Do you ever find yourself in meetings that drag on, don’t achieve as much as they should, in which people seem to be bored and disengaged?
When I was an employee, I took part in a lot of unproductive meetings. Sad to say, I probably chaired a few as well. Later I discovered NLP, emotional intelligence, and Appreciative Inquiry, and realised that there are certain things you can do to make your meetings run better, get things done, and that people actually feel are worthwhile attending.
A doctor mate of mine used to do a stress management presentation for overworked general practitioners. One of the slides was captioned “Meetings: the practical alternative to work”. So if you want your meetings to work better, try these easy-to-implement tips.
Things are always easier to remember with acronyms, so get ready to remember… MODEM, RASTA and, er, RRUBS.
Here’s how to run emotionally intelligent meetings:
Remember: Outcome, Sensory Acuity, Flexibility
1. Must we meet? Is the meeting necessary?
Meetings fit well with someone on “Manager’s schedule” where the day is divided into one hour intervals.
“Makers” (programmers, technicians etc) need longer chunks of time to be productive. For them, a 10:30 meeting means switching work modes, and breaks up the morning into chunks too small to do anything hard in.
(‘Managers vs makers schedule‘ distinction from Paul Graham at paulgraham.com)
Information updates can be handled by email or phone. Anything with an emotional impact needs a face to face meeting.
2. Outcome: establish where you want to get to by the end of the meeting.
“This is what I want to happen by the end of this meeting.”
Evidence frame: What will you see/hear/feel as a result? What will be measurably different?
Having an outcome for the meeting switches your focus from yourself to your desired outcome. This can make a huge difference if you have previously been unconfident in meetings.
3. Decide what you will do for each contingency
Explore what could happen and establish “if-then” options for what you will do if it does.
4. Establish who needs to be there, and agree the agenda
Only have attendees who actually need to be at the meeting. Discover their outcomes and get agreement on the agenda.
5. Meeting place
Make the environment conducive to the outcome you want – no interruptions.
Have the seating arrangements in a circle – so everyone can see each other’s eyes.
To really make sure that people concentrate and don’t waste time, have the meeting standing up.
Opening the meeting
As people come in, greet them and establish rapport.
7. Sensory Acuity
Check out their body language – you are looking for alert, responsive people. If someone appears to be in the grip of a strong, negative emotion, this could disrupt their concentration or even the whole meeting if you don’t deal with it.
You can ask them about it – they might, for example, have left their car on double yellow lines.
Throughout the meeting, use peripheral vision to regularly check what is happening.
8. State and agree the outcome and evidence procedure
“This is where we want to get to by the end of the meeting, and we will know when we’ve got there because…”
9. Time frame
Make sure everyone knows that the time that the meeting has to end. Ensure that everyone has time to say what they need to.
10. Achievements: start with successes
With team meetings, use the “Appreciative Frame”. A good way to get people into a better (and therefore more capable and creative) state is to ask “What successes and achievements have we had since we last met?” This will make the rest of the meeting flow more easily and make the whole thing more productive.
This should be in the spirit of an invitation to contribute, rather than picking on individuals: “You! What have you achieved?”
During the meeting
11. Right level of detail
Discuss ideas, objectives and responsibilities rather than every little detail of how someone is going to achieve them. If this needs to be discussed, it can be done outside the meeting.
Remember, the more you drill down into detail, the less interesting it gets for people not directly involved in that topic – and the more opportunities you have for people to disagree.
12. ‘Relevancy Challenge’: how to keep the meeting on track
Make the agenda and desired outcome explicit and put it up where people can see it.
If any participant goes off on a tangent, you can respectfully challenge: “Excuse me, how is this relevant to the agenda/outcome we agreed on?”
Pretty soon, just a nod or gesture to the agenda should be enough to bring people back on track.
13. Unproductive participants: how to deal with them
a) Disengaged participants
If the person appears to have ‘switched off’, you need to establish what’s going on.
Are they worried about something outside the meeting? Consider allowing them to deal with it (see step 7 above).
Are they thinking they shouldn’t be there? Ideally you would find this out beforehand. Consider letting them leave if they don’t need to be there for the rest of the meeting, and their responsibilities and actions have already been established.
If this happens regularly, with more than one person, take it as evidence that your meetings are too long.
b) Objectors and nitpickers
If the person is constantly raising objections (a mismatcher or polarity responder), give them the job of “devil’s advocate”. Ask them to make notes of any flaws or objections they notice, and allocate them some time at the end of the meeting to report back on these.
14. ‘Backtrack Frame’ to handle disagreement
If there’s major disagreement or objection at any stage, interrupt and summarise what has been agreed up to now, starting from the beginning of the meeting and continuing up to the last point of agreement. Match the tonality of the objecter, leading them towards a calmer state.
This has the effect of a ‘rewind’ and is an opportunity to start over on the controversial area.
Closing the meeting
Summarise what has been agreed, who is going to carry out each action and the completion date.
You could also do a mini-summary at the end of each stage.
Confirm the date for the next meeting and thank the participants.