Different Angles 9: Using Questions to Move Meetings Forward

Issue 9: October 2018

In This Issue

  • Using Curiosity-Based Questions to Move Meetings Forward
  • Upcoming PCC Workshops: Creative Problem Solving, Building Mutual Respect and Trust
  • Featured Training: Running Focused, Engaged Meetings

Know somebody who would benefit from reading this eNewsletter?  Please forward the link to them.  Thanks!

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Happy fall. I hope you are enjoying the transformation autumn brings, and harvesting from seeds you and others planted earlier in the year (both literally and figuratively).

I have spent a lot of time in the last few years training and coaching facilitators and facilitation teams.  This has led me to develop some new resources to support that critical work, and I want to share some of them with you.

I would love your feedback as I share some of this new work; let me know what does and doesn’t feel useful, and what areas you might want me to expand on. I am particularly curious about whether the exercises/support materials feel like something you can use on your own, as I am intending.

Please call or email me if you have questions about any of what you read here, or want to talk about what emerges when you use any of these ideas; I very much enjoy those conversations and appreciate the opportunity to clarify or help you sort out how to use them in your particular context.

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Using Curiosity-Based Questions to Move Meetings Forward

All of us have experienced meetings that bog down, get derailed, or run aground.  Sometimes it’s pretty dramatic, and sometimes it’s just a more extreme version of business as usual; but regardless, it is demoralizing and generally makes it hard to accomplish the work you intended to do.  This can happen for many reasons, and it can be hard to figure out the whys, so it is important to have tools for getting things moving in a useful way again, even when you are not entirely clear about what’s happening.

There are many good facilitation tools for this repair/refocus work.  A few of my favorites are:

  • Ask curiosity-based questions.
  • Reflect back a pattern you think you are seeing (and then check in to see if others are perceiving it too).
  • Propose a process to help the group move forward. (See my handout on Different Formats for Meetings).
  • Ask participants to reflect back what they thought they heard, or what they think they understand, to head off “disagreements” based on misunderstandings (happens way more often than you think).
  • Legitimize differences and help people hear each other – by restating what you are hearing people say while stating clearly that there is value in their different perspectives.
  • Provide empathy (acknowledge with compassion, not judgement, that they are having strong feelings, and be clear that you want to know what’s important to them about this).
  • Use visuals – wall sheets, white board, smart board, to capture key information, keep people clear on what is going on, and ensure that participants feel seen and heard.
  • Be clear about what you are asking people to do/decide.

The rest of this article and exercise are focused on that first tool; asking curiosity-based questions.

Here is a link to a list of curiosity-based questions sorted by need/function.  For instance, there are questions to use when you need more clarity, when you need to build consensus, etc.  They are designed to engage your curiosity, and that of the other participants in the meeting, and, in doing so, help the group move forward in more useful ways.  (If the link doesn’t work, the URL to paste into your browser is http://www.tasha-harmon.com/pdf/Using_What_Questions_to_Move_Mtgs_Forward.pdf.)

You can simply use that list when you are facilitating, or participating in, meetings, or you can do the exercise below, by yourself or with others, as a capacity building exercise.

Exercise:

  1. Think about a time a meeting got bogged down, derailed, or ran aground.
  2. If you are doing this in a group, share those examples, and pick one to start with.
  3. Look at the list of questions and try to find at least 3 that might have helped move the meeting forward.
  4. If you are doing this in a group, discuss the implications of this, and how you might use the list in meetings. (If you are working alone, reflect on this last question.)

Note: When you are using these questions in meetings:

  • Use questions you are actually curious about.
  • Make up your own questions – again, the criteria is “what are you actually curious about here?” Use open-ended questions that will spark lists and dialogue (rather than yes/no questions) and be careful not to ask questions that are judgements in disguise.
  • Follow up initial questions with more questions (“What else?” is often a good choice) until you feel like you have surfaced what needs to surface to be able to move forward. Usually, we rush to “solutions/fixes” too soon and end up missing critical information.
  • Offer empathy before asking questions if feelings are running high. When people feel seen and heard they are less likely to respond to a question defensively.
  • If you are too triggered to actually be curious, take a break or hand off facilitation; these questions won’t work well if they are not coming from a genuine place of curiosity.

Join the conversation…

  • What was your experience trying this out?
  • What other tools do you use to support groups in moving through challenging spots in meetings?

You can ask questions, share your experiences, and be part of the conversation at the bottom of the page.

Pass it on!

If you know people you think might find this article useful, please feel free to forward this newsletter to them using the link at the bottom. Thanks!

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Upcoming Workshops at PCC

I am doing two workshops through PCC’s continuing education division in the next few months:

  • Creative Problem Solving on Tuesday, November 6th from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at PCC’s CLIMB Center, room 301. (Please note that the location is wrong in the print catalogue.)
  • Building Mutual Respect and Trust on Tuesday, March 5th from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at PCC’s CLIMB Center, room 307.

They are $29 each, and you do need to pre-register through PCC.

You can find more details on the Workshops page of this website.

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Featured Training: Running Focused, Engaged Meetings

Are you building a facilitation team in your group? Or do you want everyone you work with to have a shared framework and some good tools for meeting facilitation?

This workshop gives participants a strong, basic toolkit for excellent meeting facilitation. Topics include when to meet and when not to, building strong agendas and other important meeting preparation, clarifying rules for and roles in decision-making, tools for keeping meetings focused while still engaging all participants in useful ways, dealing with problematic meeting behaviors, and others.

I’m offering the three-hour version of this workshop for $350 inside the Portland Metro Region (outside the region I add travel expenses). It is an inspiring and practical introduction to the framework and a few key tools, and will give participants what they need to start making changes. Longer versions, that provide more tools and more opportunity for practice and application to existing challenges, are also available.  This workshop can also be done as part of a larger package of training and coaching for facilitators.

You can lock in the $350 price by getting the training scheduled by December 5th — it can happen anytime before June 1st, 2019.

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Looking for in-house training designed to meet the specific needs of your staff or board?

My approach to training integrates approaches from organizational development and coaching to give you powerful new tools to address the specific goals and challenges you are facing.

What People Say (from workshop evaluations):

“A very different way of viewing and dealing with difficulties. It was rewarding and had very good results.”

“(provided)…new paths toward solutions — clearing away the clutter”

“Gives you tangible tools to use on your own.”

“Exceeded my expectations”

You’ll find more about my approach to training on the website. Please contact me to talk about your needs and what I can offer.

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Organizational Assessments and Other Support

Does your organization need support dealing with internal challenges – difficult communication, process design or implementation problems, staff (or board) retention issues, conflict, lack of trust within (or between) staff (and/or board)?

Do you need to build soft skills such as evaluation, coaching, facilitation, delegation, or decision-making?

I have deep experience and a strong toolkit, drawn from both organizational development and co-active coaching.  That experience now includes 3 years of using Sam Kaner’s protocol for Organizational Diagnosis, the most powerful tool I know of for moving through deep-seated and difficult internal issues.

If you would like to discuss what I could bring to your organization or team, please contact me.  You will also find an overview of my services and experience on the services page of this website.

© Tasha Harmon, October 2018. All rights reserved.

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