Make Meetings Matter

Articles by Charlie Hawkins



Effective Meetings Through Focus, Facilitation, Fellowship and Feedback

by Charlie Hawkins, MBA

 

Effective meetings through focus, facilitation, fellowship and feedbackEffective meetings don't just "happen" – they are planned. By some estimates, more than 73 million meetings are held around the world every day. Unfortunately, many are boring, rambling and unproductive – energy is low, frustration high and results non-existent.

By contrast, productive meetings are stimulating; ideas flow, everyone participates and much is accomplished. The keys to more effective meetings are four "F" words – focus, facilitation, fellowship and feedback:

Focus:

Productive meetings are focused around a single purpose or objective, determined by:

  • examining what you expect to accomplish
  • checking with participants beforehand to identify issues, discussion items and expectations

Ask yourself if a meeting is the best way to accomplish the results. If a memo, fax or e-mail would work as well, don't waste everyone's time. If a meeting is better, group agenda items into one or more of these categories:

  • exchange information
  • get input
  • generate ideas
  • learn something
  • evaluate alternatives
  • make decisions

Focus the meeting by ranking agenda items in order of importance, and setting time goals. For example, give the top three items 15 minutes each; target all others for five minutes. Have a timekeeper signal the group when time is running out. You may want to spend more than the allotted time on an item – just be aware of the tradeoffs.

When the meeting's objectives are reached, the meeting is over. Stop about 10 minutes before the targeted end time, and assess what is left. Remaining agenda items may be carried over to another meeting, handled outside the meeting or dropped.

Facilitation:

One way to ensure an effective meeting is to have a neutral facilitator run the meeting process. The facilitator frees participants to focus on content. When the person calling the meeting also names him/herself as "leader," a conflict of interest exists that makes it difficult to objectively run the meeting.

A facilitator can work the agenda, keep the group focused and attend to group maintenance, such as encouraging everyone to participate. Ideally, the organization will train several group members in facilitation skills and rotate the assignment.

Fellowship:

In the most effective meetings, people share more than information, ideas and opinions. They share information about themselves and relate to one another on a human level. One way to encourage this is with a member "check in" at the beginning of each meeting, with individual mini reports of events in their areas. Unstructured social time before, during or after the meeting can also build a cohesive group. The better participants know each other, the better they will understand how and why their "meeting mates" respond the way they do.

Fellowship also means having fun. The facilitator sets much of the tone, and the ability to identify the humor of a situation is a wonderful way to build group camaraderie. Sharing funny, work-related stories and anecdotes can build bridges of understanding among meeting participants. Don't be afraid to experiment with toys, humor or fun activities.

Feedback:

In effective meetings, participants are aware of how the group is doing as well as what is getting accomplished. The facilitator solicits feedback from participants on time issues, agenda management and group maintenance. One may ask, "How are we doing?" Or, "We're out of time on this issue – shall we continue, or wrap it up and move on?"

Encourage group members to give constructive feedback on content issues by expressing positive comments, "what works... what I like about..." To get solutions to concerns, express wishes, e.g. "I wish we could find a way to... How could we...?" At the end of each meeting solicit feedback on the meeting process to gain insights into what can be done better next time. Ask positive questions such as, "What did we do that worked well?" and "How could we make the next meeting better?"

Make your meetings more productive with the "F" words: focus, facilitation, fellowship and feedback.

 
 
Make Meetings Matter - book by Charlie Hawkins

About the Author

Charlie Hawkins facilitates business round tables, strategic planning retreats and idea generation sessions for businesses and nonprofit organizations who want to improve their results. He is the author of Make Meetings Matter, a comprehensive resource for anyone who wants to plan and facilitate more effective meetings.

Charlie Hawkins
 

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