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December 11, 2017

 

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    Entries in meetings (21)

    Tuesday
    Jan172017

    The single reason for 'bad'​ meetings

    Bad meetings* get a bad rap - not to mention the rolling of eyes, the sighs and exclamations about the time that has been lost and will never be regained.

    *Bad meetings meaning: none or few outcomes, dull, too much blah blah, off on tangents that aren’t about relevant, brainstorm sessions that fizzle, dead time and space where nothing is happening, going around in circles, only a few loud mouth contributors … you know the stuff... 

    There will always be articles and listicles on what to do to make a meeting better. Like how to have an agenda and set a time frame and warn people in advance ... and on it goes, a list of advice or actions that seem like they could have been unearthed from meetings in the 1960s!

    But I wonder whether a few ‘do this’ points will fundamentally change the way meetings run at our place of work? Underpinning it all is the meeting culture. And that culture is quite deeply ingrained.

    Michael Henderson in his work on Cultures at Work says: 

    Culture creates the environments, daily rituals and beliefs that connect your people, with your company.

    Our culture has been created over time. We follow these rituals, behaviours and patterns often unknowingly and they may not have a documented history that we can pull the threads from. 

    We learn bad meeting behaviours by being in bad meetings. 

    Rituals, routines and ruts get followed because that's what we've seen and experienced. Making and suggesting changes from the seat of the attendee or participant can be tricky. 

    It probably won't all change on Monday morning with a tick box list or a tip of advice from how Steve Jobs ran his meetings (although some of his practices sound super clever or super scary - depending on how you like your meetings to go!) 

    With everything all agile and scrum and collaborative and co-design-y these days, there are newer and more effective (and creative) approaches to ensure you have as productive and successful a meeting as possible. After all, you spend a lot of time in them - both face to face or remotely online. 

    It’s in our interests to lead better meetings - for productivity, for engagement, for decision making, for inspiration, for collaboration.

    Plus if you run a bad meeting, it could be a career limiter. Who wants to go to dull meetings that don’t achieve or decide anything? We don’t want to but every week there is likely to be some meeting or gathering that you sit (or stand through) that doesn't ring your bell, light your fire or flick your switch. Don’t get known as the dude or dudette or dudeley who runs a dud meeting that no one comes to.

     

    So what makes meetings 'bad?

    During a meeting, there is one thing alone that determines the success of that meeting. One thing.

    It's the leader or facilitator of that meeting.

    Yep. It’s them. Or if you're running the meeting…. errr, it's you. (This is said with love, not shame or guilt or criticism. It’s said with love and care.) 

    When a meeting is about to start and then when it gets underway, it's the leader of that meeting - the facilitator of that meeting - who is helping make that meeting good or not so good. Either the meeting will suck or it won’t. And I reckon it is on the facilitator of the meeting, the leader.

    The #1 reason why bad meetings are bad? It’s because of bad meeting leadership. Let me be polite then: "poor meeting leadership". A meeting leader who could enhance their capability.

    It’s about what the person - who is designated or appointed or volunteered as the facilitator of that meeting - does or doesn’t do that makes that meeting rock… or not.

    Yes yes yes, it’s also about the people around the table who are contributing and it’s about the agenda and the location and the sandwiches and the Post-it notes... but it comes back to whether that leader has created the environment for a good meeting to take place. 

    Bad meetings are bad because the leader of the meeting didn’t use effective meeting facilitation skills. They did not use facilitation or ‘ease of progress’ skills … well enough. 

    Three bears

    From the meetings I’ve been in, attended, spied on, coached leaders through and attended incognito doing research, the cause of the majority of problems that create bad meetings is because the leader: 

    • didn’t do something that was needed 
    • did too little or …
    • did too much.

    Did nothing when it was needed. Didn’t do quite enough, or did too much.

     

    Oh wow, can you see how delicate this balance can be?

    Don't do enough and it can go haywire. Yet do too much and it can feel like an interrogation or detention.

    Too hands off or too hands on. Care less or control freak.

    There’s somewhere in the middle where the leader is continually helping to create a brilliant environment for good work to be done.

    Watch closely

    • What happened in a good meeting?
    • Why was it good? 
    • What didn’t happen that you think might have made it a little 'bad'? 

    The good stuff is the stuff to aspire to when it’s your turn to step into the role of facilitating and leading a meeting. Keep building your capability as a Leader as Facilitator. 

    Monday
    Dec192016

    What's your attitude to facilitation? 

    For many leaders who facilitate, they simply get on and do it. They may not be aware of what they’re doing or what impact it’s having; it just is. They just go ahead and do the best they can with what they know.

    For other leaders, they lose sleep before facilitating a big meeting or planning session or workshop and run scenarios of failure and horror over and over in their mind or they workshop options and possibilities and agenda timings in their head.

    Yet others see their facilitation skill as something to be improved on. I certainly do. The capability is just that; a capability. And it can be improved.

    There is certainly a confidence about facilitation. Often we know we’re not quite ‘there’ with our confidence but we’re willing to keep putting ourselves out there and continuing to learn, develop and grow as a facilitator, as a leader. 

    Stepping up the Ladder of Capability

    Here’s what I think this path to improving your capability in facilitation at work looks like. It’s like moving up a ladder. 

    There are two halves:

    1.   where you avoid facilitation and are questioning yourself and your capability; and

    2.  where you engage, where you are questioning others (in a good way), as a facilitation technique or style.

    Looking at the avoid half, way down in the depths is the ‘no, don’t make me do it’response. It may be your first experience facilitating, or even an experience earlier this week! In any case, you felt out of your depth, out of control and wishing it wasn’t you at the front of the room in charge of making things happen. You wished it could be anyone but you. It’s the ‘no not me’ scenario. You feel like running away. A dose of fight or flight and you’d prefer to flight, right out the door and into a safer, more comfortable space. If you have the situation of the rotating chair in your workplace, where a different person facilitates the meeting each time, you may have felt this.

    A little higher on the ladder is where you are unsure. You take on the role to facilitate but are wondering ‘why me’. Then possibly while you’re facilitating you’re hesitant, waiting, wondering ‘what is best to do when’ for the outcomes you and the group are seeking.

    Then comes a tipping point… where you shift up and over a hurdle of sorts; where you move from questioning yourself or doubting yourself, to really stepping into the role of questioning others and embracing the role of being of service to what the team needs...so you’re truly facilitating others.

    When you take on the role of a facilitator, a Leader as Facilitator, you do it, but you’re inconsistent. You’re wanting to learn more, to be more aware; you’re wondering ‘what next?’ Imagine you’re deep in the middle of a meeting or workshop and the team is working through a problem. You wonder, ‘Is this it? What else could I be doing to help the group? What’s the best use of my services as a facilitator?’ You decide to ask the group rather than wondering to yourself. You might say, ‘So what next? What do you think is the most important thing for us to address next?’

    With further awareness, learning and experience, you shift up to being capable, to thinking ‘Yes, I’ve got this’.

    I worry though for people who believe they are already here; they already think they've got this. They think they’re pretty good facilitators; they think they know it all and have little left to learn.

    Still others say ‘I’m all ears’ or ‘I’m on a learning curve’ yet they do anything but learn! They’re closed to ideas or have heard it all before… or done it all before.

    Beware! Even the best and most experienced facilitators have more to learn. Always. There is always more to learn, more to be exposed to, more approaches, ways of working, things you can do to support a team or group as a facilitator.

    So it continues. And you move on up to some nirvana of facilitation where you realise all of your good and bad and in-between life experiences contribute to make you a wise and capable facilitator. You say ‘bring it’ and you realise, believe and behave as if you can handle whatever may come. If you don’t know what to do, you know you are at the service of the group or team and together you will know what to do.

    • Where are you on the ladder?
    • What have you experienced?
    • Which levels do you recognize?
    • What’s the next step for you? 

    I'd love to hear your thoughts about facilitation and your attitude to where you are, where you've been or where you'd like to get to.

    Friday
    Oct282016

    How to get people to speak up, wrap up and shut up

    In these days of collaboration and co-design, working together and aligning the team… this is an ongoing challenge for people leading teams, groups and running meetings and workshops.

    How to get people to speak up, wrap up and shut up.

    Here’s what I mean...

    When I’m running training on facilitation skills - to help leaders become better facilitators of their people and teams - these three things often crop up as a challenge of being a leader of a team:

    • Speak Up: how do you get people to speak up, to contribute, to be engaged, to speak out and to share the ideas they have
    • Wrap Up: how do you get people to wrap up, to summarise succinctly what their thinking is, what their views and opinions are and to get to the point rather than rambling
    • Shut Up: how do you get people to shut up, to conclude - once they’ve delivered their contribution, we’d often like them to pause and let others speak, or better still, stop and listen to other contributions from around the room. How do you get them to stop talking!?

    Speak up. Wrap up. Shut up. 

    Hmmmm, it sounds a bit harsh really. 

    It’s harsh because we’re making it about ‘them’. We went them to speak up. We want them to wrap up. We want them to shut up.

    If we’re a leader, what can WE do about it?

    It’s not about them because:

    It’s hard to speak up if you don’t feel like you’ll be listened to or you have been interrupted often. It feels like no one will listen to you if you do speak up anyway.

    It’s hard to wrap up if you’re a person who needs to speak to think or says things like 'I’m thinking out loud here’ or you need to talk a bit to work out what you’re actually thinking about. 

    And then it's hard to shut up if people aren’t getting your message or they need you to keep explaining it or they didn’t listen to you the first time around and so you’re having another go trying to get your message to land. 

     

    So while it looks on the surface that if everyone would just speak up, wrap up and then shut up the world would be a wonderful place… there’s more going on here folks. 

     

    Speak Up

    How does a leader facilitating a meeting and leading a team help make the environment great so people feel comfortable speaking up? How are they giving people the opportunity, the time, the space and the ears of the room to deliver their contribution? Most of us have been interrupted by an eager contributor or cut off by someone with a supposedly better idea. I think a Leader as Facilitator helps hold the interrupter at bay and allows the person currently speaking to finish their thing; giving them the space to get their views out there.

    It's not just on THEM to speak up; it’s on you as the leader, as the facilitator of the team to make the environment right for people to want to speak up. 

     

    Wrap Up

    If someone is going on and on and on and not getting to the point, they may need some help articulating their thinking. If you’re a think as you speak person you have what I call a ‘talk track’ ; you need to talk to work out what you think. Maybe your idea is still evolving. In this case you need a Leader as Facilitator who will listen, prompt with clarifying questions or capture your key points so everyone else can see and hear what you mean. You don’t want to be pushed to hurry up and finish - especially if your thinking is still evolving. Maybe you haven’t got to your point yet. To be asked to ‘wrap up’ is pushy.

    It’s not on THEM to wrap up; it’s on you as the Leader as Facilitator to help people articulate what it is they think; to question, probe, clarify and elicit the information out of them. 

     

    Shut Up

    Then once someone is speaking or is contributing their ideas and view, how do we make sure they are heard and understood? Because once they are, they will take a break, they will stop. I think we keep talking or keep trying to raise the same point if we feel no one has listened or really let us know that, yes they have heard us. 

     

    Please don’t think you need to ‘shut someone down’. It sounds a bit violent and it’s pervasive in workplaces. Usually, they haven’t had the opportunity to speak. That is, a 'protected' opportunity to speak, protected from interruption or judgement. Nor have they been heard by the leader or facilitator of the meeting or the team.

    Back off, ease off and let go. Don’t rush to get people to speak up, wind up or shut up.

    Think and work as a facilitator. Adopt the capabilities of a Leader as Facilitator to create a great environment:

    1. Give people time to warm up and contribute 
    2. Give people opportunities that are creative to contribute
    3. Then when they speak, help them articulate their thinking : support them, question them or invite them to share more so you can help everyone understand what they’re saying.

    The environment will be better, you’ll get more done because you’re all able to hear one another. Today’s collaborative, creative and consultative workplaces require it. 

    Tuesday
    Oct042016

    3 reasons why that meeting didn't make a decision

     

    ‘That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back’

    ‘Urgh! There was no point in me even being there’.

     

    ‘And the purpose of that was *crickets*…’

    If you’ve felt the annoyance of an outcome-less meeting you’ll know it’s lost time, an hour or more of time you ‘can’t get back’.

    In an era where everyone’s got stuff to do, priorities of their own and deadlines to make, a time-wasting meeting is frustrating. It’s a career limiter too - particularly if you’re leading the meeting. You’re likely to get known as ‘that person that never gets decisions made’.

    The Cost of Lost

    Meetings that don’t make a decision are sources of lost time; they’re a waste of the incredible experience and brain-power in the room and there’s the cost of the actual working time of the people in the room. What a tragic ROI?! And don’t even start about the waste of a good meeting room when meeting space can be hard to come by in many workplaces!

    But did we get anything done?

    Yes, sure, there are times when you don’t need to make a decision in a meeting – it’s a meeting that’s about information sharing, or announcing something or it’s an ideas fest – but most meetings do need to get consensus or agreement or some type of outcome.

    It’s what most meetings are judged on: ‘did we get sh*t done?’

    What I hear a lot from people when I’m working with them to develop their Leader as Facilitator skills is that the meetings they run just don’t get the decision part done.

    And now you’ve got to … Schedule. Another. Freakin’. Meeting.

    Yes, you’ll need another meeting time in a week or two to do what should have been done in that meeting that just finished.

    Hostage Situations, Time Wasters & High-Priced Parties

    I think you need to avoid the ‘hostage situation’ as well as the ‘time waster’ types of meetings. This is where people are there against their will or you’ve got the wrong people in the room or didn’t get to an outcome.

    Meetings need to be high on engagement andhigh on outcomes.

    Avoid the ‘high-priced party’ meeting too, unless it really is a celebration and there’s little or no work to be done. (That’s where we’re having a great time but not doing anything!)

    For meetings in today’s workplaces, it’s about engagement + outcomes. You have to have people contributing and participating AND you need to get stuff done, the good stuff, the right stuff… not just any stuff.

    3 Reasons why there's no decision

    There are three reasons why meetings don’t make decisions when they should have.

    [Remember though that meetings are made up of people; people talking and working together. It’s not an automatic robotic machine meeting. We aren’t machines – we are people. We are people and we do things so we need to do something to make adjustments in meetings to make sure the right things get done. And decisions are a big part of that.]

    The three reasons why that meeting didn’t make a decision is ... something wasn’t clear:

    1.  The reason why you were making the decision wasn’t clear.

    2.  The decision to be made wasn’t clear.

    3.  The way you were going to decide wasn’t clear.

    You see, it’s all too fuzzy. If it were clear, it would have happened. The leader, the meeting, the people would have been able to navigate through. But you didn’t. And I reckon it’s one or more of the three reasons. Here they are in a slightly new way of thinking:

    1.           You (or the group or the leader or facilitator) didn’t decide why you were making the decision.

    2.           You (or the group or the leader or facilitator) didn’t decide what the decision is

    3.           You (or the group or the leader or facilitator) didn’t decide how you were going to decide

     

    That’s a Why, What and How. Sounds a little like ‘Start with Why’ doesn’t it?

    So before any type of meeting where a decision is expected, hoped or needing to be made:

    1.  Know WHY you need to make the decision

    2.  Know WHAT the decision is that needs to be made

    3.  Decide HOW you’re going to decide.

    That third one sound funny? Deciding how to decide? Yes, it’s a thing. (More on how to make the decision in my next post).

    Don't leave it to hope or luck

    Too many workplaces simply bring people together and hope they’ll talk enough to finally get to a point where they decide – or give in through exhaustion and frustration!

    Don’t leave decision-making to random events, luck or hope. You may have to do some deciding before the meeting or at least, before the meeting makes that all-important decision.

    Get clear on your why, what and how of decisions to be made and you’ll get known as ‘the person who helps us get sh*t done’!

    Thursday
    Jan282016

    When your meeting culture sucks: 8 ways to refresh

    The meeting culture in many companies sucks. It’s no surprise given how last century some of our meeting behaviours are. We have meetings that are too many, too long, too little achieved, too much talk, too frustrating… it’s all too much!

    The culture of how we meet can be deeply ingrained in an organisation. There are plenty of unwritten and unspoken rules that get followed simply because that’s how it’s been done for years.

    And because we expect (or hope?) that so much will get done in our meetings, we owe it to our schedules, customers, colleagues (and families) to get as productive as we can.

    Here’s how to inject some fresh thinking and behaviour into your workplace meetings for this week, month, year:

     

    1. Have less: Say ‘no’

    This is a classic piece of advice. Start fresh this year. Don’t meet if you don’t need to and if you do need to...

     

    2. Have shorter: Time box it

    Ok yes, you’re going to meet but keep the duration shorter. Use the technique of time-boxing; set a timer on your phone and go for the surprise of a seven, 16 or 23-minute meeting. I like to use a humorous ringtone for the alarm like zombie noises, spaceships or the theme from a well-known sit-com. It always gets a laugh, breaks the tension and inspires people to refocus for the next topic.

     

    3. Go visual: Show me

    Help people cut through all the blah-blah. When people can see what you mean, they’ll understand quicker and you’ll make faster progress. Everyday I work with leaders and teams and use sensemaking or mapping techniques with them. You don’t need to be able to draw. Pick up a marker and capture the key points, those ‘in-a-nutshell’ comments on a flip chart, whiteboard, tablet or note pad. What shape is their idea? Map that. The meeting will be 25% shorter once people can see what they’re talking about.  

     

    4. Follow a process: This then that

    Too many meetings follow an agenda - if you’re lucky - but no process. A process outlines how you’re going to handle each agenda item.

    The default tends to be ‘let’s all talk about it’. Here the whole group of the meeting talk (or interrupt each other) to put their views forward. But it’s so challenging to move from the talking about your opinion, to the brainstorming solutions part and then try and get to making a decision – all in the one breath. 

    Borrowed from the world of professional facilitators, a process will help you confirm the facts or background, then hear opinions, then generate ideas and finally, agree to actionsHere’s my advice on an Accelerated Meeting Framework that just works and how to do it. 

     

    5. Stay creative: Yes and…

    Aim to include more creative techniques in your meetings, workshops and sessions. I’m not talking about ‘Pass the Orange’ or ‘Bust the Balloon’ party games by the way! I love to borrow from the world of improvisation. The Improv Encyclopedia is a rich trove of creative loot for groups and teams to be more innovative, ingenious and collaborative when they get together.

     

    6. Get inspiration: good better best

    It’s practical to aspire towards ‘better practice’ if you can’t quite get to best practice yet. Do this by learning from other fields and businesses that nail their meeting productivity and culture 

    There is a lot to learn about productive collaboration from the Scrum methodology used by many software and tech companies, and increasingly other industries and businesses. This is thanks Jeff Sutherland – one of the inventors of Scrum and his practical book ‘Scrum’. 

     

    7. Stand up sometimes: No chairs required

    A popular scrum approach is to have a daily standup meeting. Simply start by removing the chairs and tables from your meeting; you’ll have shorter, more focused and productive meetings right away. You don’t even need a meeting room for this! Stand up in your workspace. I saw a Zara retail team having their morning standup huddle between the shorts and the shoes!

     

    8. Change your environment: Love thy neighbour

    Break your habits and patterns of same/same; the same rooms for the same meetings. In workplaces where it’s challenging to find a meeting room, why not go outside? Try walking meetings, go to a cafe or other unusual and inspiring venue like sports courts, community colleges, bowling alleys, community theatres, swimming pools, the beach or lake, local park or other recreation facility. Take a deep breath while you’re there!

    A client recently hunted out some meeting room locations in the businesses that were next door or nearby. Now they have some inspiring collaborative ventures up and running that started just by finding out who was in the neighborhood and whether they might have some meeting space available.

     

    9. Bonus tip: Stay open

    If someone else in the team brings along some creative and cultural shifts to the way you meet, collaborate or communicate this year, take it… stay open. Say ‘yes’. Experiment, test and try.

     

    Try hitting ‘refresh’ on your meetings, workplace, collaboration and communication habits. Test and experiment with things to find what works and keep at it. Avoid falling back into lazy meeting habits or you’ll have the same things, creating the same outcomes and getting the same results. That’s so last century!