Facilitation First | The Impact of Assumptions Part II
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The Impact of Assumptions Part II

03 Oct 2017, Posted by facn1st in Articles

In our last post, we looked at the dangers of assumptions and how to minimize these dangers via forwarding a pre-meeting email that identifies who, what, where and when. But battling assumptions doesn’t start and end with sending this info. Some of the team members may simply have skimmed through the email during a busy day – so it’s best to never assume that everyone’s on the same page, even though your email has effectively prepared everyone for the meeting.  There is still more work to be done on the day of the meeting.

Opening the Meeting:

The opening of the meeting is the most important moment for us as facilitators. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to ensure clarity by providing thorough context setting. As the meeting opens, you should review the points you made in the pre-meeting email:

  • Define the role(s) you will be playing as meeting leader. Options include one or all of the following:
    • Facilitator: Leveraging the wisdom of the group
    • Presenter: Introducing new ideas
    • Participant: An equal to the team members present
  • Define how much decision-making authority the group has, if a decision is to be made:
    • Does the group have full authority to make and carry out a decision?

    or

  • Does the group merely have authority to make recommendations, with management making the final decision?
  • Define of any ambiguous terminology e.g. what we mean by ‘consensus’, ‘risk’, etc.
    • The definition of “consensus” is key here. The group needs to understand that even though not everyone may feel “satisfied” by every decision, we’re working towards what’s best overall
  • Restating the existing Team’s Norms (Interpersonal Guidelines/Behavioral Standards)
    • Interpersonal guidelines need to be defined loud and clear if you want open discussion. For example, there is a real risk of losing out on valuable contributions by lower management and staff if they are afraid to openly express themselves around higher management. Don’t let the “mythology” of the workplace stifle discussion. Ensure there is a guideline in place targeted to helping people feel safe to speak their mind e.g. what’s said here stays here; or, there are no repercussions as a result of what is said here; or, all status must stay at the door, opposing opinions are welcome
  • Identification of any negotiable and/or non-negotiable elements of the discussion. With any topic, let the team know how big the “box” is – how wide, how deep can we go? Where should we NOT go? E.g. the solution cannot require additional headcount, implementation and must be completed by this time …

During the Meeting

Now that we’ve advanced the meeting via email, and opened it with clarity, we need to stay on top of the team as they work, to uncover or unpack any additional assumptions during any discussion. When team members make declarative statements that we suspect are assumptions, we need to call them on it by asking: is this a fact, or your opinion? With the team member’s honest response, we can understand where the information is coming from, and help the group to gauge it better. There’s nothing wrong with expressing an opinion – the danger here is that it’s taken as fact. We’re usually looking for evidence-based ideas and strategies. If your team leaves a meeting with a jumble of opinions and facts in their head, the way forward won’t be clear – and you’ll either have to re-clarify tasks, actions and goals in follow-up communications, or end up with work results that don’t serve the intended outcome. Assumptions only grow when left unchecked – and you may find that your next feedback session is full of misunderstandings and disagreements which have grown their own legs since the last meeting, bringing your team farther away from achieving outcomes that make a difference.

Closing the Meeting

In closing the meeting, we need to do a thorough summary of the desired outcomes and any actions that have resulted from the meeting. It may seem redundant to clarify these things, but remember, people on the team may have interpreted things differently along the way, or made assumptions and connections which aren’t there. A good review is the only way to ensure we all leave the meeting on the same page. Complete a detailed action plan, and make sure everyone receives it. That way, we all know what the expectations are and can check on the status of our actions in the next meeting. It’s been my experience that without guidance, people tend to make their own “action plans” and forget what each other’s real accountabilities are. This can lead to major resentment if people don’t follow through on perceived expectations. Let’s not assume people know what to do with all the information we just gathered!

We should always be clear about these decisions at the end of any meeting:

  • What have we agreed to?
  • What the next steps are:
    • What is priority?
    • What needs to be done first, to make subsequent actions possible?
  • Who is responsible for each task/action?
    • Are the actions to be tackled individually, or are there groups assigned?
    • In groups, are there “leaders” who are accountable for the progress and cohesion of the work?
  • The expected timeline of these actions – when should they be complete?

It may seem tempting at times to skip one or more of these steps – don’t! You’ll be making your very own assumptions about what the team needs, and as we’ve just learned, it’s always best to avoid making assumptions!

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