people are cared for and fed who wouldn’t be otherwise. First generation college students increase their understanding of financial aid so that they can make better decisions about paying for their education. They’d make costly mistakes without you. Emerging leaders in marginalized communities are supported to strengthen their self-awareness and skills so that they can advocate for their community. You undertake the activities and programs with the aim of furthering your mission. Have you taken the time to look at how all the pieces fit together and whether it all adds up?
Creating a picture
When you create an impact map, you create a visual representation of what your organization is doing and how it creates the impact you want to have in the world. It makes clear how you leverage resources and organizational capacities to deliver your core strategies to achieve tangible results. By creating an impact map, you are able to create a model that illustrates your beliefs about the change you are trying to make.
It also can help you uncover the assumptions inherent in your programs and activities. You can also describe what short, medium and long term outcomes you believe result from each program or activity. A good question for identifying assumptions is to ask, “what has to be true for this outcome to happen?” These essentially are the hypotheses embedded in your program design.
Are there gaps in logic?
Once you have created your map and identified the assumptions inherent with each program, you can consider how you might measure whether you are having the impact you are aiming for. An impact map can also uncover gaps in your logic.
Creating shared understanding
Engaging in the process of impact mapping can be a useful exercise for staff and/or your board. Have small groups create an impact map of your organization. Then compare the maps. Do people envision the same organization? Where are the gaps in knowledge and understanding?
Once you have agreement on your organization’s impact map, take it one step further. Have a conversation about the implications of the map. Ask questions such as:
Think this might be helpful for your organization and would like some help? Inquire about a coaching session.
Once upon a time there was a boss who wanted to be everyone’s friend. As he tried to be nice, he was indirect in his communication. He wanted everyone to feel like they were on equal footing. He rarely gave direction. Unfortunately for the boss, this left his team members frustrated rather than happy. He actually did have specific ideas about how he wanted certain things done. But team members would not find this out until after they had invested a fair amount into the project.
How far can I go?
Clarity in scope and purpose would have helped this situation a lot. As a manager, you will frequently hear the recommendation to delegate. When you delegate tasks or projects to your team are you clear how far they can go? Do they know the parameters they are working within? Or are you erring on the side of Mr. Nice Guy.
Clarity helps build trust
I am certainly not advocating being a jerk. But without clarity, team members may invest a lot of time pursuing an approach that you are not happy with. Alternatively they may be asking for your direction and input in a case where you do not have strong feelings about an approach. Or you may have sought input and were going to make the final decision but your team got the impression that they would be part of the decision making as well. Each of these instances can create frustration and breed mistrust.
A useful tool for thinking about this issue is Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s delegation continuum.
There could be a step beyond the end of ‘subordinate-centered leadership’ in which the boss defines the end goal and asks the team to define the parameters and scope of the project.
Try it with your team
Have a discussion with your team. Where do you usually fall on the continuum? In what instances do they find the scope of the delegation confusing or unclear? What could bring more clarity to those instances?
When you are delegating a larger project, working with the team to create a project charter can help the group start with greater certainty. This charter should include project goals, roles and responsibilities, timelines, budget. The team should also spend time as they get started talking about how they will work together, how they will make decisions and what skills and talents each person brings to the team.
Lacking shared understanding
So often the challenges at work come down to the lack of shared understanding. How can you use these tools to bring greater shared understanding to how your team and your direct reports work together?
Having team challenges? Inquire about a free coaching call.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.