Group Technique

Whole Picture in Brief

If you want a group to focus on the whole picture it helps to provide them with tools to see the whole picture. In this short video Craig explains how he condensed a complicated list of recommendations into a two-page paper “ballot” that group members could use to select their top priorities.

You might also like this video: How to get a group to cut down a list.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

I have been working with a group called the Casco Bay Nutrient Council. I’ve been helping them write this report. It contains all kinds of data and analysis about nutrient pollution in Casco Bay. It’s made up of regulators and scientists and public interest groups. And the report also contains lots of complex recommendations; in fact, the way it is right now, it contains too many recommendations. So we had a meeting to prioritize them and try to figure out what are the most important recommendations.

But I’ll tell you, to ask a group to analyze a report of this complexity and then try to come to consensus on what in this report is most important — that’s a tall order. If you want a group to go from a large complex report to a short list of high-priority things, give them a short list to start with.

What this is, is it’s a high-level overview of all the recommendations in the report, organized by topic and number. I would have to say that the highest value I added to that particular meeting was making this piece of paper. I teased out of this 78 page report a list of relatively manageable recommendations. And look at this, I not only numbered them, I provided some columns over here that we used for, well, ranked choice voting you might say.

Even though we might not have time to get to consensus on a short list of recommendations in the meeting, at least I can ask each person to show their preferences, turn them in, and we can analyze the data and start the next meeting with an even shorter list.

If you want a group to condense the big picture you got to show them the whole picture. If you want a group to stay on the high ground, you’ve got to cut out all the other stuff and give them just the high ground. I hope that this helps this group make good decisions and I hope it helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Put the Tips in action for your group. Click here to learn about Craig’s Keynotes and Seminars.

Objectives, agenda, ground rules

Good Group Tips

In principle, when we are meeting as a group to make decisions it helps if everyone knows what we expect to achieve (meeting objectives) and how we expect to achieve it (agenda and ground rules).

Naming the objectives up front minimizes chances for mismatched expectations. The objectives also provide an anchor if things start to go adrift.

Agendas also help people know what to expect. And when the group agrees to a specific agenda it serves as a mandate to move from one item to the next in a deliberate and honorable way.

Ground rules also help us be efficient. And they remind us to be respectful of each other. Ground rules are shared expectations about how we will interact.

All three — objectives, agenda, ground rules — combine to establish a safe structure within which creativity may flourish.

Practical Tip: At the start of every meeting review the meeting objectives, agenda, and ground rules, in that order, even if very briefly. It is helpful if group members agree to them (with revisions if necessary) and agree to implement them.

If it seems as if the group is straying from the agenda or if people are ignoring the ground rules, interrupt and point out the discrepancy. If wayward behavior persists, either ask for compliance or that the agenda or ground rules be changed to match the behavior.

When behavior gets out of sync with established expectations, safety fades, creativity suffers, and frustration results.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Put the Tips in action for your group. Click here to learn about Craig’s Keynotes and Seminars.

Is it okay to shut someone down?

Is a facilitator ever justified in “shutting someone down”? Craig thinks the answer is yes, IF three conditions are met. Here he explains the conditions and how he handled this situation in a meeting.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here, on a beautiful autumn day in Maine.

Is a facilitator ever justified in shutting someone down? I think yes, if three conditions are met.

One: if the facilitator has laid out the expectation that we are going to give everybody an opportunity to speak and try to make room for all voices. Number two: if the facilitator has given adequate warnings that the conversation is going to be ending soon and we’re going to change formats. And three: if there is somebody who’s dominating the conversation, taking up too much airtime.

I had such a situation recently in a meeting, a full group format. I was running around with the microphone, I had given the ground rules, I had explained that we were about to change formats and go to small group discussions and informal paired discussions, and I had a person who wanted to say more. I gave him his last word, and went to a couple others; he wanted to say more. I went back to him. I let him say what he wanted to say but then, you know, what he said triggered some other hands so I took some other hands, and what those people said triggered him and he wanted to say more. We were over time. And he was saying a lot. In fact he had given up on using the microphone and was just talking loudly to be heard – even without the microphone, even though I was trying to give other people a chance to talk.

In that situation I believe that I was justified in forcing the group to go to the small discussion format. And here’s why: because as facilitators, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that everybody has a voice. And when I have to shut somebody down, it’s not about shutting him or her down, it’s about making room for others to speak up.

Now, I feel sorry for that guy. My actions are not about him, not against him, and had nothing to do with what he said or who he was. I know that he had a lot of energy and passion around this issue but no matter how much energy and passion somebody has, that is not a justifiable reason for making it so others cannot express their energy and passion around an issue.

We need to try and make room for everybody’s passion and energy to be heard in the room, and sometimes that requires shutting someone down.

At least that’s how I see it. And I hope that how I see it, helps you make good group decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Put the Tips in action for your group. Click here to learn about Craig’s Keynotes and Seminars.
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