Helping a team to reach an agreed decision

Are the meetings that you attend fully focussed on achieving their intended outcomes? The intention may be to generate ideas or share information but sometimes the exact focus is not always clear.
Setting that focus is something I could be better at - how about you?
Generally I find that meetings work best when participants collaborate effectively to acheive a successful outcome.
I want to share what I have found to be an effective approach to group decision making.
A few year’s ago, I had the great fortune to attend a seminar conducted by leading thinker, Edward de Bono. Among the many creativity and thinking tools that he has developed, there is one system that I return to over and over again. He refers to it as PMI, where the acronym stands for Plus, Minus and Interesting.
It works by considering each of the headings in turn and spending a defined amount of time to reflect on and note the likely outcomes of a particular course of action.
It goes way beyond simply listing pros and cons as each participant, regardless of any previous view they hold, has to contribute suggestions under each category.
Here’s a squeeze point. You are at a team meeting discussing the desirability of a course of action. Opinion is divided and a decision is needed. Sound familiar? Here’s what I do?
Get participants to take a blank page, laid out landscape style. Across the top, state the proposed course of action. Draw two vertical lines to create three columns and head each P, M and I respectively.
Allocate a precise amount of time to gather the pluses, minuses and interesting points about the issue. Remember the egg-timer from an earlier post?
Feedback. At this point, interesting stuff starts to happen as often people begin to modify their thinking.
Even when it is clear that the pluses have indicated the desirability of a course of action, having taken the time to reflect on the minuses enables participants to identify possible risks and plan mitigations.
As for the interesting list? That’s the bit I really like as it takes us into the area of innovation and win/win solutions.
Edward de Bono’s website has some interesting PMI topics for consideration as well as some suggestions for applying the technique. Check it out here and see what you think.
You might want to run a PMI first to check its usefulness in shaping up to workplace squeeze!

How to move ahead when you feel stuck..

Here’s a workplace squeeze. You have been trying to make headway with a project or a task and it just does not seem to be working for you. You feel challenged by this, so what can you do?
Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has written that sometimes the way we see the problem is the problem! Albert Einstein is reported to have said that you can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.
I am no Einstein, so for a long time I never really knew what that meant but I get it now. And what I get connects with Covey’s point about “seeing” the problem.
Robert Dilts has developed a model of thinking called Neurological Levels. This can be presented as six focal points: Environment; Behaviour; Capabilities; Values and Beliefs; Identity; and Mission or Beyond Identity. The model has generated opposing views. Don’t you just love it when that happens? I do. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Anyway, some have criticised it saying it doesn’t make sense while others, recognising its limitations, report that the technique still works a treat . Why not check out the articles at those two hyperlinks and make up your own mind?
Here’s what I do when I am stuck and can’t make headway. If there is no one in the office, I place 6 sheets of paper on the floor – well spaced out. On each is written one of the words above. Then I stand on each piece of paper in turn and think about the word and how it relates to the challenge. The area of stick usually shows up! Then the question arises, “So what am I going to do about it?
That’s where Einstein comes in. Remember, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created”. When you get to the stuck area, think about the other levels or focal points. Anything need to shift there? Any changes needed?
For example, if you have issues about your capabilities – (I used to wonder if I was good enough or when I would be found out; how about you?) – have a think about your values and beliefs. What’s important about what you do? What do you believe about yourself? Then carry this into the area of identity and think again. And then mission. What comes up? What are you learning?
The cleaners have caught me doing this – I wonder if they think me untidy. So for busy periods during the day when people are around here’s what I do:
As I prefer to do this exploration physically, I take out an A4 file sheet that I keep in my desk. On it are printed all the words above, again well spaced out. Then I take a coin and move it slowly around the page, stopping to explore where I am stuck. Referring to next levels or focal points I figure out what I might do about it.
Maybe it’s just having taken the time to think about a problem from different angles but I find that the solutions come.
Sometimes I use this technique with colleagues to help them work through their challenges.
Usually they hold on to the coin and keep the change!

Always running out of time? Try this cheap, simple tool

One of my favourite tools for keeping a focus on time is the low-cost, low-tech kitchen timer. Designed to run for precisely three minutes, I use it several times a day, yet never when boiling eggs. That’s because it sits on my office desk and there’s not much need for cooking there!
I like the timer so much that I wanted to use it as a metaphor for what this site is about. The key point about the timer is not so much the two chambers or the quantity of sand, although these are important, it is about that aperture in the middle that manages the flow.
And then there’s that hourglass shape, need I say more? Well yes, you would expect me to, wouldn’t you?
As I mentioned, the timer sits on my desk doing what metaphors do. I notice that shape in lots of other places too. On my computer screen, for example, where I have learned to be patient until that symbol disappears and the program is ready for action.
I occasionally use the timer as a weight to anchor and draw attention to time-sensitive papers and sometimes, have used it in a fun way to focus conversations. When a colleague once asked for a couple of minutes to discuss something, I flipped the timer and pointed out that he had precisely three! When you see that time running out it helps in getting to the point. Remember the humour though; you wouldn’t want egg on your face!
Squeeze scenario:
I find the timer most useful when used with other tools such as MindMaps®. Here’s a squeeze scenario. Your direct wants a verbal position report on some project or other. It is needed in 10 minutes time. Scary? Needn’t be. Here’s what I do.
Start by getting some blank sheets of paper, flip the timer and take three minutes to write down as many key points about the project as possible in the time. If I can get to 20+ in the three minutes then that’s doing okay.
Flip the timer and take another three minutes to group and organise those thoughts - one of those 4-colour ink pens is great for this.
Flip again and take the last three minutes to edit and present the map. When I’m doing that list bit, I rehearse what I’m going to say when dealing with each point.
That leaves one minute to get relaxed, composed and focussed on the meeting.
Would this work for you? Try it out with your work in progress? Let me know how you get on.
If you find it’s not for you then remember that original purpose. It’s great for timing eggs.

Shaping up to workplace squeeze

You may have heard it said that people should teach what they most need to learn. For years I have been fascinated about developing effectiveness and realising potential. I have been learning from all sorts of books, audio programmes and seminars that I have attended. Now it's time to put all that into practice and share the learning with others.

I have started middlefocus as my response to the observation that many middle managers are caught between a rock and a work place. They face daily challenges in managing and leading their own teams while being on the receiving end from their senior colleagues. To top it all, they have their own work to do often against difficult deadlines. They need time and space to work but often find themselves either squeezed or stuck! Sometimes their work and personal lives tumble out of control and they could do with some help to regain their balance and move forward.

That's where middlefocus comes in. Over the years I have acquired a range of "tools" that have helped ease my working day and I want to share them with others. I aim to do that through this blog and through a regular podcast that will be reaching your headphones soon.

Focus on this space!