We are in meetings regularly but how many of them are productive? The minutes grind by slowly as the group argues over what it’s supposed to be doing and everyone is anxious to get back to their desks. A couple weeks later, you repeat the same meeting because no one remembers what was decided or who was responsible. I’ve been there hundreds of times but it improved about fifteen years ago when I began following the principles in How to Make Meetings Work by Michael Doyle and David Strauss (1993). It introduced me to the value of agendas, the decision-making process, and the important role of a facilitator. The facilitator is a neutral third party whose sole purpose is to manage the meeting process and ensure it is productive. He or she doesn’t make decisions but helps the group discuss issues collegially to arrive at decisions thoughtfully. The facilitator makes meetings easier, putting grease on the gears that would otherwise grind and bind. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you are probably serve as a facilitator from time to time.
Over the years I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of facilitation, especially as organizations move from a top-down, command-and-control form of management to teams and more diffuse, horizontal, shared-authority styles. But facilitation is handy in other situations. If you lead tours or workshops that are conversational, facilitation techniques encourage discussion and participation (e.g., questioning strategies). If you’re involved in historic preservation advocacy, these techniques can help calm confrontational community meetings, even if there is no facilitator (e.g., ensuring everyone is heard and no one dominates).
As demands on my facilitation skills increased (especially with the growth of virtual meetings), I really wanted to sharpen them. Last week’s ASTD conference gave me a push to the next level. Expert facilitators Cyndi Maxey and Michael Wilkinson shared their frameworks and techniques in their packed sessions. I gathered lots of great ideas, some of which I’ll put into place immediately, such as:
- Have a 15-minute meeting by phone in advance with each participant to discuss what they’d like to achieve in the meeting. It’ll help you confirm the direction of the meeting and identify any potential land mines.
- Start meetings on time by accommodating the time to gather. List this as the first item on the agenda because that’s what people look at to determine when to arrive (e.g., 9:50 am Gathering, 10:00 Introductions).
Their ideas for the overall structure of meetings, maintaining momentum, and tackling difficult people are immensely helpful and fortunately, their ideas are available in print. If you’re facilitating meetings and want to improve your skills, I recommend:
- Fearless Facilitation: The Ultimate Field Guide to Engaging (and Involving!) Your Audience by Cyndi Maxey and Kevin O’Connor (2013)
- The Secrets of Facilitation: The SMART Guide to Getting Results with Groups by Michael Wilkinson (2012)
- Click: The Virtual Meetings Book by Michael Wilkinson (2014)
- 21-minute YouTube video on changing meetings from bad to great by Patrick Lencioni.
Here’s to better meetings for everyone!