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Is Everyone Participating in Your Board Meeting? 

-Beth Ellen Holimon

When I observe board meetings for meeting quality, I’m looking for four main things – Who is participating? Who controls the conversation? Are there strategic discussions? What is accomplished? 

Meeting Participation

Meeting Participation

If you are reading this, I will assume that you want more strategic conversations and you want more voices to be heard.  1-2-4-All participatory facilitation method from Liberated Structures is a great approach designed to enhance engagement, creativity, and collective problem-solving during these meetings. Here’s a look at how to use the 1-2-4-All method in a board meeting and why it’s so valuable.

The 1-2-4-All method is a straightforward yet powerful participatory technique that structures conversations to maximize individual input while also building on the group’s collective intelligence. It involves four steps:

1. Individual Reflection: Participants spend a few minutes reflecting on a question or topic.

2. Paired Discussion: They then discuss their thoughts with a partner, allowing for the exchange of ideas and initial refinement.

3. Group of Four: Pairs join another pair, forming groups of four to further develop and expand their ideas.

4. Whole Group Discussion: Finally, the groups of four share their insights with the entire group, facilitating a comprehensive discussion.

Using the 1-2-4-All method in a board meeting involves some planning and clear communication. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Define the Purpose and Question: Start by clearly defining the discussion’s purpose and formulating an open-ended question that invites diverse perspectives. For example, “How can we enhance our community outreach efforts?”

2. Individual Reflection (1 minute): Give each board member a minute to reflect individually on the question. Encourage them to jot down their thoughts and ideas. This step benefits those who prefer to think before they speak, giving them time to organize their thoughts.

3. Paired Discussion (2 minutes): Ask board members to pair up and share their reflections. Each pair has two minutes to discuss their ideas. This step is valuable for those who don’t want to speak in front of the entire group. Discussing in pairs creates a safer environment for initial sharing.

4. Group of Four Discussion (4 minutes): Each pair joins another pair to form groups of four. These groups then discuss their combined ideas for four minutes. This step further develops the discussion by incorporating multiple perspectives and allowing for deeper conversation. It also provides another layer of safety for those who are uncomfortable speaking in large groups, as their ideas can be brought forward by others.

5. Whole Group Discussion (All): Finally, bring everyone back together. Each group of four shares their key insights with the entire board. This step ensures a comprehensive discussion, where all voices are heard and the collective intelligence of the board is harnessed.

The 1-2-4-All facilitation method ensures that every board member has a voice. By starting with individual reflection and gradually expanding the discussion, it creates a safe space for everyone to contribute, including those who might be less comfortable speaking in large groups. This inclusivity respects different learning and thinking styles, ensuring that all perspectives are valued.

Board meetings can easily be dominated by a few voices, leading to disengagement among other members and uninformed decisions. The 1-2-4-All method actively involves all participants, keeping them engaged and invested in the discussion. It moves beyond individual contributions to build on the group’s combined knowledge and experience, leading to more informed and effective decision-making. With a diverse range of ideas and perspectives on the table, the board can make more informed and balanced decisions.