Mar 10 2020

A field trip agenda – for better meetings

Published by at 10:06 pm under Uncategorized

I’m always inspired by Nancy White, and this effort to respond to COVID-19 is a perfect example of why.

It reminded me that I’ve been sitting on a “field trip agenda” that I developed to help people on the Shambhala Process Team hold better meetings on Zoom. I’m sharing it here, as is, since perfection is the enemy of the good. It has a good dose of Shambhala terminology, such as Ground, Path and Fruition (roughly, the context, the process, and the outcome of whatever you are talking about). It owes a lot to conversations with Susan Skjei and Liza Smith. They are the best thinking partners in my world.

You may find the following material useful if you imagine it as notes to yourself — what to do during a 90 minute training and demonstration session.

Overall Goal: (model setting a clear agenda)

  • Quick, easy boost for Shambhala conveners of all sorts
  • It also provides further resources (such as this document)

Agenda – 90 minute Schedule:

Model good practice, Invitation

(This is what I would send out to participants:)

  • Do you find yourself facilitating lots of online meetings without having received much training on how to do them?  Are you anxious about making a meeting really fun and productive? Have you ever struggled to keep people engaged during an online meeting? Have you experienced lots of silence or people talking, but not listening? (ground)
  • Join us for a 90 minute interactive training session that will explore design frameworks and techniques, do some exercises and demonstrate good practices for making meetings fun and productive. (path)
  • Join us on such and such a date.  This webinar will:
    • Build your skills to develop agendas and facilitate online meetings that lead to action.
    • Develop meeting designs that leave people feeling connected and wanting to connect more.
    • Put the technology (Zoom and some other tools) to work for you rather than being a distraction or an obstacle. (fruition)
  • Consider the time zones of your participants and send out an invitation that includes:
    • The topic and purpose of the meeting
    • Who’s invited (and why you should attend)
    • Start and stop time
    • The Zoom information and phone alternatives
  • Model good practice: Meditation – gathering the group and our minds 
    • Purpose: help people settle and allow latecomers join without having to catch up.
    • Instruction: “Turn away from your computer…” 
    • How: Make it short. 3 minutes.  Share a screen explaining what’s happening.  Guided meditation is recommended so that anyone participating in audio-only mode is reassured that something is happening.
  • Model good practice: BRIEF Welcome 
    • Purpose: Welcome and explain the meeting purpose: “In this 90 minute session we are trying to model good practice, provide a framework for effective use of Zoom, and gather some useful tips”.  Could include an overview of the agenda.
    • This session will be recorded (as announced). In most meetings it needs to be a formal agreement step.  Recording would be shared within Shambhala but can’t be restricted. Note that recording to the cloud can become expensive very quickly. If you save the recording on your own machine you can upload it to YouTube for free and you have more control over what’s recorded.
    • We are taking notes in this Google Doc during the meeting.  Multiple participants can help and all should be able to view. Meeting notes template??
    • Important to assess people’s comfort with the tool (e.g., Zoom) by one of these:
      • Have people self-assess and ask for help beforehand if they need it
      • Assume level of comfort and follow up afterward if necessary
      • Poll in real time (good if the group has not met this way before)
      • Do people understand the difference between “Speaker View” and “Gallery View” — and can they swap when they want?
      • Do people know how to identify themselves (by clicking on their name on the lower-right-hand corner of their image)?
  • Model good practice: Check-in 
    • Purpose: get everyone’s voice & practice turning their microphone off and on
    • Announce an arbitrary sequence & call on people; or each person invites the next person to go.
    • Set and enforce time limits. On-the-spot decision.
    • Check-in topic should connect to the meeting purpose and prime the conversation — without being too heavy
    • Check-in question: “Name, Place, what kind of online meetings do you need to run?”
    • For large groups, check-in might be in a breakout
  • Model good practice: Breakouts 
    • Purpose: create small group conversations, give people more opportunities to talk and listen and get to know each other
    • Pose the question as simply as possible, then repeat it and broadcast it during the breakout
    • Timing 8 minutes
    • Groups of 3 (consider different sizes for different purposes)
    • Reconvening & segue 
    • Roles to consider in each breakout group: facilitator, timer, recorder, reporter
    • Question: “What has been your experience of online meetings? Share some highlights and challenges”
  • Model good practice: Chat Debrief: We’re going to use one way of using the chat for group debrief and later we’ll explore another way
    • Purpose: listen to everyone and create a group transcript that can be used later.
    • Wait to hit enter till everyone is finished writing and then all hit enter at the same time and use a gong to indicate “enter”) or free form.
    • Reading out some highlights & reflect.
  • Present: Some tips on meeting design 
    • Think of the meeting’s purpose and see how it sounds when you explain it to a partner.  Model good practice: Thinking back to the meetings that you talked about in your breakout session and chat, what were the different kinds of purposes of those meetings? Why were people coming together?
      • Divergent thinking (brainstorming)
      • Convergent focus on agreement or a specific outcome (decision-making)
      • The feeling of asserting cohesion or “we are a ____ group”
      • The sense of “presencing” (resting in awareness of possible future) is important
      • (Add other goals here…)
    • Meeting organizers need a partner; 
      • You can take turns speaking and managing technical details 
      • or have specific roles
      • Stick to the plan or improvise or respond to what comes up?
    • Model good practice: Write out a script or an agenda and sharing it with participants so they know where they are in the process.  That’s what this Google Doc is.
    • Model good practice: Use screen-sharing skillfully: briefly show a PowerPoint or Google Doc or even a video
    • Screen capture to create a group portrait: 
      • can  be a nice record of “being together”
      • Easy way of taking attendance
      • Remembering names and faces
  • Alternate between gallery and “speaker” (single-person) view – controlled by host and determines what’s recorded
  • Model good practice: Liberating Structures framework or discipline: how have we used these micro-structure design elements today? At each step, consider how to organize
    • a structuring invitation (what a sequence or an individual step is for, what participants can expect);
    • how the “space” is arranged and what materials are needed (“Hollywood Squares” vs. “Speaker mode” vs screen-sharing; using chat; shared Google Doc);
    • how participation is distributed (percentage of the time in different modes of participation — from passive listening, interacting, collaborating, gathering insights);
    • how groups are configured (single speaker, breakouts of different sizes, assigning specific people to specific breakout rooms, sequential speaking like a check-in, speaking all at once, guided meditation or individual note-taking); and,
    • a sequence of steps and time allocation (for the whole and for each chunk). 
  • Your role as facilitator 
    • Your contract with the group: you “protect the conversation” on behalf of the group; that gives you the right to exercise control.
    • Read the room means paying attention to participation verbally, in the chat, providing different ways for people to stay engaged, check points to express discomfort, (sometimes) interpret signals out loud.  Having a partner for this part can be extremely helpful.
    • The danger of being “too helpful” or playing the role of “summarizer” with unconscious power and unconscious biases.  Issues of projection. 
    • Mixing or switching between distinct roles (between facilitator, expert, elder, fool, etc.) can be confusing (to others and to ourselves).
    • Fundamental importance of mindfulness and transparency.
    • Any facilitator (or speaker) whose internet speed might be slow should consider using the phone audio option that Zoom provides illustrated in this screen-shot: 
  • Some other tools to use with Zoom:
  • Model good practice: Breakout / whole group summary sequence
    • Reflection: what are meetings you organize about?  What are we really doing here?
      • Some moments of individual reflection & note-taking (silence): think about an upcoming meeting that you will take part in or facilitate. What is the meeting’s purpose? Can you define it in 1-2 sentences?  
      • Pairs: Share your meeting’s purpose.  Is it clear? Does it make sense? Share one thing you would do to improve the next meeting
      • Groups of four: 1) share your purpose 2) your improvement goal and 3) how does that translate into an agenda? What choices might you make?
    • Back in the whole group. Themes & patterns in what you’ve heard. Feel free to speak or write in the chat or listen
      • Images that have come up
      • Unmute & talk 
      • This is a sense-making practice: Assessing where we are, gathering possibilities, imagining next steps
  • More about using Chats
    • Model good practice: Simultaneous responses and brainstorming organized around a specific question where everyone participates. Facilitators pull out a few themes coming up in the chat.
    • Zoom chat can be a private backchannel
    • Insert markers in the chat at the right time to indicate breaks or changes of topic or meeting format along the lines of:
      • ======================================
      • Core Values Brainstorm
      • ======================================
    • Process and publish the chat transcript afterwards.  Can be the basis of meeting notes or a communiqué.  Append to this agenda document.
      Techniques for making the chat an effective meeting record (have a designated note-taker)
    • Leverage the Zoom Chat transcript for sharing or further use

  • Model good practice: Check-out — everyone share:
    • My key learnings, next steps, suggestions.
    • Question: What’s one practice that I’m going to experiment with?

Some resources (annotated & shared during or after an event)

One response so far

One Response to “A field trip agenda – for better meetings”

  1. Nancy White says:

    This is fantastic, John!

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