It is rare to hear someone say that they are looking forward to a meeting (virtual or in-person). It is even rarer to hear someone say that they enjoyed a meeting. And the reality is that so much of our professional time is spent attending meetings, preparing for meetings, and scheduling more meetings to prepare for and attend. Understanding the difference between various types of meetings, and then being intentional about how to host or be a participant will enable greater meeting effectiveness and, ideally, more enjoyment as well.
THE SPECTRUM OF MEETINGS: INFORMING TO RESOLVING
Meetings typically fall along the spectrum of informing (e.g. status, 1:1) to co-creation (e.g. ideation, problem solving) to resolving (e.g. prioritization, decision making).
- Informing meetings are primarily focused on communicating information one-way.
- Co-creation meetings are an opportunity to create something that doesn’t exist today.
- Resolving meetings are intended to conclude with decisions and clarity on next steps.
And most meetings include aspects of all three types. Being mindful of the various aspects can feel challenging. Fortunately, we can do things to make it less challenging.
CREATE THE CONDITIONS FOR EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
To create the conditions for effective meetings the following need to be cared for:
- Have clarity on the purpose and outcome of the meeting
- Be thoughtful about the environmental factors
- Set participant expectations
- Be intentional about your energy and behavior
Determine the outcome for the meeting and then work backwards to account for the environmental factors, participant mindsets, and your personal behavior. For example, if the intended outcome is to broadcast information then you can strive to use clear and consistent language, tell participants that they are expected to take notes and not participate, and schedule the meeting in a room with enough space for everyone to be comfortable.
Having clarity on the purpose and outcome is essential for hosting or participating in an effective and enjoyable meeting.
PROBLEMATIC MEETINGS MADE EASIER
We know three types of meetings are typically problematic: status meetings, ideation meetings, and prioritization meetings.
SUCCESS PRACTICES FOR HOSTING STATUS MEETINGS
Status meetings are primarily about informing and they may include some aspects of co-creation and resolving. Status meetings can also feel quite tedious.
To host an effective status meeting:
- Take ownership for keeping track of the time and for moving through the agenda.
- Send a pre-set agenda so that everyone, who is giving a status update, can contribute prior to the meeting.
- Set participant expectations by asking people to come prepared and include time in the agenda for open questions to ensure that all voices are heard.
- Bring an attitude of gratitude for all the work that everyone has been doing and be sure to acknowledge the importance of having regular meetings that keep the team informed.
SUCCESS PRACTICES FOR HOSTING IDEATION MEETINGS
Ideation meetings can feel disorganized and lacking in follow-through.
Ideation meetings are most effective when:
- They are facilitated by a member of the team whose role is at the enterprise level or someone who has influence over the big picture, and who can move the group through a series of exercises to leverage the brain power in the room.
- A mix of people who bring different perspectives and who will be impacted by the initiative are invited.
- An email is sent prior to the meeting that states a clear objective and desired outcome and asks participants to contribute robustly and freely.
- Space is created for participants to feel comfortable idea-storming. One way to do this is to explicitly state that no decisions will be made during this time, but rather that this is an opportunity to spark new ideas and thinking.
- They are scheduled in the morning, in a room with natural light, and include enough space for people to move around and work in small groups.
- Include both individual thinking time and group thinking time. Providing sticky notes or notecards for people to write their thoughts down, relative to specific prompts, as the meeting progresses helps the facilitator to do real-time synthesis.
- The host takes time to define who is responsible for taking action after the meeting as well as spends time at the end of the meeting to discuss ways that communication could be improved next time. Naming, without blame or judgement, the group dynamics or communication challenges will enable participants to take ownership of their behaviors and equip them to show up differently next time.
SUCCESS PRACTICES FOR HOSTING PRIORITIZATION MEETINGS
Prioritization meetings can be hi-jacked by circular conversations and it can be hard work to align around a path forward and know who owns a decision.
Watch-outs and ways to host an effective prioritization meeting:
- Identity and attachment can bias team member’s contributions and get in the way of priorities. It takes courage to be honest about what gets in the way of reallocating resources and to balance work that is already in progress.
- Often, everyone is willing to say ‘no’, and in prioritization meetings, participants need to be willing to say ‘yes.’
- The expectation needs to be set that a decision will be made, and everyone needs to commit – even if they disagree. Participants need to understand that they can disagree and still commit.
- Determine and communicate who at the table has a voice and who has a vote. This will help everyone know the role they are expected to play.
- Focus on opening the space for dialogue and create an opportunity for clarifying questions to be asked in order to give everyone the chance to make sense of what’s being discussed. This may feel like it will take more time, but the result is that everyone can connect the dots and see the bigger picture.
- In order to end circular conversations, own the fact that you may be the one keeping the debate going and if it’s your decision, be effective at ending the debate.
- Consciously choose to discuss the important but undiscussed issues and be open to constructive dissent.
- Share an agenda in advance and include time in the agenda for open questions.
- Use cognitive ques at the beginning and end of the meeting to provide a real-time mechanism for peer accountability like, “At the end of this meeting, a win looks like…” and “What were the decisions made or not made? How are we going to communicate any decisions made?” – this ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Back to basics, having clarity about the purpose and outcome of the meeting will help determine which type of meeting to host and which techniques will be most effective. Intentionality is key to clear communication and effective teaming. As you become more proficient at hosting meetings you will become more effective at curating the most conducive environment, managing participant expectations, and demonstrating behaviors that are in service to your teams and your organization. Effective meetings are necessary to successfully lead transformation together.