Thursday, May 13, 2010

Keep the Train on the Track! (10/12)

Last time ("Capture the Content"), we looked at capturing every bit of valuable content from the conversations in the Knowledge-Sharing Kickoff Meeting. It's not every day that one can assemble the group that participated; it's not wise to forfeit any of the insights contributed.

But, let's not be too starry-eyed. Just like any other meeting, the knowledge-sharing kickoff meeting will just as likely have some bumps, if not outright ups and downs, along the way. Some of the bumps will provide important insights into the dynamics of the customer's working environment. Others will just be unproductive stumbling blocks.

How to keep the train(s) of thought on track? Once again, the supplier's representatives are allowed to speak! Although deeply into listening mode, both the guru and the facilitator can easily refocus the conversations in progress with just a few words. Declarative statements are not the tool that is needed in this case. Bumps, in fact, are usually the result of one (or more) too many declarative statements on the part of the customer's participants. And then, the battles can begin.

Questions are the key, in this case. And the content of those questions must relate, intrinsically yet neutrally, to the conversational flow that was already in progress. If the inquiries float out of left field, the flow will be uncomfortably disrupted. On the other hand, if the inserted questions are somehow linked to the conversational dynamic that was already underway, they can defuse developing conflicts by redirecting thought processes and neutralizing (or at least toning down) the atmosphere.

Some examples:

"Does that situation at all relate to differences in geographic markets?"

"Is this part of the current year's challenges or a future concern?"

"Is this generally viewed as a critical success factor by all of you?"

Keeping the questions somewhat inocuous demonstrates that the supplier participants are not trying to influence the discussion, but simply refocus it. Keeping the questions highly tangible, by linking them to that trusty "Potential Discussion Topics" list that has been placed at each participant's elbow, protects the meeting's purpose -- and keeps the exchange of knowledge in process.

The question poser must then gracefully back away from the responses to the question and return to listener mode. The risk of posing the question is that the conversation will redirect itself to the questioner. If he skillfully avoids reacting to the responses ... not easy, but definitely required ... someone from the customer's team will! Guaranteed!

And then, the interchange will be back where it should be, focused on the customer's business issues. Additional voices around the table will participate and the bump in the road will not have allowed the entire train to exit the track.

Next time, we'll look at putting the guru to work at what he does best -- and turn his skills loose on the assembled group!

Part 10 of 12, Lyn Gosz, Gosz Group Technology Planners