As the information age races on, we find ourselves facing constant change, a global economy open for business around the clock, and increasingly complex challenges. With much of this work done virtually, via the telephone or the Internet, we’re becoming more isolated than ever and left yearning for human contact.
To keep the machine chugging along, we find ourselves attending more and more meetings to keep up to speed and to stay connected. Research shows that a great percentage of these meetings are run poorly, resulting in huge losses of time and productivity. Why is this? I believe that there are three main reasons meetings continue to leave us wanting:
1) People underestimate the complexity of group thought.
2) Few people are trained in meeting facilitation skills.
3) Boggled by group complexity and lacking requisite skills, people fall into dysfunctional patterns of action or inaction, failing to do anything to change meeting dynamics.
Given that in any given group there are, on average, eight times more participants than there are meeting leaders, targeting meeting leaders alone in our efforts 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 contribute to keeping their groups on track and moving forward?
The 12 Acts below were written to just that, framing 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 and intent of a meeting before it happens to make an educated decision around your potential contribution. When you do this, you indirectly call the meeting organizers to a higher level of clarity around their purpose–the first ingredient of meeting success. Further, learning several ways to diplomatically say “no” to a meeting will save you a lot of time or, challenge meeting organizers to be more efficient.
Act II: Ask for It. Get your agenda on the agenda. Clarify your personal and professional agenda and get it added to the meeting agenda. This is another proactive approach to shifting the outcome of a meeting to your benefit before it occurs. Boldly ask for what you want to create a path for others to follow or emulate, paths that provide direction and energy that is often lacking.
Act III: Prepare For It. Tap into your meeting genius by being thoroughly prepared. When you show up to meetings having done your homework, you can use the collective energy of the group to move forward in new creative ways as opposed to trying to catch up. Knowing what and who you need to know to be properly prepared for a meeting allows you to gracefully respond to all challenges that come your way.
Act IV: Adjust Your Att-It-ude. Be curious, observant, and patient. Your attitude is the foundation of your success as a participant. The mindset from which you make interventions as a group member has a strong bearing on how well you’ll be received. Come from a place of curiosity when making suggestions to improve a meeting and you will likely be heard. Carefully observe participant actions, attitudes, and behaviors in present time and you free yourself of past judgments that may be keeping relationships stuck. Be patient with yourself and others as you seek to change your meetings as any change takes time and perseverance.
Act V: Say It. Realize and express your truth in service to the group. For many of us, speaking out publicly is one of our greatest fears. Perhaps this is because most of us have been conditioned to not make waves or to not rock the boat. As a result, we often hesitate to say what we think for fear of upsetting someone. Getting clear about why we’re afraid to speak, when it’s time to speak, and how to do so makes expressing your truth all that much easier.
Act VI: Focus It. Focus your group on a common vision. Helping your group focus on what they’ve come together to do and deciding on their approach to doing it is half the work in any endeavor. Finding clarity on what you’re there to do and reaching consensus on an approach to hitting that target is easier said than done. Help your groups get clear on their objectives and improve how they go about working together and you’ll set the stage for the development of a group that actually gets better over time. Act VII: Park It. Keep your group on target by avoiding tangents. In a world ruled by distractions, avoiding detours on the way to your objectives can be a significant challenge. Learn to set up a Parking Lot to help keep your group on course while still respecting and capturing good ideas that are outside the scope of your current agenda.
Act VIII: Contain It. Contain group energy within operating norms. Effective groups need operating norms, also referred to as ground rules that establish a group’s healthy boundaries. These boundaries act as a hedge against dysfunctional behavior that dilute a group’s physical and emotional energy, while still offering participants the freedom 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!” This means that actions, if decided upon, don’t get implemented. Participants become disillusioned and tune out if this becomes the norm. You can become a catalyst for decision-making and action in your groups through the language you use, the energy you bring, and the action you model for others.
Act X: In It, Not of It. Avoid groupthink and access group mind—the way to enlightened decisions. Being a member of a highly functional team can be a fulfilling experience, and a challenge as well. When we become comfortable and happy with the groups we’re in, it’s human nature to want to maintain a sense of harmony. This tendency, if unchecked, can do a great deal of harm to not only your group, but also to the victims of the actions your group takes. Understand the symptoms and remedies of groupthink and practices you can use to access group mind, the collective conscience of your group.
Act XI: Facilitate It. Facilitate full participation. The whole point of bringing a group of people together is to get them to collectively contribute something in a collaborative fashion. Ideally this process yields something more than what would have been accomplished by the individuals working alone. Fully participating, group members will tend to more fully support decisions made, offer access to the collective wisdom and experience of the group, and avoid the possibility of groupthink. As a participant, learn strategies to suggest to your group to assure 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 that involves a winner and a loser, should be avoided. Adopt an attitude that any fight you engage in or witness in a group must be a fight to win–to a win that benefits all concerned.
Action What is your experience facilitating a group as a participant? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic below. I’d love to hear from you!
Pick up the book, or free sample chapters from “This Meeting Sux. 12 Acts of Courage to Change Meetings for Good,” for a much broader treatment of these 12 Acts including specific tools, strategies, language, and action steps you can use to shift your meetings as an empowered, facilitative participant.