Hello, I hope this finds you well and back into your routines J

I have had several conversations about protocols lately-by which I mean fairly highly structured processes for having a discussion for various purposes, including, for example, looking at data, reaching a decision, studying a problem, or giving feedback.  An agenda is the what, a protocol is the how.  So here is my thinking about protocols.

I am not an uncritical fan of protocols.  I think their use, and especially their overuse, can be problematic when:

1.       Adherence to the protocol leads to participants’ feeling that they are engaged in a compliance activity;

2.       Participants are not sufficiently skilled at discussion and so, like politicians, they talk about what is important to them rather than the question at hand-but I understand that this problem is not limited to protocols;

3.       Tight adherence to the timing doesn’t meet the demands of the issue at hand, so either there is not enough time for discussion or time is squandered.

But they are useful, because:

1.       The requirement to attend to the topic at hand frequently reveals something that has been hidden, unspoken, or unexamined;

2.       Everyone has a voice-although I know that if someone wants to dominate a conversation, a protocol won’t necessarily get in the way unless the facilitation has teeth;

3.       They can promote efficient use of time because it is harder to get off task-although again, sometimes assertive facilitation is required-the group I was with today is going to read this and think I’m talking about them but I’m not!  Really!

So the trick is to reap the benefits without falling into the traps.  You always need to have a process, but that doesn’t always mean you have to have a piece of paper to follow.  What you need is a stance towards leading, and participating in, conversation that is process-oriented without always needing the formality of a written, time-bound protocol.  You need practice in dropping a frame into a conversation or meeting, so that you can accomplish your goals for the conversation efficiently and in a respectful manner and benefit from the wisdom of everyone present.  Starting with formal protocols is a good first step-you will soon get the hang of when they work and when they don’t.  The best source I know for protocols is https://www.nsrfharmony.org/  Click on Free Resources and go from there.  Whether you use a formal protocol or decide on a process to use at the beginning of a meeting, or some other method, you have an obligation as coach, as leader, or as participant to help make sure that all voices are heard and respected, that the goal of the conversation is accomplished, and that everyone’s time is used well.

If you need any help with this or anything else meeting-related, please get in touch.

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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