Friday, August 22, 2008

Agenda Control and the Garbage Can

The reaction to the Garbage Can has been fun. My good friend pointed out that I never really explained the entire theory of the Garbage Can, and he’s right. I didn’t. I’ve only briefly described the topline thought process behind it.

I talked briefly, in the original post about the Garbage Can, about how process can really alleviate some of the symptoms. If key participants agree on the problem we’re trying to solve, and agrees on the criterion on the solutions, then an actual effectual outcome is more likely. Of course, even the best process in the world can save you if there just isn’t enough energy in the can to make it pop.

“But how do you go about setting up that process in the first place?”

Well, this assumes “agenda control”.

Stalin held onto the title of ‘party secretary’ for a long time. While the title “secretary” might not sound like it has a lot of power (as his cohorts would later learn) you can exercise an incredible amount of influence by writing up the agenda minutes of all meetings. If you control the agenda, even if you hold no voting power whatsoever, you have an incredible amount of influence.

So – the first problem, and maybe the more common one, is to understand how much power you have if you do indeed have agenda control. It’s easy to underestimate. Even if you don’t have total power over the agenda, simply being able to insert a line item into that agenda can yield important results.

Second, and maybe less common, is even getting agenda control in the first place.

I’ll argue that if you’re facilitating a meeting, and you’re applying a methodology (one of my favourites is moving from facts to personal reflection to how we can solve the problem and then next steps/resolution) improves the odds of success. However, the person with the actual agenda control is best suited to apply that kind of facilitation.

How do you get agenda control?

The easiest way is that if you’ve been assigned or given the authority and/or responsibility to solve a problem, then you have this legitimate right and/or expectation of having agenda control. Exert that influence. Sometimes, you don’t have any control at all. Influence the agenda as much as you can.

Agenda control, and her step-brother – meeting facilitation, are vital tools in muddling through some of the chaos in the Garbage Can.

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