The Meeting Map: Making Both Process and Content Explicit

This is the first of three articles that stem from last weekend’s Next Edge Festival in Montréal. I’m grateful to the wonderful organizing team and all the participants who made the event a success and a great learning opportunity for me.

Meeting MapI have long been a fan of mindmaps as a tool for recording what transpires at a meeting, displayed up at the front of the room so that everyone can see the ‘official’ record (and correct it when needed). The mindmap can then serve as an instant set of ‘minutes’ by emailing it to all participants (and non-attendees) at the end of the meeting.

Last weekend Arthur Brock and his amazing team at Emerging Leader Labs showed us the work they’ve done with Gameshifting, a tool that promises to do for meeting process what mindmaps do for content — making it explicit. It uses a combination of wallboards, hand signals, and tablets or similar remote machines for participants to report on what they see happening (or would like to see happening), process-wise, during the meeting/event.

At this stage the tool is largely manual, and fun both for revealing what would otherwise not be known about meetings in general, and about our own personal group behaviours in particular.

As I participated in the “making-explicit” “game”, I began to dream about what might be possible, with today’s technology, that would:

  • Combine the display of process, protocols, and progress from Gameshifting with the display of content from mindmaps (or other graphic recording tools), and
  • Incorporate the patterns of exemplary group process from Group Works into the display.

The graphic above (you can download a higher-resolution PDF here) illustrates how it might work. Here’s a walkthrough:

  1. Before the meeting/event begins, the facilitator and sponsor would (a) key the major agenda items into the Meeting Trajectory blocks (upper left on the chart) and turn the first block green; (b) identify the major and secondary objectives for the meeting (upper right) and turn them dark and light green respectively; an X would appear in red beside each, showing them as not yet accomplished; (c) key in the major nodes (bubbles) on the mindmap (lower right) to correspond with the meeting/event objectives; (d) key in the initials of the people in various Roles (lower left); each box with someone assigned would turn green; (e) initialize the Process Mode for the first agenda item (centre left) to correspond to the mode that will be used to achieve its objective, turning that box green; (f) initialize the Process Style to the primary means to be used for this agenda item (Arthur’s model suggests a variety of different Styles for each Mode, or you could even enter a method like Open Space or World Café), turning that box green; (g) initializing the Interaction Protocol (centre right) to the one most appropriate for the mode and style selected, turning that box green, and (h) turning off all the Alert (lower left) ‘lights’ to grey.
  2. Ideally, all participants would have an app that would allow them to feed back their thoughts on the process electronically as the meeting event proceeded: (a) they could comment on the agenda and, as it proceeded, click on the boxes ahead of or behind the current green box in the Meeting Trajectory to request that the group move on, or go back (one person doing this would turn that box yellow; a majority doing this would turn it red, hopefully signalling the facilitator to “trust the wisdom of the group”); (b) they could click a ‘done’ flag on an Objective box when they thought that objective had been accomplished (when most, or all, depending on the will of the group, did this the red X would turn to a green check mark); (c) they could flash a red “!” or a yellow “?” beside any node of the mindmap to indicate they disagreed or had questions about what had been recorded; (d) they could click on any of the other figures to suggest a change in Mode or Style or Interaction Protocol or a change to the person in any of the Roles (again one person doing this would turn the suggested box yellow; a majority would turn the box red); and (e) they could click on any of the Alert buttons to express the appropriate request to the facilitator.
  3. Any participants familiar with the Pattern Language for Group Process (or wanting to practice learning it) would be able click on any of the 91 pattern cards to indicate either (a) a wish to recognize and thank someone for invoking that pattern very effectively (highlighting that card and turning it green), or (b) a suggestion that the facilitator and/or participants consider invoking that pattern (if the group is stuck or needs process help), highlighting that card and turning it red. For example, in the illustration, someone has turned the Story card green (indicating that someone just proffered an excellent story to the group), and the Honour Each Person card red (indicating that in their view someone is likely being ignored or disrespected by others).

I think you get the gist. All of this is done wordlessly, without interrupting the “audio track” flow of the meeting. It’s only a dream, but if used correctly this could absolutely transform the way we conduct, and collaborate in, group activities. The technology wouldn’t be that hard to implement. Much harder would be getting all the participants up to a base line of competency in what is actually going on in group processes, and what constitutes good versus bad group process. Which is something everyone who has to suffer through horrific meetings should learn, and value.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Arthur and his team do next with Gameshifting, and seeing how both mindmaps and Group Works can be incorporated into their vision. This could be awesome.


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10 Responses to The Meeting Map: Making Both Process and Content Explicit

  1. Very cool, thanks for sharing!

  2. liliana says:

    This tool –initiative/project is very good! Thank you Dave.

  3. Nancy White says:

    I love it intellectually, Dave. And as an old hand in meetings, I have some experiences that cause me to worry. But please, don’t take this as “rain on your parade” reply. Just thinking on a Monday morning, doing work avoidance.

    First, and one that was NEVER obvious to me until others finally convinced me, that some people cognitively don’t get mind maps. Seriously. So this is not to poo-poo mind maps, but to remind me that there are no silver visual bullets. Which frustrates me. ;-)

    Second, I worry about cognitive overload on top of simply paying attention. We have challenges with JUST paying attention. What are the assumptions that people would do what this tool would enable them to do? How could we explore and test them?

    Let’s dig deeper.

    I suspect with some experimentation, we could figure out WHAT PARTS of this dashboard make a difference. What are the key indicators. Which are nice, but not necessary. What is the minimum spec of the dashboard? Or what parts do you turn on with different kinds of groups or meetings? My gold standard is what is the least we can engineer to make a meeting good without over engineering…

    Finally, I’d be interested in hearing any ideas about how to distribute control as it seems the facilitator has a lot of power. ;-) Oh, and one more, what would be the implications for online/offline and mixed uses? I’m very intrigued.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Agree completely, Nancy. That corresponds with my experience exactly. I’m just laying down an intellectual gauntlet here, a challenge to figure out why we still conduct meetings in the usually dysfunctional way we do, and what if anything can be done to at least tweak the process. I like the fact that Arthur laid his suggestions out as a ‘game’, something to play at. I think that’s the right approach.

    Things are the way they are for a reason. If we have any hope of changing it, we first need to understand what that reason is. My guess is that, except in hierarchical organizations where it’s given by decree from above, facilitators actually usually don’t have very much power at all to spread around. I’d also guess that tech overwhelm is also behind the clumsiness of many online meetings, and this might actually make that situation worse. Fun to explore though.

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  6. liliana says:

    I will be studying it (and translate) slowly. However, as I see it now: it is a tool/conception capable of plasticity, of working.

  7. Nancy White says:

    Thanks, Dave, that makes a lot of sense. I’m sorry I missed Arthur’s session. I think I need to fill in my gaps.

  8. When thinking about the adoption difficulties of Gameshifting it’s important to remember that it is an example of an expressive capacity. All expressive capacities require “literacy.” You have to learn to talk, write, program, play music, etc because they are all about a mixture of the individual and the social. You have to play within the adopted social agreements for the expressions to work. And it’s true that some folks have a hard time with the abstract symbology of Gameshifting, just like it’s true that folks are more and less adept at other forms of expressive capacities.

    So part of this then comes down to adoption strategies in different group settings, i.e. how do you teach “literacy”.

    What I’ve discovered in sharing Gameshifting with groups for actual use (rather than “academically” to people specifically interested in this group dynamics), is that it has failed most miserably when I started with the full abstract grammatical explication of how it all works, because folks just want to get on with the meeting and just couldn’t see why they were spending this time on what looked like unnecessary formalism. It has worked better with a small menu of named forms to set your pointers to, of familiar named social forms, like “talking-stick” “brain-storm” “decision making” along with a simple set of items in a trajectory list and a purposes list, which I just update without explanation. Then, over a series of meetings the group itself starts seeing and coming up with it’s own naming of new forms, and new kinds of lists to populate.

    This isn’t a silver bullet though because in any group I find folks who have a hard time participating in something new unless it’s all explained up front. And other’s for whom that explanation doesn’t work at all and sets them outside the flow, who will just learn and adopt it perfectly it’s just done.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    That makes sense Eric. It’s similar with our pattern language — you can’t just show it to people and expect them to start ‘speaking’ it, even if they’re intrigued with it. They have to play with it first, develop their ‘literacy’ slowly, and then get comfortable with their own ‘dialect’ of it. It takes commitment and practice. That’s why so many of these wonderful idealistic tools never get traction. They’re still interesting though, and sometimes they make a difference in ways that you could never imagine.

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