"The process of collaboration is not taught in business schools," says author Martin Murphy. If this is the case, it makes one wonder at the amount of time that is wasted in meetings. The frustration over lengthy sessions in which little to nothing is resolved led Murphy to write No More
Pointless Meetings. In this interview with Soundview, he discusses the need to separate content and process, the role of the facilitator in a meeting, and how to prioritize issues that need solved.
Soundview: One of the major points that is in the book is the need to separate content and process. Why is the combination of the two such a barrier to productivity?
Martin Murphy: Content is the reason for the meeting. What's to be discussed. What are the issues that are going to be discussed? Process is everything else. Who's in the meeting? Are they participating? Is there a high energy? How long is the meeting? Who's running the meeting? Is
everybody participating? Process is every bit as important as content.
Soundview: Tell us about the role of the facilitator in the meeting.
Murphy: The major responsibility, the most critical skill they have to possess is the ability to focus on process and not get involved in content under any circumstances. Never even offer an opinion when asked and you will be asked. To stay totally focused on process. As the
meeting goes on the fact that you're focused completely on process is going to have a very positive effect on the participants in the meeting. Each of the different sessions that I assume we're going to discuss has a different set of protocols. There is some overlap but there's a big difference
between an issues management session, a problem solving session and an innovation session.
Soundview: One of the steps in the issues management process is to create a list of issues and then narrow the list to critical issues. How does the facilitator handle that common problem in those situations where everyone wants to label everything an "A" priority?
Murphy: First of all, were they to [label everything an "A" priority], that would be fine. Because as the structure of the particular issues management program is such that we have the ability to resolve issues within the issues management session. Those issues that are deemed
critical some of them can be resolved within an issues management session. Those that cannot be resolved there and then are promoted and scheduled for a later session or a following session, such as a problem solving session or an innovation session.
One of the things that is common to all of these collaborative sessions, the three sessions I have folks write, is that I give them an instruction, a particular step and I usually have them write their response to that without discussion. That way I get a truer reading on what the issues are and
then, of course, we discuss them. But we discuss them again with a very structured format. At the end of the session as we resolve things they go on to an action plan and I'm assuming we're going to discuss that also, but bottom line, all problems are issues. Not all issues are problems. An issue
can be critical to one person and not critical to another person and the way we handle that is we do it by consensus.