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AN INTRODUCTION TO THRIVE:  The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings

AN INTRODUCTION TO THRIVE: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings

A VISION

I see a world where everyone is heard, where all people matter. I see communities that embrace all voices and are committed to freedom, justice, and opportunity for all. I see businesses, nonprofits, and the public sector creatively engage people in thousands of ways to get their best ideas, empower the broken, and build a society where all are treated with dignity and respect. I see a people, amazingly diverse, stunningly beautiful, and woven into a tapestry of love, justice, and peace. I see a mosaic of different colors, different hues, different perspectives, different genders; a kaleidoscope of humanity driven by hope, strengthened by courage, and the fundamental belief that we are best when we embody the creed of E pluribus unam, out of many, one.”

I wrote THRIVE: The Professional Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings driven by a vision where equality, inclusion, and engagement can happen for every participant in every meeting, conference, and summit. I want your meetings to have energy and imagination and be worth every second of your time. In a word, I want your meetings–all of them–to THRIVE!

I have been facilitating meetings for over a third of a century.  I have participated in thousands of meetings. Some sailed along with ease and reached their destination. Some sputtered and stalled. Some never left port. All were attended by people who said they value everyone’s participation. But too often, a few people dominated. When the voices of the many were not heard, the meetings were less productive and more frustrating than they could have been.

Diverse voices and inclusive meeting designs help organizations thrive.  A mix of perspectives, life experience, and other forms of diversity reveal greater truth than any one of them alone. When groups are mostly of one gender, or one race and ethnicity, much is lost. The group is less imaginative. When people of different genders, races, and ethnicities meet, groups think better, see better, and are better.

I believe equality and equity are more than lofty words.  They are practices. We practice equality by being even-handed, impartial and fair. We embody equity by the way we respect and include every voice and each perspective. Embodying these values throughout our meetings and organizations makes space for us to rise to what President Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” We become more open, curious, and respectful. Justice for all becomes more than a slogan.  It becomes a way of life. The result is better outcomes, more productivity, and more motivated employees, volunteers, and stakeholders.

Think of meetings in which a few people dominated. Remember how most people stayed quiet, doodled, or texted until a break in the meeting. Then recall the noise level during breaks as conversation erupted. The purpose of this book is to help you bring the energy of break time into your meetings. I will teach you how, with good meeting design and a few techniques and tools, to include those voices and energy in your meetings, no matter the size or occasion.

Whether you are a facilitator, a nonprofit or business leader, a public official or consultant, this book is written for you.  Community organizers, planners, board and committee members, religious leaders and adherents–no matter the size of your group or meeting–will find help in this book.

This book covers multiple topics to help your meetings thrive. I begin with a chapter on disastrous meetings. We all have a list of similar experiences.  These painful memories inspire my passion and vision for better meetings that embrace every voice.

I follow with a chapter on the core values of radical equality, equity, and inclusion. These values are the heartbeat of everything else I say. Next, I examine the nature of conversational leadership and its implications for our meetings and organizations.

With a foundation in the values of inclusivity and an organization-wide commitment to nurturing strategic conversations, I provide wisdom to ready yourself to lead and facilitate meetings. Preparation begins with developing emotional resilience, achieving mindfulness, and becoming a proficient listener.

STRUCTURING AN AGENDA

In the chapter “Structuring an Agenda,” I give an outline of the elements needed in every well-run, inclusive meeting. These include:

  • Listening
  • Drafting an agenda
  • Welcome
  • Introductions
  • Becoming fully present
  • Ground rules
  • Review of the agenda
  • Issues, questions, and process
  • Clarifying outcomes and summarizing next steps
  • Evaluation

This chapter is the go-to-chapter when you need a quick summary of what to include in meetings you facilitate.

Then I go deeper into each aspect. I describe meeting elements that launch a good meeting including centering, icebreakers, and ground rules.

The chapter, Flexible Roles in Groups, gives tips for how to be an effective facilitator in any group.  It is a great, accessible training resource for people new to facilitation.

In the following chapters, I introduce a variety of meeting designs that engender inclusivity and full participation. These include framing questions that invite energy and imagination, simple meeting designs that engage all voices in a short time, and a variety of whole group planning methods that have emerged in the past three decades. All are rooted in the values of inclusion and what I call “radical equality.” These methods include Appreciative Inquiry, World Café, Open Space, and other formats. All combine small group conversations with larger plenary sessions.

I dedicate a chapter to techniques and tools that help diverse groups thrive, followed by a chapter on multilingual gatherings. With a handful of practices, I help you discover how to embrace voices and perspectives cross-culturally. I also write about including persons with disabilities in your meetings and outline meeting accommodations.

The next chapters help facilitators in special circumstances. Chapters on negotiation techniques and facilitating conflict will teach you how to navigate treacherous water. These chapters are particularly useful in these polarized times.

A chapter on strategic plans summarizes how to make a strategic planning process inclusive of all stakeholders in an organization. It gives practical ways for your strategic plan to avoid the destiny of many others—being ignored as they gather dust on a shelf.

If you want to make a system-wide change in your organization, read the chapter on organizational change.  The insights apply to all kinds of change initiatives from implementing values of diversity, equity, and inclusion; to technological change, embracing new markets, and breaking down organizational silos.

The next chapter is a how-to on helping groups of all types become mindful of patterns in their history that shape the way they behave today and respond to the future. Awareness of these patterns makes groups more likely to move forward with health, optimism, and renewed energy.

The concluding chapters explore ways to record, conclude, and evaluate meetings. I toss in a chapter on writing well. As facilitators and leaders, we write emails, memos, and reports every day. Writing that is simple, clean, and devoid of extra verbiage and clutter strengthens our work and the groups we serve.   I provide a checklist for assembling a meeting toolkit beyond markers and tape.

Then I discuss the circumstances when it is best to hire a professional facilitator. While I hope this book helps you become a skilled facilitator, circumstances do arise when your group needs an outside facilitator and consultant. I briefly discuss when and how a professional facilitator can help your group, conference, or summit.

I conclude with suggestions for further reading to expand your facilitation repertoire.

I want your meetings to thrive. I want them to reach their destination without capsizing. I want them to positive produce results, not frustration and boredom. My deepest wish is that you will never attend another pointless meeting where the few pontificate and the many stay quiet. My hope and prayer are that your meetings will be a beautiful tapestry of unity, difference, and inclusion.  I hope that, with insights from this book, all your meetings will thrive, and you will sail along to your heart’s content.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

Disastrous Meetings

Cultural Mindfulness and Radical Inclusion

The Art of Conversational Leadership

Emotional Intelligence

The Art of Listening Well

Structuring an Agenda

The Art of Centering

The Art of Breaking Ice

Ground Rules

The Art of Flexible Roles in Groups

The Art of Strategic Questions

Liberating Structures

Large Group Planning Methods

Room Layout

Facilitating Culturally Diverse Meetings

Facilitating Multilingual Meetings

Including Persons with Disabilities

Interest-Based, Principled Negotiating

Facilitating Difficult Meetings

Facilitating Strategic Plans

Facilitating Systemic, Organizational Change

Coming to Terms with Organizational History

Recording Meeting Results

The Art of Wrapping Up

The Art of Writing Well

Assembling a Facilitator’s Toolkit

Ten Reasons to Hire a Professional Facilitator

Conclusion

Further Reading