Last year, I attended a team planning meeting for a weekend-long Ultimate Frisbee tournament.  The objective was to come up with a theme, a site design, a costume, and a game.  At the tournament, each team sets up their sites and games in a big park.  People then wander from site to site to check out what the other teams have put together and of course, to play the different games.  It’s a fun addition to the standard sports tournament format and participants put in a good effort.

Having spent the day in a boardroom for a planning session, I was very happy to sit back and let the discussion unwind on its own.  We had a few starting ideas from some earlier emails, so once everyone had arrived we opened the floor.  Fast-forward a couple of hours and we had a plan.  But had I truly sat back and taken off my moderator/facilitator hat?  Not a chance.

At no point was I at a flip chart and I certainly never ran an energizer, but thinking back I noticed that I could gently help the group to a successful end point.  And I don’t think anyone noticed.  My instinct was not to lead or drive from the front, but rather to guide from within.  I know that I helped us get to the end point and I never really “assumed control”, though a couple people thanked me as we parted ways.

When I got home after the meeting, I jotted down a few notes.  Reflecting back, here were some of the strategies that worked:

  1. Suggest Focus:  After the conversation started going in circles from idea to idea, I pushed the group to choose 3 areas to focus on, forcing us to leave behind 1 or 2 ideas that weren’t generating as much excitement.
  2. Keep the Discussion Moving:  Next we talked about each of the three areas in turn, starting with the one that seemed to be the easiest to think about.  When it felt right I moved the group onto the next theme.  Ultimately we didn’t go with any of these ideas, but this process took us to a point where we could comfortably move on.
  3. Avoid Dead Ends and Reopen the Floor:  By vocally acknowledging that we hadn’t landed on a strong theme we could open the floor for additional ideas.  This was another opportunity for people that were quieter earlier to offer new thoughts.
  4. Catch New Directions:  One person mentioned a game idea that seemed interesting on its own.  I encouraged the group to forget about themes for a while and to think about game ideas instead.
  5. Identify Feelings of Consensus: A different game idea generated a theme idea and there seemed to be some excitement.  I made sure the group felt the same way and we went with it.  Working from that new starting point the team had great thoughts and generated a strong theme, a game, a costume and a site design.
  6. Ask Clarifying Questions: The logistics of the game could be sorted out later, even on the weekend of the event, but I asked some key questions that could benefit from group discussion.  When I felt that there was something unsaid, I’d say it.

Later that evening, we all received a funny and well-written summary of the meeting from a teammate.  She started, “for those of you who weren’t there, you missed a surprisingly productive planning session.  We’ve come up with a site and game that everyone’s excited about!”

I think there is something satisfying and fulfilling about this kind of outcome.  I’ve been drawn to moderation/facilitation and there is certainly a natural reaction I have in settings like this.  It’s a combination of structure and going with the flow; the right and left-brain engaged.  If it’s done correctly, it shouldn’t hurt, and the group will feel successful.

Kerry Owen

Kerry Owen

If you’re looking for energy, creativity, inspiration and honesty, look no further. Kerry has it all neatly packaged and waiting just for you.

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