How To Run Better Meetings, Groups, Clubs & Classes

Have you ever had the experience of having something important to say but no opportunity to say it? How easy or hard is it for you to really hear and respond to what someone else is saying while you're sitting there seething with your own thwarted urgent contribution? --Same for your participants. Every time you've done your job as chair or moderator so well that your people have gotten interested and involved, you inflict that perception-inhibiting frustration on your brighter members and in direct proportion to the degree that each has something important to contribute!

--Same for your students! Every time you've done your job so well that your lecture starts to get interesting, you inflict that perception-inhibiting frustration on your brighter students and on your class generally!

In a corporation where time is money, how much time is wasted in board and staff meetings, either in lengthy discourse by the chair or CEO while expensive specialists and executives sit mute, or in pre-orchestrated speech presentations whose "discussion" outcome was determined long since, or in a chaos ended only when the chair or CEO goes out and either does things himself or by dictate, dismissing 99% of all that was said at the meeting? Or where everyone is saying only what the chair or CEO wanted to hear, providing no meaningful feedback or direction?

Here then, follow in summary a very few, very simple provisions through which you can build interest, sustain tight topical focus, while fostering dynamic expressive interaction which wonderfully integrates and develops your group's various perceptions and perceivers. You will find that you can maintain a stronger, better topical focus WITH these interactive group-managing techniques than you can sustain now in solo lecture! This is not loose soft-minded stuff about letting students or employees or members express themselves; this is highly efficient group, boardroom or classroom MANAGEMENT. Here, then, is a very easy, very real way to discover and focus your people's (your people's!) very real genius:

DYNAMIC FORMAT

Dynamic Format fits comfortably with and can benefit most other group methods and procedures. It can turn miraculously productive all kinds of group meeting, from classroom (and even faculty meetings!!!!!) to board room to sales meeting to Town Hall and civic clubs.

Dynamic Format will enable you to easily get the members of your group actively, richly exploring, debating, investigating and relating to any topic or issue, yet staying far better focused than can the most forceful lecture or most rigorous use of Robert's Rules. Dynamic Format helps your participants to participate without getting in each other's way or in your way. Dynamic Format is a set of very simple managing techniques to conduct the transaction of information and/or decision with maximum sensitivity and breadth of consideration and perception, quickly, crisply, in depth but efficiently. (Doesn't sound like meetings you've been in before, does it? We've all heard the old joke about an hippopotamus being an animal designed by committee, meaning that group outcomes normally are a joke or come out close to being the lowest common denominator. Getting genius from such a group?!? Unthinkable! --But within a page or so you'll be seeing how to do so...

The simple "house rules" of Dynamic Format enable your people to be interactive, thoughtful, perceptive, expressive, comprehensive, and yet to maintain a tight, clear, progressing focus on your topic. Dynamic Format allows a group to move deftly, crisply and quickly, without heavy-handed directing and without having to wander through mishmash.

Here is how to bring about these and other desirable effects from a group meeting-----

FIRST, Have any group of more than 5-6 participants to subdivide at the start of your session, so each is already in place with his or her partner(s) on a stand-by basis so you can move swiftly and smoothly and deftly in and out of the interactive mode when you come to the point in your session where you want to use it. Have your people stay oriented with their partner(s) even while functioning in your larger (plenary) group. This way, when you want to switch modes, no logistics are required and you are free to move crisply between levels of interaction as well as from step to step, or into interaction and crisply back to formal lecture or other formal process.

Your teams can be pairs, or threes, or you can have "buzz groups" consisting of as many as 5-6 participants, depending upon what you want to do with them. Each participant in a pair has more "air time" in which to examine and describe what s/he is perceiving in the context of the defined topic or question. The larger the group, the more chance that someone in it will catch on to what you want and model how it is done. The more difficult your question or task, therefore, the larger you want your groups up to a maximum of six to ensure that someone there in each group will be able to comprehend and get things moving as you want. Most of the time, to get the maximum of Socratic benefit, you will want to work your participants within pairs. You can even have your participants, as this writer has often done with his participants in his workshops and teachings, orient in pairs within larger sub-groups of 4 to 6 members.

SECOND: From the very start of such a session, set up at least some of the following "Core Agreements" or "house rules for this session," to make it easy for you to swiftly and gently guide and focus or refocus your people into, through, and out of highly involved, highly interactive "buzz-sessions:"

Waterglass Rules--the waterglass, ashtray or chime which can be heard easily when everyone is talking at the same time--so your voice won't have to compete with all the other voices---

THREE 'bings' = Instant Pause In Talking. Rule: the moment you hear 3 'bings,' pause in talking not only in mid-sentence but in mid-word so that you and others can hear the next topical question or step of instruction.

One 'bing' = half-minute's notice, before the 3-binger. Rule: keep on doing what you are presently doing but be ready a half minute after this one 'bing' to pause in talking to hear the next instruction.


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Hand-Up = Instant Talk-Pause + Hand Up, this simple device often used by the Scouts. This is best for very large groups, of one hundred or more members. Rule: the instant you notice either the leader's hand go up or other people's hands going up, pause instantly in your talking and get your own hand up!) (On-off flicks of the room lighting can serve the same purpose.)

RELEVANCY CHALLENGE--make a triangle of your thumbs and fore-fingers, sight at the speaker through that triangle. Rule: on that instant, whoever is speaking must (1) demonstrate how his/her remarks relate to the topic; or (2) return to the topic; or (3) yield the floor. Instantly. (How many times have you been reluctant to shut off someone's story but had to stand there bleeding internally while s/he got further and further off the subject and broke the context?!?)

You can see how, with just a little simple pre-arrangement, major group dynamics can be set in motion or stopped, directed, focused, how you can orchestrate them to maximum effect in terms of learning or of meeting-goal. Simple arrangement of easily used hand signals as standing rules or agreements allows you to orchestrate a wide range of group behaviors virtually without effort or delay. On the same principle, from time to time you may want to set up these special-occasion rules for particular situations--

Support-First Rule, used to obtain creative production, fresh ideas and perceptions, innovations, and answers to questions or issues whose outcome is not narrowly predetermined. To get more and better ideas contributed, the first response to the contributing of an idea should be a positive reinforcement. However off-the-wall an idea or input may seem at first, the first response to it must be some form of meaningful, content-related support! After that meaningful first support, then it's o.k. to carve that weird notion into corned beef hash, so long as the support came first. Every major system of creative problem solving has some form of this rule; to use it effectively, simply put it in this form:

Any time you observe an idea not getting supported first, whether yours or someone else's, clasp your hands together over your head for a second or so while looking wistfully upward, then go on.

b. Note: the best ideas usually are those which were greeted first with a burst of laughter. You may wish to give those laugh-burst ideas special attention. In any case, make sure that the first response to whatever input positively reinforces that act of creating and contributing ideas and fresh perceptions. Win your way past the usual reflexive self-censorings which stifle creative thought and perceptiveness.

c. Don't use this support-first rule where you don't want richly expansive creativity, multiple considerations, and enthusiastic participant expression.

3-sentence limit (or 4, or 2, or simply a 1-minute limit per input, depending upon the size of group and the nature of the process you are working. Once this rule is invoked, any time you notice someone going beyond the set limit, simply lean forward with hands clasped in front of you.

Make Record of the Run-Pasts! This corrects the main frustration about any group discussion or process which gets interesting enough to provoke a lot of desire to participate. Rule: Anything you notice that seems worthy of mention, but which the group process (or lecturer!) has stampeded past: make a written note or record of it, immediately! So reinforce YOUR OWN perceiving of overlooked aspects, not merely just that particular point! (--And clear the traffic jam in your perceptions between what you have to say and giving more attention to what others are saying now!--and if others also follow this Record Run-Pasts Rule, your inputs when you do get to make them will receive attention.

Sometimes there is a chance before the end to pick some of these points back up and consider them--but the main purpose of this rule is to reinforce your own perceptiveness and integrity of view. Any time you notice someone else seething with an overrun point, point to his or her notepad and waggle pen or pencil at it.

An Aside: A Lecture to Teachers--

The lecture method was invented for the situation, back in the Dark Ages before printing, when only one copy of some book would be at the university, and the most qualified person would both read from it to the class and lecture based upon it, for the benefit of all the students who otherwise had no access to that book and its contents. A few of the relevant circumstances have changed since then! Some churches and most schools have continued the practice, though--all most classrooms need to become a religious service is a hymn or so!

Even if you are wedded to the lecture method and have never "buzzed a group" in your life, you can experiment just a little. Identify the key point you've just been trying to make in your lecture, and instruct your students to "turn to your partner(s) (or "the person next to you" if you've not pre-set the class) and, between you, let's see which pair of you can come up with the best statement of this issue." (Or turn your main point into a question and ask that question.)

* Get them started. (By look or persuasion, make sure all are participating.)
* Allow 3-4 minutes.
* 'Bing' and state the half-minute's notice.
* Sound your waterglass, cup or ashtray three gentle 'bings' to end the "buzz."
* Sound out (and give at least a little somewhat positive reinforcement to) each of a few pairs' wording of the issue (or answer), reinforce from there the point you were making, and move on.

Now, that wasn't too hard, was it? --And easier to do next time. Courage, there: for lo, you soon can be effortlessly moving your students in and out of interactive process, and through different levels of process, with amazingly well-focused discussions, like a master conductor directs his well-trained orchestra! Yes, you!

If you are shy about it, test out these rules one step at a time until you feel them working for you and you see and are pleased with the results - especially pleased with what you see happening with your students, as you manage your classroom into ever more excellent topical focus and intensity.

Consider: of what value even the most eloquent lecture, if little is learned from it? What matters in the classroom is what is learned, not what is taught. Dynamic Format lets you have it both ways.

Beyond the classroom: The Board Room, the Clubhouse, City Hall:

--Note that Robert's Rules of Order were designed to shut down communications within a group so that business can be transacted. The too-typical result leads to the joke about the hippopotamus being an animal designed by a committee. Dynamic Format, instead, elicits focused communications in a way which causes the business transacted to reflect the highest considerations and actual genius of the group!

--Yes, your group! Once you learn how to tap, focus and direct its very real resources, you have some extraordinarily pleasant surprises coming to you.

Board meetings, annual business meetings of societies, faculty or staff meetings, planning groups, task forces, town meetings, etc., are just as appropriate for this set of focusing strategies. This form of participant involvement, fostering expression from each participant's own perceptions while sustaining a tight topical focus, yields results far superior to those of the methods historically or currently in general use. Any corporation, society, committee, task force or staff can immediately, easily and sharply improve its performance and product.

Beyond Clearing the Mental Traffic Jam:

Focused"buzz-grouping" a la Dynamic Format, enabling everyone to get in his say and go on, as previously noted clears a mental traffic jam so that deliberations can move forward and each participant be fully and productively engaged. Instead of sitting there seething with things to say and mentally rehearsing what he's going to say until he can grab the floor, each participant fully expresses himself and is freed to listen, as well as to move forward in his thoughts and perceptions. Beyond that effect--

Socrates was among the first to discover that to describe a perception develops that perception further. The original schools, in classical Greece, were set up not for the benefit of students, but to provide quality audiences for the leading thinkers and perceivers to describe their perceptions to. Socratic method is a set of techniques for getting participants to examine their inner and/or outer perceptions and to describe in detail what they discover there.

The resulting peak learning experiences and "Socratic miracle leaps" phenomena which frequently occur with this kind of process, no less than the insights come up with on the couch of a good psychologist, are now easily understood in terms of modern psychology's most widely accepted or "first law: You get more of what you reinforce." Each time you describe one of your own perceptions, you--

1. Reinforce that particular perception, discovering more and more about it, sometimes until it seems that you're perceiving the whole universe at once.

2. You reinforce the behavior of being perceptive!

This is why groups conducted extensively through Dynamic Format, where each participant not only "gets his say" without slowing one-another down, but describes enough from his own perceptions to expand those perceptions, deepen his insight, and also is freed to listen further, not only perform so much better but increasingly better than do groups conducted through conventional meeting methods.

The Japanese had to teach us the American-discovered technique of product quality control. Can we teach ourselves this form of meeting quality control, which may well prove to be of far greater significance to us all? You have the above simple instructions in hand, and enough information about them to devise your own "Dynamic Format" rules should you need different ones. The rest is up to you.



©1998 by Project Renaissance (regarding this internet version only, other copyrights may apply). While we encourage the free distribution of this article (complete text only, including this notice and acknowledgement of source), we do require that expressed permission be granted by Project Renaissance for any major republication. For minor printing and sharing, we only request that you notify us.

To reach Win Wenger, please visit his website at Project Renaissance.

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This version originally published on Anakin's Brain (now Genius By Design)


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