Have you ever been to a really horrible meeting?
Ha ha ha, of course you have! Unfortunately the number of meetings in the world that are way too long, unfocused, boring, pointless, and aggravating dwarfs the number of brief, pleasant meetings most of us have ever attended. The PTSD-like symptoms triggered by the memory of such meetings is probably one of the main factors that keeps people from volunteering to do things in the first place. Every time some brave soul raises their hand to join a committee, that raised hand becomes a beacon of hope and light, representing the burning faith that one day, a meeting really will start and end on time and accomplish its goals and maybe… dare I even type the words… be fun.
People, we can be the change we want to see in the world. We will run good meetings! We will do it together by learning to be good facilitators, and then volunteering to facilitate meetings when we join committees. We will teach others to facilitate good meetings too. Will you join me in this beautiful pact? I know you will. Let’s embark on the journey to Good Meeting Land right now!
First of all, every meeting needs a facilitator. If you find yourself attending a meeting where nobody appears to be in charge, you need to make a choice:
- Either run like hell, OR
- Ask very loudly, “Who is facilitating this meeting?” If nobody wakes up and starts doing their job, guess what you get to do…?
So what does the facilitator do? Her/his job is to ensure that the meeting goes smoothly and meets its objectives. The committee chair, board president, CEO, Boss Lady or other Person of Authority does not have to facilitate every meeting! (Though she or he should ensure that every meeting has a facilitator). Here is what the facilitator needs to do to make the meeting work:
- Make sure that every meeting has an agenda.
- Along with a reminder about the meeting, circulate the agenda in advance to see if anyone has items to add. Just send out an email the day before.
- Make sure that the meeting starts on time.
- Make sure that every meeting has a note-taker.
- Review the agenda at the start of each meeting to find out if anyone has anything to add.
- Keep track of time during the meeting, and move people along when they get stuck (you can appoint a time-keeper to help with this one).
- If the discussion goes off track, ask the note-taker to note that the item in question needs further discussion some other time. Then, ask the group to get back onto the agenda.
- Be sure that everyone knows the date, time and location of the next meeting.
- Assign a facilitator for the next meeting.
- Adjourn the meeting on time.
That’s it! These are duties that any committee member can – and should! – do. By assigning the next meeting’s facilitator at the close of each meeting, you can ensure that everybody on the committee gets the chance to practice their budding facilitation skills. Way to spread the love!
Hot Pro Facilitation Tip:
You may have noticed that some people like to talk (snort! guffaw!). Talkative extroverts especially tend to have a lot to say when they get in front of a captive audience. This tendency can be detrimental to the important goal of ending the meeting on time and getting to lunch with no injuries incurred. So make sure that right at the beginning of the meeting, you give everyone a chance to talk and be heard in a clearly time-limited way. We call these little activities “ice-breakers,” but the true and critical function of the meeting ice-breaker is actually chatterbox-deflater. Crafty facilitators insist upon them. The short-sightedly time-focused among us tend to try to dismiss ice-breakers as unnecessary, or a “waste of time.” (These are the same people who in a meeting will hijack the agenda for 20 minutes with a detailed history of everything this committee has ever done before on this topic, going back at least a decade). A good
chatterbox-deflater ice-breaker goes something like this:
Okay everyone! To get us started and get us into the right mindset for this meeting, let’s all go around and say two things. One: Your name, and Two: Your greatest hope for this committee.
Think first about what you want to say, because you get no more than two minutes each so that we can get our work done and end on time today. Belinda, you’re the timekeeper. Tell us when 2 minutes is up, okay? Ready? Let’s start with Jimbo.
See what I did there? I asked everybody to talk, that’s the main thing. The chatterboxes are about to get two whole minutes dedicated to nothing but being heard by everyone at the table – joy! (The introverts will take less than 30 seconds each). I asked them to talk about something that really does help them leave their cares behind and get focused on what is important about the meeting we’re about to begin. I also put the expectation of a strict time limit on it – and put everybody on notice that we’re actually keeping time. And that if they don’t want the meeting to go past lunch they need to keep it brief. If we’re lucky that little admonishment may stick with them throughout the meeting.
So now you’re ready to go out and spread the good word that meetings really can be okay. They just need a little help from you, the excellent facilitator. Go get em, Tiger!