That's Why They Make Chocolate and Vanilla
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
I heard this phrase a lot during my childhood. “That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla,” my mom would say when I was frustrated with friends who didn’t share my passion for playing four-square at recess. It was a simple reminder that we shouldn’t judge people based on their preferences.
It’s a truth that is critical in planning and leading a meeting as well. A facilitator’s job is to use structures and processes that allow people with disparate learning and personality styles to contribute. You need everyone's ideas to reach your meeting outcome – brainstorming, decision making, problem solving. When you understand how people work and that they work differently, you're able to include them in a more productive manner. If you just give information, in a one-way transaction, you're wasting all the intelligence and perspective that exists in a room of professionals or volunteers.
For instance, meetings without structure give unbalanced airtime to extroverts and people who feel comfortable asserting points of view publicly. I know many brilliant introverts that will not be the first (or second… or third…) person to speak. It is also vital to meet the needs of visual and kinesthetic learners who need to see and “touch.” The people cannot track well with all the talk in the absence of being able “to see and do.”
How does this lead to transformative meetings?
The truth is leaders of teams are present to facilitate outcomes, so while you guide your team, think about learning types – how people receive and process information. It is vital to achieving the outcomes you desire. In a classroom setting, the conversation might be about algebra and in your case, the material is likely about how to solve a product, budget, or employee relations problem. In either scenario, the facilitator (in this case YOU) needs to be able to capture the minds of all the people involved in the problem-solving process.
Remember the quiet people. This traditional Q&A approach can be effective, but you are appealing to a certain personality with this tactic; it appeals to people who enjoy speaking up and may be in more of a power position than others in the room. Be sure to invite less-vocal individuals into the conversation.
Write then talk. Ask individuals to write down questions and ideas before opening discussion up to the group. There are several benefits of this strategy: 1/ It is inclusive of everyone. In essence, you are levelling the introvert/extrovert playing field. 2/ It saves time because people finetune their ideas before they start to speak. 3/ It allows people to focus on what others have to share rather than worry about what they’re going to say when it is their turn.
Deploy the power of small groups. The smaller the group, the more each person has the opportunity to contribute their unique ideas. Breaking people into smaller groups creates a systematic way for a large group to identify where there is consensus and disagreement. It works well because it allows those who are not assertive in large groups a chance to contribute and gives confident presenters a chance to shine when the full group comes back together.
Incorporate elements for each of the basic learning types: visual learners, audio learners, kinesthetic learners. This doesn't have to be super complex, but you do have to plan for it. For example, if you are having a financial review meeting, show the numbers and talk about what they show. Then, ask active questions to encourage individuals to analyze the implications, and then ask small groups to brainstorm next steps.
When you plan ahead for connecting with the various personalities and learning types on your team, you can be intentional with the techniques you use to lead a transformative meeting. The results will be worth it! You'll come away with more and better ideas, as well as higher energy from participants, and stronger buy-in with executing the outcome.
I'd love to talk to you about your experiences as a facilitator. What works for you? What doesn't? What techniques have you found successful? Feel free to schedule a time to chat with me one-on-one.