Have you ever had one of those meetings where everybody seems to be fighting one another? Nobody’s really wanting to do what you ask as the facilitator or the chair person and it’s getting a bit out of your control?
When a group of people with diverse perspectives and individual (possibly conflicting) agendas come together to work on a topic, there can be metaphorical blood on the walls. If the agendas aren’t aligned, and the behaviours aren’t managed, you can quickly descend into a slug-fest where people battle for supremacy, or a passive group with little or no willing participation.
The good news is, these situations are avoidable, and there are some simple things you can do to head the issues off at the pass. Read on for some tips and techniques you can use in your next meeting or workshop to make sure everyone’s on the same page and open up interactions that are full of productivity, collaboration and joy.
Don’t just have an agenda, have a behavioural contract
Most meetings have a list of agenda points that the Chair or the team want to cover, that’s quite normal and it’s a productive thing to do. However, the part that a lot of teams and facilitators miss out on, is how the team need to behave together in order to achieve the outcomes listed on the agenda.
Think about this beforehand:
- What sort of interactions are you going to be having during the meeting?
- Is it a decision-making meeting or workshop?
- Or is this part of a creative process, where you need to come up with options?
- Are you reviewing each other’s work and therefore going to be giving feedback and opinions
- Or something else?
Each of these different activities requires a different behavioural mode and you can’t count on your attendees to have thought about that before they came into the room. So make it clear to them. You don’t need to lecture or make it to pointed like a school teacher but it’s absolutely fine to point out that for the meeting to be successful we need to listen to one another’s points of views, or that at a certain point we’re going to have to stop discussing and reach a decision.
An ideal behavioural contract has somewhere between 3 and 5 behavioural agreements. Write each of these behavioural agreements onto a flip chart and share them at the start of the meeting, so that everybody knows what good behaviour looks like and what you’re really looking for.
As a guide, for a meeting where you’re reviewing updates and team news, our favourite 3 behavioural agreements would be:
- Fully present: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually in the room, paying attention to one another, listening to what’s being said, leaving mobile phones, emails and laptop documents for later.
- Share the air: make sure everybody in the team has chance to give their point of view, share their updates and opinions. Give each other space and don’t be upset if you’ve been speaking for a long time and we ask for you to allow somebody else to share their point of view.
- Own your impact: be aware that whatever you say and do is having an impact on everybody else around you and act accordingly.
- Step up: if there are actions for you to take away or we’re looking for volunteers for actions then take ownership, step up, don’t leave us hanging.
You don’t have to do everything as a committee
Some of your agenda items might be better discussed in small groups so don’t be afraid of breaking people out into pairs, threes, or at maximum groups of four. The groups can then discuss a topic between themselves and come up with ideas, suggestions or recommendations that they will share back to the wider group.
If an issue is complex or there are several parts to it you can even divide up the sub parts of the topic by sub group and cover more ground in the same amount of time.
This will ensure that everybody gets the chance to share their point of view, instead of 2 or 3 people talking most of the time and others staying quiet. It will also give people the chance to opt in to discussing the topics that they feel most connected to and have most opinion on.
Once the small groups have finished working, you can bring them back to a full-table discussion so that each team can share what they’ve thought about and their recommendations, and as a group you can review, feedback and decide what to action.
Don’t go beyond the normal human attention span
The maximum amount of time that any human being can concentrate on one topic before drifting off into something else is about 7 minutes. So, if people are giving hour-long presentations they are losing everybody about 9 or 10 times during the course of the presentation. Once an attendee drifts off, they’re no longer on the same journey as everyone else in the room, and discord or disengagement can result.
Think about breaking up your activities into blocks of 10-15 minutes of activity. Perhaps there is some information to share and then a discussion, then an activity to do and then a decision to make.
Whatever you do, don’t go longer than about 70 minutes without giving people a break. Regular short (10-15 minute) breaks are much better for human energy than a long 30 minute to 1 hour break every 3 hours.
You don’t need to dread your next team meeting, or fear the upcoming Board update. There’s no reason why every meeting and group interaction at work can’t be a positive one – if someone takes responsibility for the behaviours and the energy of the group.
If you want to know more about how to run more effective meetings, or learn more about our Super Navigator training, you can contact us here. Looking forward to chatting with you soon!