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


Welcome to this fourth post presenting what you need to know to become a High-Performance Leader! In this post we will continue the introduction of a collaboration process toolbox that you will use every day, every time you meet with someone, a group, a team, etc., to 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 1-3 yet, please consider doing so. They will set the stage for this discussion.

In Post #3, we exposed the root cause of so many leadership failures: process blindness. Leadership happens when we are interacting with others. Each opportunity to lead requires some sort of meeting/engagement activity that can and should be artfully managed. The first meeting leadership tool we shared is an agenda planning template that expert facilitators should completely internalize. Remember that all complaints about meetings are driven by how the meeting was led (the meeting process) and not what the meeting was about (the meeting content). Therefore, we must master meeting facilitation process tools.

Just as every problem people identify about meetings is rooted in a lack of skill in leading human interactions, then at a higher level, every problem that drives our projects off course is driven by process blindness and skill deficits in project production as well. Every leadership step required to plan and implement a great team meeting is also required to think through a great project design – just at a higher level. It’s all about absolute clarity of purpose and the skill to select the best means and methods to achieve that purpose.

Here again is the meeting planning/agenda template from Post #3:

My old mentor, Michael Doyle, a co-founder of Interaction Associates, said, “If a leader cannot get us to agree within the first 5 minutes of any meeting on why we are meeting, what we want to accomplish, what we need to cover and which meeting processes we are going use, they are not ready to meet!” I took that to heart and have used this tool to plan anything from a phone call to an all-day, 100-person collaboration.

Like the A3 problem-solving template, the value of this agenda planning tool is that it helps us organize our thinking and our actions. But, as with any template, if you don’t know what to put in each space, the template doesn’t do much good. Think of this meeting planning template as jigsaw puzzle where we must identify and organize each piece to create a fantastic, productive experience. Let’s review tools to address each piece, starting with the most important step: clarity about what you need to accomplish in each leadership interaction.

Purpose and Desired Outcomes

It is the exceptional leader who starts every meeting or discussion by saying, “Before we dive in, let’s review and agree on why we are here, what we want to accomplish in this meeting, and how we are going to proceed.” Make this a habit if you want to be an effective leader, and if you want fully engaged participants rather than blind followers. Michael said we should cancel any meeting that is not sufficiently planned.

Meeting “Purpose” can sound a little grandiose, as though we are asking “What’s my purpose in life and how does this relate to this meeting?” Currently, “Purposeful Leadership”, “Servant Leadership” and “Enlightened Leadership” approaches are all popular concepts that encourage focus on alignment between your sense of purpose and your leadership actions. I recommend figuring that out for yourself, generally. It will proved a personal foundation for your leadership advancement. But luckily, when it comes to meeting leadership, the definition of a meeting’s purpose and desired outcomes is much simpler. “Purpose” is linked to what we want to accomplish by the end of the meeting, or the end of a section of a multi-topic meeting . There are only 6 reasons to meet – and these 6 will help you quickly define the purpose of a meeting or a section of a meeting.

To correctly identify the purpose of a meeting, or of a part of a meeting, we must think about what we need to accomplish in the available time. The topics we address, and the engagement processes we deploy will differ depending on what we are trying to accomplish. The simplest example is the difference between “information giving” (making announcements) and “information gathering” (getting feedback, ideas, checking status, etc.). Information giving requires no engagement from meeting attendees. In fact, one could reasonably ask why you are having an “information giving” meeting at all? Send an email, post a bulletin. Why do you need a meeting if you don’t want to engage people?

Most meeting leaders are even more vague about why they have called a meeting. They meet to “share” information. If I am invited to such a meeting, I won’t know whether I am giving, receiving, adding to, questioning, or agreeing to some “information”. If you are invited to such a meeting and want to improve the situation, a facilitative behavior might be to say, “Before we dive in, can you please clarify what we need to accomplish? I want to understand how I can contribute to make this a productive meeting.” When you ask such clarifying questions, you often find out that the real purpose of the information “sharing” is that someone wants you to do something. Most of us like to feel that we have some say in decisions that affect us. Do you have a voice in the decision? Do you have a choice? Unless you are just receiving orders, the real purpose of “sharing” information is to collectively decide and develop a plan of action. Now the purpose of the meeting is getting clearer. If our purpose is get buy-in to productive action we must engage people.

A leader who is not clear what a meeting’s purpose and what sort of involvement is needed, runs the risk of generating confusion, or frustration, or both. Any such reaction undermines your chances of getting real commitment and engagement. Will participants want to come to your next meeting? People’s radar is finely tuned. “Respect for People” is or is not demonstrated in our actions minute to minute. A tiny investment in preparation really pays off! For each purpose (type of meeting) we can define one or more clear desired outcomes. Here are Typical outcomes for each meeting type and examples of such meetings. Note that “outcomes” (what we will come out with) should always be tangible products that can easily be determined to be “done” or “not done”.

Purpose/Type Desired Outcome Examples
Info. Gathering
  • A list of… design ideas, suggestions, proposed changes, requests, needs, etc.
  • A summary of lessons learned from a project/phase/trial run, etc.
  • Collected observations, insights, surprises, etc.
Meeting Content Examples: Customer requirements, lessons-learned, process studies, plus/delta sessions, Gemba walks, vendor visits
Problem ID
  • A list of perceived problems
  • Agreement on a problem/root cause definition
  • A list of contributing factors or constraints to address
  • A process map with identified breakdowns and bottlenecks
Meeting Content Examples: LPS® plan failure analysis, constraint analysis, mock-up reviews, operations studies, progress reviews, plan reviews, design reviews
Problem Solving
  • A list of possible solutions (prioritized? Sequenced? Costed? Etc.)
  • Agreement on a corrective course of action
  • Agreement on a new “best practice”
  • Agreement on metrics and methods for analysis of progress
Meeting Content Examples: Design option development, engineering requirement development, quality performance improvement, safety improvement, plan changes, constraint resolution, any optimization effort
Planning and Coordination
  • Agreement on an action plan (who will do what by when)
  • Agreement on a weekly work plan, phase plan, master plan, plan updates, change process, stakeholder engagement actions, etc.
  • Agreement on roles and responsibilities
Meeting Content Examples: Every level of LPS® system meeting, Supply chain, materials and information system design, and the last part of most other meeting types when follow up action commitments are made.
Decision Making
  • Agreement on a decision that everyone will support (a “consensus”) A win/win solution
  • A signed contract, agreement, charter, approval, change, etc.
Meeting Content Examples: Meetings where option selection is finalized in an agreement: vender selection, design selection, finalized engineering, a finalized team charter, and materials, methods, equipment, selection, etc.
Information Giving
  • People have received some information, direction, etc. – NOTE: there is no tangible product. Measurement of success is very difficult.
Meeting Content Examples: training and orientation sessions, short announcements, emergency responses, awards celebrations

Tangible outcomes are primarily documents – lists, plans, and agreements. When we are clear what we want at the beginning, it is easy to assess our progress at the end.

Most meetings combine several of these meeting activities. To select an overall purpose, the question we must address is, “by the end of the meeting, what is the most important final product?” In a weekly staff meeting, information will be gathered, problems/challenges identified, possibly some solutions or changes will have been agreed. If all that has happened, but there are no final decisions and no commitments to a plan of action have been made, was the meeting a success? I would suggest that most regular staff or team meetings are ultimately Planning and Coordination meetings. All those other activities are needed to get commitment to high quality plan of action.

Once a High-Performance Leader is clear about what must be accomplished, success depends on their ability to think through and implement a flow for the whole meeting. We must select and organize the process steps and tools to pull off a great event.

In Blog Post #5, we will complete the review of what goes into the agenda template. We will provide an example of a weekly Last Planner System® meeting agenda that you can use and modify as needed. And we will go deeply into facilitation tools (process steps) that you can sequence, like choosing steppingstones across a stream, to get you from the beginning to the end of any type of meeting. The engagement generated by skilled execution of the right process at the right time builds high commitment and generates quality outcomes. And it’s something you can become great at doing!

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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.