Improving Meaningless Meetings- Learn to Establish Norms and Improve Collaborative Skills

Part I Team Development–Unlocking The Power of Team Norms and Collaborative Communication Skills To eliminate Toxic meetings 

Team norms represent the behavior expectations that support the core concepts of trust, sharing, belonging and respect and cooperation. Collaborative skills are the specific ways in which team members are expected to behave in order to achieve accepted norms and ways to productively work together. After team norms have been developed, collaborative skills are assessed, prioritized and taught.

Collaboration Team Communication Skills and Norms 

Team norms represent the behavior expectations that support the core concepts of trust, sharing, belonging and respect and cooperation. Collaborative skills are the specific ways in which team members are expected to behave in order to achieve accepted norms and ways to productively work together. After team norms have been developed, collaborative skills are assessed, prioritized and learned the team is better equipped to discuss, share, problem solve and brainstorm opportunities for taking the next steps forward through constructive action. 

Over my 30 +  years of facilitation and team projects and discussions, I have developed a growing and non-exhaustive list of collaborative skills that are supportive of effective and productive team interaction, efficiency and effectiveness.

Here is the list of behavior and possible norms to review:

Ask questions, Actively listen for understanding-Start a conversation-Ask for help-Ask a favor – Cooperate by joining-in an activity Be engaged Pay attention-Accept feedback Accept criticism Apologize-Give a compliment-Make others feel important-Follow suggestions or directions Say Thank you Acknowledge others effort-Say Yes-Say No Accept situations Give-up control- Say you don’t know- Clarify Summarize-Restate- Reflect other people’s feelings State and own your feelings and emotions Show empathy-Know and recognize feelings- Be observant Be open to negotiate-Express sympathy and sadness for others –Own your feelings and actions-Take time-outs to cool down- Ignore distractions- Take turns speaking and listening- Take responsibility and accountability for actions-Remind others to be flex and open to other view points- Play devil’s advocate-Influence and convince others with strong factual arguments-Deal with Other’s overreactions and anger – Deal with fear and anxiety – Stand-up for your rights- Be assertive- Respond and accept teasing or sarcastic put-downs- Deal with failures and embarrassments- Learn to problem solve and complete in-completions- Don’t run away from unresolved conflicts- Set priorities for action. 

Potential Uses for using the list for Team Development:

1. To assess a team’s readiness for problem solving and opportunity finding.

2. To evaluate a team meeting session from the point of view of satisfaction with the interaction

3. To measure a team’s group stage for effectiveness.

4. For identifying skill areas for team training and development in collaborative and supportive behaviors.

5. Efficiency of team’s ability to maximize time management.


Part I: Improving Meeting Dynamics and Productivity–Learn the three Critical Needs of Groups.

Part I: Improving Meeting Dynamics: Identifying and understanding  3 categories of team meeting needs — Task, Individual, and Group Maintenance Needs.

It’s Sunday evening, and you settle down to watch tennis , football or hot melodramatic detective show and then start to think about the mandatory Monday morning sales and operation meeting.  The agenda has been send out on Friday and everyone has had an opportunity to contribute to the agenda. So why as you ponder this meeting does dread rise up and you stomach start to grumble? Let’s review the group dynamic that states when a group of people get together, there are several kinds of things that need attention, different kinds of need. There are three principal kinds of need or categories which are important to understand when operating within a group environment.

These three needs are:

1. task needs–the group has a job to do

2. individual needs–every individual because of their uniqueness may have different needs that need to be met, such as recognition, control or status.

3. group or team maintenance needs–this is the need of the group as whole to maintain, support and work for corporate cohesion and accomplishment of team goals.

This last team process of group maintenance needs is one element that many team leaders and groups overlook in managing and conducting meetings. This element is called the “maintenance function” because it tries to prevent problems and issues that will reduce the ability of the group to work in an efficient and effect manner to produce desired results.  This 3rd element is difficult to to define because we spent so much time and are so familiar with the other critical group element the “task function.”  So for the remainder of this post I will explain why this element of group maintenance is the most important element for you as a manager or facilitator to understand.   The “maintenance function” is a soft skill need of members to identify and share how they feel about the process elements of the meeting, like agenda building, how to arrive at consensus, and other ways the group works together to build trust, set guidelines for interaction and how the group can continually improve their communication skills and problem solving. Although the feelings about working together start with individuals I have found that the group as whole has a need to maintain and enrich its own identity through openness of discussions, sharing of view points and feelings, and working for cooperation and cohesiveness in decision making and planning.

In part 2 the next post, we will look in more detail at the Task and Individual needs of group members how these needs impact the roles and effectiveness of team meetings.

Daily Quote and Reflection by Bill Bradley-Synergistic Teamwork Formula 1+1 =3

Daily Quote: Bill Bradley, a great basket ball player for the New York Nicks and US Senator, once summarized teamwork saying, “Respect your fellow human being, treat them fairly, disagree with them honestly, enjoy their friendship, explore your thoughts about one another candidly, work together for a common goal and help one another achieve it.”  

Reflection: Following his thoughts, I feel will help you go along way to building a truly effective and transforming team. You will address employees’ needs to feel valued and respected by creating the climate for trust and support of a synergistic team being able to accomplish more than they could by themselves. I call this the Synergistic Team Effect.

Self-Coaching Challenge: 

Identifying the obstacles that block your team from being more synergistic. Once identify use the Smart-Step model or Plus 1 Principle to help open up constructive dialogue to see if your team can problem solve on how to eliminate these barriers.

Part I: Critical Factor for Creating High Performance Teams

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

I am a big believer in Social Science research and not just fly by opinions. For many years, I have been studying and working with teams and was always trying to figure-out what made the difference between poor , average and superior work teams. Now comes some strong support that what makes a difference in separating superior teams from others is how they communicate not what they communicate.

HBR’s April Spotlight on teams describes in detail the ” new science of building great teams. We can summarize those points here. The data in this research provides evidence that great teams:

  • “Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • The Coffee Break factor spend time in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

You’ll notice that none of the factors outlined above concern the content or messages of a team’s communication. The study was design to capture only how people communicate — tone of voice, gestures, how one faces others in the group, and how much people talk and listen. The researchers did not capture what people communicate.

This is purposeful. From the beginning, I suspected that the ineffable buzz of high-performing teams was more about the how of communication than the what. My hypothesis was that the ancient biological patterns of signaling that humans developed in the millennia before we developed language — which is a relatively recent development — still dominate our communication. We all know how powerful non-verbal communication can be between humans.

According to their data: How we communicate turns out to be the most important predictor of team success, and as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that it’s not what you say, but how you say it, turns out to be mathematically correct.

Just how powerful these patterns of communication are can be surprising. For example, we can predict with precision whether a team will perform well or not, and we can predict with a high rate of success whether or not team members will report they’ve had a “productive” or “creative” day based solely on the data from the sociometric badges. If this seems like a statistical parlor trick, it’s not. By adjusting group behavior based on this data, we’ve documented improved teamwork.

Many people are uncomfortable with this. It suggests that a kind of biological determinism, that people who naturally display the good communication patterns will “win” and anyone not blessed with this innate talent will drag a team down. In fact, that’s not the case at all. In our work we’ve found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the “it” factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills. Data is an amazingly powerful tool for objectifying what would normally seem subjective. Time and again I’ve seen data become an incontrovertible ally to team members who may otherwise be afraid to voice their feelings about the group dynamics. They can finally say “I’m not being heard” and they have the data to back them up.”

People should feel empowered by the idea of a science of team building, The idea that we can transmute the guess-work of putting a team together into a rigorous methodology, and then continuously improve teams is exciting. Nothing will be more powerful, I believe, in eventually changing how organizations work.

Anyone interested in the full article can go the HBR article located in the Insight Center. After that you can tune-in to other  blog posts about the power of visualization of the data, and where the technology and science are headed. If that isn’t enough information you can learn more by joining the author, Alex “Sandy” Pentland, who is the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.


Is there a Group Intelligence Factor and Does it make a difference in Problem Solving?

Quote: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. The achievements of a team are the results of the combined effort of each individual” Vincent Lombardi

For many years there has been an explosion of using teams to increase productivity from software conversion projects to employee problem solving and innovation. Many questions remain about how and why teams are successful and why other task forces or teams fail. For some researchers it is all about team make-up and group dynamics. Many questions remain that need answers. One important experiment was recently completed by Anita Woolley at Carnegie Mellon University to examine if there is  general intelligence in teams. The results of the research suggest that “individual brainpower contributes little to collective team smarts as measured by their ability to solve problems.  Dr. Woolly was motivated to conduct these studies because she felt there is a lack  of agreed to  criterion in predicting which groups will perform well and which won’t. Addition she wanted to test she the hypothesis of whether groups behave as individuals in having the  an underlying factor (intelligence) that seems to drive how individuals perform in multiple situations and different cognitive domains. 

To determine whether something similar also operated in collective minds, Woolley’s team divided 600 test subjects into groups of two to five people, then had each group complete a variety of problem-solving tasks. Afterward the researchers interviewed the groups and each participant. They measured group cohesion and motivation, individual intelligence and personality, and other factors previously associated with group performance. Their analysis was reviewed in Wired Science which reported that researchers found several characteristics linked to group performance — and none involved individual intelligence. What mattered instead was the social sensitivity of individual members, the proportion of women (who tend to be more sensitive) in each group, and a balanced participation of interaction and “air time” for conversing and discussing the problem to be solved and appropriate solutions.  Gender and social sensitivity are linked, said Woolley, making emotional intelligence and conversation balance the most important factors in group performance. Not only was individual intelligence irrelevant, but group cohesion mattered little. Neither did motivation or happiness — a finding that most workers would find disconcerting.

The results for the study are not that surprising for team leaders and experienced facilitators-it’s emotional intelligence and social awareness — the ability to pick up on emotional cues in others — that seems to determine how effective and smart a group can be. What do you think ? Does this research square with your experience? Let us know your thoughts.


Want “Sticky” Presentations–Try Using Experiential Activities

“A  ” Sticky” presentation is a sequence of experiences , examples and stories  that when seen and experienced as a holistic event form a compelling argument to change. Let your audience discover the answers to powerful questions, get them engaged in the material and remember that audiences remember only a third of what they read, half of what you told them, but 100 percent of what they discover and experience..”  Mark W. Hardwick, Ph.D

If you apply Aristotle’s rules of rhetoric–verifying and testing the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos of your presentation–and if you hone your delivery with practice, you may not make people march, mobilize policy changes, save a your company, but you’ll make a presentation that states your position with clarity and strength and keeps your audience’s attention. Focus here is on Pathos or making an emotional and meaningful connection with your audience. Pathos is captured well in this quote from the Dali Lama ‘RESPECT for Self, RESPECT for Others… RESPONSIBILITY for All your Actions”

Pathos is best explored through conducting experiential activities during your presentation or training session.  The major barrier or disadvantage I have seen with experiential exercises is that they can be seen as artificial or gimmicky. To over come this obstacle it is important to design the activity to mirror reality to the workplace as possible. Many times you will here from participants that is was a fun activity to build a tower together out of index cards and tape, but was the point and what was I suppose to learn? As a presenter-facilitator your role  must be to help the participants see not only the value in the activity, but help them process how the experience relates to them and their real lives. You must relate the activity to real life or risk the possibility that participaants will perceive the activity as a waste of time or just fun and games. In addition, taking the time to process the learnings and experiences  can provide an opportunity for participants to discover and discuss  their unique learning from the activity.    Now let’s review the stages for designing and presenting a powerful and valuable experiential activity.

1. Planning

2. Preparing and presenting

3. Unpacking or processing learning experience

Planning. The critical issue in planning an activity is to make sure the activity is aligned with learning objectives.  Answering questions like–Why are we doing this activity and Where are we going with this activity will help you keep the learning mission on track.

Preparing and presenting. The major questions addressed in this stage are: What are the participants being asked to do or experience that can help them achieve and master the learning objective? What is it that the participants will need in order to accomplish the activity. In the presenting phase make sure your instructions are clear, concise and include all the steps required to perform the activity. Presenting requires you to set the stage and create a comfortable environment for learning. Make sure the groups have all the materials necessary to complete the activity. Be very specific in outlining the steps in the activity, checking with groups to see if they are understand what is required to conduct the activity. The facilitator needs to set specific timelines for completion of the activity and be involved in managing the activity by walking around the room to observe the groups and make sure they are on task. and if need be refine your instructions to support their successful completion of the activity.

Processing or unpacking an experiential activity. This is the most important stage of conducting an experiential exercise. Once the activity is completed, the facilitator needs to take the time to bring closure and get feedback from the groups on their learning experiences. Your role is to help clarify and make sense out of the experience. A facilitator must resist the temptation to tell learners what they should have learned. So in unpacking an activity the facilitator needs to ask a series of opened questions to help participants interpret their experiences. You always want participants to reflect and answer the questions–What just happened and what did they experience during the activity and what does it all mean to them and their life?

So next time you want to conduct an experiential activity make sure you pick an exercise that is appropriate to your group’s learning activities, make the exercise goal clear and always take time to process the activity so important training and learning connections are made.

Want to be a Thought Leader? Learn Facilitation Skills for Virtual Meetings

Overview and Role Issues for Thought Leader and Facilitator

In virtual meetings it is critical for the facilitator to play the role of initiator, information giver and seeker so as to keep the discussion on topic. Facilitators help the group to not lose sight of the overall goals of the program. They present issues, share opinions, and discuss practice concerns and challenges. Their main goal is to influence participant’s thinking and practices.  A facilitator can bring an intensified focus that increases the energy of the group and an outside perspective that helps to re-instill effective group dynamics and focused communication techniques.  This can overcome complex obstacles or information overload.

Professionals and executives  are always facing hectic schedules and demanding workloads, the virtual meeting environment requires all the strengths you bring to a face to face meeting.  The more is high energy and a commitment you bring the more the participants are in engaged and learning. Drawing from a mix of communication, creativity, meeting management, and project management tools, your role as a facilitator can be particularly helpful in teasing out challenges and obstacles for change, resolving disagreements, and replacing deeply entrenched ways of doing things with new and creative practice behaviors that improve patient care and recovery.


During the session you will be asked to play two roles: thought leader and facilitator. In your thought leader role participants want you to provide new ideas and clinical tips that will improve their effectiveness. So you need to try and fulfill these expectations. How to execute as a “thought leader” and a “facilitator” include the following behaviors:


Thought Leader

  • Model the ability to listen closely, while at the same time assertively communicating the goals of the session.
  • Remain neutral and objective
  • Provide evidence and stories that support your point of view
  • Seek win/win solutions over “I am the expert” which creates tension and a potential win/lose learning atmosphere.


  • establish rules of the road—guidelines for how the team will operate
  • focus the group on the goals and expectations for the session
  • set the expectations early on for a successful session
  • keep all the participants engaged and involved
  • ask the obvious and even so called stupid questions (there are none)
  • record observations and feed back ideas and challenges to the participants
  • provide closure to sessions
  • appreciate the value of staying on time and finishing on time.

The thought leader and facilitator role enables you to take control and at the same time involve participants in the group session. If you are successful in the new combined roles, the session will move from a “tell and sell” lecture into an interactive discussion and peer-to-peer learning experience.


As with any consultant, facilitators have varying preferences, capabilities and approaches.

There are two distinct result orientations: producing results/task orientation (Goal Directed) versus improving group communication and learning process effectiveness (Process Directed).

Task or Goal Directed Facilitation

Sometimes a very specific task needs to be tackled in order to deliver a specific result, such as idea development, decision making, mission statements, or problem solving. A skilled facilitator can help the group focus on the task at hand and employ communication techniques (information providing, questioning etc.) that are effective in solving a particular task. Asking thought provoking questions, summarizing discussions, identifying and categorizing components, and root cause analysis are examples of specific task oriented group directed facilitation activities. Each technique is selected to support the group in delivering the needed results. Techniques can be combined or alternated to tackle even the most complex issues.

Process Directed Facilitation

These process techniques build the capacity to have meaningful dialogues that can lay the groundwork for interactive discussions and support changes in the behavior of participants. Facilitated discussions encourage critical thinking and exploration of ideas so that all assumptions and past practices can be reviewed and new learning can take place.


Facilitators need to possess basic skills to help a group communicate in an open and involved manner. Timely interventions are the key to you success. The tools we are focusing on will be active listening, questioning, and empathy.  Special tools and techniques are utilized to diagnose and address specific issues that face the group. The focus of this workshop is to improve your specific skills such as conflict resolution, reflection of feelings, and honest direct communication. Building interpersonal skills and dealing with problems that block adult learning can dramatically improve the overall productivity of the sessions.



Learning is sometimes being silent and just listening.

Learning is sometimes being silent and just listening.

Like it or not, our self-awareness, mental presence, confidence (mental state), eloquent mechanics (voice, gestures, movement, body language, eye contact), and messages (verbal impact) decide how we are received and perceived by others. Leaders influence action through the art and mastery of thinking and speaking straight and naturally.

Tips for Creating Executive Presence, Inspiration and Dynamism

  1. Keep your Significant Overriding Goal (SOG) clearly in mind.  Is your goal to tell and present information or to persuade a committee or person to adopt and support your proposal?
  2. Formula for success –Magic # 7 Determine 3-5 chunks of information for each sub-presentation goal; identify what needs to be presented to make goals believable and compelling; organize material and pick your team’s preferred style for presentation, (one/two people, whole team with different sections, present from behind lectern or seated at round table, etc.)
  3. Get to the point. What are the key points you will make?  How do you want to say them?  What graphics will be used i.e., flip charts, PowerPoint, or a combination?  Keep visual aids simple and to the point.  Do you have any written material, handouts or tangibles to show audience?
  4. Support major points with solid evidence, concrete examples and exciting stories. Use examples, facts, and stories this makes the presentation dynamic.
  5. Organize and tell in a logical structure. State the problem, then your solution.  Weigh the pros and cons of your proposal.  Go from general to specific.  Build from simple ideas to complex ones.
  6. Make you message clear, compelling, and consistent with the facts while engaging the audience emotional side.
  7. Sustain comfortable eye contact with the audience members.  Use the“one thought –one person” technique.  Use natural gestures to emphasize key points.  Monitor gestures such as maintaining good posture when speaking.  Remove all keys and other materials from pockets. Lean forward while speaking.
  8. Don’t just close but Close with energy and call for action reinforcing your “stivky” message.

Eliminate Death of Meetings–Improve Communication by Clarifying roles and functions on Team

Facilitators need to possess basic skills to help a group communicate in an open and involved manner.Timely interventions are the key to you success. The tools we are focusing on will be active listening, questioning, and empathy.  Special tools and techniques are utilized to diagnose and address specific issues that face the group. The focus of this blog is to improve your awareness of specific skills such as conflict resolution, reflection of feelings, and honest direct communication. Building interpersonal skills and dealing with problems that block adult learning can dramatically improve the overall productivity of the sessions.Today many organizations are using committees ,task forces and project groups to improve efficiency and effectiveness in operations and functional decision-making activities.  So I thought it would be helpful to dig into two critical Group Processes  “task and maintenance” roles and functions that if you understood would make your meetings more productive and satisfying experiences.

Group Processes

Task Functions and Roles. Helps facilitator and members understand the purpose and goals of the group. Understanding these roles and functions focus the group on using their time and skills to get the job done. The group will  often need assertive and firm leader-facilitators to keep things moving and on target. They relate to and are passionate about the reasons and purpose of the groups assignment and rationale for existing.

“Maintenance” Functions and Roles. These roles provide the ‘oil’ or “glue” for effective small group discussions. They look at how a group goes about getting it’s work done or decisions made. During this group process the focus is on the emotional life of the group. For example, what helps or interferes in helping to get the work of the group accomplished, consider the needs of individuals or communicates to whom etc.  These roles  open up the channels for two-way communication and problem solving.

Identifying and defining Group Process Roles and Functions of Facilitators

“Task” Roles and Functions of Facilitator

Initiator Start things off; or helps change direction. Initially often the leader.
Energizer   Provides challenes, inspires and stimulates group to discussion and action leading to accomplishing goals of discussion.
Clarifier of Opinions Takes individual contributions and clarifies them – encourages people to be specific “are you saying that …”, “it seems to me what you are saying is …”
Information giver/and Seeker Gives or seeks to find out certain information. It may relate to the exact structure of the task.
Coordinator Clarifies various suggestions, ideas and opinions and seeks agreement to move group ahead
Questioner/Evaluator Asks fundamental questions about the task of the group. Main factor is the ability to step back from what is going on and challenge assumptions. Confronts the groups level of engagement or activity level.
Summarizer Does not add anything but provides the facility of checking and clarifying what has been said and achieved. Provides breathing space.

“Maintenance” Roles and Functions of Facilitator

Gatekeeper attempts to encourage communication, bringing persons into the discussion who have not given their ideas, keeping the discussion  on track and to the point, etc.
Supporter/ Encourager Provides warmth to individuals “yes, I think that’s a good point”, “that was really helpful” etc. Recognizes and exhibits acceptance of different points of view.
Harmonizer Tries to reduce conflict and discord in the group by encouraging members to be respectful and considerate yet allows them to share feelings; such as frustrations or anger at others .
Standard Setter and Role Model Expresses standards and best practices for the group to attempt to achieve, and applies them to evaluating the group process
Self-Discloser Shares experience like, “This also happened to me” – helps breakthrough to the personal level.
Process observer Often shows himself when the group gets stuck. Helps unblock group dynamics and get conversation back on track .