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Six Essential Elements of Leading Engaging Meetings

(This article was published in our July 2009 newsletter)

You may remember last month I mentioned I was creating some virtual products to help build facilitator competency around the globe. I’ve got my first set of products and I’m going to launch the first pilot with you at the August café (see left hand column for our complimentary offer).

As a result of spending a great deal of time this summer thinking about our latest global website products, I have come to realize that many people would benefit from knowing a few professional facilitator skills to use in their regularly scheduled short meetings. Here is what I think people really need to know to run meetings that result in the following benefits.

People attending your meetings will:

• stay focused on the topic at hand
• be more succinct in their contributions
• acknowledge others’ ideas in a positive manner
• function as a team in finding a workable solution
• volunteer for and undertake actions to be completed outside the meeting
• take ownership for both successes and failures related to the group’s work
• actively engage in problem-solving and idea generation relevant to the task
• arrive punctually for meetings
• enjoy, appreciate, and consistently contribute to a productive and fun style at each meeting
• are authentic and unreserved about participating during the meeting.
There are six critical pieces of knowledge that you as a regular meeting facilitator should do to realize the above benefits. I believe these six things are:

1. Understand how people process information. I have found Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences very helpful in designing meetings that are more productive and engaging. You can learn more about multiple intelligences by first taking a quiz at his website provided by Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-learning-styles-quiz

2. Design each meeting with a central question in mind. Generally you need to keep in mind what absolutely must happen at this meeting. This is your overall purpose – in this module we call this step deciding on the central question to be answered by your meeting. Even though you may have many agenda items, there is usually one item which needs some critical attention on the day of your meeting. To decide on this central question, I ask myself: “What one thing could we do today which will make almost everyone’s lives or work day go better?”

3. Learn how to ask the right question at the right time. Every agenda item likely needs a set of 3-6 questions that the group will answer to come to some appropriate conclusion for that item. Before you start your meeting, brainstorm a series of open-ended questions (i.e. questions that begin with What, How, Where, When, Who and Why) for each agenda item and select the ones that will give the group the answers it needs to take the next steps. For example, if your agenda item is to decide how to improve customer service, your series of open-ended questions might include, “What are people saying about our customer service now?; What do our customers say we are doing well?; What do they complain about?; What are some easy things we could implement this month to improve our service?; Who will champion each of these ideas?; What will we report back to each other at our next meeting?”

4. Encourage the group to use creative brainstorming. There are times in a meeting, where you want people to think creatively and all be engaged in offering new ideas. I usually start out a creative brainstorming session with a warm-up “fun” activity to help people to access their right (creative) brain. Then ask people and open-ended question to help them start their brainstorming. The question might be something like, “What are all the ways we can…” I then ask them to get into pairs to share their ideas and propose one or two ideas they agree on to the rest of the group. When each pair has done this you can ask the whole group to move to the next step #5.

5. Help the group gain agreement or consensus. There are likely 2-3 items on your agenda where it would be helpful to have the whole group be “on the same page”. An easy way to do this is to take 2 or 3 ideas or proposed solutions and test how much commitment people have to implement any one of them. Sometimes facilitators use the five finger method of consensus. This entails each group member raising 1-5 fingers as a way to “rate” the proposed idea. One finger means you have serious reservations about the idea and five fingers means you think the idea is a really good one.

6. Help the group make a lasting decision. Some of the ways you can help the group achieve a lasting decision include asking questions such as, “What are the pros and cons of implementing this idea?” “Who will benefit if we take this step?” “What are some of the challenges of implementing this decision?” “How can we minimize these challenges?” “Who will do what when?”

Watch for our new learning modules on each of these six topics later this year. If you think we are missing a critical aspect of running meetings, let us know and we’ll be sure to add it in. Hope you are enjoying your current season and we welcome your questions or comments!