Drilling Down on Effective Strategies for Collaboration

© Gabriel Blaj - Fotolia.com
© Gabriel Blaj – Fotolia.com

Sweat the Small Stuff

My philosophy around facilitation and building collaboratives is strength-based, asset-focused and grounded in appreciative inquiry – I focus on the positive, the possibilities and opportunities and incorporate five strategies for effective collaboration. This article drills-down on one of those strategies: # 4 Sweat The Small Stuff complete with pointers and implementation strategies so that you can successfully support your collaborative, develop team work, demonstrate respect for all participants and have fun while working together. That is the bottom line, right? We meet in collaboratives because we need to accomplish a common goal, we have a common purpose, but there is no reason we can’t have fun while accomplishing the mission of the group. If you use these pointers to Sweat The Small Stuff you can ensure that members of your collaborative will feel valued, respected and as a result, more engaged.

Plan, plan, plan: for every hour that your collaborative meets, an equal amount of time needs to be dedicated to planning the meeting. Review notes from the last meeting, contact any person who is making a report, organize the necessary supplies, equipment and technology, ensure that the content for the meeting is relevant and consistent with the collaborative’s requests and needs.

Prepare an agenda: The agenda should include the date, objective of the meeting, each item that will be covered during the meeting, who will be presenting the topic and a time limit for each item on the agenda. Review the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and come to agreement about the items on the agenda and the time frame allotted. A new business and unfinished business line can handle items that come up during discussions. Despite a growing move toward paperless meetings, I highly suggest that you bring a printed copy for each person attending the meeting. The printed copy serves several purposes: it serves as a contract, an agreement is made when everyone affirms the agenda and a printed copy can be used as a tool to focus the discussion and attention of the group, it also provides a space for people to take notes and write ideas.

• Stick to Your Agenda and Timelines: Of all of the pointers this is the most critical and so it bears repeating – start on time, end on

Bell, coffee cup and juggling cubes, handy facilitation tools
Bell, coffee cup and juggling cubes, handy facilitation tools

time and move through the agenda using the timeline established and agreed upon by all. Start on time, end on time. Just because an item is listed on the agenda or there are issues open for discussion, the group does not need to come to consensus or agreement about anything until the time is right. Creating opportunities for a topic or issue to be intentionally and thoughtfully revisited gives people room to process information between meetings, creates opportunities for new information to be presented at future meetings and gives space for people to “sit” on an idea or concept. If you have listed 15 minutes (20 is my recommended maximum for one topic at a meeting) call the question and stay on time. I have a timer and a bell that I use to signify that time is finished for the discussion on any item. If you begin your meetings on time, end them on time and stick to the timeline listed in the agenda – people will attend your meetings. This pointer is all about respect and honoring the time of your participants is the most tangible method of demonstrating your respect for them.

• Set The Stage for Success: Set up the room so it is conducive for your groups’ meeting style, a big circle or U-shaped for highly interactive, round tables for small group discussion, or in a classroom style if there is to be a lot of presentation/lectures. Place name tags, pens, paper and agendas at each seat, and the technology and equipment all in place and ready to go (I use a list of supplies needed so I can check them off before I leave for the meeting). Be ready so you can be on time. I like to feed people, which is a component of setting the stage for success – if people are willing to give you their time freely, the least you can do to thank them is to provide them with a little snack, or lunch if you have the budget; lunch will increase attendance. A little bowl of goodies can go a long way to say thank you.

• Create Opportunities for All to be Heard: It is vital to the health and well being of a collaborative that everyone who takes the time to attend the meeting has an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. Realize that people process their thoughts at different speeds means creating alternative options for engaging; have participants write down their thoughts on paper and collect them, have small group discussions and request that they report a common theme to the entire group, assign a writing exercise to be completed by the next meeting – be creative and be certain that everyone has an opportunity to be heard. Creating opportunities for people to be heard is an example of sweating the small stuff, facilitating around difficult people requires different skills and will be the topic of a future article.

• Be Relevant: Placing the objectives or goals of the meeting on the agenda will help keep the group focused. If participants stray from the topic and goals, they need to be re-focused so that the conversation and content remains relevant. Often an issue will arise that is completely off-topic and it can be swiftly moved to new items on the agenda or to a parking lot for future discussion. Staying relevant is important for the participants who came to the meeting to discuss the advertised topic…another respect issue.

Follow-up and Follow-through: Do what you say you are going to do and hold members of your collaborative to the same expectation. Write down any assignments or expectations that people agree to take on and record those assignments in the meeting minutes, include those assignments in the agenda under reports with the person’s name attached. Send minutes out shortly after the meeting and agendas just before so that each person will have a reminder of what they committed to doing. Conduct orientations for new members of the collaborative and review the minutes and agendas as resources to get newbies up to speed, so when they attend a meeting, they are ready to engage.

Sweating the small stuff in any meeting, but especially when working within collaboratives will ensure that participants will be prepared, feel respected, heard, valued and important. Each strategy builds upon the other and while simple is very effective. So whether you are a facilitator or a participant in a collaborative, bring these pointers to your group, review them and come to consensus about who is going to do what and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. Your collaborative will come alive and be very productive…and you might even have some fun while you are at it.

Healthy, vital collaboratives can solve any problem if you sweat the small stuff and set the stage for success. Collaboratives can gain information and ideas from a well-balanced group of people who bring to the forefront new context, a difference frame from which to look at an issue and can help to get clear about the real problem. Asking the right question to the right group of people in a setting where everyone has a voice.

Do you sweat the small stuff when working with groups of people? Do you have some strategies or pointers to add? I would love to hear about what is working for you!

Kathy Stutzman is a facilitator, trainer and evaluator working with groups and organizations to move ideas, visions and concepts forward. If you would like to contact her to discuss developing a strong collaborative with your group, contact her at [email protected], call at (507) 219-0912, on Twitter at @KathyStutzman or www.kathystutzman.blogspot.com
For a one page “Quick Tips” on effective collaboration visit www.kathystutzman.blogspot.com and request a copy, or send an e-mail to [email protected] and put Collaboration Quick Tips in the subject header.



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