evolve meeting principles

The age-old question – “Why are we having this meeting?” – goes much deeper than you or your manager’s desires to set the meeting. As The Harvard Business Review states, if we’re being completely honest, our need for the meeting is much more primal than its stated intent: “Man is a social species. In every organization and every human culture of which we have record, people come together in small groups at regular and frequent intervals, and in larger ‘tribal’ gatherings from time to time.”

The idea of a tribal gathering could very likely be the foundational building blocks from which all meetings have evolved. Then and now, in-person meetings fit a need that we as a species will not find in any technological substitute. E-communication and e-networking are not the ‘enemy,’ but they cannot (and will not) replace our species’ desire for face-to-face interaction and conflict resolution.

Do you have a good reason to meet?

Meetings should not be held solely for the sake of having a meeting. Many organizations host regular meetings for no other intent than tradition. You can avoid common meeting mistakes by comparing your reasons, with common modern meeting ‘trends’ and even with the history of meetings – what are best practices around purpose, format, and goals?

You are likely to find facilitation skills and resources at the center of proven, consistently successful meetings. Here are 10 key principles of employing a facilitation approach to meetings:

  1. Preparing for success – cover all the bases. In ancient history, a meeting planner might have spent time preparing for the safety of the group. Even 20 years ago, you probably spent the most time prepping documents and presentation boards. Today, preparation is still important, but should focus on goal setting versus solely presentation materials.
  2. Getting the session started – inform, excite, empower, involve. The structure, particularly the beginning of meetings, tends to be hung up in tradition. Are you conducting the beginning of meetings the same way your company did 20 years ago? If so, you are missing the most critical time to make an impression and ensure success during a meeting.
  3. Focusing the group – establish the course; avoid detours. Focusing meetings with an agenda is a time-honored meeting tradition. Facilitation skills combine the traditional agenda with new tactics to ensure attendees stay focused the entire time.
  4. The power of the pen: use it don’t abuse it; make it theirs. Another tradition worth repeating is note taking. In order to keep people on the same page, it’s most helpful to capture the words being spoken by the meeting participants on a flipchart or whiteboard for all to see. Using the participant’s specific wording is the most important trick, to make sure the meeting leader is not manipulating the notes to his or her bias.
  5. Information gathering – know your resources and their intricacies. Traditionally, a meeting might be comprised of a CEO or President who dominates the conversation and intimidates others into agreeing with his or her thinking. With proper information gathering, the meeting leader would already know what to expect from group dynamics ahead of time, and be prepared to take action to balance the louder and quieter participants, for example.
  6. Managing dysfunction – conscious prevention, early detection, clean resolution. Smart facilitators know that the key to dysfunction is to address it before it occurs (conscious prevention), detect it early if it does happen (early detection) and cleanly resolve it so that it goes away for good (clean resolution).
  7. Consensus building – create and maintain a consensus-focused process. A common complaint heard post-meeting is that it failed to generate consensus and nothing significant got achieved. Professional facilitators know how to create an environment where consensus is the goal, and how to spot and resolve sources of disagreement.
  8. Keeping the energy high – set the pace, anticipate the lulls, react accordingly. Whether you are leading a single two-hour meeting or a series of half-day meetings, high energy is essential to keeping the group’s interest and engagement.
  9. Closing the session – review, end, debrief. Focus the end of your meeting on how well you’ve satisfied the need – not a tradition. Facilitators know that closing a meeting is a vital time to be clear on what was accomplished and what next steps are.
  10. Agenda setting – adapt your agenda to address the need. Think through all nine steps first. Consider every step and make sure each is in the right order, and then finalize your agenda.

If you are ready to bring your meetings up to speed with today’s best practices, we can help with our network of professional facilitators. Let our facilitators be your meeting solution by helping with many different group activities such as strategic planning, team building, conferences, issue resolution, process improvement, focus groups, partner sessions and more. Please contact us, chat us, or call us at 1-877-212-2361.