Out there, beyond tangible outcomes

31st March 2009

Several of my early blog entries extolled the virtues of having clear outcomes for meetings, and the importance of outcomes for each session within a meeting. I still believe that for 99% of business situations this is appropriate advice, and that the lack of outcome focus is the main cause of poor meetings.

In the last year I have come across a few situations where tangible outcomes are not essential. The common link between these situations is the need to tackle contentious and ambiguous situations in a group. On these occasions, we have set aside a good amount of time on the agenda (2-2.5 hours) and the session has been positioned some way into the meeting, to allow the group to warm up.

One of the important aspects of leading groups through this type of conversation is the framing, or set up. Whilst there is often no tangible outcome, there needs to be clear purpose, and a statement of the problem being addressed. Precision in the problem statement is helpful. Being specific and avoiding generalisations and euphemisms reduces the likelihood of confusion and misunderstanding. By stating a particular incident, where the problem arose, helps the whole group focus on reality. I also find a robust discussion about rules helps create a safe environment for people to speak their minds, in a helpful and respectful manner.

What I am learning is that, where there are unhelpful patterns of behaviour going on in a group, finding a means to address them is important. Over processing the discussion can inhibit the depth of conversation, which sometimes needs to meander organically and tends to reach a natural conclusion or breakthrough in thinking.