Five Tips for Herding Cats

How do you get fifteen people with different perspectives on the same page? We just finished a two day strategy session with a Board that wanted to collectively define a new future.
On day one they started with over twenty different points of view about why their organization existed. By day two they were finalizing the vision and mission. And in less than an hour they came up with a clear focus and four detailed explanations of success that everyone enthusiastically supported.
Here are some things you can do to help people reach a common understanding:

  1.  Make it visual. People believe what they see more that what they say. We use a lot of visual tools to ensure that people are seeing and saying the same thing. Whether you draw out a diagram on a white board or write out a list on a flip chart, visual connection to the discussion helps people stay focused and ensures that there is a consistent understanding.
  2. Ask provocative questions. When appropriate, get people out of their comfort zones to help them think bigger. Instead of “what do we want to be” ask “how can we become the company that would put us out of business?” Here is a starter list of questions to consider.
  3. Use brain power wisely. Time of day, food consumption and distractions can all enhance or inhibit the brain function. We reordered some of the discussion to accommodate where people were at in their level of brain power. We offered nuts, fruit and other healthy brain fuel options. Next time you have to gather a group to discuss and agree on a course of action, consider when you are meeting (earlier in the day the brain is usually fresher) and other environmental factors that can help everyone perform at their peak.
  4. Honor people over process. When you have a result to get to, stay focused on the outcome. However everyone is coming from a different place so you need to help the people move beyond their mental barriers in order to fully participate in the process. For example, at one point in the session a participant asked a question that made it clear she was not tracking with the direction. Rather than argue over the process, we took a pulse check to see where everyone was at and redirected the conversation in a new direction to accommodate how people were thinking.
  5. Clarity takes time. We believe in a good agenda. However, when you move to action without validating that everyone is clear on the discussion, what’s been decided or what’s next you risk repeat. Repeat requires a “do-over’” where the same topic comes up and gets rehashed. We gave participants sufficient conversation space to get through their own thinking process and get to a clear, aligned outcome. Don’t short change the discussion when you want everyone to be aligned and fully bought in.

BONUS video – since we are talking about herding cats, do you remember the Super Bowl commercial on this topic? This is a fabulous depiction of a term that is used quite frequently by anyone dealing with people!

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