A conversation with Terrence Metz, CEO of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching

Rhetoric to us is the adjustment of ideas to people and people to ideas. Essentially that calls for what we refer to as rhetorical precision. We suggest that a facilitator be much more reliant on substance than style. In fact, we encourage people not to be charismatic because you want the focus on the content, not on the individual themselves. So clarity and precision demand a very sensitive tuning into rhetoric and what one is actually saying or asking.”-Terrence Metzote

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Terrence Metz about his extensive experience as a facilitation practitioner, author, and trainer. We explore concepts like rhetorical precision, consciousness, and competence.  We then discuss the distinction between enterprise vs. community facilitation, consensus vs. unanimity, and stories vs. metaphors.  Listen in to learn questions every facilitator needs to know.

Show Highlights

[2:10] How Terrance Got Started Facilitating

[5:34] Consciousness Before Competence

[10:50] The Distinction Between Designing Meetings And Facilitation[21:50] The distinction Between Forprofit and Community Facilitation

[30:15] Questions Every Facilitator Needs To Know

Terrence on LinkedIn
MG Rush Website

About the Guest

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His monthly facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, product and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas:  Welcome to the Control The Room podcast series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime you can join our weekly control the room facilitation lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real-time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings Quick Start Guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at voltagecontrol.com/magical-meetings-quick- [inaudible 00:01:10]. Today, I’m with Terrence Metz known by his friends and close associates as T-Metz, managing director at MG RUSH facilitation training, where he is the curriculum developer and lead instructor. T-Metz is also the author of two books, Change or Die, a business process improvement manual, and most recently, Meetings That Get Results, a Facilitator’s Guide to Building Better Meetings. Welcome to the show T-Metz.

Terrence:  Thanks for the invitation and opportunity, Douglas, to be of service to help others who might be resistant to change or in need of additional servant skills to make their meetings and workshops more effective.

Douglas:  Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to have you, and it’s been a while since we last chatted, so I’m really excited to dig in, and let’s start off with just a little bit of background on how you got your start. How do you get into this work and into writing books about meetings and facilitation? How did you get started?

Terrence:  My background is in communication studies from Northwestern University, but I was also actively engaged in rhetoric and debate and public speaking. Point is that collaboration has always been an intriguing component for me, went to work for Honeywell and learned from a Vice President there, from his perspective, that selling is a series of well thought out questions, and I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve taken that into my life. And as I got my MBA and advanced degrees and worked as a consultant, came to learn that there’s no better answer than the customer’s answer, that an elaborate consultant’s answer, if it’s not properly understood and owned, is impotent. So the facilitative style throughout my consulting career has been far more effective than the seagull kind of approach. And that’s why we’re here today.

Douglas:  And what’s the sea seagull approach?

Terrence:  It’s where you fly in, you drop some shit over the people, and you fly back out.

Douglas:  Right. Yeah. That doesn’t sound pleasant. It’s like, what is this falling on my head? I don’t know if I like this. I want to talk a little bit about the rhetoric that you spoke about in your early training. And it reminds me of the work I’ve seen you do in some of our prior conversations around your focus on just delineating meaning in conversation, because often people will say different things and mean the same thing and like what does this actually mean? And in fact you have, in your suite of tools, you have something called a definition tool. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about how the early studies and rhetoric have kind of influenced your path.

Terrence:  Just so you know that rhetoric to us is the adjustment of ideas to people and people to ideas. Essentially that calls for what we refer to as rhetorical precision. We suggest that a facilitator be much more reliant on substance than style. In fact, we encourage people not to be charismatic because you want the focus on the content, not on the individual themselves. So clarity and precision demand a very sensitive tuning into rhetoric and what one is actually saying or asking. The problem with most facilitators on an informal basis is they ask questions that are too broad. You can refer to them as the global hunger question, and the audience kind of knows where they’re headed, but they have not made it easy to answer. If I ask you, “What can we do to solve global hunger?” It just causes a long pause. Or if I say, “Do we have agreement?” That question’s unanswerable unless you’re clairvoyant, because you don’t know if we have an agreement. “Do we have consensus?” You don’t know that. And it always falls on deaf ears. So we stress the importance of precision. You could even say formality, that with a group of people, you need to amplify the formality. You’re not in this role to be nice to people, but to be kind suggests that you’re clear. And there’s nothing more important than line of sight developed through clarity of rhetoric.

Douglas:  And so let’s talk a little bit about clarity of rhetoric. What’s some of your advice on how people can hone that in like what are some steps to even acknowledge or notice that there is lack of clarity of rhetoric and then what can you do about it?

Terrence:  So when you look at developing new skills, you have the four stages of consciousness, and those include a sequence. You’re unconsciously incompetent when you begin. Let’s take the role of facilitator. You cannot facilitate an effective complex business meeting for the first 20 some years of your life, but you attend some as you become a professional and you begin to see things that work, things that don’t work. It doesn’t mean that you’re an effective facilitator, but you are becoming conscious. What you’ve done is raise your consciousness. Now, as you were thrown into the role and forced to facilitate meetings and workshops, you begin to develop a sense of what works and doesn’t work because you were doing it. And we might call that competence. And as you take advanced training, certification, your certification, our certification, I would suggest all certification because more is better.

You will find yourself slipping into periods of incredible competence, and yet you’re unconscious about it. You’re not thinking about it. So rhetoric in many respects is the same way. So to develop that- in other words- consciousness comes before competence. If you want to improve that skill, if you want to improve your rhetorical precision, and the best way to do that frankly is not by reading. It’s not by listening, but it’s by speaking, and best of all by speaking and then listening to yourself. So we would strongly encourage you to record yourself. As you know, we want to ask open-ended questions, not close ended, but we are raised by our parents to be so nice to people that we are even taking good, solid open-ended questions and converting them into close ended questions. Like, “Would you mind telling us about the type of thing?” And of course that’s a yes, no, or maybe. As opposed to, “tell us about,” and getting right to the point. So from our perspective, rhetorical precision is going to get us basically better, faster, and fewer meetings.

Douglas:  The most common trap that I see people fall into is the multiple choice question, which it makes them feel like it’s an open question, but it’s actually closed, just a little bit more open than the yes, no.

Terrence:  Or it’s three different questions in a row. And the audience is wondering which one do they want an answer to first?

Douglas:  I saw that recently in a facilitation where there was like a box. We were in Mural, and there was a box where people were supposed to respond to this prompt and it said, “What do you like? What do you not like?” And I’m like, “Oh, how do we delineate what people are liking and not liking if it’s all going in the same area.” So yeah, having two questions at the same time, also not great.

Terrence:  So I look at rhetorical precision somewhat as being mathematical wherein a simple algorithm, Y is a function of X’s. And of course, in the Six Sigma environment have big X’s. And then you have little X’s, but if you’re deliverable was a marketing plan, you cannot ask the group, “So what’s the marketing plan?” Although we ask that type of question frequently, you need to in advance, prepare and understand that Y is a function of these X’s. And we need to ask about the X’s. We need to ask about segmentation, targeting, positioning, media, message, et cetera. If you take the global hunger situation and narrow the scope to, let’s say, Eastern coastal Somalia. And I say, “What can you do to fix  global hunger among kids 12 and under?” You could talk about genetically modifying food, but if I say, “What could we do to improve food storage capacity in Eastern coastal Somalia?” That forces you into a kind of tight level of thinking. We can take these abandoned rail cars. We can take this mind shaft, et cetera. We’ve made it much easier for that individual to answer. And then, of course, we need to aggregate all of those answers and create our why.

Douglas:  So one thing that struck me when you were talking about that is the power of story and how questions can often lead people to scratching their heads because it is too open. It’s kind of verging on that world hunger thing that you were talking about, right? Like what is our marketing strategy, or what has been our marketing strategy? And it’s like, okay, they might say some things, but are the details going to be there? But if we ask them to tell us, “Tell us about your last campaign?” Asking them some stories that anchor in on those memories can elicit stories that get a lot more detail.

Terrence:  Yeah. Or why was this particular campaign more successful with segment A than segment B? The key to effective facilitation is asking the right questions, but more importantly, perhaps sequencing them as well.

Douglas:  That’s fascinating. And I was going to come back to the questions you mentioned earlier that the key to selling was questions. And often we talk about questions being one of the foundational elements of facilitation.

Terrence:  So you’ll appreciate this. I had Philip Kotler in marketing at Kellogg, and he’s considered somewhat of a guru and he defined marketing as the process of making selling unnecessary. Now, if you combine his perspective with the VP of Honeywell’s perspective, what you end up understanding is that marketing is a process of well thought out questions. And that indeed is how you isolate what is the best answer for this particular group of people?

Douglas:  Yeah, that’s fascinating.

Terrence:  By the way, the world of the question design in our mind is really not part of facilitation. It’s part of meeting design. If you properly designed a meeting and handed me all of the questions in the right sequence, I could easily facilitate that. So the two roles are separate, designing the meeting versus facilitating the meeting. And many people I think are surprised whether they take your curriculum or mine or somebody else’s that there is no silver bullet. There’s no one way you become a great facilitator. If you don’t show up at that meeting prepared, good luck with that.

Douglas:  Right. And certainly there’s a lack of understanding of who’s going to be in the room and what the intention is, because if you’ve seen similar intentions and you’ve got a pretty good handle on the people, to me, that’s the bare minimum, but ideally you go on the paces and you know what your play’s going to be.

Terrence:  Intentions in our world actually relate back to a different role and that’s the role of leadership and having line of sight, whether we call it the organizational [inaudible 00:12:01], which is the only way we know to truly establish and prove that there’s alignment. But if that leader in fact has line of sight back to my wallet as a participant and can show or demonstrate or prove that the output from that meeting is going to affect how much money I make, who works for me, that type of thing, I don’t really care about their facilitation skills. I’m going to make my contribution. So in fact, when the leader has great line of sight, they can be remarkably effective. And yet when they have line of sight, and you have great facilitation skills, you are still lacking the topic we’ve been discussing, which is how. So we look at leadership as why. Why are we meeting? What’s the impact of this? How do all these pieces fit together? Einstein called it relativity. Hollywood calls it a butterfly effect, but all of our actions affect one another. But once you know why we’re meeting, you know what to do. And most of your students know this. They know about active listening and precise questioning and timely, challenging, et cetera. But to the extent that they are still challenged, the reason is not leadership or facilitation, the reason is probably structure and meeting design.

Douglas:  Yeah, I agree. I think so often the common advice people hear is to have an agenda, but often the agendas are just a list of topics. There’s not much design around the experience, the arc, or how we plan to thread things through or connect people to that line of sight. So I think that’s spot on.

Terrence:  We encourage an annotated agenda, which means substantial detail behind every step in the agenda because, by my standards, the most important part of any agenda of a facilitator is what method am I going to deploy to get done? And if you don’t have that thought out in advance, again, you’re working on the fly, and we’ve all backed off from leaders. When we see them, feel them asking questions that we’re not even sure why they’re asking them because they’re buying time or they’re exploring. And a meeting is not the time, in most cases, if you’re building something, to explore what method is best, we should determine that in advance.

Douglas:  Yeah. Another thing we’ve found is not only determining what method is best, but maybe even considering some alternate scenarios so that if things don’t go as planned, we got a few backups in our back pocket.

Terrence:  I love that. I also love your reference earlier to stories because one thing I’ll never forget, we’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I ran with that for decades. And then I heard that a metaphor was worth a thousand pictures, and I’ve tried to embrace that wholeheartedly by explaining agenda steps, vis-a-vis metaphor mountaineering. But nevertheless, I heard not too long ago, and I’m sure you have, people that do this and, I’m so impressed by it, that a story is worth a thousand metaphors.

Douglas:  Yeah. I think it’s similar to some of the way we look at things, which is, we love to talk about prototypes being worth a thousand meetings. It’s like, if we can visualize the future, we can do a lot more than just sitting and talking, and so I think to your point, if people are going to synthesize information and gaind a deeper understanding, and especially when we’re talking about complex material, we need synchronicity and we need richness. And the richness comes from metaphor or from a story from prototypes to visualization. We just have to find ways to make sure that it goes beyond just some words floating around.

Terrence:  And it goes back to connecting the dots. How does this relate to what we did? Why are we building this? What does done look like? And how are we leveraging it as we move forward? That whole trichotomy of past, present, future.

Douglas:  I always loved that from your material, the, “What does done look like?” That concept rears its head in different ways and in different people’s work, but was just a fan of the simplicity of what does done look like because some people will talk about success or this or that, but just the finality of when you’re thinking about the end, what does that look like? Let’s just get clear on that.

Terrence:  So not only for the meeting itself, but for every agenda step. So when I ask some of my students, “If you’re done with this, what does it look like?” I usually get a blank face. Right? And then they usually relate back to content, “Well, it looks like the solu- da, da, da.” No, I don’t want content. What does it look like? And some of the answers that could come out that are valid, or it looks like a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. It looks like a sentence. It looks like a paragraph. It looks like a bullet. It looks like a 10 to 12 bullets. It looks like five pages. It looks like 500. It looks like a matrix. It could look like lots of things. There’s more than one right answer. But the wrong answer is if our leader does not know.

Douglas:  So tell me a little bit more about that. Why is that the wrong answer? What kind of environment does that create?

Terrence:  So the implication is that the deliverable is critical and somewhat fixed. We have to leave the meeting or the agenda step with this done. Correct. But how you get there varies. And that could vary on personality, a tool that you’re more comfortable with than me for example, liberating structures has some nice prioritization methods, but I may prefer my power balls, or a quantitative analysis. Right? Both of which will work, but I can follow you. You can follow me. But if we’re not sure what our method is, what our questions are, what our tool is before the meeting even starts, we’re probably not going to be able to follow that leader because they’re exploring. And the worst thing, the last thing that you would want to facilitate, we call is context. You cannot build consensus around what tools should we use to do this? Because in fact, there is more than one right answer.

Douglas:  Yeah. Are there times when the work we’re intentionally doing doesn’t necessarily have a right answer? And how do we manage those situations? Because I agree with you. We don’t want to necessarily walk in and say, “How do we have this meeting?” Unless it’s like a design committee that is planning a very large meeting, but that’s very not the norm. It’s atypical of a standard meeting. So how do we explore those moments where we do need to walk into the ambiguous and explore some territory just to extract some meaning.

Terrence:  So the simple answer to that is the trichotomy, and I’m sorry to use a word like that, but nevertheless, it’s the best word I found to basically describe the aggregation of the why, the what, and the how. In most situations, particularly in America, our meetings neglect building consensus around why we’re doing something. We drop right into the analytics and argue about what’s the best method, what’s the best solution. And if we don’t step back and have consensus first around why we’re doing it, good luck building consensus with the other steps. On the other hand, Americans do the opposite as well. And that is they do this fallacy. It’s called solving. They hear a problem or a situation, and they jump right into solutions thinking that solutions are based upon problems. And in fact, they’re not. The trichotomy tells us that solutions are not based upon problems.

They’re based upon the implications of those problems, what that means to me. I don’t buy a new shirt because my collar is frayed. I buy a new shirt because my neck itches, or I’m potentially embarrassed in public. So that breakdown of the why, the what, and the how, which is called planning, analysis, and design, which we refer to at a high level as will, wisdom, and activity, which consultants call facts, implications, recommendations, which ultimately is the transformation of the abstract into the concrete. So what are we facilitating? We’re facilitating thoughts. We’re facilitating words. And our output, hopefully, is we’re building and facilitating consensual actions. But our leader has to be sensitive to where we’re at in that sequence, and where we’re going.

Douglas:  It’s great that you brought it back to the word consensual, because I was going to kind of take us there anyway, because you mentioned this tendency for folks to gravitate toward the analytical and the best solution, right? I wanted to hear a little bit more about your view on consensus and decision- making in general.

Terrence:  So let me break the world of meetings into two different types, and I can only speak about one type, and that’s the type that’s designed to make money or profit, right? There is this world of volunteers and or community building and things of that nature that is really managed well by some other styles. But if you and me are trying to make money, then I’m going to suggest the structured approach is the fastest way to do that. And what it implies that very few people understand is that meetings are never an opportunity for a participant to speak up. Our participants are professional. They are paid to be there. It is not an opportunity to speak up. It is an obligation. If they have content to bear on this topic and they don’t bring it up, they have violated their fiduciary responsibility. Now as a facilitator, it’s my job, most importantly, to protect them. We’ve certainly embraced the principle of no harm, but it is never my job to reach down their throat and pull it out of them. They’re highly paid professional adults, and they need to speak up and make contributions as appropriate.

Douglas:  And what are some of the ways to set the stage so that that’s known and encouraged. So I think there’s a balance between, as you say, kind of really extracting it with a lot of might versus setting the stage and making sure that it’s expected and there’s an environment to do so.

Terrence:  So we suggest that with quiet people, there’s no one action you can take to get information out of them. And we suggest a combination of five things. Well, likewise, in answering  your question, there’s no single thing you can do to impose a sense of duty or responsibility. You’re going to interview or have conversations with people and make that known in advance. You’re going to reinforce it with ground rules, such as silence or absences agreement. And then you need to go back and remind them about that fiduciary responsibility. So that’s the ideal or optimal, but the practical is you need to use more breakout sessions. People become much more conversational in breakout sessions. And to the extent that each breakout team actually builds consensus on their own as a self aggregated performing unit, you are now reconciling three voices instead of 13 voices, for example. Much easier to build consensus on a kind of a pyramid basis, on an escalating basis.

Douglas:  I totally agree. There’s that phenomenon of social loafing, right? If I’m in a big crowd, it’s just a lot easier just to kind of sit back versus if it’s two of us or three of us, my silence is very noticeable.

Terrence:  Well, and people are constantly bringing their egos and titles into meetings and workshops. And I would suggest it’s our job to make sure they don’t. We should treat all participants as equal. I don’t care if you’ve been here 11 days or 11 years, right? Now it’s hard to enforce that. But the easiest way I have found is through a story. And the story is the joint chiefs staff and in a facilitated session, in this case, by one of my alumni from Northrop Grumman, they actually put on sweaters to hide rank, to hide all their badges, because they understand in a facilitated session, everyone needs to have permission to speak freely and they have huge egos. But if they understand that importance, I think we need to impose that importance on our participants, but it’s not going to happen with just one statement. You’re going to have to work on it in advance. You’re going to have to reinforce it. And you’re going to have to remind people after the fact.

Douglas:  Yeah, I love that. One thing that I wanted to come back to on the consensus piece is I find so often people equate consensus with unanimity, and this was something that I found refreshing with your content, that you explicitly define them as different. And I think the listeners would enjoy hearing a little bit about that.

Terrence:  Oh, I appreciate that because it is in fact a very important topic in that, how do you define consensus? Now, we can call that an operational definition and you better control that. Don’t facilitate it. In our world, we define consensus as an understanding that the resolution agreement or decision we have reached may in fact not be my favorite. However, it is strong enough, robust enough, that I can get behind it, or I will support it. That’s the professional standard. The personal standard is when I get home tonight I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Now this all relates back to the impossibility theorem. As opposed to some facilitation styles that would suggest are you happy with this, a word that you’ll probably never hear me use. I understand the best answer for that group of people may not be the favorite of any one person in that group. However, it ends up on the aggregate being the consensual view of the best solution for this entire group of people given this situation. And it’s important that we understand that.

Douglas:  Yeah, it’s interesting because the language we choose primes the audience on their response, right? Because they’re okay supporting it versus “Are you happy with it?” Those are two different questions and tap into two different emotional places inside the participant.

Terrence:  Hugely different when you’re enforcing a very clear perspective. So then after ground rules and I’m still a practitioner. After ground rules are explained, the fiduciary responsibility, silence or absences agreement, consensus means I can live with it type of thing, you will rarely hear me use the word consensus ever again because, in fact, that question “Do we have consensus?” is unanswerable. However, you will see me reach inflection points, turn to the group and say, “Now if we do this-” let’s say we’re prioritizing. “If we make the rest of these moderate, are you going to lose any sleep over it? If we make the rest of these moderate, will you support it?” Now this is important because when you look at the world of thirds, high, medium, low, what you discover is high and low become the most important buckets for decision quality and medium’s that lukewarm stuff that has very little impact. Well, we define high as mandatory, got to have it at any price. We define low as love to have it, not willing to pay extra. And we define moderate as willing to pay a reasonable amount. And what you discover in unstructured meetings is that people spend the most amount of time arguing about what’s reasonable, which means essentially they’re spending the most amount of time on the least important topic.

Douglas:  I love that. Yeah, it’s interesting. The behavior’s that everyone tends to default to and how taking a step back and analyzing things can lead to better meetings, better collaboration. And I think I want to end on something that you said a moment ago that really struck me, and I’m curious. I’m not sure what your answer’s going to be to this. So I’m really curious, but you mentioned, I believe it was in the definition of consensus, and you said, “That’s something you need to control versus something you need to facilitate.” So I’m curious to hear how you hold those different words and how you think about showing up or in the moments where you need to control something thing versus facilitate. What are those differences for you?

Terrence:  Well, let’s take the difference between the words goal and an objective. They mean different things to different people. I anticipate that. So in fact, I would suggest that to be an effective leader of groups and meetings, you better know before you meet, what is the purpose of this meeting? What’s the scope? Because scope creep begins in meetings, but if you don’t know the scope, people can talk about anything they want, such as genetically modifying food to solve global hunger when in fact, we should be talking about food storage capacity, right? Got to know your purpose. Got to know your scope. Most importantly, you have to know your deliverable. Now that’s a fancy word for the meeting objectives, but you also have to know how you’re going to get there and how you’re going to get to the deliverable in fact is called an agenda.

So if you can imagine the words on a single sheet of paper saying, here’s the purpose, here’s the scope, here are the deliverables, and here’s the agenda. You darn well better know what those words mean before the meeting starts and that’s operational context. Our basic glossaries are over 50 pages long, but how I do it is essentially I embed in a participant’s package the operational definitions for every one of those words. I am not going to allow arguments over whether a goal is smart or fuzzy or whether an objective is smart or fuzzy. That needs to be determined in advance.

Douglas:  Yeah, it reminds me also, the notion that in order for scientific experiments to be accurate, there has to be a control or else we don’t understand. Otherwise things are moving all over the place and we don’t understand like what the actual results are. And so in a way, these controls you’re putting in place, you’re bounding things, you’re making the space well known. So that then the things that do happen, do emerge are better understandable. Or it’s not a moving target.

Terrence:  So now we discover that people don’t argue about verbs and nouns, they argue about modifiers, right? So then I’m going to suggest to you, and your audience here that two of the best questions that one could tattoo on their forearms are “What is the unit of measurement of quick, happy, fast, soft?” Whatever that case may be. A case of eating Curry, two people are arguing whether it’s too spicy or not. Well, what’s the unit of measurement of spice? I can’t get them to argue if it’s spicy or not, but I can get them to agree that it’s 1400 Scoville units. The other question is to take the standard, a close ended question, but to make it open ended. You don’t say, “is this, or does this?” But say, “To what extent?” High, is it a lot? Is it little? Or is it somewhere in between? Because normally we’re speaking of graduations. There are very few things that are clearly black and white. So we’re trying to establish that gradient that will best support that group of people.

Douglas:  It reminds me of the, what kind of, or what is it, and what isn’t it. And so having people make these lists, so then we’re clarifying, because to your point, metaphor is powerful and it can help us, but if people in the room are using metaphor, like if they’re using spicy, there is no agreement on the unit of measure because they’re using metaphors differently then let’s define spicy. Let’s say, “What kind of spicy?”

Terrence:  Right and then you could say, what is spicy? And to me, that’s a global hunger question. We would suggest you ask five questions. First, what is it not? Second, describe it in a sentence. Third, what are the attributes, characteristics or specifications of it? Four, provide an illustration process flow diagram or a picture, and five, give examples from the business. It’s called vivify, bring it to life, right? So that world of asking questions is where we started off and now we’re back there again, because ultimately what is a meeting about? We need consensual answers to questions.

Douglas:  I love it.

Terrence:  The best way that we know to do that is with rhetorical control. Give an example. Most people analyze in a linear fashion. They’ll take a group of 12 items and to rank them high, medium, or low, they’ll start with the first one.

We suggest, time out. Don’t do that because 80% of them end up being high. Concede they’re all high, but use what’s called book end rhetoric and ask in the singular of these, “which is most?” And your next question needs to be, “Of the remaining which is least?” And you squeeze in on the gray matter. That point in time where people basically will accept, “No, I’m not going to lose sleep if you make the rest moderate.” So that world of precise questions and knowing them in advance is exactly what is needed by most structured facilitators in the world where you’re participants are professional and actually trying to make money.

Douglas:  The thing I love about the book ending was that I imagine, especially product owners, scrum masters, product managers will relate to this moment where you’re trying to prioritize a backlog or something, and you’re just going through, going through and you get to this moment, maybe it’s maybe five tickets or bugs in or 10, wherever it is into this list. And you start to go, “Oh my God, there’s so many more to go through.” And it’s starting to slow down, and you’re not getting as much energy from the team to respond to things. But if you only go a little bit in because they’re focusing on the top, and then you go, “Okay, which ones do we know fall to the bottom?” You get so much more momentum from folks. You don’t lose them. They don’t just fall dead like zombies.

Terrence:  No, you establish focus quickly. And then to the extent that there’s still arguments, it’s probably that approach is not robust enough. And what you really need is a decision matrix and what that implies is that you not only need to evaluate your options, you need to evaluate your criteria. And the criteria as they apply to- so if this is the product feature we want to focus in on is why. And that gets answered with criteria because it yields a safer environment, a faster dah, dah, da, right? We take the prioritized criteria and apply them against our options. Now, visually that can look very complicated, but let’s face it, business is not that simple.

Douglas:  The thing I loved about the criteria mapping or just identification was that often people will gravitate toward impact and level of effort. And sure those are criteria, right? Ideally, we will have low level of effort and high impact if we can skew in those directions. But generically speaking, if we think in terms of criteria, we can come up with other things that are important and unique to us. So then we don’t have to just pull some best practice off a shelf that some other company’s doing. So I’m a big fan of the criteria for folks that are listening.

Terrence:  Sorry for being banal, but I use the example of underwear. You don’t go into Target or Kohl’s and prioritize the underwear on the shelf. No, what you’ve done is prioritized your criteria, which is cost, color, quantity, size, fabric, et cetera. And what you discover is that, frankly, in the world of underwear, size is a bit more important than fabric, right? So that prioritized criteria then gets applied against your options. It happens so quickly and transparently with individual decisions. We don’t think about it, but with a group, the hardest thing with a group of course is to get them to all focus on the same thing at the same time. So we need to step through things one at a time.

Douglas:  Love it. So good. We’re definitely kind of reaching the end here. I want to just provide you one final moment to leave our listeners with a final thought.


Well, we didn’t have time to look at a couple of our unique tools, such as quantitative. We suggest because as opposed to SWAT, you really should work with the external factors, threats, and opportunities first, but we have a method for facilitating roles and responsibilities. We highly recommend a guardian of change, which is built through a T chart, a communications plan. So after the meeting, it sounds like we were in the same meeting, and we actually have a testing mechanism for a decision quality before you leave a meeting by peeling back to purpose. Of course, if you don’t have that why before the what, there’s nothing to appeal to, but we all know that the worst deliverable from any meeting is another meeting, so we help you try to avoid that with a testing method. But more importantly to your question, at a high level, leaving people with a thought, the first thought is as a facilitator, I need to embrace the principle of no harm, which kind of says, “Let’s think on an integral basis.” The art of yes-and as opposed to yes-but. So this principle of no harm I look at as respecting the collective and then embracing an integral theory. And then perhaps the final item, which is just that miracles happen.

If you can get this smart group of people to focus on the same thing at the same time, and there’s no one way to do that, but you need to embrace a discipline that you get good at, which means you become consciously competent, and then ultimately unconsciously competent at deploying.

Douglas:  That’s such great advice. And I’ll just take it a step further, which is, highly recommend folks go  check out the book, Meetings That Get Results, A Facilitator’s Guide to Building Better Meetings. It’s just jam full of pretty much the entire curriculum. It’s pretty amazing. Like all the stuff we talked about today in detail plus other things we didn’t get to. It is a great, great resource. I would say for anybody and kind of echoing your point earlier, Terrence, about how it’s super important to take a diverse lens to your learning and your up-skilling as a facilitator. Get all the certifications. So definitely check out Terrence’s work. I think, especially for folks that are coming up through design thinking or liberating structures, I think it’s a different perspective you might not have seen. And I think the more we add new and unique perspectives, the more that we can improve and level up the craft of facilitation.

Terrence:  Amen to that.

Douglas:  That thanks so much for joining me today. And it was lovely chatting.

Terrence:  Well, I could leave you with a final challenge, which I have a hard time explaining.

Douglas:  Okay.

Terrence:  But make sure in this role that you are kind, not nice.

Douglas:  I love it. That’s also one of the things from you, Terrence, that’s really stuck with me over the years. I think that’s a great invitation for everyone.

Terrence:  Thanks for the opportunity, Douglas.

Douglas:  Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control The Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. And if you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together, voltagecontrol.com.