MICHAEL DOYLE, 4/89
X: Social thought. Conversations with the original personalities who are rethinking the way our society and institutions work. With your host, Michael Phillips.
I became very interested in the social architecture of the human system operating inside the buildings I was building. And, when I was initially designing schools, I was really concerned by how quickly schools were getting vandalized, by the students. And this concept came to me very early on in my life about the whole idea that if people are to respect a box, a piece of architecture, they had to own it. And so, as an architect I started experimenting early on with people co-designing their own facilities with me. And, in looking at that, I looked at how people worked together, and I became convinced that the basic building block of human systems, of society in fact, is the small group of seven to fifteen people.
Michael Phillips (MP): Our guest today is Michael Doyle, management consultant, codeveloper of the interaction method of meeting facilitation, and coauthor of a book called How to Make Meetings Work. I'm your host, Michael Phillips. Welcome to Social Thought, Mr.ÝDoyle. Who benefits most by being in a meeting that's conducted with a facilitator?
MICHAEL DOYLE: My sense, the people who benefit most from a facilitated meeting is the organization that is benefiting from tapping all the wisdom and ideas of all the people in a meeting. And the participants themselves, in the sense that they are in a position to more fully contribute to the health and vitality of the organization they're in, and when leadership listens, they have access to a lot more wisdom and knowledge to advance the quality of thought and productivity of the organization.
MP: I personally know that's true. How would a listener recognize the difference between, say, a traditional meeting, maybe a PTA meeting, and a facilitated meeting, using the methods that you've developed?
MICHAEL DOYLE: The way they would notice, you know a statistic I like to quote, Michael, is there's probably about 17Ýmillion meetings a day in the United States and probably 50Ýmillion meetings a day worldwide, and I think most people feel those meetings are unproductive and not very useful. I think a way to find a regular meeting is people aren't fully utilized. My videotape research in the early '70s indicated that a leader would speak fifty to seventy percent of the time, do a lot of talking. It would be a kind of presentation, question-and-answer mode, or kinda unstructured debate. And in a facilitated meeting, the whole idea is not to tell people what to do, but to get people involved in cocreating their own future, with the management of the organization. So people would tend to be much more energized, there'd be a high degree of listening, there'd be more, the meeting would be more productive, consensual, and people would have a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment in the kind of meetings we're talking about.
MP: If someone were watching it, they would see a facilitator rather than a leader, and the distinction is important. They would see a very clearly drafted agenda that was agreed upon by the group, and they might see some form of secretarial, record-keeping facility.
MICHAEL DOYLE: In a facilitated meeting, we try to separate out the two key leadership roles, a process role and a power role. The leader comes up to you and says, "I think our organization ought to move this direction. What do you think?" Immediately, the person in the meeting feels they're in jeopardy. "Do I tell them what they want to hear? Or do I tell them what they really think?" And depending on how strong the leader is, what kind of nonverbal cues he or she gives, people sometimes will be very cautious about what they say. So we like to say to the leader is that to separate out that power role, you can still control the agenda, you just don't have to be a traffic cop. Sit in the back of the limousine, and let someone else facilitate the meeting. They'll worry about the cross-flows of verbal traffic, keeping people on track, making sure everybody gets heard, protecting people from attack, not letting any one person dominate the meeting. And so we usually find that the best shape of a task-oriented meeting, a meeting that's geared to accomplish some results, if we would sit in a U instead of a table. When you sit across a table, it tends, our videotape research says adversaries sit across from each other, and it tends to increase conflict. So if you, if you're a Republican and I'm a Democrat and you throw out an idea, and I attack that idea, am I attacking you or your ideas? People often define themselves as their ideas. So moving to a Ushape, a semicircular shape, we have a facilitator who serves as kind of a traffic cop, we like the chairman, or the president, of the group to sit in with the group, as a member of the group, and he or she takes on a kind of member role, equally participating with other people in the meeting. We have the group focused on what we call a group memory. It's a visual record of all the key ideas, in the meeting. And by having this visual record, which could be a series of five or six flip-charts, it has an incredibly powerful effect. Some of the things we found right away is that it starts breaking down status differential. And meetings often are the province of the verbal, so the verbal people talk a lot, and the nonverbal people tend to be quiet. The facilitator can, when the verbal person is talking a lot, the facilitator can point to the record of the meeting, the group memory, and say, "Your idea is down, here and here and here. Is there anything you'd like to add? And, I'd like to hear from other people. And, if we're not getting your ideas down correctly, correct them." So the people who have low self-esteem also may see their ideas written next to the chairman or the president of the group, and they say, "Look. My idea has credence. It's sitting right next to the president's. I'm being listened to. It's being captured, it's being honored. I think I will participate more and do my best to be a full participant." The president or the chairman, on the other hand, will look at the group memory and say, "Gee, I'm not the only one in the group that has ideas. I really have a lot to learn from these people, and I can listen. And yet my ideas are down too." And we find that a neutral party, a facilitator running the meeting, he's much more or less intimidating than the chair, and he or she can call people out, and get them participating more. So those are some of the differences we see right away in a facilitated meeting.
MP: Is there a theory behind this? Is there a theory about how people remember? For instance, the group memory. Do people only remember the parts of the meeting they wanted to hear? or their allies? or the items that reinforce them?
MICHAEL DOYLE: Well, it's probably two theories. One is that people are creative and verbal in a psychologically safe environment. So, probably the best psychological safe environment is having neutrality. And neutrality doesn't exist, but the perception of it exists. So having a neutral person who really acts as the ally of everybody there, and the facilitator's mindset would be to say, "I want to bring the best of people forward. I'm your ally to get all your ideas expressed. I will create a safe space where you won't be laughed at or attacked." In a semicircular arrangement, so people can not only to each other and confront each other, they can also look at a neutral wall where the information is being written. So that safe psychological space is probably the one key idea around group interaction. The next one is around information. In a meeting, within 15Ýminutes a hundred key ideas will be expressed. And what happens is our short-term memory, we only retain about 7+/2 bits of information. That's why our phone number is easy to remember, which is 7Ýbits of information, our Social Security number, which is 9, is at the outside limit. And so, quickly, when there's a hundred ideas on the, in the meeting, everyone starts remembering a different seven. And since they can only remember seven, they remember their own. And when their short-term memory is full, they stop listening, and to make sure with a hundred pieces of information on the table that people keep remembering the seven that you want them to remember, you repeat or say it louder. And so we have this dynamic that reinforces repetition, fighting for ideas, and non-listening. And we have found by just creating this group memory, which is a sheet of wall, papers on the wall, several things happen right away, is the ideas are depersonalized. So it's no longer getting credit for your idea, but it's credit to the whole group, the group creates these ideas. Secondly, the group memory can remember a hundred ideas very quickly. So you can keep emptying out your short-term memory, which really facilitates you listening to your colleagues. When you have a hundred pieces of information and you want to go back and kinda circle the key ones, circle the key decisions, the group memory serves as a really valuable record. And the last piece is sometimes, you know, you leave a meeting and you get a set of minutes, and you say, "That wasn't the meeting I was at." 'Cause there's no correlation between how the minutes were written, and the minutes, it's like a computer real-time record. They are written right in front of you, so you self-correct them as they go. So if the recorder's writing them down, you can say, "You didn't get that right. I want that changed. I want it expressed in my words." And there is the record of accomplishments, the records of decisions, are right out in front of the group. And they also have a good sense of accomplishment when it's completed.
MP: How did you get to this stage, from your background as an architect?
MICHAEL DOYLE: I really felt I was packaging social systems. Putting boxes around families, that's called homes. Boxes around schools, boxes around plants that produced automobiles, or, etc. And, I really felt that I was packaging outmoded social systems. No matter how beautiful the box was, what would, the dynamics that were going into the, inside the box, inside the plan of the house, were not very functional. So I became very interested in the social architecture, of the human system operating inside the buildings I was building. And, when I was initially designing schools, I was really concerned by how quickly schools were getting vandalized, by the students. And this concept came to me very early on in my life about the whole idea that if people are to respect the box, a piece of architecture, they had to own it, and I developed this philosophy early on about people becoming the architects of their own future. And so, as an architect I started experimenting early on with people codesigning their own facilities with me. And in looking at that, I looked at how people work together. And I became convinced that the basic building block of human systems, of society in fact, is the small group of seven to fifteen people. And, as I progressed as an architect, urban planner, I just became much more interested in the social architecture than the physical architecture. And to me it was a very natural bridge, to look at the human systems. And I really felt that if I was going to work on large-scale social systems, large-scale human systems, both in organizations and society, I really had to master, understand the dynamics of small groups, of probably seven to fifteen people, which are basically the core building blocks of our society.
MP: This is Social Thought, I'm Michael Phillips, and our guest today is Michael Doyle. He's the management consultant, codeveloper of the interaction method of meeting facilitation, and coauthor of a book called How to Make Meetings Work. And we have, up to this point, been talking about the elements of facilitation and the effect they have on meeting development, and Michael's research that led to the methodology for making these small-group functions significantly more effective. I would give him a Nobel Prize for what he's done for management in America. But, before we get to that. What, how do you use these in public forums? I know you've gone into neighborhoods that are ridden with drugs, worked with community groups.
MICHAEL DOYLE: I like to define two kinds of meetings a hierarchical meetings and horizontal meetings. A hierarchical [he pronounces hierarktical] meeting is where someone's in power and control, and that's usually inside corporations, where the president or the manager doesn't like what's going on, can say "shut up or you're fired." So people don't need a lot of skills to run hierarchical meetings, because they have a lot of power. To me, the most interesting meetings of all are meetings in the nonprofit sector, and meetings in the community. Because, when you're having a meeting of a hundred people, you can't say "shut up or you're fired." You don't hire them in the first place. So, when you're into horizontal meetings, which means no one, the fallback is not "I make the decision," so, instead of twenty, five to seven, ten people, sometimes there are fifty to a hundred to two hundred people. And you're dealing with both anger, emotion, and content. What kind of decision we're gonna make. Facilitation at its best is helping a group realizes its own productive power and getting a sense of its own self-esteem, and its own creationability. And when that happens, it's amazing to watch a community transform itself from a group of diverse, constituencies fighting each other, to really working together towards some kind of common vision of itself in the future. And, facilitation, I've not quite said it this way, really can bring the group together as one and start giving it a sense of its own self-esteem and power.
MP: That seems to be its most overwhelming accomplishment. What are some of the situations where you've used it? I know strategic planning. Serious social problems in decaying neighborhoods.
MICHAEL DOYLE: We're using it more and more right now, I've had a chance to look across both cultures and organizations, but more and more a lot of my work is communities like Detroit, Newark, San Francisco. We're coming together to involve, through a series of groups, four, five, ten thousand people in developing, one, going through a process which is a series of meetings, a planning and problem-solving process in these communities, for one, for diverse groups to work together to articulate what the problems of that community are, what its strengths and weaknesses, what the essence of its good, of the positive aspects of the community, have been, and after going through a thorough analysis, and agreeing on some kind of base foundation of who it is, kind of like a personal self-assessment, then cocreating the future. Visioning the future together. And those meetings might be, analysis meetings tend to be in groups of five or ten, but some of the visioning meetings I've been running in cities lately with two, three hundred people. All of a sudden, and the group memory, to have them see, I'll maybe get five or six architects in the community to come be the recorders, and we'll create a visual picture of the future of the community together in about five hours, with three hundred people in the room. And that sense of power, of creating their future, is very powerful. We'll use, I get called in now to help work out conflicts in neighborhoods, and a lot of people I know around drug conflicts, or conflicts between a series of nonprofit groups who want to come together to work out a common agenda. We've been involved in a lot of environmental disputes. The shaping of the California Desert Master Plan. And increasingly now I'm looking at working in South America and Africa. And what we call partnerships for social action, where there's not a strong, it's almost a nonexistent nonprofit sector in South America, Latin America, and, and Africa. But the idea of bringing communities together with corporations, with the government, to create what we call social-action partnerships, and introducing facilitation and recording to those sessions. And villagers getting a sense of their power to help create their own future. And the informal sector which we had traditionally called the black-market sector, people from the informal sector getting together and helping shape those communities, through a facilitative process. Is a really thrilling use of the methodology that's been developed right now.
MP: I'd like to go from the tribal to the most abstract. In a specific way, you are dealing with social processes, which seem to be culturally transmissible, transmittable, and you're abstractly saying that a process has a beneficial social effect. Now that's one of the underlying theories of democracy.
MICHAEL DOYLE: Mm hmm.
MP: But, you're not necessarily transmitting democracy. You're transmitting self-reflection. What are the things that are being transmitted? What are the elements of the process that allow you to cover so many different contents?
MICHAEL DOYLE: Yes. Once I, in one of the Carnegie grants, one of my colleagues asked, we were trying to teach problem-solving to fourth-graders, and we said, What's the difference between process and content? And this nine-year-old girl raised her hand and she said, "It's a little like chewing gum. Chewing is the process and gum is the content." And this boy next to her said, "Yeah! When you learn how to chew, you can chew anything." And so process is kinda independent of content. Making a decision at Ford or Arthur Andersen or in Brazil or in the barrio in Brazil, there's a lot of similar social dynamics. And what I would say really there's a lot of similar social dysfunctions. I think, like, I'm often looking for a value fit with leaders. And I'd say, are you interested, leader, whether it's at an organizational level, a community level, a state level, or societal level, I'll ask some value questions of the leader. Like, Do you have a lock on what the future is? And they will often say, "I don't." "Do you believe that if people cocreate the future with you they will be more committed to implementing it?" "Do you believe that people have real valuable ideas that close, that at different levels that ?closely ?work, they can really make a difference in shaping, reshaping, recreating, this organization?" And the case I make with the kind of change that's going on is that our organizations have to be in continuous renewal, continuous recreation, their whole lives. So, when they have those kind of values, or that kind of philosophy, that the issue leaders have is, can it be, will it get out of control. Then facilitation, in small groups and in the larger strategic level, can be in service of that set of values. But if the leader doesn't have those set of values, then basically any kind of participatory process is gonna be seen as a con job.
MP: You wouldn't, in working with groups, developing groups to a corporate or a large institutional level, you mentioned both Ford and Arthur Andersen, and both of those are certainly in environments where the institution must change or, or will only fail or be bought out. How does the small group fit into the larger group? How do the mechanisms relate?
MICHAEL DOYLE: Well, I think the one story I can say about Ford that I just like, is, to develop a new car, a new product like the Taurus and the ?Sable, and this next generation of cars coming out in 1995, will have 15,000 engineers and designers working on these cars. And their design process was seven years long and cost about three-billion dollars. And so, it's like an accordion, if you will. From the 15,000, that would divide into maybe 1,500 groups of 10. Then some of those groups come together in groups of 100, and groups of 4,000. And then, and so it's a continuously aggregation and deaggregation of people in different-size groups. Some people who had come in to look at how to streamline that core process, to make it less costly, to make it more streamlined, to shorten the time, and in the analysis of it, they came up with some very interesting solutions. But, when they tried to implement it, all the engineers jammed 'em. So they couldn't, even though they had a better idea, it was like a strategic plan on the shelf. We call 'em spots, organizational spots. The inability, you can have a plan, but you can't get it implemented. And Ford asked meó
MP: [chuckling]. Oh, spots! Strategic Plans on the Shelf.
MICHAEL DOYLE: On the shelf. 'Cause the power of a plan is the constituency behind it. If it's the constituency of the vice-president who paid the consulting firm's fee, not much chance of it getting implemented. So, I suggested to Ford, why don't we create a process, a consensus process among these 15,000 engineers? Of course, that's, so what we did is, they represented twelve organizations. So we brought a core group of people together from those twelve organizations, as a kind of central small group of twelve. They reported to a decision-making group of twenty-four, the two top leaders in each of those twelve organizations. And then within each of those twelve organizations, we created small groups of fifteen people. So all of a sudden we have like two-hundred people of that 15,000. And then there subteams of those small groups in each of those organizations. So we probably had seven, eight-hundred people out of those 14,000. And we'd bring them together like an accordion, over time. Well, it took us nine months to reach a consensus, among those representatives who spoke for the 15,000 people. But once we did that, we were able to totally streamline the design, the car product-development process at Ford, but it down to about, oh, it's currently now about four-and-a-half years, we're now doing it with 6,000 people. And, have reduced the overall cost of that in probably 1980 dollars. So, people, even though they were phasing themselves out, it was their idea, it was their solution. So, they were committed to implementing the solution they created. And it was a solution at such a technical and detailed level, that the top management couldn't even understand all the nitty-gritties of it, or with much more detail than a consulting firm. So that's my idea is, people will recreate themselves, given the right process. And so while we manage the consensus process in maybe seven, eight-hundred people, we did it through groups of ten, fifteen, every once in a while groups of a hundred would come together to ratify decisions. And then a big consensus is really made up of a series of small sequential agreements. And that's what a big community process of five or ten thousand people can be designed the same way. With Pac Bell, when the transition went from being regulated to unregulated, we created an 8x30-foot map of what we called their core business process, and brought the vice-presidents of Pacific Bell together two days a month for two years. And one of our assumptions was, is no one understood the whole company. So, they could all just manage their own fiefdoms and we wanted the vice-presidents to own the whole company. So, each meeting we would come for the first four months and I'd just give people groups of post-its, and I said everywhere you see a problem, on this diagram, put a postit note. And I say, "Well, do we have to reinvent the company or can we tweak it?" And they were saying "tweak it, tweak it, tweak it." About the fourth month, there were so many post-its on this 8x30-foot map of the structure and flow of the company, it fell off the wall in the middle of a meeting. [MP chuckles]. 'Cause it was just so heavy with problems. Then everybody just laughed and turned to me and said, "Okay, okay. We don't need to tweak. We gotta totally reinvent this place." And, that was a great metaphor. But, it was a something, it was a discovery they had to come to themselves. But in that discovery, and then how were they gonna organize all those post-its? those six-thousand problems into ten categories of problems. And then, which allows them to go, like playing a scale. Go from the detailed to the strategic, and moving up and down that scale. And, so, serendipity is a part of that, that whole, and patience I think would be a part of that kind of reinvention process. But people can only agree to reinvent, themselves, people don't, you can't change people, as a change agent, but you can create a process where people say "I want to make changes myself. I want to reinvent myself." And that's the power of facilitation. It doesn't force people to do anything. It creates a context, for them to choose.
MP: Thank you for being with us, Michael Doyle. This is Michael Phillips, the program is Social Thought, and our guest Michael Doyle is a change agent, management consultant, codeveloper of the interaction method of meeting facilitation, and coauthor of a book called How to Make Meetings Work, which was published by, this copy I have in front of me is Playboy Paperbacks.
MICHAEL DOYLE: It's now Little, Brown and Company.
MP: Little, Brown. This one dates from '76, but it's such a large seller, it's still in print.