Research shows that a great percentage of meetings are run poorly, resulting in huge losses of time and productivity. I believe that there are three main reasons that meetings continue to leave us wanting:
1) We underestimate the complexity of group thought.
2) Few of us are trained in meeting facilitation skills.
3) Boggled by group complexity and lacking requisite skills, we fall into dysfunctional patterns, failing to do anything to change meeting dynamics.
Given that there are eight times more participants than there are meeting leaders in your average group, targeting meeting leaders alone to improve meetings may be missing the mark.
What if we were to arm meeting participants with the basic knowledge, skills, and attitudes they could use to keep their groups on track and moving forward? The 12 Acts below were written to do just that, and to frame leadership as a quality anyone can exercise, no matter what their official position.
Act I: K-No-w It. Know what honors you and your time and to say “no” to everything else. Learn enough about the purpose of a meeting before it happens to make an educated decision around your potential contribution. This indirectly calls the meeting organizers to a higher level of clarity around their purpose—which is essential for the success of any meeting.
Act II: Ask for It. Get your agenda on the agenda. Get your personal and professional agenda added to the meeting agenda. Boldly asking for what you want provides the direction and energy that’s often lacking in meetings.
Act III: Prepare For It. Tap into your meeting genius by being thoroughly prepared. Knowing what and whom you need to know so that you are properly prepared for a meeting allows you to gracefully respond to challenges.
Act IV: Adjust Your Att-It-ude. Be curious, observant, and patient. The mindset from which you make interventions as a group member has a strong bearing on your success. Come from a place of curiosity when making suggestions and you will likely be heard. Be observant and patient to free yourself from judgments that limit your relationships, and to give others the chance to change.
Act V: Say It. Realize and express your truth in service to the group. For most of us, speaking out publicly is of our greatest fear. Getting clear about why you're afraid to speak, when it's time to speak, and how to do so makes expressing your truth much easier.
Act VI: Focus It. Focus your group on a common vision. Vigilantly challenge your groups to be clear on their objectives and to improve how they work together and you will set the stage for your group to actually get better over time.
Act VII: Park It. Keep your group on target by avoiding tangents. In a world ruled by distractions, it’s tough to avoid detours on the way to your objectives. A Parking Lot can help keep your group on course while respecting and capturing ideas outside the scope of the agenda.
Act VIII: Contain It. Contain group energy within operating norms. Effective groups need operating norms to establish healthy boundaries. Norms hedge against dysfunctional behavior that dilutes physical and emotional energy, while still offering participants the space to creatively pursue their objectives.
Act IX: Deliver It. Convert talk into action, decisions into deeds. One of the biggest complaints leveled against meetings is that, "Nothing ever happens!" Participants become disillusioned and tune out when this becomes the norm. Ask questions to encourage action in your groups.
Act X: In It, Not Of It. Avoid groupthink and access group mind—the way to enlightened decisions. The tendency to maintain harmony at all costs can harm your groups and the victims of your group’s decisions. Understand the symptoms and remedies of groupthink to stay connected to your group’s collective conscience.
Act XI: Facilitate It. Facilitate full participation. Fully participating group members support decisions made, offer access to the collective wisdom and experience of the group, and reduce the possibility of groupthink. As a participant, learn strategies to assure that full participation is achieved.
Act XII: It’s All Good. Transform conflict into a spirit of collaboration. Healthy conflict is an essential ingredient for group collaboration. Unhealthy conflict, that is conflict involving a winner and a loser, should be avoided. Adopt an attitude that any fight you engage in must be a fight to win--to a win that benefits all concerned.
These 12 Acts are thoroughly explained in my new book, This Meeting Sux…12 Acts of Courage to Change Meetings for Good. This book provides you with specific tools, strategies, language, and actions you can use as an empowered, facilitative participant to change your meetings and your life for good. Pick up the book, or the first three chapters for free at http://www.ThisMeetingSux.com.
Steve Davis, M.S., M.A. is the founder of FacilitatorU.com, a virtual university offering training, tools, and resources to group facilitators, trainers, consultants, coaches, and leaders. Steve consults with organizations and individuals and offers workshops, training, and coaching to enhance leadership and collaboration skills.