Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Let me play devil’s advocate!

Don’t you love it when you are in a brainstorming session or a board strategic planning session and some board member or team member says any of the following:

  • I’m just playing devil’s advocate ...
  • If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it ...
  • But, we’ve always done it this way ...
In my 35+ years of facilitating boards and planning sessions, nothing seems to kill a great discussion more than these and similar comments from “well-meaning” participants.

Well meaning? Bull roar!


At the beginning of a session, most facilitators remind participants that “we’re just surfacing ideas now; we’ll evaluate later.”


One tactic to help reduce these type of comments is to start your sessions with a brief “Yes but” exercise.


Here’s how it goes:

#1 Ask if anyone in the room has a birthday this month (or week or day). If so, great; if not, doesn’t matter!

#2 Tell the group to “pair up” and to plan a birthday party. They must do this with one person suggesting something (such as we can have a cake) and the partner saying “yes, BUT, some people may not be able to eat sweets.” Continue this for 3-5 minutes. Each time one partner says “we could ...”, the other partner responds with “yes, BUT ...”

#3 After four or five minutes, stop the group and ask how they felt about all their ideas being “shot down” with a “yes, BUT.”

#4 Now, tell the group we’re going to plan another birthday party.

#5 Only, this time, after the first partner says “we could do something (such as have a birthday cake); the other partner says “Yes, AND, we could decorated it with ...” Continue this for 3-5 minutes. Each time one partner says “we could ...”, the other partner responds with “yes, AND ...”

#6 After four or five minutes, stop the group and ask how they felt about all their ideas being “expanded” with a “yes, AND.”
As facilitator, you say “as we plan (or brainstorm) today, let’s remember not to have any ‘Yes, Buts’.” And if someone does that, it is okay to “call them out.”

Try it at your next staff meeting or board meeting or committee meeting.

You’ll find the majority of participants will love saying “yes, AND” ... and you’ll find better results from your time together.

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