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The purpose of this blog post series is to provide a framework and a set of leadership tools that can dramatically improve your performance as a leader. No matter where you are, from construction crew or design/engineering team member, a foreman or project manager to corporate executive, implementation of operations best practices driven by lean and progressive design-build require us to rethink leadership.


Welcome to this fifth post where we present more of what you need to know to become a High-Performance Leader! In this post we will complete the introduction of a collaboration process toolbox that you will use every day, every time you meet with someone, a group, a team, etc. These tools eliminate “process blindness” and unlock the power of collaboration.

High Performance Leadership: Facilitation Strategies and Tools to Transform Your Meetings

Welcome back to this High-Performance Leadership Blog Series. If you have not read Posts 1-4 yet, please consider doing so. They will set the stage for this discussion.

In Post #4, we discussed a critical skill for high-performance leadership: finding clarity of Purpose and specifying Desired Outcomes. Clear definition of why we are having a discussion or a meeting, and what we want to produce, is the first step of agenda planning.

The next steps are identification of the topics to be addressed and the process tools we will use to address those topics and create the desired outcomes. The agenda planning template, a tool we shared in Post #3, provides 4 columns to lay out each discussion Topic in the sequence they should be addressed, and for each topic, the Process steps you plan to use, Who is leading/participating, and how much Time is allotted. When you spend a little time doing this planning, you will save yourself and others a lot of wasted time and frustration.

Below is the meeting agenda template introduced in Post # 3, filled out for a weekly Last Planner System® Big Room Session. The Last Planner System® (LPS®), sometimes called “pull planning”, is a collaborative operations management process. It is distinct from traditional, top-down project planning and scheduling that focuses on that to do by when. LPS® focuses on the engagement of all the people working on a project or project area to collectively agree on how they will complete work each day of the upcoming week. The “Last Planners'' are the Foremen/Superintendents who decide every day where and how crews work - based on the immediate reality of site conditions. LPS® meetings provide systematic forums to coordinate and commit to upcoming work. Properly implemented, LPS® alleviates conflicts and miscues created when each trade is working to their own schedule.

In LPS®, the weekly work commitments are checked and updated daily and reported and reviewed weekly. The week’s progress is used to update a 6-week “Look-Ahead” pull plan, solve any problems identified in the previous week, and make more reliable and realistic work commitments for the next week of work. Participants share and adjust the “Means and Methods” proposed by each trade and crew to collectively agree on the smoothest, most productive flow of work for everyone.

As shown in the agenda below, this weekly LPS® session takes a number of hours and has sections that each have a unique purpose. The flow moves from information sharing to problem-solving to planning to decision-making. Large projects with multiple areas of work shared by several crafts, use break-out sessions. Every step needs skilled facilitative leadership.

When one develops a standard process agenda such as this, team members quickly adopt a new rhythm, and it is easy to tweak the process steps or timing as needed to match the individual meeting. The leader quickly begins to identify certain combinations of process steps that will become second nature. For example, if someone presents, reports or proposes some solution or action, such presentation should almost always be followed by a period of questions for clarification and then reactions. The questions and feedback you get will tell you whether you can get an easy agreement or will need to do some more work to get an actionable buy-in.

Some of the process steps listed above sound quite general, e.g., “ID Root Causes”. Familiarity with a range of process tools is still needed. A root-cause for the failure of some committed task may not be obvious. How are you going to uncover and fix it? Does the situation lend itself to rapid problem solving in this meeting, or must it be assigned to a group of informed stakeholders for resolution. Imagine you are the leader of a jazz group. You must be prepared to improvise, even on an old standard.

Below is a list of commonly used Facilitator process options. Note that they are organized into 3 columns that correlate with the type of discussion you need to lead. Do you need to generate information or feedback from the participants, organize and make sense of the generated information, or make a decision? Each of these activities uses different process tools.

Chances are you recognize many of these process tools, but also, some are likely new or unclear. I can’t give detailed instructions on each in this blog post, but I do give examples and practice these in our “High-Performance Leadership workshops. I’ll make some guiding comments here.

  • Separate the process of gathering information and generating ideas from the process of evaluating those ideas. Nothing shuts down creative thinking as quickly as some comment right in the middle of brainstorming like, “That’s a terrible idea!” or “I tried that, it doesn’t work!”
  • Creativity and analysis access different parts of the brain. Create room for both.
  • Several “Generate” tools are versions of brainstorming. Some common ground rules are:
    • Don’t criticize or evaluate ideas while we are generating them – every idea likely has some bit of value to add.
    • It’s ok to “piggy-back” someone else’s ideas (add to them) or “flip-flop” (say the opposite), like proposing “more of…/less of…”.
    • Participants should make sure we capture their input accurately, etc.
    • I prefer “All ideas are welcome during brainstorming” to “there are no bad ideas”. Let’s be real: there are some bad ideas. That’s why we have evaluation tools!
  • Some of these tools are simply templates that guide more focused brainstorming. A Fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram sets a team up to brainstorm problem causes in categories – The cause of a work delay might include categories like Design errors, materials problems, assembly errors, site conditions.
    • An idea generation matrix helps format a bunch of small brainstorms. For example, to plan meals for a 5-day camping trip a simple matrix might have days 1-5 down the first column, and breakfast/lunch/dinner across the top. You brainstorm what to eat for each meal and the matrix keeps you from missing something. A construction example might be development of types of furnishings for all the different spaces in a facility. We need to develop a tool box like the one above to lead groups through any such activity.
  • Accommodate both Introverts and Extroverts. Introverts think before they speak and need time to process when they are generating ideas. They are generally worth listening to. Extroverts (I’m one) figure out what they are thinking by listening to themselves speak. Whatever process you are in, create space for people to think before speaking and make sure everyone has room to be heard and appreciated. Create a process that generates quality work, not just quantity.
  • Any form of idea generation activity just generates a bunch of information. Now what? The leader/facilitator’s job is to help people understand and appreciate what they just created. Look for the “diamond” at the heart of each input. What was each person offering that could be of value? Work to combine the “diamonds” of meaning and insight from various comments into something brilliant. Look for common themes and cluster related ideas. You may have to prioritize or assess the importance of individual or grouped ideas. Don’t confuse prioritizing with making a final decision. Sometimes, when you prioritize a list, you realize there is some gem in one of the lower-priority ideas which can be added to a top-priority idea and make it even better. Go slow to go fast. Be curious.
  • When there is a list of ideas to prioritize, people commonly make errors regarding how many choices to give each participant, or whether it is OK for them to put more than one “vote” on their favorite idea. Be careful which method you suggest because different methods create very different results. If you have a list of 14 options to prioritize and you give everyone 1 choice, you will likely get many items with one (or no) vote and one or two with 3-4 votes. This might tell how a few people are leaning, but you are still far from a consensus. A better technique is called “N/3” or “N/3(+1)”. Divide the number of choices by 3 and let folks choose their top 1/3 of the items – no double voting. You will get a good scatter and learn much more about what the stakeholder’s priorities are. Discuss why people made certain choices and find ways to accommodate their priorities. (Use the “+1” to round up when the items don’t divide by 3 evenly – for 14 items they mark their 5 top choices.)
  • Be clear how people will participate in the decision-making. Look for opportunities to package good ideas together to create a win/win and an “elegant” solution. (Look for more on decision making in an upcoming post.)

All this takes practice. Try different tools to see how they work. It’s all about balancing between competing preferences: working fast vs. driving quality, or getting to a decision vs. really understanding people’s ideas. Leadership requires lots of big and little choices that we call “strategic moments” – moments when you must assess what is going on against what we need to be doing, come up with a strategy, such as staying the course or moving on, and then choose a tactic (what will you say or do?) When you are not sure what will be best, ask the group. Here is a graphic that illustrates the elements of a “Strategic Moment”.

We know from psychology that much of what we call “learning” involves the physiological development of neural pathways that correlate to courses of action we choose. These pathways are in a different, deeper part of the brain than the Frontal Cortex where the planning and choosing takes place. Repeated enough, our responses become automatic and no longer require conscious choice. An example would be learning to drive. We require intense concentration when we are learning, but our responses to what the senses are telling us quickly become automatic, while the conscious mind may wander to something completely unrelated.

If you pay attention to your own mental process, you can notice that your whole day is a succession of choice points, most of which you respond to automatically. For the high-performance leader, all interactions with colleagues are a rapid succession of “strategic moments”: What was just said? Are we moving in the right direction? Do I need to say or do something? What will I say or do and how will I say or do it? The more conscious of these moments and my choices, the more effective and intentional I can be. You become increasingly effective.

The strategic moment choices we make in discussions and meetings can seem pretty “micro”, but can become macro because they are the building blocks of either a healthy or dysfunctional project/organization culture. And there are “macro” strategic moments as well. How will we organize this project? Which type of contract will we choose? What must I do to make this happen? It’s the same internal process of assessment, choice, and action, but at a higher level. This is why we say that High-Performance Leadership skills are important at every organization level.

This post concludes discussion about leadership in the meeting environment. In Blog Post #6, we will switch gears again and explore effective Stakeholder Engagement, with tools to make sure the right people have the right involvement at the right time to generate Win/Win decisions.

Keep on reading, and try out the strategies and tools we are presenting in these posts. Yes, it’s a lot of “stuff.” Being a high-performance leader takes some work, and the work really pays off!

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Victor R. Ortiz is an organization development professional with over 35 years of professional consulting experience. Vic has worked with LCI co-founders Ballard and Howell since 1985 and he co-facilitated many of the early development meetings of LCI. Vic currently works as an independent Lean/IPD Coach.