Organize Meetings that Accelerate Your Work

March 21, 2018

The last gasps of winter remind me of snowy days sledding as a child in Michigan: scrambling up the hill with a pack of friends and our sleds in tow; the choice of which path would get us furthest down the hill the fastest; the anticipation (and a little terror) right before we gave a final push and let go; and the thrill of picking up speed with the occasional topple or collision.

You know what has a lot in common with sledding? Meetings. Stay with me on this:

  • Before you go outside, you have to get ready. You need to check the weather, get your gear on, round up the sleds, and decide where to meet. If you don’t, you could end up cold and wet, trying to share one sled, or on the worst hill. Meetings require the same preparation to make sure you have the right resources, people, and the same “hill” in mind.
  • It takes longer to go up the hill than to go down it. Prepping for a meeting can be like the difficult climb to the hilltop. It takes time and energy to make it all the way up together, but if you put in that time, a joyful ride awaits.
  • Once you are at the top, you’re ready to go down. Just like being at the top of the hill, a meeting positions your group for acceleration and can give you a good push toward your goals.
  • Good snow makes for good sledding. Successful collaborations require the right conditions. It’s best to meet is when it’s time to:
  1. Focus energy on complex issues, including strategizing, making decisions, solving problems together, generating options and ideas, and learning from successes and failures.
  2. Build a sense of connectedness through making space for people to talk, work, and eat, while enjoying each other’s company.
  3. Mark a turning point or new phase of the work, as the meeting itself can signify an ending and/or a fresh beginning.

Here at ICL, we’ve spent the winter supporting several gatherings of collaborative efforts to ensure cleaner water, conserve natural landscapes, and deepen conservation efforts across the Northeast and Midwest. Through facilitating these meetings, we’ve witnessed the energy, connections, and ideas they’ve generated. We’ve found that small changes in how a meeting is organized can have a big impact.

If your meetings aren’t working, just doing these three things can transform them:

1) Set intentions. The list of possible topics and things you want to get done can be huge by the time you meet. Agendas start filling up with all different topics, a variety of presenters are invited, and bam! – you’re headed in a direction that you hadn’t intended.

Before you draft the agenda, decide on the meeting’s objectives. Once the agenda is drafted, go through each topic and clarify the purpose for including it (e.g., are you deciding, seeking input, sharing information, making plans? Be sure to clarify the “so that…”) If you aren’t able to name why it matters and what purpose it serves before the meeting, it won’t be clear why it matters when you actually meet!

2) Make space for connecting. Make sure there are enough times for people to connect informally – include adequate breaks, most meals without a speaker or any accompanying programs, and a reception or pre-gathering. If the meeting is more than a day include an outing or social activity. (One of our recent gatherings involved snow tubing…)

3) Get everyone’s voice in the room right away. Having everyone speak at the beginning of a meeting (in small groups or the larger group) will insure more people participate throughout the rest of the meeting. Instead of going around the circle and saying names, use that time to mix it up with some speed networking or quickly sharing something in pairs or trios. Getting people active and connected right away sets the tone and builds energy for the rest of the day.

Meetings might not be quite as much fun as sledding, but with the right approach, they can get your group speeding along toward your goals in a more enjoyable and productive way.

Ready to accelerate your meeting?

Interested in talking through your plans and some approaches to achieve better results? Email us at info (at) icl (dot) org to set up a free 45-minute phone consultation with our experienced team.