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Thinking about hosting a meeting? Tired of meetings that seem to go nowhere?
Let’s put on our consultant hats for a minute and consider, what is the best way to host an effective meeting?
Here are some rules I follow.
- Roadmap your end game.
- Select one meeting type. (Demonstration, Retrospective or Workshop)
- Start the meeting by outlining the Agenda.
- Drive engagement and extraction.
- Remain impartial in debate. Do not weigh in on the hot topic.
- Size matters. Keep it small.
- Be the time cop.
- Speak when you feel people are ready to listen.
- Ask yourself, “Is this meeting necessary?”
Roadmap your end game.
Answer this question. What is your end game?
This is often one of the most challenge aspects of calling a meeting.
Remember - it can be as open or closed as you like.
“My end game is to build trust in the team.”
“My end game is to find a resolution to problem ABC.”
More often than not, this is a process of:
- Defining the problem.
- Brainstorming a solution.
- Arriving at an “seemingly organic” set of outcomes.
Once you have an end game in your mind refined, start thinking through how to structure your meeting in such a way that smoothly onboards your audience.
Select one meeting type.
In my view, there are different types of meetings - one size does not fit all. From the outset choose one that serves your purpose and stick to it.
Group think works best when it has a clearly defined track to run along. Fitting into these grooves helps the conversation move quickly.
A demonstration is a type of ‘one-way’ presentation or performance. An individual speaks to the large group without interruption. It’s a great way to broadcast valuable information
A retrospective is a safe space in which individuals can speak openly. It’s a multi directional forum designed for the discussion of joyous, contentious, complex, and sometimes even emotional concerns.
At its conclusion, a set of clearly defined outcomes should be assigned to individuals.
A workshop is a hands on learning experience to train a commonly used pattern or practice.
Start the meeting by outlining the Agenda.
Every meeting should open with its agenda outlined with an ordered schedule.
Write it out on the wall and take a moment to let it set in. This allows you to, not only set the stage from the onset, but also circle back when the discussion begins to lose focus.
“Welcome. I am your facilitator. Here is THE AGENDA for this meeting. I’d like to start by covering the list of items outlined in a recent email. I’d then like to kick off 5 minutes of silent Post It note generation. We can then dot vote those thoughts. Discuss. And then spend the last 10 minutes formalising some action items. Are we all ok with that?”
Remember, the agenda is your way of keeping the conversation on track.
Drive engagement and extraction.
Whether you kick off with a poll or 5 minutes of silent Post It note generation, you need a strategy for engaging your participants and gathering their views.
Everyone must have the opportunity to participate.
- Find a way to have everyone contribute at least one thought or idea.
- Display that information clearly for everyone to see and digest.
- Confirm the information that has been extracted is accurate and true to the group.
Extraction is the unbiased process of gathering up as many divergent views as possible and giving them air time.
Remain impartial in debate. Do not weigh in on the hot topic.
When leading a meeting, facilitation is the name of the game. In order for that to be effective you must remain impartial.
- When people get stuck with a problem, avoid chiming in. Allow someone else to offer a solution. If necessary, leave it unanswered.
- Do not engage emotionally.
- If the conversation does not go as you expect, that is ok! Let the group arrive at their own conclusion.
- Actively prevent participants from speaking over one another.
- Even if you disagree, an outcome formed by the group is the correct outcome.
- Cherry pick agreements when they present themselves.
When you choose to be the facilitator, you forgo the right to weigh in.
Size matters. Keep it small.
Communication is fraught with misunderstanding. Even a direct one-on-one conversation often results in wild confusion.
“I said Potato. You heard Strawberry.”
To be honest, even in conversation with myself, I often say the wrong thing or make an incorrect assumption about my own inner workings.
Dialog is complex.
- a solo one person conversation > 1 potential mistake.
- a two person conversation > 3 potential mistakes.
- a three person conversation > 6 potential mistakes.
- a seven person conversation > 28 potential mistakes.
As the potential mistake curve is not linear, one way to improve communication is to reduce the number of people involved - especially when engaging in a multi-directional conversation.
If you are in a room with 20+ people, consider that what you are saying, on balance, could be completely misunderstood.
Be the time cop
With your agenda on the wall, it falls onto you to keep an eye on the clock and ensure the group stay on schedule.
Timeboxing the conversations is a great way of maintaining a progressive flow.
And never let your meeting run late. Nothing loses an audience faster!
Speak when you feel people are ready to listen.
In the words of Oprah.
“I would respond to Trump but I do not because I choose to speak when I believe people will listen.”
Perhaps today is too soon. But maybe next week…maybe next year.
Schedule your meeting when you feel people are ready to have the conversation.
If you’re able, check in with the participants beforehand to see if they are keen to be there or, at the very least, happy to walk in with an open mind.
Ask yourself, “Is this meeting necessary?”
Asking yourself this question right off the bat could save you (and your colleagues) a whole lot of time and pain.
One thing I have realised more and more is that my end game can be more effectively achieved with a series of one on one conversations with the right people.
Consensus in a large room is difficult. Along with strategy it requires a deep level of shared trust, context, perspective and understanding.
Without this, meetings are often a complete waste of time.
If you can, find a way to achieve your goal without a meeting and lead by delivery and example.
So that’s it.
These rules have been invaluable in helping me facilitate effective and progressive meetings! I hope they come in handy.
Now it’s your turn.
What’s your secret to a productive meeting?