"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Meetings"

How to Ensure Effective and Efficient Meetings

At the end of our graduate class “Community Development: The Art of Facilitation and Design” with Jeanette Romkema we reflected on how principles and practices of Dialogue Education could also help ensure more effective and efficient meetings. It was eye-opening!

Most of us are involved in or will be involved in way too many meetings. Here are tips to help minimize the number of meetings we go to, maximize the use of time we have in them, and work to make these gatherings important, meaningful, and helpful.

  • Be clear about start and end times, and stick to them
  • Invite people to tend to their personal needs i.e. move around, get a coffee, etc.
  • Plan for solo thinking time
  • Practice active listening
  • Invite questions throughout
  • Name objectives and work to achieve them
  • Develop a realistic agenda and clear goals
  • Determine when it would be helpful to engage everyone to better achieve your goal(s)
  • Ensure all voices are invited in and heard
  • Ensure all content is relevant and important
  • Practice the core principles of respect, safety, inclusion, engagement, and relevance
  • Set guidelines, if necessary and helpful
  • Name who will do what, and by when, for each action item. Make sure this information is recorded in the minutes to ensure accountability
  • Start meeting by checking action items from past meeting(s)
  • Keep numbers to a minimum; ask “Who really needs to be at this meeting?”
  • Allow for “space” in the agenda for items that may take more time than expected
  • Be aware of different learning preferences and multiple intelligences, and make room for them
  • Welcome people as they enter (even if they are late)
  • Select or arrange the venue to enhance the meeting and dialogue (not distract)
  • Share the agenda in advance of the meeting and invite input
  • Ask “Do we really need to have this meeting?” If not, don’t.

What can you add to this list?

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Steve MacDouell, Raymond Lo, Demola Orekoya, Zoe Zhao, Liesl Thomas, Ruth Bartlett, Jelle Koersen, and Mary Gorombey are graduate students at Wycliffe College, of the University of Toronto.

Changing Adult Learning… in Meetings!

I took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course with Global Learning Partners (GLP) in October 2017. The most powerful take-away for me was to think about what the learners will be doing with the content rather than what I will be saying or presenting.

Perhaps it is my love of theater and dramatic arts, but I can easily spend hours practicing what I will say for an upcoming presentation. I make my PowerPoint slides colorful, fun, use a lot of pictures, and work hard to keep the energy up. I work as the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry program. In a nutshell, I teach people about invasive forest insects such as the emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle. I enjoy working with youth because I can make my workshops and presentations interactive. When it comes to adults, I feel like everyone is expected to sit in rows of uncomfortable chairs and listen to me “wa, wa, wa” at the front of the room. However, for me as a learner I can’t sit for long and my mind starts to turn to mush after about a half an hour of listening to someone talk.

Using the learning-centered 4A Model (Anchor-Add-Apply-Away) for developing a learning event has been incredibly helpful for transforming these adult workshops (I’ve stopped calling them presentations!) into intentional, dialogue-based, learning events. The results have been extremely positive.

Last month, I decided to take it one step further. We had a big meeting coming up with all our partners in Vermont that help support my work as Forest Pest Education Coordinator. Historically, this meeting has not been exciting. I literally read off the annual report I’d submitted for the grant that supports my position. We usually have one person who “leads” the meeting and there has been some discussion.

This time I suggested to my supervisor that I facilitate the meeting and incorporate some of what I learned during the GLP course I had taken. I took the topics that I was planning to “cover” and turned each one into a learning task or a “share out.” For example, I have hired a company to make a whiteboard animation video that covers the importance of not moving firewood – invasive insects can travel in firewood, so we ask that you buy it where you burn it.) I wanted to get input from the partners at the meeting before talking to the company about the video content. So, in pairs, I asked the group to “create a visual representation on chart paper of what you would like to see in a one-minute video on the importance of buying local firewood.” I was surprised at how well it worked! The pairs were talking, laughing, and drawing on their paper. The ideas they shared were incredibly useful for me and I’ve incorporated their thoughts into the first draft of the whiteboard video’s script.    

Everyone at the meeting had an agenda in front of them that listed each learning task and used learner-centered language. Here are some excerpts:

     From our coming together exercise:

Today is the darkest day of the year and a time for reflection. These short, cold days can stir up a lot of unease. Take a moment to consider what is sustaining you in your work right now and what is draining you.

     From a section on outreach at private campgrounds in Vermont:

Listen to a brief review on private campground outreach from 2017. Take a look at the map example from last summer’s work and the written Best Management Practices. What kind of outreach to private campgrounds will lead us to the change in behavior we are hoping for?

Having the language written right there on the agenda not only helps the learning experience at the meeting, but I also figured it would be a clever way of sharing a more engaging way of meeting and learning with my colleagues. Here they can see how it is done and the simple ways they might change some of the language and structure of their meetings and workshops. Sharing what I learned is really important to me. I have absolutely enjoyed applying the principles of a learning-centered approach to my work, but I’d love to see others try it too.

The next morning after the meeting, I received an email from one of the participants. She wrote, “Just wanted to say how refreshing yesterday’s meeting was. You managed to cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half, and engage a normally reticent group.” I was smiling from ear-to-ear! That was exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping to hear.

What do you do in your meetings to help engage everyone?

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Meredith Whitney (Meredith.Whitney@uvm.edu) is the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with UVM Extension. She lives in Moretown, Vermont where she enjoys going for long walks and dreams of having a goat farm.

PHOTO: At the end of the meeting, everyone got their photo taken with an interactive banner that was designed last year for forest pest outreach. Look at those happy Asian long-horned beetles!

Four Questions to Transform Your Meetings

It just appeared in your calendar — the mysterious 1.5-hour meeting. You are one of eight invitees. The attached agenda has four topics you’ve heard something about around the office. You click “accept” and quietly say goodbye to 1.5 hours. 

At Global Learning Partners, we teach practical tools for planning and leading effective meetings — the kind you want to click “accept” on.  But let’s face it, you are not always the one planning and leading the meeting! 

So, for all the invitees out there, here are four questions you can ask (nicely!) to transform the quality of your contribution to meetings.

BEFORE THE MEETING

1.      Why are you bringing me in for this meeting? People often EXPAND meeting invite lists unnecessarily. Sometimes for that buzzy prize we call “buy in”. Sometimes, just to be sure they are not excluding someone. But, the best meetings are the ones where the invitees have an important stake in the topic. What’s an important stake? Your input is required. You will need to make the decision, and therefore need to hear the perspectives of the group. You will be required to take action on the outcome of the meeting.

This question is not just to get yourself out of the meeting. It is to clarify what your stake in it is. So, when you are invited and really don’t know what your stake is in the topic at hand, pick up the phone and ask the meeting owner! He/she should be able to clarify it for you, and if not, begging off saves your time and everyone else’s.

“Hi Mike, this meeting for Tuesday just showed up on my calendar. I am not really clear about why I am being invited. Can you tell me why you are bringing me in? Is there something specific you will want from me on these topics?"

2.      Which agenda items will you want my input on? Sometimes, meeting agendas have a host of topics. Perhaps topics 1 and 2 are relevant for everyone, but the other topics are not.  If that is the situation, you can suggest joining for the relevant segments. That might encourage the meeting owner to arrange the agenda to accommodate the relevant “guests,” or even breaking it into two shorter meetings for different groups.

"Hi Susan. There are four topics on the agenda. I don’t think I am involved in all of them, but wanted to check with you so I can be prepared. Which of these agenda items will you want my input on? "

DURING THE MEETING

3.      What will we be doing or deciding with this topic? We recommend that meeting planners map out “achievements,” rather than agenda items. An agenda item is something like this: “New Campaign Poster Design.” An achievement looks like this, “by the end of the session we will have reviewed the new poster design and offered suggestions for the next draft.” If your meeting owner doesn’t specify the achievement, this question can help him/her to define it. He/she likely has one in mind. This helps the whole group to focus on the task at hand, and can avoid a long presentation — or an unfocused discussion — about the poster.

“Just so I know how to focus my comments here, can you tell me what we will be doing or deciding with this topic?"

4.      What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? It is all too common to end a discussion without confirming what just got decided and who is taking the lead on it. You may feel relief to move onto the next topic, but watch out! If we didn’t get to a finish, this item is going to come back as another meeting to have the same discussion. So, as you move from one agenda item to the next, use this question to confirm where the group has landed.

“Before we move on, I am not sure what just got decided here. What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? Who is taking the lead on that?”

What tricks do you have to transform the meetings you attend?

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Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

Getting Some Juice from the Data Chart

Numbers have a whole world of information beneath them. Making decisions on numbers alone can get you into trouble.

At a recent meeting to evaluate and adapt the pilot of a six-week online course, my colleague Jeanette Romkema and I shared the numbers about level of completion and typical number of comments participants made each week. We used a simple line chart and recreated the chart on the wall using yarn and push pins. One participant suggested we add more data — the amount of time each person dedicated to the course work (both online and on the job). Each team estimated their time and we added a new line to our chart. That led to new comparisons and insights.

The group annotated the chart, filling in what was going on for each person in their work world, and in the course itself.

Some things, we already knew. We knew that Week 3, which had low levels of completion, was a shorter week. We did not know that for some people, that was the week where they invested a much larger amount of time offline, with their agency partners debating the direction they would take.

We knew that the closing face-to-face gathering created a pressure for participants to move through their assignments and be ready to share their work. We did not know that this meant they would minimize their “comment time” and that they did not feel ready to post their assignments online before the meeting.

Participants learned too. They said that some aspects of the work had not been fully explained. As they analyzed their own work in the course, they learned that they really had not done all the reading in the first weeks, and that created more confusion for them than others experienced.

As people described their own experiences, and annotated our wall chart, we ended up standing around the chart, and digging into the story that was emerging. The chart, which started as numbers on a wall, became a much fuller story and provided a rich backdrop to the decisions we took that afternoon.

What techniques do you use to fill in the story around your data?

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Christine Little is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

Participatory Decision-Making* : Dot-mocracy

Often when you are faced with a number of good ideas in a meeting, it is impossible or even undesirable to choose just one from a list of brainstormed options. Multi-voting is one way to poll the support that group members have for multiple options. To facilitate it, do the following:

  1. List the various choices on separate wall charts.
  2. Ask people to express their relative preferences by placing stickers or dots (hence “Dot-ocracy”) next to their preferred choices. Each person can choose to put all of their votes on one option or spread their votes over several options.
  3. Tally the number of dots that each option received to get a sense of the group’s combined preferences.

Multi-voting is good for taking a “quick read” of where the group is at, but take care to provide enough time for discussion in situations where understanding differences of opinion is important. Two further cautions:

  • Pay careful attention to how many votes each person gets. Generally, the number of votes per person can be calculated by dividing the number of choices by 3 (n/3).
  • Be careful not to assume that the “winning” option is automatically the group’s preference since the difference between two competing options may not be statistically significant. For example, if Option A received 39 votes, and Option B received 37, for all intents and purposes, it is a tie and the group would do well to acknowledge that choosing one over the other is really only meeting the preference of about half of the group.

 

Where/when may this tool be helpful?

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Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

5 Tips for Working in Large Groups

Dialogue Education can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with large groups.
  1. Match the WHERE with the WHO. When you know you have a large group coming to an event it is critical to find a space to allow everyone to sit and move around comfortably,  which enables you to easily work in groups. The learning environment has a direct impact on what types of tasks you can execute and how. If you have no control of the space,  limit the number of people. If you have no control of either,  find ways to have groups move to other nearby spaces for various tasks or portions of tasks.
  2. Sample. When work,  debate,  and engagement with new content has happened in groups,  there is no need to share everything again in the large group. The learning has already happened;  the time in the large group can be used to hear a summary of the work,  OR general observations about what happened,  OR pressing questions. This can be done by quantifying the responses (e.g. “Let’s hear one idea from each small group”) or hearing a few examples of what was discussed (e.g. “We’ll hear a few of your strategies”). Long periods of time talking in the large group can de-energize,  give select (often articulate and powerful) people time to talk, and exclude many voices.
  3. Use individual or reflective work. In addition to small group work,  time to work independently can help learners to individualize the learning by analyzing how it fits within their context and planning how they will use what they are learning. It can be helpful to follow up individual work by hearing a sample from the group.
  4. Ensure safety. Many learners do not feel comfortable sharing within a large group setting,  unless safety is well established. When facilitating dialogue or sampling within the large group,  invite participation but don’t require it (those who want to speak up will),  give lots of affirmation to those who do contribute without taking anything away from those who don’t,  have opportunities for learners to share in small groups or pairs before sharing in the large group and begin with open questions that invite dialogue about topics familiar to the learners.
  5. Use more pair,  trio and small group activities. The best way to raise all voices,  engage everyone at the same time,  and make all learners feel included is by using pair,  trio or small group work. Learning happens when new content is challenged,  debated and used. Reducing the size of a group by dividing it up is a great way to do this. It is also very energizing!

What has been helpful for you in working with large groups?

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