Monday, December 30, 2013

Equal Opportunity Talkers

At a debrief session with the board chair and the CEO, following a half-day board retreat, the board chair (gratefully) was elated:

“I don’t know how you did it, but one board member engaged more deeply at this meeting—and spoke so insightfully—
than he’s done in a whole year of board meetings.”

To explain what happened, let me paint the picture with two scenarios:

Scenario #1: Aggressiveness Wins—But the Board Loses

In this scenario, when the board chair asks that dreaded question, “Any thoughts? Anyone?”—and while others are thoughtfully discerning what might be said, the extroverts and expressive personalities on your board jump right in. (“Caution! Please connect brain with mouth before speaking.”)

The good news—immediate input gets the conversation going. The bad news—you never have a second chance to make a first impression.  If all the talkers do all of the talking (“Take a breath, please!”), agenda time is swallowed up before the thinkers have weighed in.

Scenario #2: Equal Opportunity Talkers

I call this preferred scenario, “Equal Opportunity Talkers.”  At least once at every board meeting (twice is better), the board chair seeks input on a strategic high level issue—and divides the board into teams of two's. (Some call this “2X2.”)

Example: “For the next seven minutes, I’d like you to discuss this in teams of two’s.  I’ll remind you at the halfway point so your partner has time to share his or her thoughts.  Then, we’ll ask each team to give a 90-second report—and we’ll summarize your thoughts on the flipchart. I’ll use the timer on my iPhone to keep us on track.”

I employed the Equal Opportunity Talkers facilitation method at that board retreat and the board chair immediately recognized that a quieter board member—when given equal time—had significant insights to offer.  That will happen with your board too. (For more on this subject, see The ‘Quieter’ Pool of Board Members.)

Why does this work?  There are many reasons, but the methodology perhaps goes back to the powerful leadership method modeled by Jesus. “After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1, NIV) By the way, as your board discerns God's direction (Plan A or Plan B), the 2X2 approach is also a very powerful way to maximize your prayer time.

QUESTION: When your board members exited your last board meeting, what percentage of them would have said, “I made a very significant contribution today on an important topic”?

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