Ideas for running better meetings or hiring a facilitator
Make sure that everyone understands their roles, vary the meeting's activities, and most important, don't be swayed to change your plan.
Set clear objectives
It is far too common that meetings occur without any kind of a clear objective beyond something along lines of "we haven't met for a while, so we should meet."
It is very hard to organize and manage a meeting, at least a meeting that people will find useful, around such a purpose. You need to ask yourself whether the meeting is to identify problems or solve problems;
to provide information or get information. Are you looking for some level of agreement? And is agreement going to be based on consensus or on majority rule?
Once you have identified your objective, it's much easier to develop an outline with activities that will lead towards that objective.
Provide a road map for participants
Participants need to know where you are going and how you are going to get there. I find it a good idea to have an agenda and the meeting's purpose posted where everyone can see it. And, on the agenda I never show times (while the client and I have a detailed timetable with hoped-for times). That way, you can adjust the meeting as you go, without participants thinking that you have lost control of the agenda.
Identify the rules of the game and control that game
You will probably want to identify the kinds of behaviors that you can expect from different participants and then to design meeting activities and rules to address those behaviours. So, if you believe there might be some people that might hijack the meeting, start with a tour-de-table for everyone to have an equal opportunity to voice their chief concerns. But, if for instance, everyone is allocated two minutes, don't let the third person get away with three minutes, because by the end of the tour, you will have lost control. It is no use proposing a series of rules of the game unless you are prepared to enforce them. And early in the meeting you and the rules will be tested. I generally place my rules of the game under the rubric of "How to get more from this meeting", and then I list a series of points such as: one person speaking at a time please; please listen to your colleagues and build on their ideas, etc. I also describe what my role is. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them.
Pace and timing
When you carve up a day-long meeting into natural segments, you will find that you only have about five hours for real work.
That is not a lot of time, and so it is important that you don't try to load down the meeting with a busy agenda. Assume that everything will take as much as twice as long as you think it should,
and by the end of the day you will still be on track. And you never want your meeting to go off track, because it sends a bad signal.
You will have already detected part of my attitude in what you've already read: You can invite a series of individuals, all of whom are ready and prepared to work in good faith. But put them in a room together and something happens. It's about group dynamics. Groups exist to avoid work, and this work-avoidance will most often occur by either the group deferring all problems to the leader or facilitator up to the point where that person breaks, or by lowering the group tension so much that no work is done and everybody tunes out. I don't expect you to buy into this. But at your next meeting, any meeting, just watch for the different avoidance mechanisms employed by the group.
Breaking the ice
Unless your meeting is one of a series, it is worth while investing some time to get people to feel comfortable with each other. When most people are unknown to each other, I usually do this by starting with an exercise where people are divided into pairs and interview each other, and then introduce each other to the rest of the group. For a room of 20 people, this could take 45 minutes or more, but if what you want is open dialogue, it is a worthwhile investment.
Wrap-up and follow-up
At the end of the day, when everybody is tired and dragged out, it is important for the leader/facilitator to muster sufficient energy to recap what has happened during the meeting, so that people can feel some kind of closure. Usually it is good to provide notes from the meeting or some other information as a form of follow up. Participants want to know that something is going to happen after the meeting.
Hiring a facilitator
If you answer "yes" to either of these questions, you might want to consider hiring a facilitator:
Do you have a particular point of view that you either want to give to the group or to argue about?
Are you able to separate yourself from your issues in the meeting and not become defensive when your point of view is attacked?
More InformationIf you would like more insights into facilitation, consider registering for the Consultations ToolBox workshop.
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