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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.