Category Archives: process

Innovation: Why We Need to Connect with Each Other

Click on this post to view a short fun video that shows us that the connected mind is where good ideas come from.

Reaching Consensus in a Crowd

You may have seen in recent news the so-called “people’s mike” in demonstrations on Wall Street and around the US. This caught my attention. It began as a result of the demonstrators not being allowed to use a P.A. system.
Whoever is speaking says a phrase or two and the people standing there repeat what was said so the larger group can hear it. It is pretty dramatic for the words to be broadcast not by electronics but by other people.

As a facilitator, I am always interested in group process, in what tools we have to communicate effectively with each other.

The Occupy Wall Street group in San Francisco holds General Assembly meetings in a park near the Federal Reserve. I had an opportunity to experience their decision-making process for about half an hour. That allowed me to get the basics of how people are chosen to speak, how they facilitate interaction, and how they can reach consensus in a fluid crowd of passionate individuals.
Anyone who has pulled together a project or led events or meetings has had to deal with fluid crowds and / or passionate individuals. I wondered how it was possible to keep it focused out in the open air with a diverse, self-organizing group of people.

This group in San Francisco had basic assumptions that everyone had equal rights to speak and respond, and had a voice in making decisions. With those values, they elected someone to facilitate who explained the signals they used. The structure of how to reach consensus in a group was revealed.
The way people got to speak is that they signed up in order. One volunteer took charge of keeping track of who was to speak, “the stack.” They had timekeepers with signs to let people know when they had 30 seconds or 15 seconds left.

What I found most interesting was the mechanism for how people could express their response to the speaker. If you wanted to give a direct response, you wagged your two index fingers back and forth, pointing at yourself and the speaker. This wasn’t to be used to express disagreement but to answer a question or ask a question directly. If you want to speak your own point of view and disagree, you line up in the stack.

While someone is speaking, the crowd expresses its responses, making this a very active way of hearing speakers. If you want to show your response, you can, or you can just listen. To respond affirmatively, you wave both hands in the air with your palms toward the speaker. If you are responding negatively, you hold up crossed arms.

Decisions were made by consensus, not by majority vote. The facilitator explained that to say yes, thumbs up. To say you are not in favor but don’t want to block the action, you point a thumb to the side. If you want to block the action, you hold up a thumbs-down. The facilitator had to read the thumbs. If there were lots of thumbs up, before moving on he would say, “Are there any thumbs-down that I can’t see?”
If someone wanted to block a motion, they would be asked to say why, and they would work it out with the proponents of the action until the group reached agreement.

Certainly in this group, patience was required to stick it out. For people who had committed to camp near the Fed, they had time to work through every point with the group. For a business meeting, I might suggest employing some of the tactics (well, maybe the handwaving and crossed arms could be kept out in the park) that would create inclusion and ownership of results. The method of asking for “thumbs-down” and an explanation is a good way to keep the thinking open and robust.
In online meetings and teleconferences, some form of this can happen when the platform allows responses, polling, and other means of interaction. More real-time visibility, feedback, and input methods encourage remote participants to feel empowered and to contribute.

For me, it was inspiring to see people in a crowd work well and participatively with each other. We don’t always need a commander in charge. A skilled facilitator, on the other hand, enables any number of people to think and act together.

Optimize Your (Team’s) Time and Talent

What manager hasn’t suffered with the planning or execution of important meetings, having people nitpick or go off on tangents or engage in needless conflict?
I am a PROCESS COACH and help you and your team make the most of your time and talent. Calculate the cost of the talent in the room and the ROI of using a process coach becomes clear.
Contact me to pursue the possibilities for you, your team, your clients. We can partner to get great results through the Five Essentials of Good Groups. Also check out our book, Smart Work: The Syntax Guide for Mutual Understanding in the Workplace (Kendall-Hunt). See for Syntax, the system we use.
Looking forward to hearing from you and smoothing the path to great results with good people!

Recent feedback:
Lucy Freedman possesses that rare quality of being able to lead and follow at the same time. In the space of only two days, she turned one dozen highly creative, independent, and successful entrepreneurs into a productive, unified team, with everyone smiling, pleased with themselves individually and everyone else as a group. I am still amazed at her organizational development skills. I got to watch a master at work.

Anne Teachworth, Southeast Rep, USATAA Council
Director, Gestalt Institute of New Orleans/New York
Fellow, American Psychotherapy Assn.
Author, Why We Pick The Mates We Do