In this revolutionary book, Marvin Weissbord and Sandra Janoff, two facilitators of large scale group meetings, share 10 insights for leading meetings that matter.

As an experienced organizer of group meetings, I felt thrilled, reading the insights, for I felt the truth in each one of them. Let me share the 10 insights, but be sure to read the book. You won’t regret!

1. Get the whole system in the room

  • Define the whole system. Who ARE – IN? A group that has within it various people with: A = Authority to act, R = Resources, such as contacts, time, or money, E = Expertise in the issues to be considered, I = Information about the topic that no others have, N = Need to be involved because they will be affected by the outcome and can speak to the consequences
  • Match people to the task
  • Match the meetings length to its agenda
  • Give people time to express themselves, to own the situation and take responsibility
  • Use differentiation and integration techniques so people can explore a diversity of perspectives and integrate them to new views
  • Use the 3 by 3 rule if you can’t get the whole system (any 3 functions from any 3 levels you can get)

2. Control what you can, let go what you can’t

  • Create a setting for participants to self-manage their work
  • Forget about being able to control behavior of people
  • Exercise maximum control before the meeting: Know your role (content task or not, a stake in the outcome or not), and be clear about your role, Clarify the purpose, Assure that participants are equal to the task (invitation strategy), Use subgroups to differentiate and integrate views, Plan to have each group report to the whole, Allow enough time, Choose healthy working conditions
  • Exercise minimum control during the meeting
    o Watch for fight or flight behavior
    o Head off interactions that might alienate or isolate someone
    o Arrange seating to fit the purpose
    o Establish time management norms early

3. Explore the whole elephant

  • Apply Systems Thinking: Things are connected, so explore the whole before fixing any part
  • Bring “the environment” into the room in the form of people, people will learn that together they can do things none would have considered alone; explore both content and how people feel about it
  • Techniques for exploring the whole: Apply a Go-Around with a talking stick, Use Time Lines, Make a Mind Map, Draw a Group Flowcharts
  • Don’t confuse techniques with principles; allow people to build a shared frame of reference, a more complex and realistic view than they had before
  • Get everybody on the same page before asking them to problem solve or decide
  • They will make better choices and be more likely to accept responsibility for action

4. Let people be responsible

  • People expect that the meeting leader does most of the work; don’t take the entire burden on yourself
  • Help people to share responsibility by: Accept people the way they are, not as you want them to be, People have the right to say No, let people hide their hidden agendas, Do less so that others will do more, Encourage self-management, Contain your own ‘Hot Buttons’, Encourage dialogue

5. Find common ground

  • Focus on common ground, the issues what people can agree on and not on issues that they cannot resolve
  • Getting to common ground: Hold off problem solving until all can talk about the same world, Get conflicts into the open and then leave them there; focus on what people can agree on, Focus on the future, tap into the dreams and hopes of people

6. Master the art of subgrouping

  • Seek to free people from group pressure; groups will keep working so long as no member becomes a victim of stereotyping
  • Differences may quickly lead to ‘good views’ and ‘bad views’, bringing tensions we are upset about
  • Move towards this tension and invite people to express their differences
  • Make subgroups for every different view, so all views are appreciated and the group can keep working on the task
  • Subgroup techniques: Ask an ‘Anyone else question’ when someone expresses critique, Prevent polarization in A’s and B’s by making two subgroups and let the A’s listen to the B’s and then the B’s listen to the A’s, listen for the integrating statement, get everybody to differentiate their positions, use a go-around when the group gets stuck

7. Make friends with anxiety

  • You can grow your capacity for leadership by increasing your tolerance for such natural conditions as disorder, ambiguity, and uncertainty
  • Control you anxiety when things get stuck and everyone is looking at you, by: Present the four rooms of change on a flipchart at the start, keep breathing, control your own negative expectation, check your internal dialogue, arrange for people to move if they’ve been sitting for a long time, ask the group what to do next

8. Get used to projections

  • We may project our hopes and fears on others, making them responsible for our feelings and our fate. Others do the same to us, especially when we take leadership.
  • Grow awareness of your own positive and negative sites, you become less judgmental
  • When you feel uncomfortable in a group, it is probably caused by something you don’t accept in yourself
  • Try to own this feeling, use ‘percept’ language
  • For instance: ‘This group is frustrating’ becomes ‘I have a part in me being frustrated’ / ‘It doesn’t matter’ becomes ‘I don’t matter’

9. Be a dependable authority

  • Anytime you assume authority, people test your dependability
  • Recognize dependency (you are a great leader)
  • Recognize counter-dependency (you are a worthless leader)
  • Don’t take this behaviour personally, they are authority projections on your role
  • Tips for reacting on authority projections:
    o Reply briefly on dependency
    o Get a subgroup for counter-dependency
    o Deflect direct attacks, for instance by ‘who else thinks’

10. Learn to say NO if you want your YES to mean something

  • Say No to conditions where you are not likely to succeed; you will save yourself and others a lot of time and effort
  • Offer an alternative that meets the principles better
  • Don’t promise more than you can deliver