Sometimes, when we are doing a smaller engagement for a client group, they like to manage their investment (or cut costs) by offering us a “note-taker” to support our work on the day of the event, in place of one of our coLeads. And when we say that we offer something other than facilitation, perhaps this note will help illustrate what we bring to the table.

Here’s (minimally) what we expect from a coLead – who will put in roughly as many days as a Lead Facilitator will, in the process of getting you to your outcomes:

Pre-event:

  • Choose and design the physical environment(s), based on the needs of your system, and the types of processes that will have to be developed and used to get you to the desired outcomes.
  • Research, collate and synthesize a preliminary information set, enabling our team to custom-design the elements of your event.
  • Work with a Lead on high-level event design, and then customize or custom-build the templates that will be used for the event. Most templates are wall posters, 3 to 5 feet in height and up to 18 feet in length.
  • Arrange all of the logistics to be accurate and at the event location the evening before or the morning of the event. Among other things, we use a substantial quantity of specialized tools that are not available at your local office supply store. We will use a minimum of four sizes and five colours of post-it notes at each event. Special poster paper. Non-marking poster tape. Watercolour, chisel tip non-staining markers. The list continues – sometimes for pages.
  • In short, the coLead (or coLeads, adding one for every 50 attendees) takes care of every detail from the carpets on up, leaving the lead to focus on last minute strategic-level surprises. There’s a meeting point in the middle where all the team overlaps to ensure that every detail is managed.

Your note-taker won’t do any of this pre-work. Your secretary or executive assistant is probably already overworked. And the risks associated with skipping any of these tasks are substantial. If you don’t pay for the services of a coLead to do this work, you will have to pay a Lead. Leads cost more, and many of these tasks just take the time they take. Age and wisdom don’t buy you shorter timelines, and personally, I’d choose youth and exuberance (and a better memory) over the former every time.

At the event:

  • Show up at 6 AM – at the latest – ready to completely redesign the room, as necessary. Move dozens or hundreds of chairs. Set up and or tear down tables. Lay table clothes. Put out breakfast. Yes, the hotel staff is there to do that work. Consistently, and despite painstakingly specific direction, hotel staff do not understand the level of detail required to set up appropriately.
  • Lay out all of the tools to be used during the day. For large events, the equipment weighs close to a ton and will arrive in a cube van. For small events, it still takes several trips up the stairs to get everything in.
  • Mount up to a dozen large posters on walls – 3 by 5 feet is normal, and don’t expect help – the Lead is usually otherwise occupied, so the coLead is on a chair or a ladder, putting up posters on her or his own.
  • Create an impeccable work environment by the time the first participant arrives. Hide or preferably remove absolutely every element of the room that is not integral to the event.
  • …then…prepare to start work for the day.
  • Understand the most likely logic flow of all potential elements of the event.
  • Be able to support redesign literally at a moment’s notice, mid-event.
  • Be able to assist and/or facilitate break-out groups if and as required.
  • Ensure that basic human comforts are met for all participants at all times. Temperature, air flow, availability of coffee, water, snacks and meal time arrivals are all the responsibility of the co-Lead.
  • Capture all spoken large-group conversations, usually in a visual mapping software (Visio and Mind Manager are two tools our coLeads use constantly), sorting and synthesizing on the fly.
  • Develop and modify updated wallcharts and posters, send to an external print bureau, and arrange courier service to get the materials to the room. All of this must be done while capturing conversations, without speaking and without leaving the room.
  • Maintain an impeccable work environment at all times. CoLeads (and Leads) spend a lot of time picking up coffee cups. It sounds trivial, but it’s not.
  • Work with the Lead during breaks and at end of day to synthesize insights and optimize upcoming participant activities.
  • Work until at least 6 PM, and often until 9 or even midnight, collating information and preparing it in a suitable presentation format, to support the next day’s work.
  • Create a photographic record of events – capturing at least the visual charts created, and often a photographic record of the human elements of the event as well – professionally and discretely.
  • Repeat each day for the duration of the event.

The only piece of work above that is done by a note-taker is “capturing large group conversations” – but what is captured is inevitably a sequential record – no analysis or grouping of information is done, no synthesis, and the note-taker is not looking for critical insights that can be brought back to inform the group and the event.

After the event:

  • Build the draft Book of Proceedings, including all photoshopped imagery, all cleaned and optimized charts, and a preliminary synthesis of conversations, decisions, actions, outputs and outcomes – within 48 hours of the end of the event.
  • Develop draft communications documents for use by senior leadership as well as by broad stakeholder groups, also within the first 48 hours.
  • Revise all above material after review by the Lead, finalize and deliver polished versions to clients within predetermined timeframes (usually 96 hours after the end of the event.
  • Manage all follow-up logistical details – shipping of materials, setting follow-up meetings and ensure all communications details are closed off.

There are two substantial costs associated with your event. The first is the time of your stakeholder group.  Even if you don’t bear all of the salary costs, each person at the event has something else they could be doing, and you need to respect their time by making the best use of it. The second cost is the opportunity cost you bear for the outcomes you are seeking. If you prepare a sub-optimal environment, or ask less-than useful questions, or provide mundane or non-challenging activities, you will bear a tremendous opportunity costs. Your initiative will have lost time, and for many highly challenging initiatives, you may not get another opportunity for a year or several years.

A coLead ensures that you go into an event prepared. Our motto is “be prepared to be surprised.” A coLead is a critical team member. She or he works as a part of our high-performance team to manage the unexpected, to ensure your attendees have the best possible experience, and that you get the best possible outcomes.

A coLead is prepared to be surprised.

A note-taker is, well, surprised.