We’ve all experienced them – those lacklustre and uninspiring meetings with no real structure and objective, and at the end of it you go away asking yourself ‘what was actually achieved there?’ Or maybe even worse, quarter of the way through thinking out loud; ‘What were we actually meeting about?’

It should therefore come as no surprise to hear that meetings are one of the most common themes to arise during the team events we run – from lack of decision making and getting everyone on board, to inspiring more creative thinking – we’ve probably seen and heard the lot. On the other hand, we’ve also had the joy of seeing teams implement truly innovative approaches in achieving successful meetings.

Here we share some of the most common issues and more importantly, offer solutions to move forward with better, more productive meetings that get results.

Getting everyone on board:

Even in small teams, effective decision making is no easy feat. When you think everyone is on board, more often than not there is somebody who may not feel their view has been heard and acknowledged. So, how do you make an open and honest dialogue possible to avoid conflict?

Here are a few simple tools, taken from our own experience and others, which could help in achieving this:
  • Balance contribution through the ‘1-2-All’ approach:

    “1” for individual reflection, “2” for sharing reactions with at least one other person, and “All” for the final sharing of reactions and conclusions with the whole group. Not only does this allow for a period of reflection, but it gives the opportunity to each talk through your rationale before feeding back to the group. Importantly, it allows for all voices to be heard.

  • Using the conversation meter to move the things forward:

    On a recent away day, a Maier associate introduced the conversation meter during a skills training session. Originally developed by Conservant, the meter ‘helps people diagnose when conversations are off-track, predict likely outcomes if the conversation continues as it is, and prescribe potential new and beneficial responses to improve outcomes’.

    Image courtesy of conservant.com

  • The art of eyeballing

    Never underestimating the power of eye contact, this is a neat little tactic we often suggest to our clients as a way of ensuring all individuals have the opportunity to be heard. We have found it to be most effective when the key sponsor or decision maker wants to confirm all of the team are in agreement before moving forwards with a final decision. Once the decision has been made you all have to really look the facilitator in the eye and agree that you have indeed signed up. It does of course rely on all team members being ‘HOT in the moment’ (honest, open and trusting) in order to avoid any unnecessary conversations outside of the meeting.

Lifting the lid on creativity:

Creative meetings aren’t just about producing creative output; it’s about using the precious time you have in the most productive way, and sometimes running through a list of agenda items around a meeting room table won’t deliver the results you need.

Keeping the format fresh:

Prior to a recent away day we held for a small, but talented team of individuals they found that their weekly meetings could be a little uninspiring, with unequal contribution from across the team due to more dominant figures in the group. We explored techniques and practices for empowering all individuals; encouraging increased ownership and responsibility and mixing things up to inspire creative thinking.

A few of the methods they used:

1. Each weekly meeting was sponsored by a different team member…

They get to decide on the agenda and the format to which the meeting is run

2. In order to empower individuals and increase responsibility…

Small groups were formed and briefed on specific issues or topics. It was the group’s responsibility to come back to the team and present on solutions, or ways of innovating

3. Finding the right forum…

Not only did they mix up the format, but they changed the setting to get themselves out of the usual environment – a change of scene can have a huge impact on the pace and creativity of the session

Keeping things on time and on task:

As the age old saying goes, ‘time is money’, therefore businesses should be asking themselves “What return is the organisation getting based on its investment in this meeting?” Harvard Business Review recently launched a ‘meeting cost calculator’ – this little piece of software could potentially have huge benefits in opening people’s eyes to the financial impact of unproductive meetings.

Punctuality may sound like a simple request, but it is one of the most common issues in organisations. Not only does lack of punctuality drive people mad, but it can have the most impact on productivity as highlighted by ideas software company, Soapbox, who focus on the potential knock on effect to the business…

‘When 10 people are waiting for you, if you are 2 minutes late you’re not losing two minutes, you’re losing 22 minutes. Therefore, the cumulative impact across the organisation can be substantial.’

‘Tolerating lack of punctuality has the tendency to make this behaviour “no big deal”.’

In a nutshell, punctuality from the top is fundamental for creating an accountable workforce.

Keeping on task is more challenging than it might sound. We’ve heard of 8 hour meetings ending at 10pm – while you may cover a lot of ground, what quality of thinking really goes on there?

Here are a few top tips for keeping things on track and managing any unruly attendees:

1. Set a Clear Purpose

As Roger Schwarz, author of  Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Resultsstates: “If it’s not your meeting and there is no agenda, simply ask, ‘Can we take a minute to get clear on the purpose and topics for the meeting to make sure we accomplish what you need?'” Schwarz write

2. Agree on the ground rule

Setting clear ‘meeting norms’ is a great way of ensuring meetings aren’t derailed. For example, establish clear start and end times, agree that the agenda, however creative, will be followed and no side conversations are allowed – perhaps those who are late will be tasked with facilitating the next meeting

3. Jellyfish

Not the actual sea creature, just the word. One team we work with agreed to use key words as a means of ‘calling one another out’ when individuals go off task. It’s proven to be extremely effective in drawing people’s focus back to the task-in-hand in a non-confrontational way. This month’s word happens to be ‘jellyfish’

There’s far too many great ideas out there to share in one blog, but hopefully this whets your appetite and if you’d like to hear more about how we might be able to support your teams in running more effective meetings, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.