As my two year graduate program in Organization Development wraps up, I thought I would start sharing some of my learnings past and present. This first entry is for a professional practice (aka internship) close out. Following are my learnings from “moderating” a meeting for a local community organization.
I reached out to the organization on Wednesday, they followed up with me on Thursday. We contracted for an hour and a half meeting the following Monday. Yes, it was a four day turn around, which included contracting with the client, designing the meeting, and facilitating the meeting.
The client was looking to avoid a big hullabaloo at future planning meeting where a major decision was being made. In order to avoid this, they wanted to provide a space where those who felt they had a stake in the conversation had an opportunity to speak their minds. The client also hoped that some new ideas would be generated to solve some of the issues facing the community. However, they concluded that if they could have only one thing, it would be creating a space where the stakeholders felt heard.
My Meeting Design:
I spent Friday and Saturday designing the meeting. With the goal that everyone would be heard on the top of my mind, I first designed an activity that would break the large group of 25 to 30 into five smaller groups. The design:
Activity One: Small Group Discussion followed by Large Group Debrief
- Each person in the small group would have three minutes to state:
a. Why they were attending the meeting
b. Why they felt passionate about the issue
- After which, the small groups would discuss:
a. common themes
b. conflicting themes
c. divergent themes
- Finally we would close with a large group discussion, sharing the groups learnings, which I would record these and give them to the client at the end.
After a large group discussion we would move into the second part of the meeting, the brainstorm activity. For this activity, the community members would remain in their same small groups and complete a nominal brainstorm.
Activity 2: Nominal Brainstorm
- Each community member is given a stack of 6 to 7 post-it notes.
- On the top post-it they would write either an idea or a question regarding the issues that had been discussed.
- After writing this down, the community member would pass their stack of post-its to the person to their left.
- With the new post-it stack the community member reads the idea written on the post-it above the blank post-it.
- On the blank post-it, the community member either
a. adds to the idea or question, or
b. they come up with a new one.
- Once the post-its had traveled around the group the group then sorts the post-its into themes.
- After 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the activity of the small groups, the groups are called back into a large group report out.
The purpose of this meeting design, with it’s two activities, was to 1) ensure the group felt heard and 2) give them the opportunity to generate some ideas, or further questions to take back to those would work with them.
To gage my meeting design, I met with a colleague and explained my design to her. She agreed that the design would serve the group. I felt proud of my design and was excited to share it with the client.
The Actual Meeting:
In my learnings below, I write about contracting. In my program, we learn how vital good contracting is. Also we learn how important it is to make sure everything is spelled out and all expectations are brought to light. With a turn around of four days, in my opinion, “good contracting” is impossible.
When I explained my meeting design to the client, it was instantly rejected as “too much like school.” I realize this was a bias on the part of the client. If I had more time to work with him, I may have been able to explain how my design might help his cause. However, with an hour until the meeting started, I realized this would not be the time for my meeting design to shine. I agreed to “moderate” the large group meeting.
While some portions of the meeting went well, others fell short. A few of the wins of the evening included my assertive facilitation style, being able to keep the meeting on time and on track, and providing a space for the group to speak their minds. One of my major challenges was not being able to include a brainstorm session. It was one objective I was not able to meet.
However, in the end, the client was happy with my approach and my work. And as one of my instructors says, “The group will move you where they need to go.” And so will the client.
- I enjoy meeting design. This one seemed like a puzzle to me, and I really enjoyed figuring out how to meet the clients expectations, make the meeting interactive so that members would remain engaged, and try to help build a piece of action planning into the process.
- If you haven’t contracted for meeting design with the client in advance, it may end up seeming like wasted effort. There was such a tight turnaround with this engagement that I didn’t have time to delve deeper into contracting. He wanted someone to moderate the meeting, I wanted to actively facilitate the meeting. In this case, there was no time for renegotiation, and I ended up moderating the meeting.
- Playing moderator is different than the facilitating a meeting the way I have practiced. I find moderating a meeting much easier than active facilitation (as I’m calling it). I also find moderating a meeting a tad boring. A friend compared it to being a traffic cop.
- Talking about money is difficult. They were willing to pay me and I refused the money. I imagine this is related to my confidence level. However, after designing the meeting and moderating it, I realize that I was quite capable and should have negotiated a fee.
- I enjoy working solo. While I appreciate the collaborative process, I feel that I can express myself in a different way when working solo. I do not have the fear that others will reject my ideas.
- While I enjoy working solo, it was difficult to know whether an idea was feasible without having someone to bounce it off. I feel fortunate that a friend allowed me to share my meeting design with them. I feel let down I didn’t get to try it with the large group. It’s impossible for me to know if the meeting I designed had legs without being able to try it out.
- When there is more than one community group involved it’s important to make sure all parties are on the same page. It was challenging to negotiate the somewhat competing needs of those who the meeting was being held to serve and those who called me to facilitate. In the end, I feel that I was able to meet both of their needs, hence I became more of a moderator.
- A four day turnaround is not enough time. While I enjoyed the rush of the quick turnaround, it did not allow for ample time to contract. Remember it all comes down to contracting, contracting, contracting. And getting to know the client group.