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Sharpening the Focus on Your Meeting Outcomes

Head-Heart2

The new year seems like a good time to talk about setting goals. However, I’d actually like to talk to you about setting the objectives or aims of all of your different meetings and discussions. In ToP language, we call this the rational and experiential aims. Knowing how to craft very focused aims has been a tremendous blessing in my life. Most people breath a sigh of relief at learning it is best to actually distinguish between the two types of aims.

Here’s how I think I was taught it. Then I’m going to go back and check the actual source material and see if what I might have missed. That’s my New Year’s resolution – to be a little bit more careful with how I share things.

Rational Aims – What You Want to Think About and Produce in Your Meetings

I decide, after listening a long time to the various pieces of context, what am I hearing about product decisions, agreements, information to be shared, understandings to be obtained, etc. This is what we would call the Rational Aims of the meetings.  They are related to the “head” aspect of your meetings. There are often more than one rational aim.

Here are some examples of rational aims:

  • Learn the details of the campaign we are about to launch with the public.
  • Arrive at a consensus decision around which policy changes need to be made.
  • Establish protocols for our new team that we can use for all future meetings.
  • Decide or agree on how will we communicate a new policy change to our staff members.

Experiential Aims – What You Want to Experience in Your Meetings

The second kind of aim is called the Experiential Aim. Like its name, it means, what is the experience you want people to have as a result of being in this meeting or workshop together? How will you want people to sense each other, sense the data, experience the moment, feel about a certain topic, and generally anything related to the tone or heart (and soul) part of the meeting? They are related to the “heart” aspect of your meetings.

An experiential aim may often be the most important part of the meeting especially if you’ve had a lot of conflict in the past. It’s important also if you’re dealing with trauma or mistrust in the group. The other thing that one wants to keep in mind around experiential aims is that there is always one. Don’t leave it out. Even if it’s not the most important thing in your mind, it will make the difference between whether people return invigorated to meetings you lead, arrive in a uncooperative state or just not attend at all.

Here are examples of our experiential aims:

  • Sense  a shift in the group from hopelessness to hopefulness.
  • Experience amazement and wonder at the capacity of our transformation.
  • Motivated to try one new technique in our meetings.
  • Committed to communicate more honestly and effectively with each other.
  • Enjoy each other’s wisdom and acknowledge it in positive ways.
This is a photo I took of a giant redwood tree trunk in California, USA. Immediately I thought of this blog topic. The tree trunk is clearly the “head”, the thinking and strategizing that goes on in a meeting. The peace sign and lovely smile reminded me of the “heart” aspect of meetings, i.e. feelings and mood you want to create.

Cool Tips I’ve Learned Over the Years

I don’t include the word “to” in front of every aim. For me, it seems like redundant language.

As noted above,  I always have at least 2 to 3 rational aims (unless it is a singularly focused meeting) and often just as many experiential aims.

I craft the best I can come up with and then I check it against my client’s intent. And then I check it with the whole group that is to be facilitated either before the session, or at the beginning of the session.

I try to be as distinct and specific with my aims as possible.

Other Source Material

Here is some additional information form what the source material  says that you may appreciate. References cited below. 

From the book, The Art of Focused Conversation (paraphrased a bit):

The aims are about writing down the intent of a conversation or a meeting. Many meetings and conversations go nowhere – they are like ships without rudders. They wander aimlessly or go in circles. The facilitator needs to be the person who steers. Focusing a conversation or meeting means picking a target and adjusting the focus of the target from being fuzzy to absolute clarity. It’s like you have now hovered over a microscope looking at a  biological cell slide, and you can see every detail of the microscopic cell. It will take time to get this degree of clarity. And although you might want to design the aims on your own, I find it is always better to discuss the aims, objectives of a meeting, or conversation with the people who are going to be involved.

The rational aim or objective is the practical goal of the conversation, meeting, planning session or consensus building session. The rational objective generally might be to clarify misunderstanding, solve certain scheduling problems or glean lessons from the past year’s work. The rational aim is the product you need at the end of a session.

The experiential aim refers to the inner impact the leader wants a conversation or a meeting to have. Generally, it might be to reestablish the team’s confidence about a project, heal from the past or we open the door to communication. The experiential aim is how you want the group to be different at the end.

From the book, Getting to the Bottom of ToP (paraphrased a bit):

Generally aims can have the following  intent:

  • highlight facts and thinking
  • generate ideas
  • ground abstract concepts
  • draw out memories, attitudes, emotions
  • draw out concerns, frustrations, constraints
  • develop better or common understanding
  • give reference points to make decisions
  • explore meaning or significance
  • set purpose and intention
  • set the future state
  • bring a topic to closure or resolution
  • give specific direction
  • focus on action
  • create transformational impact

Thanks for listening. By the way I dictated some of this blog while being on a step machine in the gym. Because that’s also my 2020 goal, to do more cardio exercise then I have in the recent past.

And finally, below is a free download of at least 50 different aims that you can borrow, revise, and enjoy.

Happy start of 2020.

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Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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