Friday, February 22, 2008

The Closing Gauntlet

Today I'm going to write about the sequence of things that need to be taken care of at the end of a meeting, collectively called the Closing. This is the companion piece to what I posted about Openings two days ago. Parallel with what I wrote about Openings, Closings are also a bundle of things and it's important to understand what's typically involved.

In general, it works better if one person (or team) is responsible for the Closing. This does not mean that that person needs to lead all (or even any) of the activities below; it just means that they know who is doing each part, and that they are the one with authority to make last-minute adjustments to any aspect of the Closing based on emerging needs (for example, sometimes the last content piece runs late and you have to make a snap decision about dropping or sharply curtailing some aspects of the Closing you had planned in order to honor the lateness of the hour). Often the facilitator runs the Closing, but it could be someone else. The key is that everyone responsible for setting up the mtg knows who that is, and that the Closer knows the fullness of their job.

I'm picking up the thread from the point where the group stops focusing on the last piece of content for that session. The facilitator will need to protect sufficient time to accomplish all of the following and still end on time. While I am recommending that the Closing proceed in the sequence below, this is not sacrosanct (you might,
for example, do Announcements before Evaluation):

—Summary of the Product
There's a natural tendency for most people to focus first on what didn't get accomplished, rather than what did. It's the facilitator's job to briefly remind everyone of all the forward movement that occurred, to leave an "up and out" taste in everyone's mouth. Note: Product is much more than conclusions or agreements; it's also a narrowing of topics yet to be discussed, it's delegation of work to cmtees, it's unifying energy (perhaps by clearing tensions, or by just hearing how everyone feels about something powerful that happened in the group), it's settling on a plan by which the group will tackle a complex topic.

This should take no more than five minutes and be done up-tempo: you are a cheerleader celebrating the team's success. This is where you make it clear to everyone what they got in exchange for spending their valuable time in the mtg. While it is not essential that you do this every time, it is especially valuable if the mood of the group is subdued or diffused toward the end of the mtg, or if there's chronic grumbling about a lack of mtg product.

This is taking time for the group to reflect on how it did it's work during the session (or, if this is the last session in a string, the scope may be the entire series of mtgs). Note that this is not a time to drift back into discussing content. That part is done (at least for now). Here you are getting responses to questions such as:
o How well did we handle each topic on the agenda?
o Did we do a good job of working differences with efficiency and compassion?
o Did we take enough breaks?
o Did the choice of formats work well for the group?
o Did the visual aids and handouts enhance the conversation?
o Was the facilitation too directive?

Most often groups simply let people evaluate free form, where people can say whatever they want, in any order. Sometimes though, you'll get more useful information if you pose a question or two that focuses attention on key moments in the mtg (for example, "How did people respond to the way I worked the tense dynamic between Dale and Pat?"). Sometimes you'll get different answers if you ask people to write their evaluations rather than speak them.

There are many ways to do mtg evaluations, and they don't need to happen every mtg. They tend to be most useful when the group did something unusual or engaged each other in an unusual way—you'll want to capture reflections about that experience while the data is as fresh as possible.

Caution: The one thing you want to avoid during evaluations is cross-talk, or explanations from the facilitator. This kind of back-and-forth will tend to inhibit frank comments. Group members may hesitate to speak for fear that they may be contradicted (or even attacked) if others have different views. You want evaluative comments to be as open and as unedited as you can get them.

While this may have been covered at the start of the mtg, it is not unusual for a fresh batch to have incubated during the session—people may have suddenly remembered something they had forgotten to announce at the previous opportunity, new needs may have arisen relative to decisions made during the mtg ("Can the members of the new ad hoc cmtee on Cat Policy linger after the mtg to discuss when and where we'll first meet?"), or the timing of the announcement is more pertinent to the conclusion than the opening ("I'll need three volunteers immediately following the mtg to help me put the room back in order.")

—Breaking the Circle
The very last piece is the actual closing of the mtg, which is some clear marker that the mtg has ended and people are no longer in "meeting space" (and subject to the expectations of conforming themselves to good mtg behavior—assuming you have defined what that is). As with the Opening that signaled the start of the mtg, this could be many things: a song, a moment of silence, the reading of a quote, chanting. In general, you want this to be relatively brief and you want it to be energetically congruent with the mood of the group as it concluded its deliberations of the content of the mtg.

Hint: There tends to be a tricky last piece that groups often fumble over: how to actually break the moment. If the last activity is a song, this tends to not be a problem: the song ends and we're done. If, however, the mtg concludes a moment of silence, the person who has led the group into that should take responsibility for ending it (perhaps simply by saying "Thank you"). If you end with a chant, the person leading the chant should say something to indicate that the moment is over. If you end in a group hug, the person directing that needs to think through how they will get the group out of it (nobody wants to be the first person to end the hug).

No comments: