USING VISUAL TOOLS TO HERD CATS
Circuitously, I ended up having to lead a neighborhood event over the weekend. It was one of those matters where a lot of people had a lot of opinions and had a need to express those strong opinions to other neighbors. Such a proceeding has the potential of being quite adversarial, difficult to control, pitting neighbor against neighbor, something not helpful to the community.
Despite my objections, the organizers drafted/persuaded me to organize and then run the meeting. So I worked with a small team to set up the meeting and instinctively applied principles of flow, visual controls and respect for the individual to the meeting, just as I do in my professional life. The difference though was the "product" to be moved was people and the outcome was an exchange of ideas.
In helping to lower the blood-pressure of the speakers, we asked people to submit a card if they wanted to speak, rather than just having people raise their hands. That way, each person who wanted to speak knew he/she would have a turn and could relax with that. We set up a speaker's podium and two chairs near it. I called out the names of the speaker, plus those who would be 2nd and 3rd in line, so they could come near the mike and prepare their own thoughts while another neighbor spoke. It took only about 15 seconds to move from one speaker to the next, as a result. In front of me, I lined up the cards of the speaking queue. Another neighbor sat near the speaker's podium and advised each speaker when their time was up.
Only as the meeting got going did it really hit me what was happening. The visual tools of the chairs and the podium were obvious to the participants and were quickly adopted. No "training" was necessary. By knowing he/she would eventually speak, each speaker could relax and listen better to other speakers. This small, controlled "buffer inventory" of speakers helped immeasurably and kept the meeting flowing. The visual tools I had in front of me, as the leader of the meeting, were invaluable, especially when we had some last-minute changes of speakers (as a young father who had to leave quickly to care for a baby) and when speakers stood whom I did not know or recognize. The simple signs by our time-keeper were an obvious but unobtrusive reminder to keep on time.
And the meeting went well. The attendees expressed strong opinions and did so in a respectful fashion. All of us were better off. The basic citizenship of the attendees was the key to this happening. At the same time, visual tools aided the success of the event.
This was the lesson to me. Good people will get the job done. The ease and the effectiveness of that done job is often improved by use of good systems. So why not make it easier?