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How to have more effective meetings?
 

Problems

Do you sometimes go to a meeting and find the experience a struggle, you feel cross and tired at the end and wonder if the effort was worthwhile? It can be utterly knackering when you have lots of these back to back. Many meetings are like this, but they don't have to be.

Meetings are difficult because people feel they have to compete to be heard. The noisy ones find it hard to listen, because they are bursting to speak and the quiet ones give up because they think no one will take any notice anyway, or they will be interrupted so what's the point.

These difficulties get worse if the subject is controversial or the objectives of the meeting are unclear.

Solutions

The "Go Round"

You can study group dynamics for twenty years so you understand what goes on and the stages of group development and flight and fight etc and how to intervene, if you want. You can cut through all this by a very simple technique, the "go round".

You simply ask everyone to share his or her best thinking about the topic for (say) two minutes while everyone else listens attentively without interrupting. They will get their turn later. This format ensures that everyone gets an equal chance to speak and everyone gets heard too so there is no need to compete. The quiet people gain respect because their thinking is often clear and valuable as they work on it inside before they speak. The noisy people have to focus their thinking to get it into a fixed time so it is often sharper than usual.

After a "go round" you can have a more conventional discussion that will go well or you can extend the method. There is much more about this in Nancy Kline's book "More Time to Think".

Pairs and Share

When feelings are running high or everyone is confused, you need to increase the amount of attention in the room and give everyone space to think, talk, and be heard, very quickly. Stop and spend (say) two minutes listening to the person next to you about what she or he thinks and feels about what is happening and what should happen next. Then exchange roles. After this, use a very quick "go round", as above to share conclusions. You will find the heat has gone out of the situation and you will know what to do. This process is one way to use coconsulting or cocounselling in practice. You will find more about both by clicking the links.

Clarify Aims

Coverdale training teaches a systematic approach for getting things done. One of their key ideas is that in order to achieve anything, the aims of the activity (or meeting) should be clear. It really is worth spending some time at the beginning of a meeting, or item, seeking agreement to what you are trying to do. If you are a member rather than a chairperson then being awarely naive can be very powerful. "I think we are here to decide what we will do about developing our managers next year, is this what the rest of you think we are here to do? You can also seek agreement on success criteria. You ask, "If this meeting was a complete success, what would have to take away with us at the end?" This sharpens up the focus no end.

Create the right setting

If you want to have a discussion that can go deeply into an issue, especially a controversial one, then the right setting will make a huge difference. Many of the conventional settings are simply unhelpful. Oddly, emotional closeness often follows from physical closeness, at least to a point. So, think about being very informal without barriers like desks and tables and sitting in a "huddle" where you can easily see and sense each other.

You can also help to create the right climate by stating the "norms" or rules for the interaction. For instance, you might say "This meeting will go much better if we concentrate on listening to each other and sharing our thoughts on what to do about the situation, I don't think agonising about how we got here will be helpful at this stage, do you agree?

Finally, review the process of the meeting

At every meeting some things will go well and some things could be better. You will find it helpful to ask people at the end, use a quick go round, things like. What was the most significant thing you learned at the meeting? What was good about how we worked together? How could the next meeting be even better? You will not only get some good ideas, you will also make everyone think about the meeting.

This is well worth doing in one-to-one meetings too.

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