How to Have a Good Meeting Training

Facilitation Training Agenda

Welcome (10 min)

  • Introductions: Name & anything about self that sharing will help you feel more comfortable and/or welcome.
  • Ground Rules
  • Meeting Handsignals
  • Agenda Overview

Overview of Consensus handout (15 min)

How to facilitate handout  (30 min)

  • Definition of Facilitation:

Facilitators are there to ensure that the group works harmoniously, creatively and democratically. They’re also there to make sure the task of the meeting gets done ­ that decisions are made and implemented. To make that possible they need active support from everyone present!

Power Dynamics handout (15 min)

  • Power Plays we engage in (Go Around)

How to Have a Good Meeting handout (10 min)

Practice: Ordering Pizza together (10 min)

Practice: Protecting Eggs (15 min)


Consensus, A Group Decision Making Process

Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that not only seeks the agreement of most participants, but also the resolution or mitigation of minority objections. Consensus is usually defined as meaning both general agreement, and the process of getting to such agreement.

The Process

Since the consensus decision-making process is not as formalized as others, the practical details of its implementation vary from group to group. However, there is a core set of procedures which is common to most implementations of consensus decision-making.

Once an agenda for discussion has been set and the ground rules for the meeting have been agreed upon, each item of the agenda is addressed in turn. Typically, each decision arising from an agenda item follows through a simple structure:

  1. Discussion of the item: The item is discussed with the goal of identifying opinions and information on the topic at hand. The general direction of the group and potential proposals for action are often identified during the discussion.
  2. Formation of a proposal: Based on the discussion a formal decision proposal on the issue is presented to the group.
  3. Call for consensus: The facilitator of the decision-making body calls for consensus on the proposal. Each member of the group usually must actively state their agreement with the proposal, often by   using a hand gesture or raising a colored card, to avoid the group interpreting silence or inaction as      agreement.
  4. Identification and addressing of concerns: If consensus is not achieved, each dissenter presents his or her concerns on the proposal, potentially starting another round of discussion to address or clarify    the concern.
  5. Modification of the proposal: The proposal is amended, re-phrased or reiterated in an attempt to address the concerns of the decision-makers. The process then returns to the call for consensus       and the cycle is repeated until a satisfactory decision is made.

Dissent.

          Although the consensus decision-making process should, ideally, identify and address concerns    and reservations early, proposals do not always garner full consensus from the decision-       making body. When a call for consensus on a motion is made, a dissenting delegate has one of       three options:

  • Declare reservations: Group members who are willing to let a motion pass but desire to register their concerns with the group may choose “declare reservations.” If there are significant reservations about a motion, the decision-making body may choose to modify or re-word the proposal.
  • Stand aside: A “stand aside” may be registered by a group member who has a “serious personal disagreement” with a proposal, but is willing to let the motion pass. Although stand asides do not halt a motion, it is often regarded as a strong “nay vote” and the concerns of group members standing aside are usually addressed by modifications to the proposal. Stand asides may also be registered by users who feel they are incapable of adequately understanding or participating in the proposal.
  • Block: Any group member may “block” a proposal. In most models, a single block is sufficient to stop a proposal, although some measures of consensus may require more than one block. Blocks are generally considered to be an extreme measure, only used when a member feels a proposal “endanger[s] the organization or its participants, or violate[s] the mission of the organization” (i.e., a principled objection). In some consensus models, a group member opposing a proposal must work with its proponents to find a solution that will work for everyone.

 

Facilitation Training

It takes training and a personal commitment to cooperation and equality to make a good facilitator.  Other qualities that aid in facilitation are articulateness and the ability to paraphrase, a good memory, a sense of what’s missing or what’s needed in the discussion, and humility.  Also, a good facilitator is not deeply invested in the topic at hand and/or will step down from the role of facilitator for agenda items for which s/he has a lot to say.  The facilitator is considered a “servant leader.”  It’s a good idea to rotate facilitators so that more people get a chance to practice and everyone gets a chance to just be a participant.

Facilitator Job Duties

  1. Keep the meeting focused.
  • State the desired outcome for each agenda item.
  • Keep the issues clear and manageable.
  • Start the discussion with clarifying questions.
  • Break large, complicated issues or proposals into smaller parts.
  • Summarize after five or so people have spoken.
  • Never have more than one topic or proposal on the table at a time.
  • Keep a visible list of tabled items.
  1. Encourage Participation.
  • Have people raise their hands to speak, dissuade talking out of turn.
  • Use go ‘rounds to encourage everyone to talk.
  • Ask questions to prompt quiet people to speak.
  • Clarify the issue under discussion as needed.
  • Have everyone speak once before anyone speaks a second time.
  • If someone seems to be holding back, try to engage them in discussion.
  • Give people easy ways to participate. (ex: Ask questions and have people show thumbs.)
  • Hold brainstorms where everyone adds to a list of ideas.
  • Dissociate contributions from contributors.
  • Don’t grade contributions. Say, “Thanks for that idea,” not, “That’s a good idea.”
  1. Manage Time.
  • Start and end the meeting on time.
  • Assign times to each agenda item.
  • Remind participants of how much time is left.
  • Interrupt long talker.
  • Keep participants from repeating points.
  • Write points on the board.
  • Leave a few minutes at the end of each item to decide its disposition.
  • Keep the meeting focused on the topic under current discussion.
  1. Pull it all together.
  • Take your time before calling for a decision.
  • Use a whiteboard or flipchart to list points of a proposal.
  • Review important parts of the discussion.
  • Know if or when a decision cannot be made, but don’t let the issue dissolve. Keep it alive at the next meeting.
  • Ask members if they feel comfortable making a decision.
  • Make sure the recorder writes it all down exactly.
  • Leave some time at the end of the meeting to do a go ‘round about group dynamics or how the meeting went.

Techniques for Discussion:

  • Keep Stack: Keep a list of people who would like to speak and call on them.  If someone is speaking frequently you can move them down on the stack and prioritize calling on infrequent speakers.
  • Thumbs/Straw Poll:  Useful to see which of several dates or ideas warrant further consideration.  Can also be used to test for consensus.
  • Talking Stick/Go ‘Round/Round Robin: Have everyone speak in turn, either with an object that is passed or without.
  • Brainstorming: People throw out ideas without discussing, commenting, or evaluating them.  A list is kept of the ideas and they are fleshed out utilizing a different discussion technique.
  • Small Groups: allow more participation in formatting questions, concerns, and modifying proposals to bring back to a large group.
  • Tally voting: Ask people to vote on ideas.  The vote is non-binding and people can vote as many times as they want.  This can be a good way to find out the group’s level of interest in Different ideas.
  • Working Groups:  The large group may consense to delegate tasks or projects to smaller sub groups.  That team may make decisions without consulting the larger group as long as the decisions they are making don’t go beyond the scope of the working group.  When in doubt check in.  In some cases, a working group brings proposals to the larger group for consensus.

 

A facilitator may choose to enlist fellow members to help make the meeting run smoothly.  Here’s a list of roles that the facilitator might ask other members to play.

Other Roles for the meeting:

  • Timekeeper: assists the facilitator in keeping within time limits set in the agenda.
  • Minute Taker: writes down proposals, decisions (with reservations noted), tasks people agree to complete, announcements, next meeting time/place, and future agenda items.
  • Scribe: writes on paper or white board information during the meeting that is helpful for the whole group to see.
  • Vibes Watcher: A vibes-watcher is someone besides the facilitator who watches and comments on individual and group feelings and patterns of participation. Vibes-watchers need to be especially tuned in to the level of participation of societally marginalized people in the group.
  • Task Manager: someone who keeps track of who said they would do what and reiterates it at the end of the meeting and as needed when people forget what they said they would do in meetings.  Alternately, end the meeting with a tasks go around.

 

Power Dynamics Within Meetings.

People who are accustomed to societal privilege and power may be used to having their voices and opinions heard easily and often both in larger society and in the smaller groups and meetings they participate in.  It is important to confront the ways that your group’s dynamics may directly or indirectly exclude or minimize the voices of people based on their race, class, gender, ability, language use, citizenship, status as a parent, income, educational background, likability or activist experience.

The consensus method may not, in itself, be able to confront all societal privilege and power, but it is built interrupt those dynamics within smaller organizing communities.  Because it seeks to amplify all voices and because it identifies and works against hierarchies, working by consensus can be a good foundation for anti-oppression work within groups.

It is also important for groups to engage in and to take seriously anti-oppression work.  There are plenty of excellent people to provide anti-oppression trainings.

Power dynamics also manifest within groups as individual misconduct, structural weaknesses, or “power plays”.  Of course, these often intersect with, or stem from issues of societal privilege, but even when that doesn’t seem to be the case, power imbalances within groups must be identified and worked through in order to fully embrace consensus principals.  Remember, most people have been on the “wrong” side of at least one type of power imbalance.  This shouldn’t have to be about rooting out the baddies, but simply about improving group process.

What It Looks Like

Working by consensus may be important but it’s not all that glamorous.  Be wary if someone talks a good game about working against oppressive systems and changing the world, but they are not doing the hard work within meetings of simply listening, not interrupting, of accepting consensed upon decisions, and of observing ground rules.  But how do you identify when there are unwanted power dynamics working their way into your group or into your meetings?  Here are some of the ways that power imbalances might play out within groups or meetings (particularly in activist settings).

Microaggressions:  A microagression is “the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group”.  It’s often enacted on an individual level.  Constantly commenting on the way a woman looks or what she is wearing, asking a person of color to speak for all people of color, refusing to refer to someone by the pronoun that they prefer are all examples of microagressions.

Gatekeeping:  One person in the group seems to have all the information, and in order to participate fully, everyone else needs to go through that one person for access to information, passwords, media contacts, access to other activist communities or ways of working.

Intimidation and Self Righteousness:  One person declares or implies that they deserve to have a larger say in decision making because of their purported level of activist experience, political awareness, or “political purity”.  Intimidating or excluding others on the basis of activist experience encourages an atmosphere in which people feel they have to prove themselves in order to fully participate.  Such an atmosphere makes activists vulnerable to infiltrators and saboteurs.  Remember that you should never feel under pressure to recite an “activist resume”, to talk about past actions that you’ve taken part in, to participate in an action you’re uncomfortable with, or to prove that you are somehow “legitimate” enough to have your voice equally heard in group decision making.

Rigidity: One person in the group seems unresponsive to group process.  Even after group brainstorms, discussions, straw polls, go rounds, and modified proposals, it seems as if this person hasn’t been listening.  They are unwilling to take other voices into account, and will not budge from their unadulterated position.  This makes it difficult to pass proposals or to make meaningful decisions as a group.

Stumping: After much discussion and brainstorming, a go round, a straw poll, and a “tally vote” show strong group support for two particular plans of action.  Instead of respecting this process, one person goes back to the beginning of the discussion and begins to “pitch” whichever idea they personally are most attached to.  This type of stumping is a vestigial carryover from electoral decision making styles, where the goal is to “advertise” certain ideas in order to get the majority of votes.  Stumping can derail a group process that should be focused on the merits and concerns of various proposed plans, and on the nuances and ideas that each person in the group can bring to these proposals.  Meeting time should not be used to “get people onto your side”, but to co create meaningful plans of action.

Pushing the Process:  This person suggests, at crucial moments, that things are taking too long, that the group doesn’t have time to come to consensus, or that a decision needs to be made quickly.  This suggestion often comes at moments of high emotion, high consequence, disagreement, or discomfort, and often comes at the expense of voices that are already at the margins.  This might be followed by the suggestion that a few people be empowered to make the crucial decision without group input, or that the process be cut short and things be put to a vote.

Transferring of Roles:  As often happens in small communities, you might find yourself working in an activist group with someone who, in another context, is your employer, your professor, your partner, your classmate, or even your landlord.  In most cases, it’s not enough to declare that those daily roles don’t matter.  Instead, it is important to watch out for ways that those power stratifications might seep into group decision making and group process.

Silent Judgement, and Gossip:  This person keeps their criticisms and concerns to themselves during meetings, but loudly spreads negative opinions once the meeting is over.  By establishing groundrules and using good facilitation, consensus run groups attempt to create an opportunity for concerns and criticisms to be heard and worked through within meetings.   Bypassing this can create an atmosphere of intimidation as well as a lack of trust and a lack of accountability.  It also can be a power grab because the person has the luxury of voicing criticisms and concerns without the difficulty of hearing responses to them.

Acting Defensive.  This person cannot hear concerns or criticism within meetings without directly responding to them each time, or treating them as personal attacks. This can subtly discourage much needed honesty during debriefs, which are built to help groups improve.

What To Do About It

Set Groundrules.  For a group that meets together often, there might be one set of co-created groundrules that is always posted at meetings. A group that meets together for a one-time event can come up with groundrules at the beginning of the event.  Groundrules are aimed at creating a shared understanding of basic behavioral conduct within the meeting, at creating a safer space for all to participate authentically, and to build trust within the group.  It can be useful to go back to the groundrules and check in if the vibe of the meeting is off.  Groundrules can be useful as a way to identify unwanted power dynamics within the group.

Use The “Point of Process Hand Signal.”  Interrupt the meeting to mention that there might be a problem with process, that you fear the process is being rushed or that subtle hierarchies are creeping in. Be direct. Suggest or facilitate a check-in with the group in the form of a go-round, or asking directly to hear from people whose voices haven’t been heard. A go-round can help make sure that everyone gets a chance to comment on how they feel about the current process and how it might go better.

Debrief Everything.  Even though it takes time and everyone is tired, make sure that your group debriefs every action or large event that they plan, as soon as it makes sense to do so afterwards.  Analyzing and understanding what worked and what didn’t about group activities makes it harder for persistent power dynamics to fly under the radar.

Suggest Structural Changes:  Discussions of power dynamics often seem like they’re built to denounce bad people within groups.  But most people have been on the bad side of at least one of these dynamics, even if they didn’t mean to be.  Assuming that all people within the group want the group to operate more democratically and equitably, consider suggesting structural changes that could help make this happen.  If it seems like one person is gatekeeping, for example, it could help to establish rotating roles within the group for who checks the email account, acts as media spokesperson, keeps track of funds, etc.  If one person’s microagressions seem to be stemming from a certain type of obliviousness, suggest that anti- oppression training become a requisite for all group members.

Be Honest With Yourself: If you are the perpetrator of one of the above power plays, consider your own motives or capacity for group work.  For example, if you find yourself almost always at odds with the rest of your group, and blocking many decisions, consider that you might have fundamental differences from that group, ethically or strategically, and you might want to take a step back from that organizing body.  If you prefer to be the sole decision maker, or only to work with one other person, consider other types of work that could still contribute to changing the world but don’t necessitate that you work in a democratic group process.

Don’t Hesitate to Bring in Outside Trainers or Mediators As needed! Regardless of experience or expertise within a group, a fresh perspective can always be useful.  It can be invigorating and refreshing for a group to periodically bring in an outside trainer who can help them work through or learn more about process issues, power dynamics, or anti oppression work.

OTHER TRAINING RESOURCES:

 

WHAT’S UP?! PITTSBURGH:  https://wwhatsup.wordpress.com (anti racist work, started out as white people confronting white supremacy)

 

AORTA: Anti Opression Resource and Training Alliance: http://aorta.coop  (a variety of trainings on democratic process, also mediation and anti oppression work)

 

CATALYST PROJECT (ANN BRADEN PROGRAM):

http://collectiveliberation.org/resources/training-programs/

 

TRAINING FOR CHANGE:  https://www.trainingforchange.org

 

Examples of Power Plays: Copyright 2009, The Center for the Creation of Cooperation, Inc.

 

All or Nothing

            Take it or leave it!

            If I can’t have it my way, I won’t play!

            If you leave now, don’t think about coming back!

            There is no middle ground.

Cop-Out

            It’s your problem; you deal with it!

            I don’t care. (giving in, while harboring ill feelings).

            I don’t want to hear about it! (not being willing to listen).

            I’m too busy.

            Withdrawal (leaving the scene.)

Intimidation

            Loudness, yelling, using threatening gestures.

            Bald threats – “You had better, or I will…!”

Acting superior.

Using position, status, or educational status to intimidate.

Rigidity

            That’s the rule.

            Because I am the boss.

Acting inflexible, unyielding.

            It’s the way we have always done it!

Guilt-Tripping

            Playing the martyr – “After all I have done for you.”

            Why couldn’t you be more…?

            If only you hadn’t…!

Saying it is OK, but then complaining endlessly.

Lying

            Denying – It wasn’t me. I didn’t know.

Telling half-truths.

Taking things out of context.

Giving false information, passing on unsubstantiated rumors.

Sabotage

            Agreeing without sincerity.

Taking on too much and then copping out.

Withholding assistance or resources

Willful damage

Creating a Crisis

            This has to be done right now!

            It is now or never!

            There is no time to check with others!

            Needing help, but waiting until the last minute to ask.

Forgetting, and then wanting to be bailed out.

Defensive Tactics

            Striking first when criticism is anticipated.

Counter attacking instead of listening and considering.

Rationalizing, justifying, instead of listening and considering.

Feigning helplessness.

Discounting what other say.

Blaming someone else.


 

How to have a good meeting.

Three keys to good meetings.

  1. Good planning.
    • Plan and post the agenda at least one week in advance to allow everyone time to see the posting and reflect on the items to be discussed.  Include times and what you would like to get out of each item (i.e. brainstorming, discussion, decision).
    • Schedule breaks into the meeting.
    • Set the meeting for a time when everyone can come and at a place that is comfortable and accommodating for the size of group you expect.
    • Post the agenda where everyone can see it during the meeting.
    • Get to the meeting space early.  Rearrange the furniture so everyone can see each other.  Set out water, scrap paper, and pens.  Get a dry erase or chalk board ready for the scribe.
    • Presenters, be prepared to present.  Bring hand-outs or visual aids that will help keep people’s attention.
  1. Good facilitation.
  • Choose a strong facilitator who has attended facilitation training.
  • Have the facilitator and presenters meet before the meeting so that everyone understands the purpose of each agenda item and what each person might need from the other(s).
  • Start the meeting on time.
  • Encourage everyone to speak.
  1. Good participant behavior.
  • Arrive on time.
  • Stay for the entire meeting.
  • Pay attention. Hand work is okay.  Reading a book is not.
  • Turn off your cell phone.
  • Do not participate if you are intoxicated or very sick.
  • Assume good intentions. People you find “difficult” can have valuable input.  Accommodate divergent communication styles.
  • Accept process roles.
  • Support the facilitator by observing the process.
  • Review any materials that were distributed before the meeting.
  • Speak concisely and to the point.
  • Wait to be called on to speak, refrain from interrupting others and speaking out of turn (even if it is a one word comment).
  • Don’t engage in side conversations.
  • Distinguish between your individual interests and the needs of the group.
  • Be willing to ask for process time if personal issues with other members (or outside issues) are unduly influencing your ability to make a decision.
  • Once the group has reached consensus, accept and support the decision.
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