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
Areas for improvement
Follow up: better accountability for actions between meetings
Not enough engaging: too much reporting
Be clear about purpose and goals for every meeting
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)
Prepare, debrief, evaluate, follow up
Meeting Design Principles
Roles & Responsibilities
What does it mean to be a member of the group meeting?
What decisions can it make?
What power does it hold?
Draft purpose, roles and responsibilities for teams
Ask members to sign their agreement
TRIZ from Liberating Structures is a tool to help design meeting structures
Not the same as the authority role, and often best if the two are separated
Neutrality is critical
Intentional/transparent (make all changes known as they are being changed, e.g. shifting agenda items)
Gives time to record notes
Notes on flip chart by facilitator or delegate
Eye on the clock
Long tables serve extroverts and power, and may invite more formal speech
Round tables of 4-6 serve engagement and interaction
Table tents for groups who don’t know each other well
Wireframe, an annotated 3-column agenda, can be used as an internal agenda to support highly organized meetings
Includes breakdown of times
Includes who will play what role
Includes details supporting execution
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
Engage the Full Brainpower of the Room
How it works (examples from the field)
Meetings were shortened by streamlining them
Sticking to time limits is important in engaging new members
Successful meetings have a mix of presentation/reporting out and action
Always schedule a little more than you need
Better the end early than run long
Ask, “What do people need to know?”
Distill to what is essential
Put this in pre-meeting material
Accountability to Commitments
Recap action commitments at end of meeting
Include them in notes in “Action Item Format”
The “why” is an important piece to include as a motivating piece
Include in body of email, as well as in attached notes
Send within a week of meeting, send again before next meeting
Lack of dedicated facilitator? How do you build facilitator muscle to support meetings?
Co-chairs can help, if they complement one another well
Being clear about role of facilitator, and asking a member to play this role, can be an alternative
This service leadership role can be shared, if people are able to put aside their agendas?
Meeting icebreaker to make them fresher and more engaging?
In small groups, can do icebreaker between pairs, then icebreaker for larger group
Data walk at beginning of meeting (data posted on wall), can help with energy and engagement
Can ask people what engaged them, surprised them, enraged them, etc, about the data
FSG has a resource to support using data walks
Ask people to stand if they can, which helps to build energy
How do you prepare people for uncomfortable conversations?
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
Naming issues in the room, breaking them up into smaller pieces, can be helpful
Difficult Conversations is another helpful book on this topic
Any tips for encouraging domineering personalities? Managing micro-aggressions?
Being intentional about who is sitting with who, in assigned small group seating, can help
Relationship building, through lots of one-on-one time, can help to manage difficulties in meetings
Takes a lot of time but can pay dividends
If a meeting is difficult for someone, go for coffee with them afterward and attend to the relationship
Role of community members in attending and facilitating meetings
Need proper orientation
Supplying brief handouts may be helpful
May need “jargon police” to make sure that conversations are inclusive
Include capacity building for facilitation/leadership roles
Some initiatives pay community members to attend
Shifting meeting times to accommodate professionals (workday) and community members (evening)
Reducing barriers by paying for travel and childcare
Create opportunities for community members to check in about what the process of participating is like, what questions/suggestions they have
Role of technology in supporting meetings
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.