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February 23, 2005 » 6:45 pm

Hiding the Agenda

Before last weekend’s sprint, several people approached me about the agenda. I responded by offering a general overview of the weekend (Friday, meet each other and plan for Saturday; Saturday, test, analyze, and maybe implement; Sunday, wrap-up), but I did not offer anything more detailed than that. It made many people nervous, but all I could do was to ask folks to trust me. Why the secrecy? Was I being coy, or was I just disorganized?    (ICV)

For highly interactive events with large, diverse groups, I’ve found that the best processes do not share agendas with participants. There are two reasons for this. First, you want the participants to focus on the work. The facilitators (or in the case of MGTaylor, the KreW) watch the clock for you. Second, you want flexibility in the agenda, so that you can self-organize. On the one hand, participants hate meetings that waste your time. On the other hand, they tend to freak out when they see, “To be planned later.” It’s not lack of organization, it’s an acknowledgement of self-organization. You have to be really confident in your process to make it work.    (ICW)

”Leaping the Abyss”, a book about the MGTaylor process coauthored by Blue Oxen advisor, Christine Peterson, has a great story about why agendas aren’t given in advance, and what effect this can have on participants.    (ICX)

If your design and facilitation are good, it works beautifully. Several people approached me after the event saying how skeptical they were during and at the beginning of the event, and how amazed they were afterwards about how it all came together.    (ICY)

Allen Gunn (Gunner), our facilitator, is good, maybe even a little cocky. On the morning of the first day, he was constantly throwing out statements like, “We’ll make it up as we go along.” I’d laugh to myself and cringe at the same time when I heard him say this, but I knew what he was doing and kept my mouth shut. As Gunner explained to someone afterwards, in a way, he’s hustling the crowd. But, as I noted to the same person, you can only get away with hustling if you win.    (ICZ)

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