Meetings That Work

A picture of people being bored in a meeting.

by Molly Penn

A meeting is a terrible thing to waste – don’t we all want meetings that work?  How often do you leave meetings resenting the time spent there or the outcomes?  Or worse, feeling like your voice wasn’t welcomed in the space?  Have you ever left a meeting thinking “Well that was a waste of my precious time and now my work is behind” or “Now I have 20 more things on my plate that I have to do”?

Given how much time we all spend in meetings, it is surprising how infrequently we think about how they should be facilitated.  You’ll notice I didn’t use the word “run,” because as a society we are recognizing the toxicity of “command and control” leadership and moving towards facilitative leadership. We all want meetings that work.

Meetings are precious opportunities to bring diverse minds together.  People can accomplish great things in meetings – solving problems, aligning around values, creating a strategic plan, resolving conflict, aligning around change initiatives.  Too often though, in daily life, leaders use meetings to “inform,” running through a list of updates and/or assignments.  This leaves the participants feeling frustrated, undervalued, and resentful.

The next time you convene a meeting, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is a meeting the best format for what I want to accomplish?
  2. Am I prepared to value each voice in the room?
  3. How do I want people to feel when they leave this meeting?

If the answer to the first question is yes, you have an even greater responsibility to consider the answers to questions 2 and 3.

Valuing the Voices in the Room

It is not easy to value each voice in the room – that is not just an internal mindset but a stated commitment.  It involves creating agreements about how you will spend the time so that if, in the midst of the meeting, there is one voice predominating (even yours!), people can go back to the agreements.  Or if you notice there are some people not speaking, it is an opportunity to go back to the agreements and ask if there is anything missing to ensure people feel safe enough to voice their opinion.

Valuing the voice in the room also means giving thought to how you plan to get all ideas “on the table,” ensure everyone is clear about what is involved in each idea, and then finding common themes that lead to a shared conclusion that everyone can endorse.  We draw on a variety of tools and approaches to facilitation to help us ensure each voice is valued.  Many of these come from Technology of Participation, a facilitation methodology that is explicitly about valuing and engaging the voices in the room.

Ensuring People Feel the Meeting Was Productive

Ensuring people feel the meeting was productive has a strong relationship to valuing the voices in the room.  However, it also starts before you get people in the room.  It means giving careful thought to how you will structure the meeting.  Some questions to consider are:

  1. What do you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting – are you crystal clear on the outcome you want?
  2. How do you need to warm people up (remember they are coming in with other things on their minds)?
  3. What activities do you want to do to engage their thinking and deliberation?
  4. Do you want small group conversations or just full group discussion?
  5. How do you want to build in a sense of lightness that fosters generative dialogue?
  6. Can you find a metaphor for what you are discussing to help participants break out of old mental models?
  7. How will you help people find common ground towards the end of the meeting?

These are all components of ensuring people feel their time was well spent, they got something done, and they enjoyed working with their colleagues.  Most importantly, they are all crucial elements of building alignment and consensus around the outcome of the meeting.  That is the key to feeling the meeting was productive.

We have been trained in these various elements through adopting the core competencies of the International Association of Facilitation and through taking various trainings endorsed by IAF.

Meetings That Work

If you want to run meetings that work and engage people, where they leave feeling productive and energized, follow some of these guidelines.  If you want more help, give us a call and we’ll help you facilitate your meeting so you can relax and participate fully.

Drop in for Office Hours and talk with our experts!

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