Tag: Meeting facilitation

Public input in many ways

On site at a public input meeting, Craig describes four ways for people to give their opinions.

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 am at a meeting – the whole purpose is to gather public input. Tonight we’re in Brunswick, Maine asking people what they think the future of the town should be.

Now, when you ask people to provide information it’s really good if you can ask them to give it in several different ways because you know not everybody is comfortable raising a hand and speaking out loud in public. Sometimes we do that – take a look over here. We did that in this meeting earlier tonight and we showed right on the screen what people said. As they raised their hands and spoke out, we typed their comments.

But that’s not the only way. Also earlier tonight, we asked people to write their comments on these pieces of paper and we put them on the wall. We didn’t know how they were going to be organized. We organized them after we saw all the pieces of paper on the wall.

A third way that we’re asking people to make their comments tonight is by writing on pieces of paper at their tables. Look we’ve got a question right down on the chart and we’re asking people to discuss and write their answers.

That’s not all – come over here. We asked people to draw their ideas on maps. “Where do you want growth to occur in our town? Where do you want no growth?”

Look, the point is that whenever you’re asking for public input ask it in a way that gives many different types of opportunities to give their input. That’s how you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Double-check your decision

In this two-minute video Craig explains a simple technique to make sure everyone is on the same page with a group decision.

The idea comes from Patrick Lencioni and his book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Don’t perpetuate the “lack of commitment” dysfunction. Double-check your decisions.

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.

So you work through the issues, you’ve made compromises, you have come to a group decision. Everybody goes their own ways and when you come back together the next time, it’s clear that when you left thinking you had made a group decision there were different interpretations of what you had actually decided. It seemed clear in the moment but when you went out into the world and told other people about the decision or started actually implementing the decision, it started to become apparent that maybe you weren’t as clear on what that decision was as you thought you were.

Here is a simple and effective way to double-check your decision. Before you leave out into the world ask yourself, “How are we going to communicate this decision to others?’ It’s like two parents working through some sort of issue with the family and then they ask the question, “What are we going to tell the kids?”

Asking that question — well yeah it helps you explore what you’re going to actually tell the kids or the employees or the constituents or the members or whatever — but it also forces you to go back and see if you’re on the same page about what you decided.

When you actually have to figure out the messaging that you’re going to use to convey the thing that you decided, it makes you double-check what it is that you actually decided.

Thanks for listening everybody! I hope this helps you help your group make good group decisions.

Good Meeting Guidelines

Does your group have Meeting Guidelines? Should you?

Meeting at The Nature Conservancy, Craig noticed the “Good Meeting Guidelines” posted on the wall. He needed to learn more!

So in this on-the-spot video Craig interviewed TNC’s Maine State Director Kate Dempsey about why and how they use the Good Meeting Guidelines.

What a great idea! Decide your meeting guidelines, post them in your meeting room, and actually practice them!

By the way. No rehearsals. No second takes. No editing. Kate didn’t even know what Craig was going to ask her. She did a terrific job.

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

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Craig: Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley and I’m here with Kate Dempsey. Kate is the director of the Nature Conservancy headquartered right here in Brunswick, Maine. I have been meeting with Kate and some of her staff and I couldn’t help but notice these Good Meeting Guidelines that they keep right here  in their meeting room. And I presume you use these?

Kate: We try to keep them actively in front of us and in our brains at all times.

Craig: So how was it that you decided to even do this and come up with these particular guidelines? Can you tell us a little about that?

Kate: Yeah. We’re an organization that actually spends a lot of time in meetings with partners and amongst ourselves. So over time we figured out that we really needed some guidance for ourselves about how to be active participants in meetings; how to make sure we’re hearing a diversity of opinion, even if it’s the same group of people that always meet together. Years and years of practice, in theory, means we are a little better than we would be if we didn’t practice. And I think it really does help because we have a lot of people coming through this office; we meet with a lot of partners and other partners use this space. So it helps share the learning and remind others that this is the culture we’re trying to create.

Craig: I love that; that it’s not just for you but for all the people that come through here. So do you have a practice of reviewing these and talking about them at the start of most of your meetings?

Kate: It’s funny we were just talking about how we needed to re-practice doing that. We’ve had a lot of new people come on to our team and — really in the last year — a huge amount of influx of new energy and new people. So I was just meeting with my director of operations and we were just saying how we really need to think of ways to make sure we are doing just that.

Kate: We are very good about being really clear about meeting purposes. We’re reminding ourselves about what the decision process is in any given situation and who’s making decisions and what input that group is seeking. And I think respecting the clock, we’re actually quite good at. Always reminding ourselves but I think we are very good at that.

Kate: And then I think that being open minded and listening honestly and having inquiring mindsets – what’s good about having this up front is that it allows someone to respectfully remind someone that maybe they’re jumping to a conclusion without seeking first understanding. So it’s a nice way of being able to practice together without anyone feeling badly if you question them.

Craig: Right, I love that. So many good reasons that you just pointed out for having ground rules.

Craig: If you are in a group that meets regularly, maybe even in the same room, you might consider investing in some Good Meeting Guidelines like The Nature Conservancy has. Thanks for explaining this to us.

Kate: Thanks Craig for being here.

Craig: Thanks for listening everybody.

Round Robin

In this video Craig explains the “round robin” facilitation technique — giving everyone a chance to speak, one at a time — and he offers some tips on when and how to use this technique 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. I just finished up a day-long meeting right here in this room. I want take a minute and talk about a specific facilitation technique, sometimes called Round Robin.

It’s basically where you give every single person in the room a chance to say something and you deliberately go one at a time. I find that using this works best when the group is stuck; when it’s not clear how the issue should be resolved; when it’s not clear what the next steps should be. I have found over and over again when I am stumped as the facilitator — when I really don’t know what the sense of the group is or how something should be resolved or what we should do next — I turn to this technique and often times resolution happens magically.

I think it works best if you apply a few things here.

First of all, be really clear on what you are asking each person to respond to. Write it on the wall, type it onto the screen, or just say it in really simple terms like, “Okay we’re going to go around the room, each person one at a time, and I would like to hear from each of you: “What do you think we should do as an immediate next step? Everybody got that? One at a time: What do you think we should do as an immediate next step?” I’m crystal clear about what I’m asking them to respond to.

Number two. Call for a volunteer to go first. Do not point to somebody randomly or to the person on either end and ask them to go first. You have a much better chance of success if the person who goes first actually wants to go first. That person is already prepared with a response, they don’t mind going first, and because of those two things they are likely to model good behavior for everyone else. If you just point to somebody randomly you might get somebody who is embarrassed because they don’t have a response, or somebody who goes on way too long and then after that everybody else thinks they’re supposed to talk for that long. All kinds of bad things could happen. Call for a volunteer. Like, “Okay who’s ready with an answer and would like to start?” Look for a hand.

When that hand goes up, number three. Say something like this, “Okay thanks for putting a hand up. Before you give your answer let me just point out how we’re going to do this. We’re going to start there and we’re going to go around the room like this [point or signal s direction left or right]. You can pass if you want but I am going to call on each of you one at a time.” This way I’m letting everybody know when their place in the lineup is going to happen. That’s really helpful to people; they know what to expect. If I just call on one person and then I wait for another hand and then I wait for another hand,  now the people have to not only think about their response, they have to think about when they want to say their response. I can actually clear their mind and help their creative thinking if I take that responsibility away from them and I just say what the order is going to be.

Maybe I’m up to number four. Let people pass if they want to. I look at them in the eye and if I see that somebody’s not quite comfortable with the response, I will say to them, “You can pass if you want. No problem. We’ll come back to you if you would like to say more later.” And I might move on and then come back to those people that passed. Not everyone is able to come up with a response as fast as others.

Number five. As I take the comments from each person I’m writing them down on a clipboard or maybe I’m writing them on the wall or somebody else is writing; but I am looking for themes. I am looking for the resolution. I am looking for the sense of the group and after everyone has gone, I either reveal on the screen what I think are the themes — the general sense of the group — the commonalities — or I simply say it out loud based on my clipboard.

I am often surprised at how well this simple technique works in moving a group forward.

For one thing, we get to hear all of the ideas. In a conversation where I’m calling on those who most want to speak, it’s remarkable how many ideas get left unspoken. With the Round Robin we really hear what is most top of mind from every single person.

Second, we all get to see what everybody thinks and what the themes are. They tend to emerge and become self-evident.

I’m not saying that this technique should be used all the time and there’s a danger of overusing it, but I am saying that I think it’s generally underutilized and underrated as a technique for moving a group forward; if done well, keeping in mind the five things that I just pointed out.

Thanks for listening everybody. I hope that you help your group make good decisions!

Gender respect: yes, please

In this 3-minute video Craig discusses his increasing challenge with gender identification; “Sometimes I can’t tell if someone is a man or a woman!” He wants to be politically correct AND show respect, but how? He’s got one idea. Do you agree with this approach?

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 was running a meeting the other day — standing at the front of the room calling on people — and somebody way at the back raised their hand. Button-down Oxford shirt, short trimmed hair, square glasses. Actually this person looked a lot like me. “Yes sir. Yes you. At the back, sir.” Well when the person stood up I realized that the person I had just called “sir,” was actually a woman.

It is not okay to call somebody “sir” who identifies as a women. It is not okay to call somebody “ma’am” who identifies as a man. And increasingly, this is a challenge for me as a professional meeting facilitator. Sometimes I look out at the people in my meetings, or I look at the people coming through the door into my meetings, and I can’t tell if that person identifies as a man or a woman.

And you know what? It’s okay if I can’t tell. That person is allowed to present however they want. And they are allowed to think of themselves however they want. As a professional meeting facilitator it’s important that I don’t offend that person no matter what and that I accept that person for who they are no matter what.

But I like to use the terms “sir” and “ma’am!” And why is that? I figured out that it’s not about gender identity; that is a way for me to convey respect. It’s a way, from the very start of the conversation, to say “I honor you.” There is a tone of formality and reverence and older people especially like to be called “sir” and “ma’am.”

So how can I use language that is gender-neutral and non-offensive no matter what, AND convey respect? The best I can come up with is the words: “Yes, please.” Rather than “Yes sir, yes ma’am,” “Yes, please.” “Yes, you at the back, please.”

From now on that’s what I’m going to try to do: let somebody be what ever gender they want, no matter what they look like, but also show them that I respect them as an individual and I want to hear what they have to say.

Thanks for listening everybody, regardless of what gender you are. And I hope you help your groups make good decisions!

How to handle when someone walks out

When someone walks out of a meeting, upset, what is your responsibility if you are the meeting leader?
Not surprisingly, Craig wants group peace and harmony. What might surprise you is how to achieve that when someone walks out.

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.

It’s happened a few times in my career that I’ve been leading a meeting and something got said or got done that caused somebody to up and walk out; maybe even with slamming doors. If I’m leading a meeting and somebody walks out, what is my responsibility to the group and to that person?

I think that my highest responsibility is to the group and to help the group meet their objectives and help the group find peace and harmony.

Many times conflict is resolved by somebody leaving the group or leaving the relationship. It’s about fit. If a person is not fitting in with where the group is headed — if a person decides that this particular relationship is not a good fit for them — maybe the very best thing to do is to leave.

We have this idea in our heads — a false idea I think — that that’s not okay; that when somebody leaves we should stop the meeting, go get that person, bring them back in here, find out what’s the matter, and do everything we can as a group to accommodate their needs. But I think that that can have negative consequences in two ways.

For one, it can seriously sidetrack the group. We were working on this thing and maybe everybody else was doing a good job and in favor of this thing,  and now we all have to spend our time and energy to help this person fit. It can be hugely inefficient.

Secondly, it can perpetuate a conflict that — you know what — it might be unsolvable. In fact, that person walking out might have solved it just like that! Let’s let that be solved. Let’s let that go.

That person made a choice and in fact, by not stopping the meeting, by not following after them and making a big deal, I’m actually honoring their choice. I’m also honoring the group by staying on course. This is how I, as a meeting facilitator, see my responsibility to the group, help them meet their objectives, and help them find peace and harmony.

Thanks for listening everybody! I hope that you help your group make good decisions.

Seven Secrets for Successful Meetings

Craig explains seven key secrets to help your group have successful meetings and good agreements. Here is a companion handout.



Here’s what Craig says in the video:

Hi everybody. Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. This morning I’m going to share with you seven secrets for successful meetings. This is a handout that you can get at GoodGroupDecisions.com but for right now I’m just going to explain these seven things, one at a time; I’ve got them on my clipboard right here.

Number one: A genuine desire for shared agreement. See, these seven secrets that I’m sharing with you are mostly for meetings in which the group is trying to come to some sort of agreement. And if you want to be coming to an agreement, the first important ingredient is that everybody in the group wants to come to an agreement.

Look, if you’re the leader of a group and you’re trying to get everybody to agree to something, first remind us why we should agree on this. Make the case. Share the vision for how things are going to be better: “Look people, if we can work this out it’s going to be awesome.” If you have even just one or two people in your group that don’t see the need to come to an agreement, who actually like things just to the way they are and don’t want any new agreements, it’s going to be very hard to have a good meeting and come to agreement.

Number two: Focus on ideas rather than personalities. High functioning groups of people are able to criticize each other’s ideas without criticizing each other personally. They don’t make things personal, they don’t take things personally, and it’s okay to disagree with that idea that you had but agree with you on that [other] idea that you had. We allow ourselves to critique and build on each other’s ideas without critiquing each other personally. If you had a bad idea, you know, I didn’t like the idea that you had, but that doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad person — and I want to hear your next idea.

Number three: Open mindedness. One of the great things about meetings in groups is that we learn new things and minds change. It’s okay to change your mind. In fact that’s what we want. That’s why we bring together people to make a new decision, rather than just decide things in a room with a closed door all by ourselves.

Some groups have an ethic that “No one decides until we all decide. Let’s keep an open mind to the very last minute. The best idea can come from anywhere.” When I go into a meeting with a truly open mind, we are all much more likely to come out of the meeting with a successful solution.

Number four: Each view heard once. We want to hear all the different perspectives, but we don’t need to hear them over and over again. This is similar to number two, separating ideas from personalities. If somebody else shares a point of view, even though I might have the same point of view, even though I might be able to say it better than they did, I don’t need to say it. Because it’s not about me, it’s not about them, the most important thing is the idea and if the idea has been put out there on the table it need not be repeated. It doesn’t matter who put it on the table; let’s just build on the idea — or criticize the idea — but let’s move on.

So many times in a group, somebody says something and then somebody else needs to kind of say the same thing with different words and then somebody else thinks of a slightly different way to say it with a new spin, a new angle, and they say it again with their new spin and new angle – and this takes up a lot of time in meetings. If you can get a group in the habit of using nonverbal cues — thumbs up, saying  “Hear, hear”, facial expressions — this is a way that I can show my support for an idea or my concern with an idea very efficiently without having to take the group’s time and say the idea over and over again.

Number five: Accept decisions and publicly support them. So, first of all it’s really important to know what is the decision. Write it down. Don’t just walk out of the meeting with kind of a loose understanding of what we all agreed to, because I can guarantee that if you do that, every person is walking away with a slightly different understanding of what you agreed to. If you want true group unity and agreement, write the agreement for everyone to see so everyone walks away with the same words.

Now it might be that, you know, that’s not the agreement I was hoping for. In fact I was advocating for a different outcome. I lost this one. We don’t win every battle, we don’t get everything we want in every meeting. So what? Okay, I can lose with grace. I can say, “Yup, I lost that one.” But I’m going to trust the wisdom of the group. I’m not going to try and undermine the group publicly. When I’m outside that meeting room I support the group decision and I’m on to the next. Next time I try harder  to advocate my own point of view but I put the group decision over my personal point of view.

Number six: Clarify and honor group roles. Look, if you want the full horsepower of every person in your meeting they’ve got to know what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do. They’ve got to know how things work.

I have written another tip called “Structure Sets You Free” and the concept there is that when people know what their role is, when people know how the decision-making process works and where they should appropriately plug into it, they can really excel and do great things. When people are fuzzy on what they’re supposed to be doing, people hold back. They don’t give their full energy and initiative. Things are inefficient, messy, not creative and productive. So establishing and then honoring roles is really important.

There’s something here too about accountability. You know, if I am unable to do my job, if I can’t follow through with the thing that I agreed to do, I’m the first one to admit that and hold myself accountable. That also is hugely efficient for the group and doesn’t waste other people’s time and energy with having to confront my misstep, with having to handle my mistake. I handle my mistake. You know, it doesn’t matter so much that we make mistakes, but how we handle our mistakes – that’s what matters. And that’s what contributes to good group decisions and good meetings.

Last one, Number seven: Handle conflict professionally. You know, we can handle conflict as children and with big egos or we can handle conflict as grown-ups and with respect, and that’s what I’m calling for. If you are in conflict with someone else, that’s okay. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not something to be avoided. Talk about it. And when you talk about your conflict, start with a question. Understand where the other person is coming from. Nine times out of ten the conflict will disappear right at that first stage with a better understanding of where each other is coming from.

But even if you understand each other perfectly and still have a disagreement, walk away with an understanding that you have a disagreement, but contain disagreement. That’s another tip I’ve written, “Contain Disagreement.” There is no need to carry that disagreement into other issues. Just because I can’t work with you on this issue doesn’t mean I can’t work with you on other issues. Let’s just turn our attention from our past disagreement to positive forward, and work together on the next challenge coming down the line.

There you have it, Seven Secrets for Successful Meetings. You can get the handout at GoodGroupDecisions.com.

At the website there are also lots of other Tips (I’ve mentioned some of them in this talk) and there are lots of videos – all designed to help you help your group make good decisions. Thanks for listening everybody.

Meeting introductions

Ever get bogged down with introductions at the start of a meeting? In this video Craig explains a simple technique to help them happen fast and positive.


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

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hey it’s Craig Freshley, I’m about to start a meeting and I want to talk a little bit about opening introductions.

A lot of meeting leaders begin a meeting just like this by going around the table and asking everybody to say a few words about themselves. Now that can work well, but it also can turn into a bit of a disaster. Because here’s what happens. The first person….they don’t really know how much they’re supposed to say so they start saying the things that they think they’re supposed to say. And then the next person thinks, “Well, they talked about their kids and how long they’ve been on the job so I guess I should say that too.” But then they throw in a little bit more like what kind of car they have. And then the next person thinks, “Well if they said what kind of car they have, I should probably do that too.” And by the time you’ve gone all around the table, that last person is giving a five minute speech! And it’s very very hard to interrupt that momentum once it gets going.

So here’s a technique I use for introductions. I put some words up here on the screen and I say, “Okay, we’re going to go around the room and I would like every person to say your name, say your role, and one thing about our association that I’m proud of is blank.” Now you will want to change this sentence to match your particular meeting. I happen to be meeting with an association today and I want to start off on the positive.

But here’s the thing, it’s a “complete the sentence” and it’s a “one thing.” And I point that out and when I provide this structure. I’m giving people clear guidance on what to say and I might even model doing this to start with to show kind of how fast or how slow I want this done.

When I provide this structure for introductions we can go round the table pretty darn quick and we’re starting off a positive note already getting into our meeting.

That’s my tip for today, thanks for listening everybody.

Transparent Facilitation

Is it okay for a meeting facilitator to say “I don’t know what to do?”

In this video Craig says “Yes!” He also gives reasons why it’s good to do that and he provides three things likely to happen as a result of doing that; all good.


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.

Sometimes when you’re facilitating a meeting you don’t know what to do. Maybe there is a tension, disagreement, or overtime on the agenda, and it’s honestly not clear to me what we should do. In that situation I tend to default for something I call “facilitation transparency.” I kind of think out loud in front of the group.

I might say something like this: “Okay look everybody, I know that we are over-time on the agenda but it’s honestly not clear to me what we should do. Here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that Ron’s point is really good and a lot of you agree with it and think that we should take time to figure that out. But I’m also seeing from the body language that a lot of you are not totally comfortable with moving forward with that idea. And I can’t figure out whether we should continue to spend time on this or not so I don’t know what could we do. Maybe…..well one thing we could do is we could extend the length of the meeting. We could all agree that this is worth spending time on….let’s spend more time on it. We could send this to a committee and ask them to think about this idea and maybe come back. We could take a little anonymous poll here. I could pass out some index cards and I could ask you all to give your opinions, hand them in to me, we’ll take a break, and then I’ll come back with a recommendation to the group on what we should do based on what you told me anonymously. I don’t know. Those are just three ideas to proceed.”

Look, here’s what I find. If I do like I just did in a meeting — make myself a little vulnerable, just think out loud — for one thing it gives me time to think about what to do. And secondly, it invites everyone into a group perspective. I’m bringing everyone along with me and thinking about how to best serve the group. Thirdly, it gives each of them time to think about what could be best.

And more often than not, resolution emerges. It usually happens of one of three ways. Usually the most common thing is that as I’m doing my thinking out loud on the spot, I’m able to assess the body language or the facial expressions of the people around the table — we can all do that — and the right thing to do becomes self-evident. That happens 80% of the time! A second thing that might happen is somebody — one of them — might have, like, a perfect solution that none of us has thought about. A third thing is that it might become clear to me what to do in that situation.

I know that there is a resistance to admitting that you don’t know what to do. When you’re the guy or the gal at the front of the room leading the group you don’t want to say, “I don’t know what to do here.” However as facilitators I believe it’s our job to reflect the group. And you know what? If I don’t know what to do here and if I’m being the true neutral facilitator, the group probably doesn’t know what to do here and it is perfectly appropriate for me to reflect that to the group.

The other thing I’ve learned is that if I pretend to know more than I really do — if I am not genuine and transparent as a facilitator — that is not going to serve the group well. And I’m probably not going to get invited back.

So I am making an appeal for facilitator vulnerability, for facilitators to reflect the group, for facilitation transparency.

Thanks for listening everybody.

How to get a group to cut down a list

Craig explains that groups love to make lists longer but hate to make them shorter. Brainstorming “add-ons” is always fun. Cutting programs or activities is always hard. Learn how in this short video.

Here’s what Craig says in the video:

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I want to talk a little bit about how to cut a list.

This is one of the hardest things that groups ever have to do. Groups love building lists. Whenever a group makes a strategic plan or even a short term plan, basically that’s a list. When a group sets goals for the next quarter, it’s a list. When the group is planning the annual summer picnic, it’s kind of a list. “Oh, lets have this kind of food and oh, lets have that kind of food, and let’s play baseball, and hey we could also rent a jumping house, and let’s play ultimate Frisbee!”

It’s really fun in a group to add to a list and make things bigger and better. But it’s really hard when you ask a group to cut a list. “Well, you know, here’s the list of stuff that we want to do at the annual summer picnic. But we don’t have enough people or money to do all these things. What shall we take out?”

And then there’s silence. Because no one wants to be the one who says, let’s cut baseball, let’s cut hot dogs.

The trick is, if you want a group to cut a list, ask them privately.

Building lists works really well publicly, but the most effective way to cut a list is to collect the data privately. You can do this by providing a menu of options and saying, “Okay everybody, pick your top 3, or your top 5, on a piece of paper with checkmarks and then hand that piece of paper in anonymously.” It can be done by email or electronically in advance. It can be done in a number of different ways. As long as individuals don’t have to publicly report what they think should be cut.

Then somebody — maybe it’s a neutral facilitator — can report the data in the aggregate and say, “Look, I asked you all what we needed to cut out of the annual summer picnic and here’s what you said.” And when you present it that way, everybody will agree — maybe! — and you can cut your list.

So, the watch word for today is: build lists publicly, cut them privately.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions. Thanks for listening everybody.