Were there any important decisions made at the last dinner party you attended? Probably not. You never think about a dinner party as having an agenda or a stated purpose. The conversation just goes off in all sorts of directions, from politics, to sports, to the recipe for that fabulous banana chicken in a black bean sauce.
Chances are you go to a lot of meetings like that as well. No agenda, no purpose, and especially no upside down strawberry shortcake to make it fun. The sort of meeting where someone across from you appears to be checking messages on her phone when in fact she’s watching videos of dancing cats.
Why is it that you go to so many meetings with your team and walk away thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time?”
You’re not alone. Meetings can be messy. But they need not be. It’s possible to walk away from a meeting saying, “That was great. We made progress.”
So how do you attend one of those? It’s quite simple. The best meeting you’ll attend is the next one that you’re going to, because of one single guiding principle:
Anyone who attends a meeting is responsible for improving how the meeting is conducted
“That all sounds nice,” you think to yourself. “But not where I work. I’ll get fired if I whisper a peep.” It’s time to challenge that assumption.
Let’s break down the meeting principle into its component parts.
1) Anyone can make a difference
You might assume that the person who calls the meeting is the person running the meeting. True. But he or she may not have all the skills needed. If that’s the case, anyone can help. Your job is to assist the chair, even if you haven’t been asked. Resolve to make the chair look great. After all, running meetings well is not just the boss’s responsibility. It’s anyone, including you. The neat thing is that when you assert yourself, someone often nudges you and says, “Thanks. I wish I had said that myself.” Remember that no one ever got fired for keeping things on track. You can’t affect the outcome of the meeting. That’s where the collective wisdom of the group comes into play. But you can make a difference to how it is run. So ask for an agenda.
2) Improving teamwork is your responsibility
Improving the meeting dynamics, and hence the team, is not just an option. It’s a responsibility. Your team wants to do well. That’s why you’re all part of it. But sometimes things progress as fast as a frozen bowl of molasses, because of all the interruptions and side conversations. Then as a member of the team, you have a responsibility to assist. So does everyone. So ask that people speak in order and stay on topic.
3) Meetings need constant improvement
As noted above, meetings will naturally devolve unless they are kept on track. Digressions will occur. Someone will ramble on. And someone else who has something important to add says nothing at all. The meeting needs help to improve. That won’t happen unless someone – you – steps in. So ask that you get back to the agenda item under discussion.
4) A good conductor is needed for a great meeting.
Meetings don’t just run themselves. They need a conductor – someone to determine when things start, when they stop, how fast items are covered, and who participates – just like an orchestra. But the role of the conductor isn’t always assigned. Or if it is, the conductor isn’t always skilled in the art. That’s when you can jump in and grab hold of the metaphorical baton. So ask one of these questions:
- “We just went back and forth on a few things. Can we clarify what we just decided to do?”
- “So who’s going to follow up on that before the next meeting?”
- “We seem to have gone a little off track. Can we get back to the agenda item?”
- “I notice that a couple of people haven’t said anything yet. Can we get their input too?”
- “Are we sure that everyone agrees? I just want to make sure.”
To sum up, resolve to never again walk away from a meeting complaining that it was poorly run. When you step in, you’ll be surprised at the support you’ll get from fellow team members. That’s how you can make a contribution to a better meeting, and a terrific team. Make your next meeting your best ever.
If you have any questions about Facilitation or want to learn more about how MAS can help, click here .