Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why they pay us so much

…or why they don’t pay us enough!

I had a sponsor meeting today to prepare an event to support the merger of two divisions of a major bank. As always, my first priority in such sponsor sessions is to align expectations around event objectives and outcomes. Once these are agreed and documented, we discuss the inputs necessary (among which, the participants) to achieve the agreed outputs. Thus, a good sponsor session is about formulating the right questions that our event serves to answer.

Ten minutes before the sponsor session was to begin, the principal sponsor (and newly-appointed capo of the merged unit) told me that he really only wanted four out of the 12 participants and that couldn’t I dis-invite the rest (at that moment eating our sandwiches) and facilitate a small discussion among the five protagonists to simply iron out the entire merger strategy. “You’re a facilitator, that’s your job!”

So, after pleading that we ought to make good use of the people who had come from so far away, etc., I asked for everyone’s attention and, as diplomatically as I could, I invited all but the five chosen participants to bugger off.

As anticipated, the dis-invited immediately pounced: “What a shambles!” to which my sponsor immediately reacted by cowering: “Dan, perhaps we need a quick huddle.” So, back to plan A, though now with a room full of very hostile sponsors.

“Perhaps you should explain to us the rationale for this merger,” growled one particularly peeved participant. All eyes on our key sponsor.


Pleading look at me to get him off the hook. I look the other way.

“To make us a world class bank…” mumbled our hero

Slouching, crossed arms, rolling eyes, all the behaviors that signal that enough is enough.

My job is to design the next 3½ hours on-the-fly and extract at least some useful work from the mutineers to satisfy my sponsor and build the groundwork for an event.


scotlandsfinest said...

.... and then what happened? How did you work with the lead Sponsor? Was the relationship between the Facilitator and Sponsor irretrievably damaged?

Dan N said...

Short question- long answer. Sorry, Dave.

Things improved considerably. The next Sponsor Meeting came on the heels of a management session in which the sponsors’ boss clearly demonstrated his lack of vision and understanding, thus creating a new sense of urgency in the sponsor team.

This newly-motivated and –cooperative team helped enormously to frame the desired outcomes and define necessary inputs. But at the end of the session, I asked whether they felt that as a team they were senior enough to effectively communicate the importance of the outcomes and convince the participants that decisions they took would indeed be implemented. They decided that they did not have sufficient status and, with the exception of my lead sponsor, resigned in favor of a group composed of the real heads of the business.

I never met with this new sponsor team as a group prior to the event. I did manage, however, to visit most of them in their offices and to speak with all of them, singly and collectively, about the event and the design.

This worked surprisingly well and the event was extremely successful. In fact, it was one of those rare events that come along every few years when the magic just flows in buckets and the participants and the facilitation team are in perfect harmony.

So what about my lead sponsor? He improved considerably, though he never became anything resembling a leader. The last interaction with him, after the event, was emblematic of his management style:
He took me aside to complement me on how well I had manipulated the participants at the end of the synthesis conversation to arrive at the team definitions that the sponsor team had developed he previous evening. Made me want to turn in my badge and my gun!