A couple of years ago, I was asked to facilitate a series of meetings involving the members of a public board appointed by a City Council in Colorado. The Board was going through a period of transition, with a few new members having been appointed to the Board whose styles and values differed from their predecessors. Furthermore, a new Board member was soon to become the chair, and the Director of the staff of the organization over which the Board had authority was soon to retire. Many things were in flux, and Board meetings had become laden with conflict and less productive than in the past. The goal of the meetings I was hired to facilitate was to develop an Action Plan to allow the Board to have more civil and productive deliberations and operations in the future.
After conducting a personal interview with each of the Board and staff members, I facilitated two planning meetings with the Board members, as a group. After agreeing to a set of ground rules for their meetings (something I always help the members of any group to do at their first meeting), the group discussed the issues that had brought them to the table. I was able to suggest an agenda with potential topics because I had already spoken one-on-one with everyone there. Although the details of each interview were kept private, it was understood by everyone that I would produce proposed issues for discussion based on those interviews. I made detailed notes at each group meeting, noting areas of agreement when they happened.
Finding the time for these special meetings had been a challenge for the Board. Other business had to be postponed, and getting everyone on the Board to the table for the meetings was difficult. The Board also wanted to complete the discussion process as quickly and economically as possible. Therefore, the members avoided a third meeting to finalize their written agreement (an “Action Plan for the Future”) by asking me to find the areas of agreement among the notes from their first two meetings and to use them to draft the Action Plan for everyone to consider and sign at a future Board meeting.
When making flip chart notes during a facilitated meeting, I always make note of the main issues of concern, and I highlight the areas of group consensus when I transcribe the notes. All of the Board members had been given copies of the transcribed notes – so they had seen those areas of agreement. Thus, I was able to review the meeting notes, find the areas of agreement and draft the Action Plan, as requested. I presented the draft Action Plan to the Board members at their next regular meeting. The plan was for them to discuss the agreement on their own, make minor modifications and then sign the document. Since my work as a facilitator was complete once the Action Plan was produced, I do not know the final fate of my draft Action Plan. I do know that I was able to create a credible agreement document based on my understanding of the issues facing the Board and the notes I made at each meeting.
This is not a standard plan for producing an agreement after a series of meetings; however, for this case, it worked!