Organizational Development Consultant

20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #9 Shredded Questions

January 20, 2014

 “It seems as if conversations at our meetings always go around in circles. We talk about different aspects of the same question all at the same time. Is there a specific technique we can use that will give us some structure and control over this?”

9. SHREDDED QUESTIONS

What Are SHREDDED QUESTIONS?

The SHREDDED QUESTIONS technique outlines an orderly process for addressing a specific meeting issue or agenda item. This technique ensures that every appropriate facet or element of the specific issue under discussion will be examined thoroughly and efficiently.

Generally, the facets of meeting issues include:

  • Facts and background
  • Feelings and reactions
  • Brainstorming or creative alternatives
  • The pros of each alternative
  • The cons of each alternative
  • Agreement on the decision
  • Implementation and next steps

Unstructured discussions can result in all facets being discussed simultaneously, and the consequences of this lack of structure are measured in wasted time and disappointing results. SHREDDED QUESTIONS break each issue or agenda item down into a series of specific questions drawn from each of the facets; as a result, discussions become ordered, focused, and more successful.

SHREDDED QUESTIONS save valuable meeting time and dramatically improve the quality and the results of the meeting discussions where the technique is applied. This shredding technique also allows you as a facilitator to more effectively estimate agenda time lines.

When to Use SHREDDED QUESTIONS:

  • When you want to efficiently examine all aspects of a specific issue or agenda item
  • When your group will be discussing complex issues
  • When discussions seem to go around in circles

How to Use SHREDDED QUESTIONS

BEFORE THE MEETING:

1. Determine the purpose and desired end result of your specific agenda item.

2. Determine the best questions to guide your proposed discussion.

a. Be sure to include questions that will consider all appropriate facets of the agenda topic.

NOTE: Eliminate inappropriate categories based on the goal(s) of that particular agenda item.

Facts and background include purely factual information. Some example questions to elicit facts might be: What is the history of this issue? What are the key points? What specific details are important for us all to understand? What data and analysis are available? What do the experts say? What do our customers think? What are the facts?

NOTE: Facts and background are typically collected first and need to be comprehensive. Be sure to obtain them from all available perspectives, including individuals that may not be in your meeting. This step creates a foundation for all further discussion on the issue under consideration.

Feelings and reactions include intuitions, feelings, and emotional reactions. Sample questions might be: What was the high point/low point for you? What was the collective mood at the time? How do you feel about it? What are you excited about? What are you worried about? What is your gut feeling?

NOTE: Emotions and feelings are important information. When taken into consideration, they strengthen and support decisions. If ignored, they can jeopardize those decisions. It is imperative to include emotional information and energy along with the facts.

Creative alternatives are the result of brainstorming and offer possible solutions to a given problem. Example questions include: What alternatives or options do we have? What ideas come to mind? How can we best address this issue?

The pros of each alternative reveal the positive side of the brainstormed ideas. Ask, for example: How will this make a difference in the way we do business? What are the positive aspects of this option? What are the benefits of this alternative?

The cons of each alternative reveal the negative side of the brainstormed ideas. Questions you might ask include: What are the negatives we should consider? What are the budgetary requirements? What are the personnel requirements?

NOTE: The last two questions could be perceived as either a pro or con depending on the situation.

NOTE: Both facts and feelings can be used to assess the viability of any creative alternative.

Agreement on the decision, or decisions, should be reached by consensus, agreed upon, and mutually owned by all participants. To lead a group to a decision, you might ask: “Now that we have analyzed all the information, what should we do?” “What is our decision?”

Next steps provide the follow-through to ensure that the decision (or decisions) made is effectively implemented and monitored. You might say, for example: “What are the next steps?” “Who do we need to communicate with?” “How will we measure our success?” “What are the steps we need to take to implement these changes?” “What can we do to make sure that the program is implemented properly?”

b. Develop your key questions and sequence them in a logical manner.

c. Be sure to use OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS. See OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS, technique 34, for details.

3. Prepare any visual aids you will use in the meeting.

DURING THE MEETING:

1. Introduce the issue or agenda item for discussion. Describe the intended result and purpose. Explain why this issue is important.

2. Explain the SHREDDED QUESTIONS technique, and ask the group for help in answering only one question at a time.

You might say, for example: “Let’s try to keep our discussion focused on one aspect of this issue at a time. Here are the questions I’ve prepared to help us accomplish this. [Display your questions on an overhead or chart.] I’d appreciate your help in answering the questions one by one. This will save us both time and frustration.”

NOTE: Letting the group see all the questions from the beginning will help them focus and remain patient.

3. Lead the discussion, either as a large group or in small groups. Record the points of the discussion on charts. Post each chart so that it can be viewed throughout the meeting.

NOTE: Alter your preplanned questions if they are not working as expected. Ask your group for help in modifying or resequencing the questions if necessary.

Summary

SHREDDED QUESTIONS dissect the facets or elements of an issue and address them one by one. These facets include facts and background, feelings and reactions, brainstorming for creative alternatives, the pros and cons of each alternative, agreement on the decision, and implementation and next steps.

BEFORE THE MEETING:

1. Focus on a specific agenda item. Determine its purpose and intended result.

2. Determine the best questions to guide the conversation.


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