Posts Tagged ‘facilitation’

Running a Community Meeting for Burn Blue

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

So first, some background.

In May 2007, a few of us started a not for profit in Seattle to promote blues dancing. We called it Burn Blue. It was my first take at helping to shape not just a team, not just a project, but a whole company. It’s been fun and a huge learning experience for me.

Burn Blue runs a weekly blues dance in Seattle. As such its success or failure completely depends on the dance community in Seattle that come to it. We’ve been really successful in reaching out to this community, and Burn Blue has done really well because of it.

I’ve personally had a lot of fun guiding Burn Blue toward being more community driven & transparent. I love this fuzzy stuff.

Fast forward to last weekend. I was running Burn Blue’s community meeting. We had promised people pancakes and a voice in Burn Blue’s future, and 35 people showed up.

There were however, a lot of challenges :
1. It was a lot of people, a lot of new people, people that hadn’t necessarily been to a community meeting before, people that didn’t necessarily know what Burn Blue was about.
2. There was a lot of information that we as directors wanted to get across to them about changes that we had made.
3. We wanted the people there to feel that this was THEIR meeting, that Burn Blue was there for THEM, and not the other way around.
4. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We wanted to make sure that we discovered any other important things that needed to be addressed.
4. We wanted to actually get stuff done. We wanted actionable items out of the meeting along with the names of people who would do them.
5. We only had 3 hours.

Long story short, we did it right.

The directors and officers (all 5 of us) had met previously and talked about what we wanted to put into the meeting. We set a very rough agenda and recorded a few things that we wanted to hit. More importantly, we practiced setting an agenda in that meeting and working through it.

We had a big [Visible Agenda] and wrote ours down on a huge post it. It looked something like this :

  • 1:00pm – arriving, eating pancakes
  • 1:30pm – where are we? (temperature & retrospective)
  • 2:00pm – burn blue structure
  • 2:15pm – going over people’s input
  • intermediate lesson
  • venue
  • improving feedback
  • security

Basically, people got there and milled around a bit while we helped -topher with pancakes (this was in our house). Around 1:30, when the pancakes still weren’t done, I called everyone’s attention together and gave them a couple jobs while they continued to eat and talk.

First, I wanted to get a group [Temperature]. I had written down Burn Blue’s 4 part mission on a giant post it and I drew a line to the right of each for part for people to judge us on.

Second, I had two more giant post its with the classic “keep” / “change” from retrospectives for people to add things to.

This was all information gathering, so I let the [Participants Write]. I also gave them an expectation that part of the meeting would last about half an hour.

Half an hour later, the formal part of the meeting started. We explained a little bit about what burn blue was. Then we started to go through what people had written down.

Karissa, my wife, who’s also a director, saw people beginning to get excited and start talking over each other, and she suggested a few [Ground Rules]. We as a group settled on [Use Gestures], [One Conversation], and [No Stories]. We also hadn’t actually set an end time for the meeting, so I asked people when they wanted to end. We decided that 4pm would make the most sense.

As we talked about the temperature sheet and the keep and change sheets, we wrote down things that we needed to talk about onto the [Visible Agenda]. We almost used it as a [Parking Lot] for everything until after we were done going through the input we’d gotten already.

And on it went. We found, as we’d hoped, that a lot of the things that we (the directors) had wanted to talk about were also concerns of the community. There were also several things that we hadn’t thought about.

We kept going. Our [Ground Rules] kept us focused. Pretty early on, I asked the group for the authority to play “Time Nazi” as we had close to 20 agenda items to go through and less than 2 hours left. When we went over 5 minutes on an item, I’d let people know, but some items were important enough to keep talking about, some weren’t.

We jumped around a bit on the agenda. Several times, the same person that brought up an agenda item conceded that it probably wasn’t as important as another one, and we went in roughly order of importance, crossing off agenda items as we covered them.

We ended up finishing the meeting at 4pm, deciding to leave the last few agenda items uncovered until the next meeting in a few months. As we had talked about each item, we had also been adding to another [Big Visible Chart], our [Action Items].

People left the meeting (though many stuck around to hang out) with a feeling of excitement and ownership. A feeling that things had just gotten better, that they had been heard and they had helped that to happen, knowing what their next actions were. The meeting was a total success.

For my part, I’ve been working a lot on lately and have had all these awesome patterns swimming around my mind. I called up several for this meeting. And had done so previously for the directors just before. This helped made the facilitation of the meeting into a joint effort.

It was really fun to take the reigns and pull out patterns that fit and customize them to the situation. I’m looking forward to our next meeting.

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I’ve been working on for a while now. I’m hoping that it will eventually become a book.

You should check it out if you’re interested in facilitation, and that includes running a meeting, a standup, a retrospective, a release planning session, a quickstart, or even just brainstorming holiday plans with your family.

I have ~ 50 patterns up there already, but most are not fleshed out beyond a short summary. Though expect more up there over the coming months. I’d love feedback on the patterns, the structure, or anything else.

What I’ve heard from veteran facilitators that I’ve shown it to so far is that it’s a really good reminder of a lot of what you already know. This is what I’m going for. However, I think even these veteran facilitators will find a few new things to add to their toolbox.


Creating Change

Friday, March 30th, 2007

on a recent e-mail thread, a friend asked for advice when introducing agile. here’s a cleaned up version of my response to him.

Solve THEIR problems, don’t push your own agenda

if you go to people and tell them agile is the key, they won’t listen to you. instead, go to people and listen to their problems. propose and implement solutions to their biggest and worst one or two. check back with them and make sure they are happy (or at least happier) rinse and repeat. if something in the “agile” toolset doesn’t scratch an itch they have, then you shouldn’t be using it. be flexible in everything except your values. be compromising. if they see you give in to what they suggest, they will be more willing to give in to what you suggest.

obviously a retrospective is a great vehicle for this. if you can get the team as a group to admit to problems that they NOT YOU are worried about, then the solutions you come to will also be owned by the team.

Start with individuals, not the “team”

as an outsider, which we are as consultants, it’s very, very hard to convert an entire team to our way of thinking. it’s hard to know what they all think, and the more you push, the more it becomes YOU vs THEM. not good. it’s much better if you can identify the change agents in the team, find the connectors, the mavens, and the salespeople (see The Tipping Point ) and talk to them. it’s much easier to convince one person, one on one that you have some good ideas, and that you might be able to solve some of their problems. do this first, and instead of 1 vs 10 it becomes 2 vs 9 or even 3 vs 7, MUCH better odds. if you can do this with the most influential people, then convincing the rest of the team almost takes care of itself.

this of course works the other way around, too. the most influential people on the team can easily turn the entire team against you, so you have to make sure that you are listening to them. addressing their problems and concerns, and making them feel heard. this is of course good advice for the whole team, but it’s so much easier when it’s one person at a time, you might as well start there.

Ask for help, and dish out the credit

it’s a funny thing, but when you ask someone for help, you usually get it. and believe me, if you’re trying to introduce agile, you’ll need all the help you can get. the easiest help to get is advice that is asked for one on one. ask your boss what the social makeup of the team is. ask those teammates for advice on what the team needs. ask someone to give a part of a presentation to management.

from their perspective, it’s a great thing to be asked for help. it means the person asking respects your opinion about something. it also means that they now owe you something and you’re less likely to hesitate if you need help from them. it means that you take ownership of the thing that you helped create.

if you can manage to make people look good in exchange for your efforts, not only will you spread out the work, but you’ll win yourself friends.

Read the Secrets of Consulting

‘Nuff said.

Concentrate On The Few

Wednesday, January 21st, 2004

I think I’m learning.

I was talking to a fellow ThoughtWorker about a TDD workshop I might be doing next week. We talked about the project, expectations (theirs and the client’s), the history of the project, etc.

What I did that I haven’t done before is I started asking about who the influencers on the team were. Taking my cue from the default.TheTippingPoint, who are the experts that everyone trusts (mavens)? Who are the people who sway people’s opinions (salesmen)? In a workshop (and ideally the day before) those are the people that I need to concentrate on, because they’ll make my job a lot easier or harder.

A situation where it’s 1 person addressing 12 is a lot harder than where it’s 3 people addressing 10. Spend a couple hours w/ people individually, and you have a good chance of changing the former situation to the latter – at the same time showing those individuals that you respect them and need their help. Pick the mavens and the salesmen to be those 2 people and you’re set.

Getting Out Of Your Teams Way

Thursday, July 24th, 2003

I just had the best experience.

A team without buy-in

I’m currently coaching a project along w/ fellow ThoughtWorker, Zak Tamsen.
It’s still pretty early, just a couple week long iterations into it. The
problem that we were having was lack of buy in from the team. It’s probably
our own fault for not setting stuff up at the start of the project, but it
felt very much like we were telling a team of 8 people what to do (write tests,
pair, do this, do that), and they were saying back, ‘No, we don’t wanna’.
The harder we tried to fix it, the more it felt like we were playing Mommy to
the team.

Then we left for a few days which included our IPM.

The tipping point

When we came back it was fixed. In our absence, the leaders of the team had stepped
up to lead the team. They had run the IPM, they had had meetings about how to
get the team on board, they had started taking what had been our responsibility
on themselves. Now instead of 2 outside !ThoughtWorkers trying to “convert” 8
people, we now have an increasingly cohesive team where 5 people have bought in
and assumed leadership roles.

Now we had talked to the leaders of the team to try to make this happen before,
but with us there, they had been perfectly comfortable to sit back and let us drive.
It was the act of us getting out of the way that made them step up. If
a system CAN heal itself, it’s important to let it heal itself – TheSecretsOfConsulting.

As a coach, I should be trying to teach my team how to
fish, not treating them to the fish that I can catch.