A friend recently shared a classic example of a meeting experience that sounds all too typical. He shared with me that the meeting recurs monthly with all the direct reports of the executive team to “discuss operational topics.” A large group of individuals arrives either early, on time, or late and with each late arrival, the meeting organizer stops to bring the latecomer up to speed. There is an agenda with allocated times for topics, but little is done to adhere to these suggested times and the last agenda item is almost always postponed till next month as time runs out.
Attendees struggle to pay attention as the meeting leader drones on and on to set the stage for each topic before handing it off. Every agenda item is a presentation with little discussion or input from the participants. After two hours, the meeting is adjourned with my friend wondering how he will get out of next month’s meeting.
Most of the workday in almost every industry is filled with meetings of all sizes, people, and topics. Despite the prevalence of this way of collaborating, many meetings are left to run their course with little to no pre-planning or active management to conduct the meeting, resulting in countless hours wasted by so many of us day after day after day.
Sound familiar? We’re living in an epidemic of bad meeting syndrome!
I wrote a piece for the Lean Post a few months ago about respectful communication and its role in engaging a team to move and act, and not just act, but act in a way that is aligned in an articulated purpose. A specific example of utilizing this communication approach is through meeting facilitation.
Anyone who leads groups – teachers, mediators, managers, and of course meeting leaders or facilitators – needs the ability to design and plan a meeting. This isn’t just something that happens; it’s a skill we must develop if we are to meet team objectives. We can only meet objectives when we use a sound process that makes way for appropriate participation as well as buy-in from stakeholders.
To put it bluntly, effective facilitation can be the difference between a successful session outcome or failure. What are the challenges we meeting leaders and attendees face?
- Unclear meeting purpose/objectives
- Loose adherence to an agenda or no agenda
- Time (mis)management
- Group dynamics and “problem people”
- Lack of a defined process for negotiation, decision-making, conflict resolution, problem solving, idea generation, education, etc.
- Follow through to manage the outcome
It’s no wonder we dread meetings!
But all is not lost. There are preventions you can design and put in place before the meeting and interventions to use while conducting the meeting to keep the group on track, on time, and on target. For example, to ensure active participation and to generate buy-in, you can plan for and design processes to follow while conducting the meeting. Instead of a full group open brainstorming, you can start with “silent individual brainstorming” where every participant writes as many of his ideas on separate sticky notes in a limited timeframe. They are then posted on the meeting’s visual wall for sorting and affinity mapping. You can ask the group for additional ideas after if you wish, but this provides a safe space for every member to share his thoughts. This is especially helpful when the group is new to each other and hasn’t come together as a working team yet.
A very useful skill for a meeting facilitator is understanding how to handle “problem people” like the latecomer, the interrupter, the attacker, and others. There are concrete ways to work with each of these challenging types and keep the meeting environment respectful and safe for every member. The interventions are different for each but in every case, one should start with the lowest level intervention – don’t start by publicly shaming them! Part of your meeting planning would include understanding who your meeting attendees are so you would have both preventions and interventions in place.
These are just a few ways you can plan for more enjoyable, productive meetings.