Blog

Quality Improvement
  • Where Are the Ground Rules When We Need Them?

    It is more and more common that when groups are forming, they create ground rules as guides for productive behavior. Many ground rules are similar: Start on time, end on time, disagree respectfully, don't interrupt each other, listen deeply, stay on topics, no attribution of who said what, etc. Some groups have just a few and others have a long list.

    What happens to the list of ground rules after that first meeting? Usually the ground rules are buried in the meeting notes never to be seen again. They are not too useful in that state.

    I like to have the ground rules on a piece of battered flip chart paper that I bring to every meeting I facilitate with the group. (I have often forgotten to bring the ground rules and then regretted not having them.)  If people start interrupting each other or getting off track, I can use the ground rules we created together to help people adjust their behavior. I can just go and stand by the list and sometimes that's enough to make people aware of behavior that is not what the group hopes for. I sometimes remind groups of the ground rules which can easily be forgotten in the heat of a discussion. Sometimes I ask the group frankly: "We have a ground rule that we are not observing. Do we want to change it or get rid of it?" 

    It is a delicate balance between coming off as a jerk and being a gentle shepherd of the process. That's why it's so important that the group create its own ground rules. As a group facilitator or leader, you are helping them observe their own rules, not yours.

    Every group violates its own ground rules sooner or later. We are all human beings. The point is that when we do slip up, we apologize, correct ourselves and keep going forward. The healthier the group, the greater the likelihood individuals will self-correct when their ground rules are violated.

    One group at Maricopa Community Colleges has its ground rules printed on the back of members' name tents, so they are always in close sight. A group at Madison College has its ground rules posted in its conference room. Another option is to have the ground rules at the bottom of every agenda.

    Ground rules can be a useful guide to shaping group norms and behavior, but only when they are in plain sight.

  • Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life!

    Most strategic plans are never implemented. Organizations may put a great deal of time and effort into creating a strategic plan and then neglect to implement it.

    To paraphrase author Patrick Below, the purpose of planning is not to create plans. The purpose of planning is to create results.

    I have watched my clients create amazing results with planning and intentional implementation activities. Now I have put everything I know that works for making the plan happen into one book, Bringing Your Strategic Plan to Life: A Guide for Nonprofits and Public Agencies (iUniverse, 2011). The book is just out on Amazon and lists for $13.95. I wanted to keep the price as low as possible so organizations could purchase multiple copies for leaders and board members. This book is short on theory and long on what to do right now. I provided a lot of space for taking notes and filling in the questions, forms and formats. I hope readers will mark it up with highlighters and notes to themselves and really make this resource their own.

  • Planning Ahead for Difficult Meetings

    Have a difficult meeting coming up? Here are 16 questions to ask yourself as you prepare.

    Successful meetings, especially those that are potentially difficult or high stakes, require advance planning and preparation. Following is a list of questions to think through before the meeting begins.

    1. Are the purposes and expected product(s) of the meeting crystal clear?
    2. Is the agenda “actionable” In other words, are the items written as verbs—decide, review, recommend, discuss, select?
    3. Is the room arrangement optimal for the work at hand?
    4. Are the right people included?
    5. Are ground rules agreed upon?
    6. Is it clear up front how the final decision(s) will be made (consensus, voting, secret ballot, etc.)?
    7. Are planning and decision-making tools used (affinity process, dots, criteria matrix, etc.)?
    8. Has the group identified the characteristics of a good decision (least expensive, reaches a particular group, reflects our values, etc.)?
    9. Are basic meeting roles shared (leader, facilitator, scribe, timekeeper)?
    10. Is a neutral outside facilitator used for highly emotional discussions or decisions?
    11. Is time allotted for silent independent writing before group discussion?
    12. For large groups, is discussion begin first in smaller groups, then the larger body?
    13. Are appreciative questions posed (What has gone well? What do we want to continue doing? What values do we want to hold onto as we move forward?)?
    14. Have processes been built in to ensure that everyone can participate (round robin responses, 3 x 5 cards, interviews in pairs, World Cafe)?
    15. Have we tapped into the power of the visual (discussion questions posted on wall or screen, voting with dots, data displayed graphically)?
    16. Have we discussed security?

    Finally, if you walk into a meeting and there is no agenda prepared, suggest that one be created on the spot. At least one organization I know of has empowered any employee to decline or even walk out of a meeting that has no agenda. Who has time to waste?