Raising the Bench in Big Mtgs: Practicing Personal Responsibility While Creating Better Mtg Outcomes
Updated: Jun 30
In a previous post, we began to provide preventative measures and remedies for an example quarterly steering meeting that was off to a rough start: We talked about how to use preparation to set up meeting attendees for success. Now, let’s focus on meeting design, and specifically how to design this quarterly steering meeting such that it provides and accelerates training, so that it helps multiple levels of leaders practice a critical leadership skill while they complete their most critical work.
3 Steps to a Skills-Building AND an Improved Meeting
Follow these three steps to design a meeting with skills-building in mind that ALSO achieves meeting outcomes:
Choose a skill to include. Get clear on what you want to help these leaders get better at. Not 5 things. 1 thing, maybe 2 things, 3 things tops. Let’s focus in this blog post on personal responsibility, which is the pre-work we assigned in our example quarterly steering meeting. Personal responsibility practice helps leaders positively change their systems, respond without blame, and move forward together through perceived cultural or system blockers.
How will you give everyone a chance to practice? How will you make it both easy and safe to practice the chosen skill(s)? The entire agenda provides opportunities.
Verify: Have we leveraged the training and skills practice to IMPROVE our meeting outcomes? Is the meeting design achieving both goals–growing leaders AND getting to good decisions, and the outcomes we are looking for? How can we create even better decisions and outcomes leveraging the skill(s) we’ve selected?
1. Choose a skill to include
For the “rough start” group, we decided we wanted to help this extended group of leaders shift to stay in a creative state and to practice above-the-line behavior. This growth will help counter a habit of using “office culture” or “politics” to justify work being stuck or change being impossible. Leaders had a related habit of finger-pointing, of blaming other groups for poor performance.
We decided to leverage Christopher Avery’s The Responsibility Process® and The Responsibility Process video. Here is an image of The Responsibility Process. You can get your own PDF–in many languages– here: http://responsibility.com
2. Consider all the ways the group could practice together
Now let’s consider all the ways we could reinforce the message and provide practice throughout our redesigned quarterly steering meeting.
We’ll start by walking through every part of the meeting and considering what we *might* include in order to keep the meeting moving forward while also providing opportunities to reinforce the personal responsibility language. We’ll focus on increasing awareness and responding from a place of personal responsibility.
We might consider changing the following items.
Name of the meeting
How can we reinforce personal and collective responsibility? Let’s add a subtitle to the meeting name: “Quarterly Steering: Deciding together how to improve our ability to deliver results”. The “together” and “our” language use sets a tone of collaboration.
People we invite
In our last blog post, we also highlighted the value of inviting next-level leaders. To break habits around blame, let’s also ensure we invite people from the groups who need to see our leaders modeling improved collaboration, and who need to practice new behaviors together–and who must succeed together for us to achieve real results.
We assigned watching Christopher Avery’s The Responsibility Process video as pre-work.
As people arrive
In person: Create a large, handwritten version of The Responsibility Process and post on the wall. Make the information as continually visible as possible.
Virtual: Have a visual of The Responsibility Process on a collaboration board that you’ll use for the majority of our work today.
Virtual: Invite people to make a virtual sticky note with their name, department, and something they are proud of from the last quarter. Consider pre-making breakout groups to be cross-functional.
In-person: Invite people to sit cross-functionally. It’s harder to engage in blaming others to people’s faces.
Virtual: Let people know that you’ll break them out into virtual cross-functional groups/virtual rooms.
Bring the pre-work into the current moment by replaying the Avery video as part of the icebreaker.
Have people gather in pairs (faster) or groups of 3-4 (more vulnerability and deeper practice) and have each person share about a time recently when they found themselves operating outside of personal responsibility. In what mental state did they find themselves? What or who were they reacting to? How did the mental state show up in their reaction–in words, actions, or internal stories?
We might subtly edit our purpose statement to emphasize The WE and our shared results. For example (markup shows changes from initial purpose):
TO agree on the change initiatives we will focus on together this quarter
BY understanding the gaining a shared view of our current state and
exploring possible change efforts and
choosing the initiatives most like to impact all of our key results
SO THAT we progress together toward our shared yearly objectives
Facilitator’s Opening and Co-created Working Agreements
As a facilitator, can you catch yourself? Share with the group that you’ll work on operating from personal responsibility, too–and invite people to catch you when you’re not! Share that you might very well be in “Blame” or Justify” before you speak, but that you’re striving to operate from Responsibility. You might even share this quote from Christopher Avery:
“My faculty and I accentuate ‘operating’ from Responsibility instead of ‘being in’ it. This way I am free to react when things go wrong and go to Lay Blame, etc. Then I catch myself in Lay Blame, Justify, Shame, Obligation, and Quit. But I don't operate (speak, take action) until I get to Responsibility.
"This is a small and vital point about how the mind works. The only way to be in Responsibility always is for everything to be perfect.”
Pre-populate working agreements with one or more of the following:
Art of the Possible Explanation: when you hear something that you might immediately reject as “can’t be done here” or “we’ve already tried that”... take a deep breath and ask yourself, why might this make sense now? What has changed–or how might we change–such that it might be possible?
Operate from Personal Responsibility Explanation: Seek awareness when you find yourself in a state other than personal responsibility, when you find yourself “below the line” Listen for words of blame, justify, shame, obligation, and seek to help each other practice awareness and reframe.
Name Your Mental State Explanation: Christopher Avery calls it a #WIN–and a sign of real growth–to simply name your mental states, even before you learn to bring yourself to the state of personal responsibility.
Current state review As you review the current state of your organization, encourage language and awareness of possibility and personal responsibility. As facilitator and/or as meeting owner:
Remind people they can own their responses as they learn about the last quarter’s successes and failures.
Invite everyone to notice if they get stuck in below-the-line states, and to strive to stay in a place of curiosity when that happens.
Invite presenters to be aware of the state they are in and the words they use as they present. Staying curious helps people stay in art of the possible and out of blame. Operating out of responsibility while presenting results might sound like:
Blame - Blaming other departments or teams for problems or a lack of results. Might include language like “Because team X didn’t do A, we couldn’t meet our commitments” or “We are still waiting on team X” or “Team X says they can’t work our requirements into any of their next three sprints.”
Justify - Justifying poor results via the general environment or culture. Might include language like “Given the current economic conditions…” or “Because hiring is hard lately…” or “That’s just how it goes around here.”
Shame - Employing an excessive mea culpa to explain poor performance. This one is harder to notice, because it sounds like taking responsibility but actually comes from a powerless state. Might include language like “Well, our teams aren’t strong, so…” or “We still don’t really know our capacity, so…” or “We’ve been rebuilding, so….” Shame is the hardest to discern: Perhaps it’s very true that this group is rebuilding, and that is a valid explanation for poor performance. The difference is between a powerful “we know this and plan to work on it” and a helpless “this is true, and we can’t fix it or get around it.”
As participants are listening to each presenter, ask them to capture ROPES (Risks, Opportunities, Puzzles, Experiments and Surprises). Then give people a chance in small groups to brainstorm and discuss what they captured. Invite these smaller, cross-functional groups to do an explicit responsibility check. Are responses written in a way that justifies poor results, or blames others, or internalizes shame?
Considering possible paths forward
Add a review step when suggesting strategies/rocks/initiatives/OKRs: Are we, as a group or individually, suggesting changes we think we *should* make, but don’t feel like we can, or don’t *want* to make? Are we avoiding changes that we know would help, because we are blaming others–possibly being vindictive? “It’s not my fault or issue…it’s theirs”? Are we acting out of obligation? If so, we’ll encounter more friction–especially from ourselves–if we approach them from this state. Choosing to do the initiatives from a place of personal responsibility speeds results.
As groups of leaders work on clarifying their strategies using Strategy Worksheets (or similar), guide them to pair or work in small cross-functional groups to make sure they’re not leaving things out because of below-the-line mental states. Especially when exploring current state and root causes, encouraging leaders to ask themselves “Coming from a place with less blame and justification, and of more power to change the way we respond, responding from personal responsibility…what is missing in our analysis?”
Deciding which initiatives to pursue
In the script you use to instruct people as they vote on which strategies or initiatives to pursue next, you can subtly reinforce the language of personal responsibility. You might say something like, “Let us now dot-vote on which of these change initiatives have the greatest potential to impact our shared bottom-line shared results. Please remember to consider the Art of the Possible: We believe that if we choose to put our effort and support behind these initiatives, they will create the intended impact in the organization.”
ROAM the risks
Identifying and processing the risks in the plan is another place where the language of blame, justify, shame and obligation can show up. As facilitator, ask people to listen for that language and to help the group rewrite risks to reflect more honesty and more belief that we can manage the risks, together.
In org cultures low in personal responsibility, any consensus vote on a decision–like the quarterly steering’s vote on initiatives–often masks pocket vetoes. People coming from a mental state of “justify” vote “yes” but really are thinking “that’s just how it is around here–we choose the wrong priorities. I’ll say yes, but I’m going to actually pursue MY priorities.” We help bring people into a place of personal responsibility by providing a way to vote that makes real space for dissent.
Use a fist of five voting method. Explain clearly that a “3” is the minimum for consensus, meaning “I can live with it, and support it.” Be sure to explain that you don’t have to love the decision, but by voting a “3” you are committing to support it. Also be sure to explain 1s and 2s. When the vote happens, look carefully. You have to honestly find any 1s and 2s, and provide the space for further discussion to address the concerns those votes represent. When you provide that space, you are creating the environment in which people can operate from personal responsibility.
Crafting the communication to the rest of the organization
In your facilitation script that guides the group to co-create the communication describing what we decided and accomplished in this meeting, remind people to apply their art of the possible to describe successes, failures, decisions, and expectations from a place of personal responsibility. It might help if they refer to more of “our” shared desired outcomes.
Consider adding a review step in which you ask everyone to explicitly listen for the language of obligation, shame, justify or blame, so that the group practices together and can edit together.
Capturing individual next steps
Share personal and group habit formation best practices as part of guiding people to outline their individual next steps. Suggest that each person describe exactly when and how (time and date and meeting, for example) they’ll practice new behaviors of personal responsibility. Ask them to imagine and include how they will behave differently when they find themselves out of personal responsibility. Provide an example: “I’ll take a deep breath and say, ‘Oh gosh, that’s difficult. Thanks for bringing that up. Give me a minute. I need to think about how I want to respond to that.’” Feel free to add a personal example as a facilitator. Here’s one we’ve used: The next time my mom asks me to “fix her internet,” I will take a deep breath and notice my feeling of obligation. I will appreciate that I have a great relationship with my mom, and that she’s reaching out to me for help when she’s stuck. I will say, “ok! Let’s do that, mom.”
Closing and Retrospective
Consider adding a retrospective category beyond our usual results categories that evokes our responsibility practice; for example, “loved, would change, disliked, was aware of/observed.”
During a round of appreciations, ask people to highlight and appreciate times they caught a colleague using the language and mindset of personal responsibility.
After the Meeting: Facilitator’s Follow up Communication
Your facilitator’s follow-up email is another opportunity to reinforce the skills and practice of personal responsibility. In addition to reminding people about the initiatives the group chose, remind them about how they all practiced responsibility in the meeting, and how that practice led to better meeting outcomes. Highlight how everyone leaned in to solve challenges together, across teams; how confident the group is in its priorities; how valid the consensus vote was. Remind people that they made individual action items that include further practice in personal responsibility.
These same messages should be included in any communications to the broader organization–raising the bench and changing the culture will go faster when more people know about these efforts.
After the Meeting: Sponsoring Leader’s Follow up Communications
As the meeting sponsor, your praise and reflection will go a long way toward reinforcing the importance of the skills we trained and practiced. (And, conversely, if you fail to mention the personal responsibility work, everyone will quickly drop the hard work of practicing.)
In your communication, appreciate everyone for digging in to something maybe a little hard, a little vulnerable–and for helping each other to practice. Make the connection between that practice and the better meeting outcomes. Ideally, share your personal action item–how you intend to practice over the next months.
After the Meeting: Facilitator’s Retrospective
As the facilitation team debriefs with sponsors after the meeting, discuss what you all observed and learned about stuck states and progress during the meeting.
3. Verify: How will the elements we add enhance our results?
Time for some analysis! We’ve identified all the places and ways you *could* include elements to reinforce the message around personal responsibility. But do you really want all of it? Let’s analyze.
Results: How did adding this training and practice improve our results?
Adding training such as responsibility practice can significantly remove friction between siloed departments and teams. Practicing responsibility together allows leaders to
create additional awareness about how they are getting in their own way of creating better results
create paths forward together, faster
feel a sense of control, personal power and shared ownership that provides additional motivation and inspiration to succeed
invite difficult discussions and Crucial Conversations to happen earlier and easier, de-risking products and programs
improve speed and clarity of decision-making
more effectively articulate, plan, and deploy strategy and critical change efforts.
How much is it worth to you and your organization to move away from the previous version of this meeting–where leaders are focused on “not my fault”, on blaming others for their poor results, on believing things can’t change around here. Do you wonder how much that friction and lack of action is affecting your results?
Warning: Don’t Over-Rotate on Training
There is a way too much emphasis on your skills training can hurt your results, and I’ll admit we have found it. We have made the mistake of over-rotating on skills growth to the point where the actual content of the meeting no longer felt like the central topic.
Instructions about personal responsibility obfuscated instructions about how to define VALUE and understanding what’s most important for the organization right now.
In that case, the solution was to pare it back a bit. Not *every* instruction or script needed to tie back to personal responsibility. We kept some, and cut others.
Time: How much time did we add to–or subtract from–our meeting by adding skills practice?
The advantages of incorporating skills training and practice in your big meetings are that you don’t need to find a separate time for training and that you get to practice together as an extended leadership team while completing your most critical work. Toegher, you work while you learn. However, that efficiency won’t feel like a win if it makes a very expensive meeting like extended leadership team quarterly steering more expensive–perhaps you’re thinking you might need an extra half day to add this training in. We find that you do not. Let’s take a deeper look.
What have we added in terms of meeting time?
We added 5 minutes to re-watch The Responsibility Process video
We added a few seconds of additional behavior encouragement to several sections: current state review, ROPeS breakout, change or strategy articulation, commitment to moving forward together, individual next steps, shared commitment and communications.
Note that many of our design items are simply a script or an approach to what we would be doing anyway to facilitate a meeting well, to create better business outcomes:
We would run an icebreaker regardless
We would review a purpose
We would seed working agreements
We would provide a thinking aid to help participants analyze and pay attention to the current state review
We would collect risks, opportunities, puzzles, experiments and surprises (ROPES)
We would provide guidance as people brainstorm initiatives
We would ask participants to co-create Strategy Worksheet, to clearly articulate and analyze shared strategies and initiatives
We would provide guidance on dot-voting or other methods we might use for selecting the next initiatives
We would ROAM risks
We would take a consensus vote
We would co-author key messages from the meeting for clear post-meeting communications on decisions and commitment
We would voice appreciations
We would retrospect to see how we can all continue to improve
With additional language and how we’re asking participants to evaluate themselves and their work, it looks like we consumed perhaps 10-20 minutes of meeting time in a one- to two-day meeting.
Is 10-20 minutes of our meeting worth the time to practice a skill together while doing our most critical work together? Will that be less than the tradeoff in our improved results? It seems a clear decision to most leaders when we break it down like this: Let’s add training to our meetings.
Skills practice for culture change
We’ve seen that when leaders practice new skills together, they not only speed their own learning, they remove friction between siloed departments. They change the feeling of the organization. They have a direct impact on the culture. They experience better business results, and more empowered, happier humans. Are you ready to practice with your leaders?
🐘 🐘 🐘