Friday, 13 February 2015

Facilitation and Better Meetings

I went to a meeting recently not facilitated by someone at Impact Factory.

This was me:  smile plastered on my face so I looked attentive, doing everything I could to keep my eyes open, and writing in my notebook ‘struggling to keep awake’ in an attempt to keep awake.  I took numerous sips of water, pinched my fingers.  All those tactics worked to some extent, but having to resort to them reminded me why good facilitation can make a huge difference to the outcome of any meeting.

Because the energy wasn’t being managed and the facilitator wasn’t paying attention to what was happening around the table, he lost my attention and thus my input.  And I could see that others were struggling as well.

Here’s a few things that can make meetings so dire:

No clear agenda
No clear leadership
Hidden agendas
Old resentments
Unruly competitiveness
Game playing
People using their phones or tablets
Unrealistic expectations

You’ll have some extra ones to add, I’m sure, when you think of the last few poor meetings you’ve been to.

What astonishes us is that there are still more bad meetings than there are good ones – client after client of ours (even if that’s not what they hired us for) mention that their meetings are usually too long and unproductive.

It’s one of those things that people seem to accept as par for the course and yet meetings – any kind of meeting – could/should be creative, useful, valuable, dynamic, even exciting.

The first thing I know could make a huge difference is to change the patterns which run your meetings.  Notice I said that patterns run the meetings – they do because people follow patterns unconsciously:  they sit in the same place, they play the same games, they have the same expectations.

If you want to change what happens in those meetings that you dread, do something, anything, to change the same old same old happening again.  Sit in a different place, hold the meeting standing up, put ‘AOB’ at the top of the Agenda, ask people to turn their phones and tablets off. 

It really doesn’t matter what you do – you can create a different dynamic if you change any one pattern that you know happens at your meetings.

By the way, anyone can change a pattern – you don’t have to be the Chair, the one holding/running the meeting.  You can even be the most junior person in the room; you can still change one thing or suggest one thing to make a difference.

Now, if you really want to shake things up and you’re feeling brave, the best way to shock a meeting into changing its dynamics is to ‘level’ – in other words, call the behaviour that you think is consciously or unconsciously sabotaging the meeting. 

It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes, isn’t it, when people accept other people’s unacceptable behaviour?

If you’re the one to say, “The King is naked,” that would certainly put the cat among the pigeons (exactly how many metaphors have I used in the last few sentences!!), wouldn’t it?  You don’t have to make a big fuss about it, or accuse anyone, or finger point, or be aggrieved. 

Calling someone’s behaviour can be as simple as, “We seem to have strayed from the agenda”, “There seem to be too many voices all at once”, “We do seem to be stuck on this one issue”.  If you want, you can make a suggestion of how to move forward, but you don’t have to – the key is that you are an objective voice saying what you see going on.

When I said at the beginning that good facilitation can make a huge difference, my experience shows that it can be transformative.

Why put up with meetings that don’t go anywhere or reinforce the same old patterns, when you could have lively, motivating, fruitful meetings that you look forward to?




By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

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