Welcome to Multipartiality!

For the longest time I thought it was my job as a facilitator to be neutral and impartial. I wasn’t sure I was “doing it right”, when I strengthened one party in a conflict by paraphrasing and helping them be understood, when they were at the disadvantage and I wanted the parties to have equal footing to work things out.

It wasn’t until the workshop with solution-focused coaches Veronika Jungwirth and Ralph Miarka that I learned a new word: Multipartiality (“Allparteilichkeit“).

It means to be able to understand and empathize with each party as needed, to help them phrase and explain their needs.

You expect neutrality from a judge. But mediators and (depending on the situation) facilitators will be more effective with a mindset of multipartiality.

Nowadays, I do not in facilitate meetings in which I know I won’t be able to be multipartial.

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Enjoy the Silence

Many people are uncomfortable with silence. As a facilitator, it is important to become friends with silence and not feel compelled to fill awkward pauses.

I’ve learned that lesson a while back: Holding the silence used to be hard for me. I like to talk. I’m a chatty person. Shutting up is difficult for me. Letting silence be. Enduring it. It helped me to count from 10 to 20 in my head and to start over when I had reached 20.

If you look at people with attention and fully expecting them to continue talking, they will talk again. Even if, technically they have already said something about the issue. And that is when the magic happens!

Very interesting things happen when you don’t fill an awkward silence with chatter. You’ll hear things that others don’t readily come forward with. These are often newer or more controversial thoughts – Not surface level, not something they will readily share with anyone. Finding out about these deeper or more cautious thoughts is super valuable. You can work on concerns and keep issues from festering.

It’s magical. Enjoy the silence! Make it work for you 🙂

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Assuming Positive Intent

It all started with a tweet by Tobias Mayer:

“Don’t make assumptions” says one school of wisdom, “Assume positive intent” says another. I choose the first. You?

I’m a card bearing member of the second tribe (at least I thought I was) so I answered:

The second one. Makes me kinder.

Going into difficult conversations assuming positive intent has rarely left me disappointed.

Or as Gitte Klitgaard so beautifully put it:

I find that I get what I expect. So if I expect good, I get good.

My experience is exactly the same. Whenever I don’t manage to assume positive intent and give in to blaming thoughts it leads to more disappointment. My beliefs always always leak into what I say and how I say it.

That’s why I ask someone else to facilitate / mediate in my place when I cannot honestly assume positive intent for each party.

The “don’t assume anything” school of thought has never helped me to prep angry people for constructive conversations. When someone thinks others to be malicious, countering their theories by saying “You don’t know that. Don’t just assume that” only helps for about 2 seconds:

They rake a hand through their hair and say “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I don’t know that for sure.” Pause for effect. “But I swear, they’re just doing that to fuck with us!” Aaaand, back to Square One.

What did help multiple times is giving a couple of scenarios in which the enraging behaviour is a result of good helpful intentions of the other party and doesn’t manifest their evil and / or stupid nature.

Giving examples of how something might have had positive intent opens the door to really talk. I’ve established a possible alternate reality 🙂

What’s really going on is something we can try to find out during the facilitated conversation.

After I laid out these thoughts, Tobias remarked:

Talking “of how this might have had positive intent” is very different to making the assumption, isn’t it?

Huh? Hm, I guess that’s true. Apparently I fall inbetween the two schools of thought and my mindset when preparing to facilitate is:

I assume that positive intent is possible (while not actually assuming any particular motive)

And I can come up with at least two positive intent scenarios for any given situation.

Learned something about myself there. It’s a mindset that has served me well so far. What’s your mindset for facilitating tense conversations?

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Raise your hand to speak

For somebody who spends as much time as I do on thinking about what we do at sipgate and why it works, I missed a tiny, big detail for a really long time: Our meetings work much better than at most other places because we raise our hands when we want to speak. And we talk in the order of hands being raised.

I once had plans for a book on how teams facilitate can better their own meetings. And it never occured to me to include raising your hand in the book. I had thought about talking sticks and keeping a visible list for big groups, but not about “queueing” to speak.

After all, isn’t that just how it works in school? Yes and no. Yes, you raise your hand to speak. No, not everybody gets to speak and you are not responsible yourself to figure out the order of speaking. The teacher calls on people to speak.

But if you think about it, not interrupting each other and letting other speak first is the basis for all the other things that work well in our meetings. AFAIR, Richard Sheridan calls stuff like that “kindergarten skills” in his book “Joy, Inc.”. These kindergarten skills, i.e. playing nice with others is the first thing they check for in potential hires.

I only realized this how important the hand raising thing is, because I recently was in a meeting with someone who didn’t wait their turn. It was sooo irritating. It ruined the flow and also made it more likely for others to display bad meeting manners: Interrupting others becomes more frequent because everybody is anxious to get their thoughts out.

Even now that I’m writing it down, I feel like it’s too basic, too obvious to be mentioned. I mean: “You want nicer, fairer meetings, in which people are not talking over each other? Gee, have you tried taking turns by raising your hand to get the word when it’s your turn?” Duh.

But then again, I rarely see the hand raising in other environments and meeting flow is worse for it. So, I’ll be happy to state the obvious, if it helps some team, somewhere.

You’re meetings are going smoothly without hand raising? Great! Maybe it’s because you’ve got a facilitator? Facilitators can often guess who wants to speak, based on body language. And give the floor to that person either explicitly or also using subtle body language. I often give somebody the floor, by raising my open palm towards them or just looking at them with my head cocked.

But facilitators are not mind readers so even then the hand raising bit helps. And when there’s no facilitator it helps a lot! If they know who wants to speak, the more confident team members can give the floor to shyer ones, who wouldn’t just talk over someone else to be heard.

So, yeah, queue to speak and get more orderly meetings with a fairer distribution of “air time”. Peace Out 🙂

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Improve your retrospectives with this 1 weird trick: Liftoffs

When health is concerned, preventing issues altogether is often easier than treating them once they manifest. The same can be said for retrospectives:

“In retrospectives we often make up for the fact that we didn’t have a liftoff”

Either Deborah Hartmann Preuss or Steve Holyer said that in a conversation and it rings true. Very few teams get a proper liftoff and they lose weeks and months of productivity to initial friction. In contrast, a proper liftoff sets up a team for success by laying a solid foundation of agreements and shared understandings. Then the team doesn’t have to spend their retrospectives patching up problems that could have been avoided.

What are liftoffs exactly?

You might know them as kickoffs, jump starts, launches or project starts – a meeting at the beginning of a team coming together and / or starting to work on something. I’m going with the name “liftoff” because of the book by the same name written by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies.

A huge chunk of “Liftoff” describes Agile Chartering as a way to clarify purpose, alignment and context of the team and work. Srinath Ramakrishnan summarises it like this:

“Agile chartering is a lightweight minimum documentation approach to creating initial understandings, agreements and alignment about the work and how it will be accomplished.”

A liftoff is a longer event, lasting from a day up to a week. All the necessary people take part, i.e. the team, the project sponsor and whoever else is needed to provide context and insights. Many liftoffs are also off-site which improves focus.

If you forgo a liftoff you often spend a lot of retrospectives on clarifying things that should have been clear from the get go. Of course, there are retro activities that can help, such as:

But you try to compensate for a lack of alignment in short stretches of time and typically with crucial people & their knowledge missing. You really wanna do liftoffs, trust me. Your retros will go a lot smoother.

So, what if you missed the start? The project is already underway and you find yourself with a team patching up cracks in the foundation instead of “clicking”? Well, it’s never too late to reboot with a mid-project liftoff to (re)gain footing.

Check out “Liftoff” for details on how to run one 🙂

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books