The only thing worse than sitting through an unproductive meeting is leading or facilitating an unproductive meeting.
Conducting a meeting that respects people’s time and achieves real results requires solid planning and a few tried-and-true facilitation techniques.
At PeopleResults, we typically see the same issues arise in both virtual and in-person meetings.
Solutions to the Most Common Meeting Problems
1. Why are we meeting? It is unclear what we’re trying to accomplish.
Articulating a clear purpose and tangible meeting outcomes are the most important factors in determining whether a meeting achieves real results or goes off the rails. By reiterating and underscoring the purpose and outcomes, everyone knows why they are participating and what to expect.
- Craft a simple why statement: The purpose of this meeting is to ________.
- Identify concrete meeting outcomes. Are you meeting to gain approval, collect feedback, make a decision, identify next steps, discuss options or resolve an issue? Be as specific as possible.
- Use the purpose and outcomes to drive the agenda.
2. I’m not sure I trust these people. I don’t feel connected to this group.
Spend a few minutes building connections. Whether remote or in-person, investing time for trust and relationship building primes people to be more open and engaged in a discussion.
- Start the meeting by asking participants to answer a work-related question (What are you most looking forward to about this project?) or a personal question (What was the best thing that happened to you this week?).
- Include an ice-breaker or a quick energizer (Show an object from your workspace that describes your current mood).
- Incorporate break out discussions with small groups of 2-4 people where it’s easier to build trust and exchange ideas.
3. It’s hard to keep conversations on-topic. Discussions go on too long and we belabor points.
Unless there is structure, agreed group norms and someone willing to step in and actively move participants towards the finish line, the meeting will veer off-track.
- Periodically recap where you are in the agenda and how the group is progressing towards the desired outcomes.
- Gain agreement on meeting groundrules. A groundrule I’ve been using recently is ELMO (“Enough. Let’s Move On!”). Any participant can indicate that a discussion has reached the point of ELMO. If half the participants agree, the leader or facilitator moves to the next agenda item.
- Refer to the clock when you notice people are straying off-topic. “I want to be respectful of everyone’s time – we only have 20 minutes left and a few more items to cover.”
- Be flexible and offer options. Sometimes a discussion that seems extraneous is critical to work through. Help the group understand its options. “We can park this side discussion and schedule a separate meeting to discuss it. Or we can keep discussing and end the meeting 15 minutes later.”
Notice what happens in your next meeting when you create realistic expectations, a trusting and open atmosphere and structure that keeps discussions on-track. Those small actions yield big results.
Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults.