The interesting thing about people in groups is that they can tend to get into ‘groupthink’ or ‘follow-the-leader mentality’. Through our schooling system we have been very well trained to sit, be quiet and listen to the person at the front of the room. We also learnt how to repeat recalled information and to assess our contribution against the rest of the class. These traits are important for mass schooling and crowd control but can leave some people fearful of developing and expressing their own thoughts and ideas. From a process point of view there are a couple of other reasons for going around in circles:
1) The framing of the meeting has not adequately captured the intent; 2) The people in the meeting are not willing to go deeper
This article will deal with (1) and a follow-up article will look at (2).
One simple technique for facilitators or leaders of groups is to consider the typical meeting agenda. Before we do that let’s try an experiment…
What comes to mind when I say ‘rabbit’ …in a room full of people it is likely we will get some similar responses and some varied responses as well. What comes to mind when I say ‘what will we feed the rabbit today?” ….we may get some variance but we are much closer to the key thread of the conversation.
Back to agendas … Typical agenda items have a static single word (e.g. Finance). These give people very little to focus on before the meeting and very little way to check if they have dealt with the issue during the meeting. The result is that different people have different interpretations as to what the issue is and whether it has been dealt with. The result is increased pressure on the chair to keep it all on track.
TIP: Put the agenda item into a question (e.g.: Are we on track to meet our quarterly target?). This approach gives the group a very specific focus before the meeting. Any pre-reading now has a purpose and is a search for information to answer the question. Putting the agenda item into a question also tells the group when the question is answered and it is time to move on.
NOTE: Any tool can be manipulated, so you need to be clear that the way you framed the question ensures you are not trying to get the answer you want, e.g.: ‘How quickly can we implement the new program approach?’ If you are still deciding what approach you are going for, then this is a leading question.
The interesting thing about using questions is that your brain cannot help but look for answers … if you don’t believe me, I'm wondering ‘what was the key insight for you in this article?’