What teams do you participate in and how productive are those group meetings? Do people leave meetings saying, “That was a waste of time” or do they consider it time well spent?
Virtually everyone works as a team in some manner. Consultants and service professionals create teams with their clients. If you’re in an organization, you participate in your workgroup. You may also work with colleagues on project teams composed of people who don’t report to the same manager or department that you do.
Meetings are a different kind of conversation – one in which you are trying to be certain that goals are aligned and expectations are clear for a group of people. Frequently, even if members of a team think they are discussing the same topic, they may be having very different conversations. In addition, some team members aren’t participating at all while still others are making negative asides that derail dialogue.
What can you do to make your meetings more effective?
- Start by assessing current team conversations. Begin by observing how your discussions are going. One way to do this is to set up a form to capture the ways group members are contributing at your meetings. A simple process is to create a checklist with the names of team members across the page and a list of different behaviors. Then, check off the type of contributions made to the conversation each time someone speaks. You will find some surprises when you dissect meeting contributions objectively.
- Evaluate clarity of expectations. Leaders frequently assume everyone has the same understanding of what will create success on the topics being discussed – even if they haven’t clearly communicated it in the language of their audience. Have you made certain each and every team member knows what they are supposed to be doing and achieving? Have you asked the question, “What will it look like if we are successful?” This question often surfaces strikingly different definitions that are valuable to discuss.
- Plan critical interactions in advance. Certain meetings are more important than others and those sessions must be planned carefully. As a facilitator, you must think strategically about what needs to get done and how to engage your participants, using a variety of tools that drive participation. For example, you might use sticky notes to drive each person to generate ideas silently in a brainstorming session. Perhaps you want to consider using adhesive dots to gather votes on ideas displayed on flip charts. While white boards are great, for certain types of meetings nothing beats having a wall full of charts that can be easily viewed and returned to throughout the session. If you’re meeting virtually, you can still have a participative session but it will require an even higher degree of planning.
- Ask team members for input – and listen to it. Too often meetings are facilitated by a leader who comes in with a preconceived plan and truly doesn’t want any input. If that’s the case, don’t bother asking! However, if you truly need buy-in and support with next steps, you need to be open to listening to input. A great rule is to use 1 minute of silence… when you ask for input and it’s quiet, don’t speak. Let at least 60 seconds go by – typically someone will begin to talk.
- Have meaningful meeting assessments. Discussing the temperature of the room or the food that was served isn’t meaningful in evaluating the primary purpose of a meeting. Yet too often that is where people immediately start when asked for feedback at the end of a session. What you should be gathering feedback around are elements such as the level of participation, the ability to work through differences, the clarity on next steps, and if the right topics were discussed.
These five tips are just a brief example of ways you can make your meetings more effective. If you could use support either in upgrading your facilitation skills or would like to have an outside facilitator for a session, I’d love to support you. Just email me and we can set up a time to discuss your circumstances and how I might be able to help you change your meetings for the better.