Ever develop that sense of deja vu about not getting anywhere during a meeting? Here’s what to do about it.
1. Lack of clear purpose
All too frequently, meetings are held for the primary benefit of the meeting leader, typically the groups’s executive or project manager. The session leader has decided in advance to schedule a series of weekly meetings for their own convenience. They anticipate needing the time of others to raise the fog high enough that they can determine what they need to get done over the next week, until the next meeting.
SOLUTION ONE: Codify the purpose and deliverable of the meeting in twenty-five words or less. If you are unable to clearly articulate why you are having the meeting and its desired output (ie, “What does ‘done’ look like?”), then you are not prepared to be an effective leader. If you are the participant, demand a written statement about the purpose, scope, and deliverable of the meeting in advance, or don’t attend.
2. Unprepared participants
Lack of clear purpose (mentioned above) is the main reason people show up unprepared. It’s unclear in advance what “showing up prepared” looks like.
SOLUTION TWO: Beyond a clearly written statement about the meeting’s purpose, scope, and deliverable, participants need advance understanding about the agenda. The agenda explains how the meeting will generate results. Detailed questions determine agenda topics (eg, What are our options?). Ideally, participants should know the questions to be asked in the meeting before it begins, so that they can attend ready and prepared.
3. Biased leadership
Nothing will squelch the input of participants faster than a leader who begins to emphasized their personal answer. Participants will want the leader to expose their entire position before they begin to speak so that they know where they stand, and avoid embarrassment about being “wrong”.
SOLUTION THREE: Leaders should embrace neutrality. If they want others’ input and opinions, then ask and listen. If they don’t want others’ ideas, they shouldn’t have a meeting. There are more cost effective means for informing and persuading. Being neutral is like being pregnant, you either are or you’re not—there is no grey area.
4. Scope creep (strategic and tactical blending)
All too often, meetings dive deep into the weeds (ie, HOW or concrete methods) or challenge the purpose (ie, WHY or ultimate intention). Nobody wants more meetings, they only want results.
SOLUTION FOUR: To avoid scope creep in the meeting it is important to have a written statement about the scope (see item number one above). Then it needs to be policed, so that participants don’t go too deep into the weeds, and that others are not permitted arguing the reason for a project when project approval is beyond the scope of the meeting. For pertinent strategic issues that are beyond scope of the meeting, capture them in a “Refrigerator” (aka “Parking Lot”) to preserve them until you can meet in a workshop environment and discuss strategic issues, their implications, and what needs to be done about them (recommendations).
5. Poor or non existent structure
This problem applies both at the meeting level (ie, agenda) and within an agenda step. Structure provides the method for delivering. Most leaders are competent at soliciting ideas (ie, creating a list) but are frail during the analysis.
SOLUTION FIVE: Determine in advance:
- What are they going to do with the list?
- How do they categorize?
- Should they categorize or push on the measurable details?
- If prioritizing, have they separately identified the criteria?
- How are they going to lead the group to apply the criteria to the options leading to a prioritized list?
It’s not easy to lead a successful meeting. No one ever said it was. Success begins with clear thinking and an understanding about how to avoid the five most common problems with meetings.
Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.
Become Part of the Solution—Improve Your Facilitation Skills
The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).
Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.