A four stage protocol to move from assumptions to action planning

As groups shift from forming to norming (Tuckman, 1965), an important goal for the group is to clarify its identity as its form changes (Garmston and Wellman, 2016), an idea from Adaptive Schools.

I’ve been thinking about a protocol for a collaborative meeting, with the meeting purpose being dialog into discussion and the goal for the meeting being a clear sense of group identity in the face of change in how it does what it does.

To be more specific:

The meeting’s purpose was to reach shared understanding of the common significance of the group’s existence, its identity. This would be achieved through dialog, a way of conversation in which the group would need to make visible what they believe, who they are and other aspects of their identity as a group.

The meeting protocol needed to meet these intentions:

  • Create a stance of inquiry through dialog.
  • Make visible group identity.
  • Make visible group intentions congruent with identity.
  • Create a sense of urgency to act.
  • Make visible to all group members what members need to pay attention to, to realize intentions.
  • Move the group to action congruent to intentions.

The above goals for the meeting reminded me of the pyramid of influence cited and used in the Adaptive SchoolsSM literature and seminars, and I started thinking about how I might use the concept to organize the meeting protocol.

Original Pyramid of influence
Pyramid of influence by Wellman and Lipton.

I was also thinking about a conversation I had with Ochan Kusuma-Powell a few weeks ago. Ochan had added identity to the pyramid of influence and shared her idea.

Pyramid of influence

The addition of identity as the base of the pyramid of influence provokes thinking about group identity and the extent to which it influences group cohesion, attention, and activity. Perhaps similar to individuals, we might think of groups which have a strong identity as a unit to have levels of ‘self’ (Costa and Garmston, Cognitive Coaching Seminars) which in turn shape how they act.

The levels of self include the things that are visible to others; things we choose to share; things which we are conscious of and do not choose to share; and things which we may not be conscious of. All these things are part of our identity, and the deeper our consciousness goes, the more aware we are of these influencers on who we are, what we do, and why we do those things in the ways we do them.

For a group trying to enact identity and values into concrete actions for its goals, it seemed to me very important to surface deeper sense of self from the group. Sinek might term this the group’s Why.

It was important to begin with that Why and understand it. The group had a mix of members who had been in the group for a several years and members who joined it more recently. The meeting goal of understanding shared identity and purpose seemed like a viable first engagement.

The Protocol

The protocol for the meeting began with a variation of the Assumptions Wall protocol from Adaptive SchoolsSM. Surfacing assumptions about identity takes into account the very tight relationship between teachers’ work and who they see themselves as individuals. Often, understanding this relationship between identity and individual mission is crucial to facilitating teacher learning.

From the Assumptions surfacing, the group moved to Aspirations. I got this idea from appreciative inquiry.

“At its heart, AI is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the strengths-filled, opportunity-rich world around them. AI is not so much a shift in the methods and models of organizational change, but AI is a fundamental shift in the overall perspective taken throughout the entire change process to ‘see’ the wholeness of the human system and to “inquire” into that system’s strengths, possibilities, and successes. ”

Stavros, Godwin and Cooperrider, 2015

The dialog on Aspirations created the opportunity for the group to link its identity to its mission or group raison d’etre. The significance of this phase for our collaborative meeting, was to make visible group intentions congruent with identity.

Aspirations also served to create a sense of urgency to act. When the brainstorm was scripted on the wall, the group read to me like it was energized. Lots of nodding, some smiling, and in some members, eyes seemed to grow wider. These bodily manifestations of internal response states (Cognitive Coaching Learning Guide, p.102) were signs that a shift in thinking had happened to group members.

From dialog to discussion

We moved from Aspirations to Attention. This is the shift to a discussion from the dialog. It was important to summarize the dialog notes, which serves as an abstraction paraphrase of the first part of the meeting, and then clearly move the thinking to a different conversation, discussion, for the purpose of making some decisions. To move from dialog to discussion, I used a technique from Cognitive CoachingSM called adding positive presuppositions to the beginning of the mediative question I asked the group, “Having reflected on who we are, what we believe in as a group and our goals, what might be some ways we can focus our attention as a group?”

This signaled the move to the next stage of the protocol, Attention. In the pyramid of influence, we know that we pay attention to the things that we value. After clearly making visible to the entire group what it valued in the first half of the meeting, the group got to work quickly, and the discussion to decide what to focus on and what to let go took less time than I had anticipated. What I learned at that stage was that a group that clearly keeps its identity in its consciousness can also clearly make decisions for its learning.

4 As Strategy
The 4 A protocol

The protocol ended with Action, which directly links to the Attention list that the group made. Much of this stage was paraphrasing ideas and probing for specificity. I paid a lot of attention to the verbs and nouns in the utterances of the group in the paraphrasing of their thoughts, and focused mediative questions to probe for more specific word choices when the nouns and verbs were somewhat general, and allowing the group to shape the nuance of their action plans.

It was an energizing meeting, and I would use this protocol again for groups who seem to have a strong identity and whose goal for the meeting is to move from identity to action.


Costa, A. L., Garmston, R. J., Hayes, C., & Ellison, J. (2015). Cognitive coaching: Developing self-directed leaders and learners. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Costa, A. L., Garmston, R. J., Hayes, C., & Ellison, J. (2017). Cognitive coaching seminars foundation training learning guide (10th Edition). Thinking Collaborative.

Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2016). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Stavros, Jacqueline, Godwin, Lindsey, & Cooperrider, David. (2015). Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution. In Practicing Organization Development: A guide to leading change and transformation (4th Edition), William Rothwell, Roland Sullivan, and Jacqueline Stavros (Eds). Wiley.

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

One thought

  1. Aloha,

    Thank you sharing this protocol. Time is such finite resource and I get frustrated when people just meet without a clear purpose. However, having said that, I also recognized facilitation is an art and requires practice and training. This protocol provides a tight structure to encourage members in the group share their assumptions and exploring aspirations. It has a positive spin and at the end brings our attention for creation. I can also see using this to support service learning. May I use this to scaffold the conversation with my students who lead the service club?

    Thank you for sharing.

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