We all want more out of meetings

October 2, 2017


Last week we teamed up with the Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative to host a "watch party" for an online training about how to hold better meetings. Anyone involved in a collective framework or multi-sector initiative knows that these efforts involve lots of meetings. How do we make the best use of everyone's time at those meetings? How do we make it worth while to keep coming back? The training, "Making Meetings Work: How to design meetings to energize rather than bore" was offered by FSG, a consulting firm for social change efforts. We offered it to build up the capacity of the many good efforts going on throughout Oxford County, and hope to offer access to more training opportunities in the future. 


The training focused on a set of design principles to lend better structure to meetings and to name accountable action commitments that are followed up on at the next meeting.


Click here to access the the slides from the meeting


Here are my notes from the meeting, which I hope will add some context:


Making Meetings Work Training


Present: Amy Scott, Barbara Schneider, Allie Burke, Julie Hart, Brendan, Jess Abbott, Emily Knapp, Katey Branch


  1. Areas for improvement

    1. Follow up: better accountability for actions between meetings

    2. Not enough engaging: too much reporting

    3. Be clear about purpose and goals for every meeting

    4. Curate what people need, not what you need (e.g., not what you’re excited about and need to share, but what people in the room need to hear)

    5. Prepare, debrief, evaluate, follow up

  2. Meeting Design Principles

    1. Roles & Responsibilities

      1. What does it mean to be a member of the group meeting?

        1. What decisions can it make?

        2. What power does it hold?

      2. Draft purpose, roles and responsibilities for teams

        1. Ask members to sign their agreement

      3. TRIZ from Liberating Structures is a tool to help design meeting structures

    2. Facilitation Role

      1. Not the same as the authority role, and often best if the two are separated

      2. Neutrality is critical

      3. Intentional/transparent (make all changes known as they are being changed, e.g. shifting agenda items)

      4. Paraphrase back

        1. Gives time to record notes

      5. Notes on flip chart by facilitator or delegate

      6. Eye on the clock

    3. Room Design

      1. Long tables serve extroverts and power, and may invite more formal speech

      2. Round tables of 4-6 serve engagement and interaction

      3. Table tents for groups who don’t know each other well

    4. Agenda Design

      1. Wireframe, an annotated 3-column agenda, can be used as an internal agenda to support highly organized meetings

        1. Includes breakdown of times

        2. Includes who will play what role

        3. Includes details supporting execution

    5. Evaluation

      1. Follow up includes action commitments, can include who, what actions are needed for forward movement, when the process starts and ends, and why this action is a priority

    6. Engage the Full Brainpower of the Room

  3. How it works (examples from the field)

    1. Meetings were shortened by streamlining them

    2. Sticking to time limits is important in engaging new members

    3. Successful meetings have a mix of presentation/reporting out and action

  4. Q&A

    1. Meeting length

      1. Always schedule a little more than you need

        1. Better the end early than run long

    2. Reporting out

      1. Ask, “What do people need to know?”

        1. Distill to what is essential

          1. Put this in pre-meeting material

    3. Accountability to Commitments

      1. Recap action commitments at end of meeting

      2. Include them in notes in “Action Item Format”

        1. The “why” is an important piece to include as a motivating piece

        2. Include in body of email, as well as in attached notes

        3. Send within a week of meeting, send again before next meeting

    4. Lack of dedicated facilitator? How do you build facilitator muscle to support meetings?

      1. Co-chairs can help, if they complement one another well

      2. Being clear about role of facilitator, and asking a member to play this role, can be an alternative

        1. This service leadership role can be shared, if people are able to put aside their agendas?

    5. Meeting icebreaker to make them fresher and more engaging?

      1. In small groups, can do icebreaker between pairs, then icebreaker for larger group

      2. Data walk at beginning of meeting (data posted on wall), can help with energy and engagement

        1. Can ask people what engaged them, surprised them, enraged them, etc, about the data

          1. FSG has a resource to support using data walks

      3. Ask people to stand if they can, which helps to build energy

    6. How do you prepare people for uncomfortable conversations?

      1. Craft of Adaptive Leadership book can be helpful, talks about how to “turn down heat” in room, or up, to control tension in the right way

      2. Naming issues in the room, breaking them up into smaller pieces, can be helpful

      3. Difficult Conversations is another helpful book on this topic

    7. Any tips for encouraging domineering personalities? Managing micro-aggressions?

      1. Being intentional about who is sitting with who, in assigned small group seating, can help

      2. Relationship building, through lots of one-on-one time, can help to manage difficulties in meetings

        1. Takes a lot of time but can pay dividends

      3. If a meeting is difficult for someone, go for coffee with them afterward and attend to the relationship

    8. Role of community members in attending and facilitating meetings

      1. Need proper orientation

        1. Supplying brief handouts may be helpful

      2. May need “jargon police” to make sure that conversations are inclusive

      3. Include capacity building for facilitation/leadership roles

      4. Some initiatives pay community members to attend

      5. Shifting meeting times to accommodate professionals (workday) and community members (evening)

      6. Reducing barriers by paying for travel and childcare

      7. Create opportunities for community members to check in about what the process of participating is like, what questions/suggestions they have

    9. Role of technology in supporting meetings

      1. Digital meetings (Zoom, GoToMeeting) are a bit better than audio because if people are on camera, they may be less likely to disengage and check email, look at their phones, etc.











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