4 Steps to Better Action

Ever been in a retrospective, and in the end, there was an action item that nobody followed through on? Or have you been in a meeting where everyone is lobbying for their idea with no end in sight? Or maybe you’ve been confronted with a puzzle and weren’t sure what to do? You have reports, but aren’t quite sure how you can mentor and coach your reports? Yep, these scenarios cover just about every job.

I often shout from the rooftops is that facilitation is the single most crucial skill lacking in most organizations. Facilitation could be described as the act of helping a group understand information or make a decision. Every scenario I wrote about above has elements of a facilitation problem in it, and that’s also why most people have an uncomfortable time with them.

Here’s a model you can start practicing that can help improve most situations that call for facilitation.

Observations

Begin by asking about what people have seen so far. If there is a meeting and it’s gone off the rails, ask what people see right now. You can ask about anything people have observed. That includes feelings. Asking about what people observe gathers a lot of data and information.

There isn’t too much need to sift through the information or catalog it yet. We need it out in the room.

Some questions you might ask are:

  • What did you experience at that time?
  • What was the series of events leading up to this?
  • What did you hear in the various conversations?
  • What did you notice?

The specific questions you ask will vary depending on the situation but focus on getting people’s information and data out of their heads and into the room.

Reflection

With the data in the open, we now want to ask questions that allow people to think back on that data and form a first impression. Now, they already have beliefs, and they’ll say that too, but with all the new data in the room, a refined set of reflections can emerge.

Again, this isn’t about right or wrong. This is about getting people to reflect and begin to make sense of what is in front of them.

Some questions you might ask are:

  • What stands out?
  • What is surprising?
  • What is challenging about the observations?
  • When did this become the hardest or easiest?
  • What have you seen like this in the past?

Insight

By now, people have shared observations and reflected on it. We now turn our questions to those that ask people to create meaning from those reflections.

You can think of this as getting people to have a lightbulb moment. The data is there, they’ve created some reflections on it, and now it’ll hit home. We want to focus on insight at this moment because they have the raw ingredients, and if they arrive at an insight, the next step will get really sticky.

In my experience, generating insight is where all the magic happens. Without insight, results from the meetings feel hollow. When the group generates insight, everything resonates and feels alive. Focusing attention at this stage is time well spent.

Some questions you may ask are:

  • What do you think this means?
  • What have you learned?
  • What are you taking away?
  • Where are you feeling drawn to?
  • What do we stand to gain or lose by continuing?

Decisions

This is the steps everyone hurries to. This is where you decide on what action to take next. I have a lot to say about action and decisions, but for this article, I want to highlight that hurrying to this step without the data and insights will leave the decisions feeling a bit like a hot rock everyone wants to drop.

The reason is that the action doesn’t have meaning for anyone. It doesn’t resonate. It just feels like action without purpose.

So, spend time in the previous steps, and if you nail the insight step, a lightbulb will go off, and the decision will land and stick.

At this point, a quality decision has someone who is going to run with it primarily, enough clarity that a different person can do the step if needed, and clear guidelines on how the group can follow-up on it.

Some questions you might ask are:

  • If we could do whatever we want, what would we do right now?
  • What is the next smallest thing we can try?
  • What do you think the next step is?
  • How do we make progress together?

Tips

This technique goes by a few names. ORID is one of them. When you try these steps, there are a few things I’d mention to help you out.

First, it helps to think ahead of time what list of questions you want for each step. After all, each situation will be unique, and you’ll want the right questions to try. Second, these questions take time for people to answer. Ask your question, expect silence, and wait ten seconds before you speak again. In most cases, ten seconds is enough to get people to start talking, and then it’ll be hard to move on. Third, close the session by showing appreciation and summarizing.

Good luck out there, and let me know if these questions help improve things for you and your teams!

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