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We all want more out of meetings

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.

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

  2. Follow up: better accountability for actions between meetings

  3. Not enough engaging: too much reporting

  4. Be clear about purpose and goals for every meeting

  5. 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)

  6. Prepare, debrief, evaluate, follow up

  7. Meeting Design Principles

  8. Roles & Responsibilities

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

  10. What decisions can it make?

  11. What power does it hold?

  12. Draft purpose, roles and responsibilities for teams

  13. Ask members to sign their agreement

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

  15. Facilitation Role

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

  17. Neutrality is critical

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

  19. Paraphrase back

  20. Gives time to record notes

  21. Notes on flip chart by facilitator or delegate

  22. Eye on the clock

  23. Room Design

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

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

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

  27. Agenda Design

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

  29. Includes breakdown of times

  30. Includes who will play what role

  31. Includes details supporting execution

  32. Evaluation

  33. 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

  34. Engage the Full Brainpower of the Room

  35. How it works (examples from the field)

  36. Meetings were shortened by streamlining them

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

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

  39. Q&A

  40. Meeting length

  41. Always schedule a little more than you need

  42. Better the end early than run long

  43. Reporting out

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

  45. Distill to what is essential

  46. Put this in pre-meeting material

  47. Accountability to Commitments

  48. Recap action commitments at end of meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  61. FSG has a resource to support using data walks

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

  63. How do you prepare people for uncomfortable conversations?

  64. 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

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

  66. Difficult Conversations is another helpful book on this topic

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

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

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

  70. Takes a lot of time but can pay dividends

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

  72. Role of community members in attending and facilitating meetings

  73. Need proper orientation

  74. Supplying brief handouts may be helpful

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

  76. Include capacity building for facilitation/leadership roles

  77. Some initiatives pay community members to attend

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

  79. Reducing barriers by paying for travel and childcare

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

  81. Role of technology in supporting meetings

  82. 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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