One of the frustrating things one sees as a consultant is when a client learns and embraces the process and meeting design we do, but as the consultant steps back from the system, the client falls back into their old habits of running meetings that are not engaging, productive, and frustrating for participants. A process consultant seeks that transference of knowledge and process to the client, but sometimes the client needs reminded.
It is in hopes to help our clients stay on a path of productivity and excitement that we share five tips to help you make sure your meetings are engaging, exciting, and action-oriented in their results.
#1.) Be purposeful
Every meeting must have a purpose else it won’t effectively achieve that which you seek to achieve. As highlighted by Kathleen Dannemiller, “knowing how to get there is impossible if you can’t articulate what there is”. One can approach purpose in one of two ways:
1 – Identify the overarching purpose and outcomes for the meeting.
For the purpose, ask: What is the overall difference that I will make, that I will achieve, by having this meeting? I have to challenge myself to keep saying what I think the purpose is, then asking, “in order to…???” Constantly digging deeper will help you define the true purpose you seek from your meeting. Try it: “By having this meeting, the overall difference I will make is…in order to…”
For the outcomes, I ask: What are the big picture achievements I want from this meeting? Or, if thinking about it using a Preferred Futuring or Appreciative Inquiry Approach, I might ask myself: What, if it happened at this meeting, would make me know I had achieved my purpose? Would help me know I made the overall difference described above”.
2 – Define the purpose for each agenda item.
Some meetings that we have are “check-in” meetings. Staff meetings, board meetings, and project status meetings are great examples, where the overall purpose may be so vaguely defined. For these meetings, employ purpose to each topic of discussion, I.E., What is the overall difference we’ll achieve by discussing this topic? What specific decisions or concrete outcomes do we want from this discussion?
An additional tidbit around purpose: if your purpose for an activity is to provide an update to the people at the meeting, send it out prior in writing—this will make your meeting move quicker.
Purpose and outcomes are a key to making the meetings you have most effective. You’ll find that the other four tips link directly back to the defined purpose and outcomes for your meeting.
#2.) Engage your system of stakeholders
Your system of stakeholders is a critical piece of your complete puzzle of success. As we learned from “Change Methods: Seven Basic Characteristics,” honoring and incorporating one’s complete system is a key method to conducting whole system change in an organization or community. However, as I described in my post last week, models of macro change can also be applied at the micro level.
Think intentionally about your system of stakeholders. Ask:
- Who are the stakeholders in our system?
- Who has the interest in or benefits from or wants to be engaged in what we do?
- Now, who, if they were engaged in our meeting, would help us most effectively accomplish our purpose and outcomes?
A tip about system: if you use a team of people to design your meeting that represents all of the stakeholders coming to the meeting (a design team), the purpose, outcomes, and other aspects of the meeting is more effectively realized.
#3.) Plan a good journey, have an engaging agenda
As noted in a newsletter article on effective meetings for the Society of Actuaries (a totally unrelated field to organization development), “Effective meetings have a clear agenda of activities that are designed to deliver the stated [purpose and] outcomes.”
Take time to think through the agenda for your meeting and be intentional with each activity—always being able to link it back to the purpose and outcomes.
Look for those things that are discussion items as opposed to those things that are quick updates. If you have quick updates, try to put them all together and use an approach that asks each update to be shared in 30 seconds or less and holds questions for the end of that section of the meeting.
Also, don’t be afraid to get creative with your activities. Create meaningful opportunities for people to participate. For example, divide into groups of 3, have brief discussion around one or two questions designed to achieve your outcome, and then close by coming back together, sharing what each small group discussed, and finalizing discussion with a vote.
A tip on the agenda-Mixing it up will increase engagement. Room setup can often be a great way to set the tone and the agenda for the meeting. A long and wide board table with chairs around the outside, for example, can reduce the cohesiveness or connectedness of the group.
#4.) Define and stick to roles
There are lots of great articles defining the need for and approach to ensuring you are covering the basic roles of group work. When we work with clients to hold community meetings, for example, we have smaller groups select a facilitator (to help keep their group on task), a recorder or scribe (to ensure we capture the outputs of our discussion), and a spokesperson (to report our small group discussion to the whole group).
There’s not a need so much for the spokesperson for meetings, though it is possible depending on the purpose and outcomes, and of course, the activities you design for your agenda.
A facilitator is a must—if no person at the meeting is functioning as a facilitator, it is harder to stay on time, ensure everyone is truly engaged, and ensure we meet our purpose and outcomes. Why? Because no person is truly focused on the whole agenda; instead, each person is concerned with participating in the discussion. Remember, it’s always OK in a smaller meeting for the facilitator to step out of that role to participate in the discussion. The key is to be intentional and own it in the moment.
The recorder or scribe role is also critical to your meeting being a success. Some meetings require detailed notes, while most meetings really require that you capture the high-level discussion. My experience, though this may seem strange coming from a blind person, is that writing notes on a flipchart or a google document (if working virtually) helps to also keep participants engaged.
Check out these Roles of Group Work that we provide for our client meetings—there some cool stuff on things to keep in mind when brainstorming.
#5.) Define and implement action
If your purpose and outcomes do not result in action being defined by the end of your meeting, please go back and revisit them prior to the meeting. Every meeting, whether short or long, lots of people or not, in-person or virtual, should always end with some next steps.
The Google commercial above showcases the ability to have a productive virtual meeting and we’ve even facilitated virtual strategy meetings for clients. yet ironically, if you listen to the dialog, the meeting host says “there are no next steps, we just solved it”. Even if you held a meeting that just solved a problem, there should always be next steps that come out of that dialog—even if the next steps are to write up the solution we just created. So, ask these questions:
- What actions have we identified as a result of our discussion?
- What actions are needed to ensure our purpose and outcomes for this meeting doesn’t get lost in the shuffle? That the meeting wasn’t a waste of time?
- What do we need to do to ensure this meeting creates more success for our company or organization?
- Who needs to execute or lead each of the next steps we identified and by when?
There are an astronomical number of resources on making your meetings more effective or even on how to ensure that meetings don’t kill you; yet, meetings still happen in ways that bore people, waste time, and result in such personal dissatisfaction of the participants.
When I facilitate a meeting, there’s usually someone from each meeting that says to me, “I didn’t think we would get so much work done so quickly”. That’s my challenge to each of you: use the five tips above when you hold your meetings, whether small or large, and report back on how they work for you. Do they make your meetings more productive? Do people want to attend your meetings? Reach out for help if you need it and let us know how it goes.