CG #52 – Taming the Small Group Report-Out

No one wants to deal with long meandering report-outs and stacks of flipcharts.  And, good news!  There’s a better way.

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Let’s say you decide to use small groups in your meetings.  You understand that open discussion isn’t easily converted into action, much less commitment.  You’ve seen for yourself how presentations create a certain passivity in those presented to.  You want to amp up the participation in your meetings without losing control.  Small groups can do that.

In your next meeting, you put 8 people in 4 pairs to generate ideas for 2014 goals.  It works!  Each pair generates a list of 10 ideas, which they’ve written on a flip chart.  Their report out to the larger group is interesting and takes a little longer than you hoped.  When they’ve all finished sharing their results, you have a moment of pure panic:  What do I do with the 4o items on the flipcharts?  I can’t throw them out because I asked for them.  We do not have time to narrow them down to a manageable number.  You vow to never, ever use small groups again.

There is a better choice:  Simply ask your small groups to report out their top 1-3 picks, rather than their entire list.

Here’s how:

1a.  Structure and time the work of the small groups (7-10 minutes).  If you don’t use a meeting process for small group work, you’ve just set several open discussions in motion.  Open discussion in small groups is just as inefficient, rambling, and subject to tangents as they are in large groups.

I recommend Likes and Concerns, Stop-Start-Continue and the Plus-Delta evaluation for small group work.  Just pick the one that’s most appropriate for the topic at hand:

  • Like and Concerns asks participants to list what they like about something and then to list what their concerns are.  It’s the best process I know for getting feedback to a document or proposal or vision or goal.
  • Stop-Start-Continue asks participants to give themselves advice about what to stop doing, start doing, or continue doing.  It’s best for things that already in progress, but need to shift.
  • Plus-Delta*  evaluates something in the past, like last year’s performance or the meeting we just had.  It’s also good for a temperature check on something you do regularly.  In the plus column, list what is working well, in the delta column, list what you’d like to change for next time.  (*delta is the mathematical sign for change)

1b. Limit the report-out to the number of items you have the time to deal with.  This asks the small groups to prioritize their lists and only share their 1-3 picks.

1c. Ask each of the groups to write their picks on a single flipchart. That’s one flipchart each for the likes, the concerns, the stops, starts, etc.

In the above scenario, I’d ask for the top pick from each of my 4 trios.  That would give me 4 items on each flipchart, a manageable number.

2.  Ask if there is anything missing from the list  (1-2 mins).  Always ask.  Sometimes the best ideas come at this stage.  If the new idea is similar to what is already up there, challenge it.

3. Clarify the lists.  Read each item and ask “Is this clear?” (3-5 mins)  Correct them on the flipchart until everybody is satisfied.  Do not wordsmith – just make notes or draw arrows.  Move quickly, as though you are late for an appointment.

4. Commit to doing something with the list of concerns, deltas, stops and starts.  Make it small. (1-3 mins) The simplest action is to assign items to future agendas, or to a sub-group to work on.  One manager I worked with reports: “We were able to design the agenda for our next meeting using the “concerns” list.

You can do this in 20 minutes.  With practice, you can do it in 15 minutes.  Best of all, it’s a high-quality, focused and energizing 15-20 minutes.

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