Preparing for a Team Session


201905The success of team events or sessions can be more predictable when facilitators gather information from invited participants and stakeholders before planning the agenda, activities, and presentations.  Knowing more about the current issues and expectations can greatly enhance your chances of ensuring the team faces what they need to focus on and deal with that in a constructive way.

The free resource I am sharing today (from googledrive) is a list of pre-session interview questions which could help you get a good foundation about the team: what is working, what could be better and how each of the interviewees sees the situations faced by the team.

Click here to access the list of interview questions 

Some important notes about pre-session interviews:

  • If the team members do not know you (the facilitator) yet, be sure to introduce yourself to each interviewee and mention your role in the upcoming planned session. They may have additional questions about your background and experience in this area and why you are working on the planned session. Be prepared to summarize these points before you get into the interview.
  • Make sure you can explain to what degree the responses will be confidential. You would typically want to share a summary of responses with the session attendees to help set the scene on the day and perhaps use that to initiate a discussion or lead into an activity to address something that was mentioned by several participants during the interview. Will you be word-smithing the responses to protect the identity of interviewees? Or will you share the raw data? You need to be transparent about that.
  • Why are you asking? Be sure to explain how the answers and responses will be used to plan the session and help the team move forward and past any obstacles that may be holding them back.
  • Let them know upfront that their questions about the session will be answered during their time with you (the interview).
  • Will you interview individuals or groups of individuals that work in a specific department or functional group? Think this through carefully with regards to the advantages and disadvantages of this choice before you make that decision.  I usually recommend that the number of session participants is no more than about 20 – 25 people and I prefer to know each individual’s responses before I finalize my planning for the session. This means I interview each person separately. But I can also imagine that the team/project culture and approach could make it useful to interview small sub-groups within the team.
  • In person or online? I prefer to do the interviews in person to allow me the opportunity to ask follow-up questions on the spot. Sitting with someone and talking through the questions gives you the opportunity to also watch their reactions or pauses after each question. This can indicate whether some topics may be sensitive to the interviewee and again you could choose to ask more questions to better understand the issues at hand.
  • The right number of questions. It is important that the interviews do not become exhausting. Accept that you will not be able to ask every single question that you may have for the planned participants before the session. Some questions are best worked out by the group at the session. Be very selective and critical – ask only questions which will help you prepare for the session. The interviews are not intended to replace the planned group/team session.

The questions in the resource range from understanding expectations to identifying possible issues that the team needs to address and includes some questions which may help with understanding possible risks that identified obstacles could pose to team success.  Some of the questions are also specifically there to help a planned participant envisage himself or herself being a positive contributor to the success of the session.

I do not suggest that all of the questions would be relevant to every session that you would plan, as the facilitator. Instead, I suggest that you use the ones that make the most sense for the session you are working on and feel free to add additional questions as needed in order to improve your understanding in the relevant areas that the session needs to cover.

Finally, it is important to realize that just the fact that you are asking questions and providing interviewees an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and impressions is in itself already a change management intervention. You are setting the scene for the session and helping to shape participation before the session. This could greatly enhance group dynamics and ensure the success of the planned session.

 

 

Team Exercise – This Picture Shows…


pix-final

This exercise is very popular with those who prefer working with images and pictures to express and represent their thoughts and feelings. While others may at first seem dubious about the exercise, my experience is that images and imagery often open up new ways of communicating, which could bring a creative element to your event and in the end everyone typically enjoys participating in this exercise.

The set-up is simple and the exercise does not take up a lot of time. It is also very versatile in the sense that you can use it in quite a number of different ways to get feedback and input from those you are working with in your event (training, meeting, workshop etc.)  I am sharing some specific options for you as facilitator to consider, but once you start getting creative with it, I am sure you will find many more applications for this exercise.

Tip: when it comes to selecting pictures read through my suggestions at the bottom of the instructions, but also get creative or brainstorm with a creative coworker or friend to create or find pictures that may “speak” to your participants given the context of the event or session(s) where this exercise is to be used. If you often facilitate sessions you will probably build up a good set of images to use for an exercise such as this one. More  “out of the box” (unusual) images could potentially lead to richer feedback from individuals to start group/team discussions. This could lead to vastly increased understanding of issues by participants.

The information you need for this group or team activity/exercise is shown below:

this-picture-shows-1

this-picture-shows-2

this-picture-shows-3

this-picture-shows-4

this-picture-shows-5

this-picture-shows-6

Change Management – Setting the scene with senior leaders


change-mgt-overview-blog-pic

Before any organizational change is launched there has to be meetings with executives and senior leaders to ensure alignment around the reason(s) and main principles of the change initiative. Meeting objectives would also typically include getting their support for executing change activities and to help them understand expectations of them as executives and senior leaders during the change period and beyond.

Resource shared – slides in pdf format

The resource I am sharing is a deck of slides in pdf format. These can be used as a basis for creating your messages to senior leaders and executives. There are slides that help explain how change will likely impact the organization and the people plus slides explaining how leaders can help by being role models and also by actively addressing resistance and other signs of low engagement in those around them. I would suggest using this resource as optional examples to help communicate the specific messages that makes sense for the change management initiative that you may be leading and the meeting participants/audience that you will be facing.

Here are the steps I would suggest you follow:

  1. Be clear on the reasons that your change initiative need to be implemented and how the changes will improve on status quo. (Business case or burning platform)
  2. Did you get executive buy-in from one or more sponsors before your presentation? (Highly recommended – in fact, do not proceed until you have it!)
  3. Consider the presentation you will be doing – who will be there? What do they know and what do you need them to know, understand and do once they leave the presentation?
  4. What impact will the planned changes likely have on the employees at your company and how do you think your targeted audience can help and should act/behave given the change process and desired outcomes?
  5. Review the slides in the resource I am sharing and determine if any of them could help you and support the messages that you would like to communicate to the audience that you will be facing.

Of course these slides are not going to substitute the preparation work you need to do before starting a change initiative, but they may be helpful to use as background or to explain some of the specific change management aspects that may be of particular importance to your audience.

 

Ice Breaker for international teams


all hands2

In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and at other international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives. You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.

The ice breaker for international teams resource link.

The ice breaker  can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but participating from a different office. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches). When I think of cultures I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)

The resource/ice breaker that I share lists several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.

Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project.  Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.

 

Meeting Energizers – Examples


energy

Business meetings or group events can be exhausting especially if they span several days and contain mostly sessions where presentations are made and do not have any or many interactive sessions. It can be challenging to keep meeting participants engaged and energized during such meetings and it is not uncommon to spot people struggling to keep their eyes open during long afternoon sessions. The first session after lunch can be especially tough and don’t forget the impact of jet-lag on participants from other time-zones.

Business Meeting Energizers resource link

The Business Meeting Energizers resource shows some activities that can be done with meeting participants to help them feel re-energized during a meeting. These short exercises are best done between agenda items and can take anything from 2 to 7 minutes to complete so they are not a major disruption to your planned agenda. You would typically need an open space where participants can gather for these exercises. This space could be in the front between the projection screen and the first tables/chairs or it could be in the back of the room behind the last tables and chairs.  It is a good idea to mention that you need this space when you arrange the set-up of the room.

As the leader of the meeting or the facilitator you should always have a few of these quick energizer exercises on a sheet of paper or in the back of your mind to use on the spot. When you notice that the energy and responsiveness of the group is dropping you should be able to quickly conduct an energizing exercise to revive the energy and the alertness of the group attending your event or business meeting.

Planning Effective Meetings Template


meetin

One of the most frustrating elements of many managers’ calendars are meetings. If you ask people they typically feel there are too many people present, the meetings take too long, some individuals talk too much, many people are off-topic and unprepared plus there are no or few decisions made which leads to a general feeling that there is no clear agreed path forward. This tool I am sharing helps a chairperson to prepare for a meeting and communicate the specific objectives of the meeting and also for every agenda item.

Some of the meeting maladies mentioned above can be cured simply by creating and distributing an agenda before having a meeting. This tool goes further though – it also helps to create clarity around each agenda item’s purpose in informing participants or driving specific decisions to move a project or initiatives forward.

Planning Effective Meetings Template

The tool already contains an example to illustrate its use. Just replace the agenda items shown with your own meeting agenda items and then complete each column as demonstrated to clarify the person responsible for the agenda item, the purpose of each item, the allocated time and the expected outcome for each of the agenda items.  Do share the objectives, time available and expected outcomes with those who are assigned to each agenda item – it helps him or her be prepared to guide the conversation and discussion accordingly.

Even with an agenda and a well-planned meeting there may be times when things need to change as it becomes clear that an issue requires to be solved right-away.  Give yourself the leeway to abandon the agenda for a particular meeting to deal with such an important issue or set another meeting right after the planned meeting to address the issue. To continue with a planned meeting simply because it was planned makes no sense if everyone in the room knows that an important issue is not being addressed and there is no plan to address it urgently. Their minds would be on the other issue and you would most likely not have the level of participation you need to successfully go through your planned meeting.

Some successful chairpersons make use of meeting “agreements” or “ground rules” to further improve the quality of the meeting. Some have items such as “each speaker gets a maximum of 1 minute to make his or her point” and “we debate issues and we respect the opinions of others.”

To know if your meetings are getting better – get feedback from your meeting participants. Take a few minutes at the end of the meeting to ask what went well and what could be better in future – exactly how. Reviewing the feedback when you plan the next meeting can help you to be mindful of further improvements that can be included going forward.

I hope this tool helps you plan your next meeting and move closer to having productive meetings which helps you progress your project or initiative as you had hoped.