There are only three types of meetings in the world and here is why. I invite you to join me in a bold exercise to get clarity and simplicity into the craft of meeting design. How do you create an appropriate agenda for diverse circumstances?
If you haven’t go the patience to work through the steps with me, just skip to the table at the end of this blog.
Dorothy Strachan, in her excellent book on Process Design for facilitators, argues for five ‘process frameworks’. In simple language she is talking about designs for different kinds of meetings. Three of Dorothy’s process frameworks are:
- Enabling action
- Thinking critically, and
- Addressing issues
Here are her process steps: the agendas
|Enabling Action||Thinking critically||Addressing issues
|Making assumptions and perspectives explicit||Understand the situation|
|So what (Reflection, motivation)||Understand interests and power relations||Clarify the issues|
|Now what (Action)||Explore alternative ways of thinking and acting||Generate options for action|
|Make critical choices||Test options for action|
|Make a decision|
|Plan for action
She also includes ‘Opening’ and ‘Closing’ as separate models. I have assumed they apply to all meeting agendas, and have therefore left them out (crucial as they are).
And I have been trying hard since reading Dorothy to identify additional models. I think I have found a couple. You be the judge.
One of these models would address at least two similar methodologies – Solutions Focus and Appreciative Inquiry. These share a commitment to starting from a positive or ‘ideal’ future, and working back from there to the present actions. Appreciative Inquiry invites us to ‘Dream’ the preferred future. Solutions Focus asks us to imagine the ‘Future Perfect’ in concrete, sensory detail. They both insist on affirming (appreciating) existing strengths, resources and motivations rather than working on problems, barriers or challenges. Then we draw on our strengths and motivations to imagine specific actions that will get us close to an ideal future. Despite different terminology, they have much in common. Appreciative Inquiry has some beautiful and evocative language – such as ‘poetic’ as a guiding principle. Solutions Focus is brilliant in its simplicity and practicality (read more about SF here). Both approaches are powerful vehicles for change.
Here are the process steps – the agendas
|Appreciative inquiry/||Solutions focus|
|Dream – Imagine the best it can be
|Establish the Platform for Change – where all parties agree to explore future possibilities
|Discover – discover the best of what is||Picture the ‘Future Perfect’ – the ideal state we desire|
|Design – dialogue what should be||Current reality – Rate where you are now on a scale 1-10
|Destiny – create what will be||Explore your current strengths, motivations and resources|
|Imagine the ‘Smallest Steps’ – what are the smallest steps to get close to the ‘future perfect’|
The other model could gather up a quite wide range of powerful methodologies such as ‘Theory U’, ‘Frame Creation’, and ‘Gamestorming’. While the language and steps are widely different, they share a common ancestry for which ‘Design Thinking’ is the general heading. In the language of genetics, Design Thinking is a species, and ‘Theory U’ would be a family within this species.
Design thinking highlights the importance of extensive exploration of the ‘presenting’ problem, before working on solutions. The crucial difference between solutions-focus and design thinking approaches is that for the latter “the problem is the problem”. Much time needs to be spent defining an appropriate ‘frame’ for the problem – ie defining and redefining it until a useful approach is discovered. Then solutions can be generated from this framework. Here I borrow from the ‘frame creation’ terminology of Professor Kess Dorst that puts this very clearly. But there are many (and simpler) variants of design thinking. Theory U provides salutary caution against pure intellectualism in its insistence that an ‘open heart’ and an ‘open will’ are just as important as an ‘open mind’ in addressing complex social problems.
Now for some sleight of hand. At present, the gene stock consist of up to 5 core prototypes. I think we can blend Dorothy’s three models into one. Model 3 – ‘Addressing Issues’ is perhaps the most common type – obvious and practical. And both Models 1 and 2 could be subsumed into Model 3. ‘Enabling Action’ can be considered a cute and sharp summary that can be covered in Model 3 (‘Addressing Issues’). And Model 2 (‘Thinking Critically’ could also be an elaboration of Model 3 where more time is spent doing some sophisticated work in the ‘Defining Issues’ segment of Model 3. Which is a pity, since the others are more interesting. But that leaves us with one common agenda – ‘Addressing Issues’.
If we were to prune to basics, deleted a couple of Dorothy’s, that would give us three models. Thus justifying the heading of this article. Ta daa.
Here is a schema that outlines the types. Each of them can be written with different terminology but the essence should be apparent.
The three types of meetings – a final selection….
|1. Addressing issues
|2. Appreciative inquiry/Solutions Focus||3. Design thinking|
|Understand the situation||Dream/Future Perfect
|Clarify the ‘presenting’ problem|
|Clarify the issues||Discover/Reality check – review the current landscape: resources, strengths, ideas, motivations||Investigate the problem field (stakeholders, context etc)
|Generate options for action||Develop strategies to get closer to the desired future, working from strengths (what we’ve ‘got’ not what’s missing)
In Solutions Focus this is done as ‘Smallest steps’
|Choose/develop develop a ‘frame’ for the problem that gives access to productive solutions
|Evaluate/test options for action||Destiny/agree on action to implement the strategies/steps
|Develop possible solutions|
|Choose preferred option||Rapid prototyping to test solutions|
|Action plan to implement the option||Final recommendation/prototype selection
A word of caution. This is a very cognitive approach to meeting design. All powerful meetings have a strong heart. Is there another agenda that might make heart more explicit. Coming soon in another blog …
- Process Design – Making it Work by Dorothy Strachan and Paul Tomlinson 2007
- Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Kelly 2010 (see also the web site gamestorming.com)
- The Solutions Focus by Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, 2007
- Frame Innovation: Create New Thinking by Design Kess Dorst 2015
- Otto Scharmer Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges 2nd edition 2016
- The Essentials of Appreciative Inquiry: A Roadmap for Creating Positive Futures Bernard J. Mohr and Jane Magruder Watkins and various AI web sites such as www.centerforappreciativeinquiry.net