What I wish someone had explained to me
The first team meeting I ever led ended in disaster. I went in with some thoughts of topics I wanted to discuss. A more seasoned colleague quickly took over the meeting and used all of the allotted time to explain in detail his brilliant idea and why we needed to “get this over with” by recording the obviously great solution he had devised. I left the meeting that day confused and frustrated. My first thought was “What a jerk!” My second thought was “How did I let that happen?”
Well, the truth of the matter is none of us was ever taught how to lead a team meeting. Most of what people know about leading meetings was picked up from watching others conduct meetings. In this way, we go through adopting techniques we like without any regard as to whether they work to achieve the outcomes we seek. We just muddle our way through.
If we are lucky, we will become known as “efficient.” Rarely, if ever will we become known as a “Magic Facilitator” — one who leads a meeting that is productive and engaging. After many years of muddling my way through, I set off on a journey to figure out how to make my meetings better. Four years and hundreds of meetings later, I can tell you that being a better meeting leader is not magic. It is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be developed.
But before you get to that level, you need to start somewhere. Being a “Magic Facilitator” requires many skills, knowledge of dozens of tools, and practice in various environments. Knowing what I know today, here is where I would recommend that you start. But only if you ultimately want to:
- Energize your meetings with activity
- Help people cooperate in meetings
- Help people see different perspectives
- Reduce the possibility of personal agendas driving decisions and confusion
Remember, the journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step.
Plan the Agenda. The first step is to think about what you want to accomplish in the meeting and plan the agenda accordingly. Design the meeting according to the specific outcome, or set of outcomes, you want from the meeting. You can easily remember outcomes using what I call “D.R.I.P.” In general, your meeting will have as an outcome a Decision, Recommendations, Ideas, or a Plan. What most people have been taught is to create a checklist of topics to discuss. That will get you rambling conversations that go nowhere. Instead, think about one of the DRIP outcomes you want to achieve and plan the agenda to reach that outcome. In general, I don’t recommend more than one DRIP for a meeting.
Structure of the Agenda. Next, you want to structure a process that reaches the defined outcome. For example, if we need to make a decision for the meeting, a list of the options needs to be presented, discussed, and voted upon. The idea here is to make sure the structure of the agenda matches the outcome. The agenda lays out the process steps, not the topics. The topics discussed are subject to the process.
Assign Times to Agenda. Once you have laid out the parts of the agenda, you will want to put some thoughts into how much time you will allow for each part. Using the Decision example, you would have 20 minutes to present the options, 25 minutes to discuss, and 15 minutes to vote and close the meeting. Setting times for each part will help you keep the team on track to achieve the outcome.
Meeting Announcement. Most meetings come through email with a nondescript subject line and no agenda attached. That is a rookie mistake. Anytime you send a meeting notice, you need to make the subject line match the goal of the meeting. And you should attach an outline of the agenda. When people know what to expect, they will be more engaged when they show up. In the example of a Decisions meeting, you may also want to attach information regarding the options under discussion. You want to give participants as much pre-deliberation time as possible.
Start on Time. When you start on time, it conveys to everyone that you mean business. If most of the participants bothered to show up on time, don’t disrespect them by forcing them to wait on others. The latecomers will get the message and likely apologize for being late. If they are habitual latecomers, they will at least notify you before the next meeting that they are running late. They know you will start on time.
Pace the Meeting. If you structured your agenda correctly, you should have sufficient time to reach your outcome. Pace the meeting according to the process laid out in the agenda and the times you assigned to each part of the process. Be ready to move the team along to the next part of the process. A gentle reminder of how much time is left in the meeting is an easy way to nudge people along.
Recap the Outcome. At the conclusion of the meeting, you will want to end with a summary of the outcome. At this point, you can check for agreement in the room. A simple “Is everyone OK with what we have decided?” is enough to get people who dissent to speak up. You will need to follow-up with the dissenters after the meeting.
Send Meeting Summary to Participants. The last step is to send a summary of the meeting out to participants within a couple of days. Ideally, no later than the next day. This gives the participants a sense of closure that the work is finished. Otherwise, they may wonder (or forget) what was decided or created in the meeting.
If you are feeling like there is so much to learn about facilitating great meetings, you are correct. If you are interested, I have created a Mastermind to teach you “The 5 Ways to Flip Your Meetings into High Gear.” In my Mastermind, you will learn more about what I call “Facilitator Magic.”
Also, stay tuned here for more tips on managing your meetings. Ask your questions in the comments so I have a better idea of what you need. Until next time, “Happy Meetings!”