I read this in an email from Greg Hohn, a fellow member of the Applied Improv Network.

I would summarize my approach simply by saying that I try to focus on process rather than result in facilitation and that the results will be what they will be. It’s scary and comforting all at the same time. Ideally, a facilitator, like a good parent, makes his or her role essentially obsolete. That can be scary too but it’s ultimately better than creating a cult of personality.

I pretty much agree with him. I think it’s easy to generate pseudo-results from meetings by going through the SMART goal mantra. You get these pseudo-results by achieving psuedo-agreement, where the silence or half-hearted assent of participants is taken as an endorsement. As a facilitator, it’s very tempting to make yourself feel more secure by nudging people into boxes… but much more powerful to resist that urge, make fewer interventions, and live with the uncertainty and chaos.

Here’s what Chris Corrigan had to say in a recent post on a similar theme.

Meetings are popularly knocked for being all talk and no action. Business magazines are full of strategies for getting the most out of a meeting, or better yet, determining how important a meeting is, and finding ways to blow it off. This is the result of meetings that are planned and hosted with no attention to the quality of the conversation that is to go on. Most companies and organizations seem to save quality only for the “real work” – producing goods or providing services. For some reason, conversation and the skillful design and conduct of productive conversations aren’t seen as work and so they don’t get the same attention as “results.”

I’m all for productive meetings, but too often the urge to tick boxes excludes the opportunity for reflection, increasing awareness, and the sort of bricolage that often leads to creative insights.

What gets lost when we get pseudo-agreement in meetings is we lose touch with the diversity and richness of participants. In my experience, great teams don’t actually agree explicitly about a lot of things. Instead, they seem to make a choice to go on together embracing difference. This notion is very upsetting to some people, who prefer the illusion of control to the reality of life being an unfolding and mysterious process. It’s most upsetting to many branding types who are wedded to the idea of the “grand narrative”, the unique statement of the brand’s identity. It’s why the notion of markets as conversations is such a radical shift of paradigm for marketing people.

4 thoughts on “Pseudo-productivity

  1. Chris Corrigan

    It’s all a question of what “productive” means. THese insights, whilethey have underpinned my work for a long while, got highlighted in a recent project where the client saw the stark difference in meetings conducted simply to “tick boxes” as you say versus the ones where generative conversation was the point. For her, having the experience of a generative conversation reminded her why she was doing the project in the first place – to develop working relationships that were capable of creating the kind of real productivity – innovative and emergent solutions – she was after.

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Roman: Thanks for your comments and related post.

    I guess we’re all generalising here. I don’t think it’s inherently dangerous to meet without an agenda; improvising is sometimes – perhaps often – a useful thing to do. Every meeting is different and I don’t want to try to write a set of absolute rules for what to do!


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