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New for you: an easy way to learn about managing difficult situations and conflict in groups. Listen at home or in the car to Great Meetings! Great Results CDs:

Queasy About Conflict -- an hour-long interview with Dee and Pam on defusing conflict in groups.

Putting out Brush Fires --
a 5 CD set of 5 hour-long teleclasses on how to intervene in difficult situations. It comes with a downloadable workbook.

Click here to purchase the CDs or to learn more about how Dee and Pam can help you create Great Meetings with Great Results!

Maximizing a Groups Potential: Encouraging Participation and Energy

Helping a group maximize its potential to work effectively is part of the facilitator's job. Even the cheerful way you welcome people as they arrive for the meeting will make a difference in their attitude and participation.

Picture yourself facilitating a group of parents who have come together to figure out ways to encourage other parents to volunteer for various school-related activities and tasks. The parents who have come together are a diverse group; many of them have never met before.

The first thing you will need to do is build the group's comfort level with one another. Consider a simple warm-up exercise such as "Something in Common" (see Great Meetings, page 139). For this activity, invite each person to find a partner -- preferably someone they have never met before -- and, in one minute, find something that they have in common. This activity will get everyone up, talking, and meeting new people. The energy level will rise. People will laugh over funny things as they get to know one another better.

Key Points To Take Away

--- To have an open discussion, group members need to be comfortable with one another.
--- Warm-up exercises can help people get better acquainted.
--- Additional exercises can restore and/or renew the group's energy.

You might ask participants to share some examples of what they found in common.

At the end of the activity, participants will be more willing to generate and share ideas.

Warm-up activities can also be used to restore or renew a group's energy. For example, picture a group working on a complex scheduling problem. Participants have been working for two hours. They're feeling tired and stuck. To shift the thinking and build energy, try the "Three Balls Exercise" (see Great Meetings, page 140).

  • Gather three tennis balls and arrange group members in a circle.
  • Establish a pattern of throwing one ball from one person to another until everyone in the group has handled the ball.
  • Then increase the complexity by adding the next two balls, one at a time. Those balls will move through the exact same pattern as the first one. Time how long it takes the group to get all three balls through the pattern.
  • Then ask the group to cut the time in half. At first, the group will just try to do it faster. Eventually, they will discover things they can change to make it easier and faster. (They might move closer together; they might cut the time between introducing the second and third balls; or they might re-arrange themselves so the person to whom they are passing the ball is next to them instead of somewhere else in the circle.)

By the end of the Three Balls Exercise, the group will have restored its energy and had a simple lesson in thinking outside of the box.

For additional exercises (and more detailed instructions for the activities above), order your copy of Great Meetings! Great Results today.

NEXT WEEK IN GREAT MEETINGS: How to get everybody -- even the "quiet people" -- to participate.

About Great Meetings

Pam Plumb and Dee Kelsey are your facilitators in charge of Education World's Great Meetings series. They are also authors of the popular guide to meeting facilitation, Great Meetings! Great Results. Together, Pam and Dee have more than 40 years' experience facilitating change and training meeting leaders.

Learn more by clicking the links below:

* Read biographies
Learn about Pam and Dee.

* Read a "backgrounder"
What will you learn from this series?

* See the Great Meetings archive
See past articles in the series.

* Visit the Great Meetings Web site
Learn about the book, training workshops Pam and Dee offer, and more.

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