You’re killing me. That’s what I’m thinking when I sit in a poorly run meeting.
I get it, you’ve got a tough topic and an unruly crowd making your life hard as the meeting leader. You probably have a lot places you’d rather be right now.
If you knew the meeting was going to be hard to lead, maybe you should have considered turning over the facilitation duties to someone with more experience leading tough meetings.
There are three explanations for the trainwreck that is unfolding before us today:
- Your facilitation inexperience.
- The lack of a meeting plan.
- The meeting should never have happened in the first place.
For this article, I’d like to tackle them in reverse order.
Weak meeting purpose
Meetings are expensive. People have plenty to do in their already overbooked lives.
That means if you are going to ask them to attend a meeting, it better be for a good reason. And if you don’t have a good reason, your attendees will avoid showing up if they can or resent the heck out of you if they can’t.
Let me share a story.
Once I attended a meeting to discuss some redesign work on a major road within the city where I live. The purpose was never quite clear, and that should have been my warning.
When the meeting began, I saw an agenda. A good portion of the meeting would be spent developing a vision for how a stretch of road might be improved. That sounded like fun.
After 90 minutes of visioning work, the meeting leaders told the participants there wasn’t funding to do anything that we had just discussed and instead, we needed to focus on crosswalk design at three intersections.
Seriously? The leaders decided to not tell us this until after we finished 90 minutes of pointless activity.
Several weeks later, I talked with some others who were in attendance. We shared a common frustration. Why had we spent all that time discussing something that wasn’t going to happen? We concluded that it was a waste of our time.
And when meetings like this happen, even the best facilitators aren’t going to make them successful.
There are two meeting types that I think are particularly susceptible to weak reasons: Staff meetings and project update meetings.
Both will be defended by the people who call them. Here are the reasons you’ll hear to justify these meetings:
- Staff meetings are critical for keeping people on the same page.
- I thought everyone on the team should know what his or her teammates are doing.
- This meeting is a good way to force people to complete their work. It will hold them accountable.
- You’ve got to pull people together to build a sense of teamwork.
Perhaps there are reasons to bring together your staff, but before you’ll convince me, you will need to find better reasons than these.
At least the conveners appear to have good intentions. That’s not always the case.
Sometimes the real reasons border on evil.
- Make people think they had a say in a decision that has already been made.
- Ask for input so it looks like I care, even though I don’t intend to do anything with that input.
- Bring people together because running meetings will make me look more important.
Any of these reasons sound familiar? Promise me you’ll never utter (or even think) one of these reasons.
No facilitation plan
Let’s suppose you do have a good reason to meet. There are clear and meaningful goals you hope to achieve by bringing people together.
If you’re successful, you can count on people agreeing the meeting was a worthwhile use of their time.
The first step in planning is to identify the goal.
Next up is to think about the meeting strategies you’ll use to work towards the goal(s).
Finally, there’s a whole lot of thinking that deals with working through all the details.
- Who should you invite and why?
- How much time should be scheduled?
- When and where will the meeting be held?
- What specific activities will occur and in what order?
- What troubles do I expect and what can I do to prevent them?
Yes, you may have taken the time to produce an agenda, but do you have solid plan to back it up? If not, your chances for success drops significantly.
Running meetings requires skills. It’s possible you don’t have those skills, haven’t fully developed them, or aren’t using what you know.
I can’t guarantee every meeting will be a huge success after you develop your facilitation skills, but I’m willing to promise that your batting average will go up.
Here are some of the things you ought to be able to do:
- Set the stage for the meeting.
- Tee up a topic.
- Involve everyone in the conversation.
- Keep the group focused on the task at hand.
- Help the group develop options.
- Help the group make a decision.
- Address open conflict.
- Manage the clock.
- Deal with troublemakers.
- Keep it safe and friendly.
- Sum up the results.
- Develop next steps.
- Evaluate the meeting.
And that’s just the biggies. You can drill down further and probably develop a list of another hundred skills.
Bad meetings aren’t an accident
You can set most meetings up for success by doing three things:
- Making sure there’s a darn good reason for the meeting.
- Building a plan that leads towards your objectives.
- Letting a strong facilitator run the meeting.
To learn more, I suggest you download a copy of my book, Meeting Hero.
If you want to tackle the problem of bad meetings throughout the organization, then we ought to talk.