Tuesday, February 28, 2017

After Meeting Review

Had one of those nuanced conversations with a co-facilitator once that left me with more to ponder about my deepest understanding and attitudes about what I do. I love those types of talks!

People gather into a small group—we might call it a team, a board, a task force, a commission. With great attention and sometimes with the aid of a facilitator they compile Noble Norms. These have other names such as Group Rules, Team Rules, etc. but all of them seek to establish the basic behavioral understanding of the group. This becomes some type of Group Law.

And then the group goes about conducting its business. As groups seldom designate a Group Cop or Group Judge, how will this collection of peers raise concerns should one or several members believe a Group Rule has been violated by another member? If adjustments cannot or will not be raised, the Group Rules become meaningless and people act willy-nilly. This might be fine, or might begin a vicious cycle of destructive behaviors.

There's a Group Learning answer and a Personal Comfort answer. At the Personal Comfort level, the suggestion is that the disturbed member draw the violating member aside after the meeting and address the norms violation. This doesn't distract any of the other members from the ongoing business at hand, the two can handle it, and life goes on.

The drawback to this approach is that the other members may not be privy to any resolution, what was resolved, and any remediation of the relationship. Let's say our team has eight members. One person jokes about an obscure grammatical mark that another member couldn't find on her keyboard. Everyone laughs at the joke and carry on with their business.

Afterwards the keyboardist talks to the joker.

K: You know, it hurt my feelings when you joked about my not finding the m dash on my computer. Actually, I don't think it's there to be found, and I tried.

[Note: there are three dashes used when writing' the hyphen "-" the shorter "n" dash: –, often used for separating terms and the longer "m" dash: —, used to separate clauses.]

J: Ah, what's your beef? I had trouble finding it as well. I didn't even know the difference myself until grad school.

K: Well, I didn't appreciate it.

J: Oh, the m dash isn't such a big deal. Two dashes work fine.

K: Not that, well. Oh, never mind.

J: Oh, You think that was a put down?

K: Yeah.

J: I didn't mean anything by it. We have had had our own struggles to learn grammar.

K: Okay. I guess.

When we approach the same norm violation from the view of Group Learning, we have a different attitude among the members and a learning by everyone. Group Learning implies that everyone, that is all members attending the meeting, appreciate that a norm was violated in a group meeting context (the very arena for Group Rules) that one member made note of it, and that appropriate acknowledgments and adjustments will be made to self-educate members on how that Rule is to be honored. (One reason this language is so convoluted is that we are not used to speaking of the nuances of collective learning and understanding, so the language lacks expressive power in the sense of short words or phrases that get to what I mean.)

Every group seeking to improve needs stated times where members reflect on personal and collective positive contributions to the group's cohesion and work as well and what had detracted from group success. The After Meeting Review (AMR) perfectly serves this role. Search on the more common term "after action review" for articles to read about this concept.

Basically the AMR is adapted from procedures used by airline flight crews and forest firejumpers after their shifts for Group Reflection and Learning. Because it's immediate and the concerns have just a single instance (are therefore smaller than if a member 'collected' violations only to dump them all at one time on the Group), the meeting can be very brief and highly effective for learning. Recall that our childhood "lesson" about hot stoves were quite brief yet survive within us to this day.

Back to our keyvboardist/joker situation. Picture a group of eight. The facilitating member reminds the group that they need to conclude with the customary after meeting review. After a round of every member sharing something they contributed, our keyboardist speaks up:

K: It might not seem a big deal, but it hurt my feelings a little when you joked about my not being able to find the m dash key combination. Writing has not been easy for me, I did the best I could with my section. I had hoped for something closer to praise for even finishing it, not jokes about a silly m dash!

Member 1 (Joker): I didn't mean anything. I myself had no clue about m dashes until grad school 5 years ago.

Member 2: You know your section was great. Sorry about laughing about the m dash thing.

Member 3: We may all sometimes feel anxious about our writing, thanks for reminding us to be more supportive. You did do a great job, by the way.

Keyboardist: Thanks.

In this Group Learning context the whole group learned (and all had laughed at the joke) that it hurt a member's feelings to joke around with her about that. It was sensitive for her, but not yet a big deal, even her comment included a joke about "silly m dashes." And that's the point, this discussion happens when nothing is a big deal, except the chance to learn together and sustain a bond.

This way to Group Learning by Group Reflection on Group Rules doesn't seem natural much less doable and so is resisted at the conceptual level. In practice, a group quickly gets the hang of it, and can actually feel the Learning taking hold as it improves at the next opportunity based on feedback given during the after meeting review.

"The Army's After Action Review (AAR) is arguably one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised. Yet, most every corporate effort to graft this truly innovative practice into their culture has failed because, again and again, people reduce the living practice of AAR's to a sterile technique." — Peter Senge

Purpose and Benefits

The After Meeting Review (AMR) is a specific variant of the After Action Review (AAR). The main difference is that the AMR brings team attention to the specific details of how it conducts its meetings. The AAR can have a much larger scope and help a team take a retrospective view of its activities and results. The AMR is the specific case—AAR the general one.

Not only the Army, but firefighters, forest fire jumpers, commercial airline flight crews, air traffic controllers and some surgery teams use AAR to learn, share their personal perceptions of what occurred during their shift, and find ways to adjust
their exceptions and behaviors (learn) to improve performance.

The habit of predictable and consistent use of AMR benefits teams by
  • Sharing perceptions and feelings immediately after the meeting while it's fresh in team members' minds and everyone is still present.
  • Providing a time for a nonjudgmental, equal status review of the team's actions. The least senior and most senior team members have equal participation and status during AMR's. The same applies, too, for the highest status (the "leader") and the lowest status team members.
  • Building confidence across the team that members will take appropriate actions at the appropriate times.
  • Aligning—by discussion and comparing experiences—separate member perceptions into a common team perspective on events.
  • Providing a formal time for clarifying team communication and reducing conflict.
  • Activating, honoring, and respecting "team rules."

The When and How of AMR

When  The AMR should review the actions of the team near the end of a meeting. What is discussed, of course, depends on what happened. Usually, expect an AMR to take five minutes or less. Vary the comments as necessary; take longer when required by circumstances.

How  Creating a set sequence for comments helps the team use this time well.

Sample sequence:

Begin AMR (See notes after the end of these steps for additional explanations.)
  1. Facilitator: “Two things I did well this meeting were A and B.”

  2. Notetaker: “Two things I did well this meeting were C and D.”

  3. [Team members} “I (we, the team) helped our meeting today by E.”

  4. Facilitator: “One thing I (we) could improve on for next time is F.”

  5. Notetaker: “One thing I (we) could improve on for next time is G.”

  6. [Team members} “One thing I (we) could improve on for next time is H.”

Other comments for improvement (from anyone).
End Sample Sequence

Notes for Step(s):
1-3. Allowing the facilitator, recorder and members to offer their own positive self-evaluations begins the AMR on an upbeat. It also avoids one member “volunteering” to be the team “evaluator” or “expert.” If a team member is practicing a skill for the first time, this offers them a chance to share some of their pre-meeting anxieties and satisfaction with how well matters turned out. There’s a limit of two as a way to help members constrain how much time they take speaking.

4-6. Similar principle as noted for the first three steps, this time team members volunteer where they may improve. It works because it is self-chosen, achievable, and preserves of the speaker’s self-esteem.

7. Whenever possible, it is best for team members to phrase suggestions in neutral or positive language. “We took 20 minutes on check-in today” may be enough for team members to be reminded that meeting time is short and to offer briefer check-ins at the next meeting. This is preferred over: “Because of our long-windedness we spent too much time socializing at the beginning and had to rush through some important items.”