Running effective meetings

When two or more people are working together and need to make decisions, they are working in a team.  There are a number of ways their team meetings can be structured, and they are each likely to produce quite different outcomes.  Here are the characteristics of two: 

  1. Cooperating or Participative Teams 
  2. Collaborative Teams.

Cooperating/Participative Teams

  1. Meetings start with a review of the agenda, and then people get down to business 
  2. Meetings are not confidential.  Minutes are sent to people outside the team and people feel (or are) free to talk about any discussion that has occurred in the meeting. 
  3. Confrontation is uncomfortable and commonly avoided by politicking and triangulating between meetings. 
  4. “Unowned” or anonymous opinions and comments are permitted and common.
When asked for an example of this type of meeting people instantly give their example: A meeting of a school's parents organisation.  It seems to be the same for people everywhere in the world!

Collaborative Teams

  1. Meetings start with a “tune in”.  Individuals relay their feelings about anything affecting them and/or their work.
  2. Any concern raised needs to be considered when finalising the agenda.  See Point 3 in 'Tips for running a collaborative meeting'
  3. Meetings are confidential so that no feelings expressed are carried out of the room.  People must feel that they are ‘safe’ to express themselves.  Minutes can be circulated to others, but only with the specific consent of all attendees.
  4. Caring confrontation is encouraged by all in preference to politicking and triangulation.
  5. Unowned opinions and comments are not acceptable.  People speak for themselves because unowned comments, like triangulation, damage trust.

If you have been involved in committee or board meetings, or any of the other kinds of meetings in which many of us seem to spend a lot of our time, you may be very familiar with the Cooperating/Participative type.

The Collaborative team meetings described are an ideal. 

In striving to reach this you’ll find that unless team members are mature and have reasonably high self esteem, little is accomplished.  Meetings commonly end in frustration for those responsible for getting the work done.  This occurs no matter how safe an environment the leader provides, because “trust”, “congruency”, and “self-esteem” come from within us - not from the leader of the team.  Because a truly congruent and collaborative team releases the positive and creative energy that dwells within all of us, leaders should never give up the struggle to achieve collaborative team meetings.

Managing holistically requires people to communicate openly and honestly with each other, and you'll find that the need for this quality of communication arises again and again.  As you find yourself beginning to work in group settings you may want to review all of the pages in the section.

Tips for running a collaborative and truly effective meeting

  1. If you are the 'chair' for a meeting, make sure that the people attending clearly know from the outset how you plan to run it.  Because of their past experience, people will generally expect every meeting will be conducted 'cooperatively', and I have observed that they will almost certainly:
    1. React aggressively if they do not understand what you are doing with/for them, and
    2. Very positively when they do understand. 
  2. Keep the tune-in short.  People only need a minute or so each, at the most.  Any longer and they will begin to 'waffle on'.  What you are seeking to get out are other issues that need to be discussed.  The tune-in is not the time to solve a person's concerns, but their concern must immediately be added to the Agenda. If you do not do this, they will leave the meeting feeling disenfranchised - after all, you have asked them to be open and courageous about their feelings, and if trust is an issue, that is a very big ask.  People must be rewarded before they leave, either by resolving their concern during the meeting, or for them to leave confident that a way for it to be resolved is in place.
  3. Once the tune-in is complete, revisit the agenda, if one was previously distributed.  If not, have the group create the agenda right now.  You may be very surprised to discover that the tune-in process often knocks a lot of items off what was thought to be the agenda.  It is very powerful in this regard!
  4. Almost always, it pays to deal with the little items that make it through to the final agenda, first.  By the time that is done, the big ones tend to have diminished in size and can be knocked over quickly.
  5. It is important that all decisions be tested and recorded.  To do that, a functional team or group will have a holisticgoal, and you or someone in the group needs to lead the testing process.  Use this form to record your decisions.
  6. Don't forget, when you make a decision, the process is not complete until you also note down three other things:
    1. What is the earliest likely warning indicator that the decision might be wrong?
    2. Who is responsible for keeping an eye open for the early warning?
    3. What is the first response that the team should make, if evidence of a problem does show up?

Triangulation: Triangulation occurs when someone us a third person to get their message through to a second person.  American psychologist, Amy Remmele describes it like this:

Triangulation occurs when two or more people get together and talk negatively about or plot against a third person or group. Do not confuse triangulation with asking for help with a people problem, or asking for mediation between you and another person with whom you are in conflict. Triangulation is complaining, plotting or viciously gossiping, without any solution orientation. While some people think of triangulation as harmless, it is never harmless to the person or people being excluded.

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