Taken from our series first published on LinkedIn in December 2020. This included extracts from our recently published book - Practical People Strategies for a Changing World, available on Amazon with proceeds to The Trussell Trust to stop UK hunger.
the introduction of something important - advent /ˈadv(ə)nt
First published on November 30, 2020
Earlier in the month I attended a CBL Breakfast event with @Jill Chitty and she has encouraged me to become more active on LinkedIn. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, so here I am.
I noticed an article recently hailing the advent of advent – that’s funny isn’t it – the advent of advent! I wasn’t very sure what it actually meant so I looked it up and it means ‘the introduction of something important’ or ‘coming’ translated from Latin. So, I thought I’d do my own wee advent and let you know what’s coming here to your very own LinkedIn feed.
You may be aware that I joined with 11 other independent consultants in lockdown to publish a book via Zoom. Our book, available on Amazon with proceeds to The Trussell Trust, is called “Good Work Good Business – Practical People Strategies for a Changing World” and my contribution was a chapter called ‘Making Meetings Marvellous’ where I offer 10 Top Tips.
I made up this quote to start my chapter “I wish I’d spent more time in meetings today”, said nobody ever! I love meetings really, but . . .
In my exploration of the word ‘advent’ I discovered that the Christian tradition of Advent seeks to bring hope, peace, love and joy therefore over the next few weeks I’d like to bring some hope, peace, love and joy to your meetings by sharing one tip each day. I hope you will enjoy.
Tip #1 to Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 1, 2020
Timing - “work expands to fit the time available” Parkinson’s Law
How about scheduling the start of your meeting at 5 past and finish at 5 to the hour … or even 10 past and 10 to the hour? Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fit the time available” and we all know how a deadline focuses the mind.
Before virtual meetings became more common place we would allow ourselves time to move from our desk to a meeting room. Now? We get our physical exercise in moving between meetings by merely exercising the muscles in our fingers with a few mouse clicks and hence little time for reflection. A few minutes to reflect after one meeting and focus before the next will stand everyone in good stead, not to mention the important opportunity to take a comfort break, have a good stretch, fill up our coffee cup, raid the biscuit tin …
Tip #2 to Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 2, 2020
Have a Clear Purpose – “Begin with the end in mind” Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Engage the meeting members in the question: “What is the purpose for which this meeting exists?” This will create clarity on why we are having the meeting and focus on the outcomes and impact from the meeting rather than the inputs and the outputs. The value of the answer to this question is in the interaction, sharing and crafting a clear purpose statement which will guide many other decisions relating to the meeting.
This clarity will give a clear indication on who should and should not be a core participant of the meeting and who may need to participate on an occasional basis.
This clarity will also avoid the trend towards what Patrick Lencioni calls “Meeting Stew” something I’ve noticed is particularly prevalent in times of high pressure and change and trying to cram lots of things into one zoom meeting.
Tip #3 to Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 3, 2020
Agree the behaviours that will help achieve the purpose “Clear is Kind” Brené Brown
A powerful way to engage participants in committing to helpful behaviours is to co-create a set of ground-rules, particularly for regular meetings e.g. team and project meetings. The act of co-creating enables them to hold each other to account for fulfilling the purpose of the meeting. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is the most transformational tool I’ve experience, both in my own meetings and noticing what improves meeting effectiveness for others. When I was a team member a few years ago and my manager initiated this exercise after a meeting full of open conflict and tension, I remember a colleague, whom I had a lot of respect for, stating boldly “People should turn up on time because I think it’s rude when they don’t!”. Well, guess who was often late for that meeting? Yes me! When that became one of our ground rules, guess who was never late again . . . yes, me! The power of these behaviours being created by the team meant I felt more ownership and accountability and the humiliation of being late to the meeting and labelled as ‘rude’ was not a label I wanted to wear.
A clear set of guidelines, principles, ground rules, whatever you want to call them keeps everyone safe and as Brené Brown says, “Clear is Kind.”
Tip #4 to Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 4, 2020
Have a route map for the meeting - “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time” Anon
Is your Agenda as much use as a chocolate teapot? We all know it’s helpful to have an Agenda for a meeting but in the pressure of everyday life it’s not always easy. One organisation I know, allows you to decline attendance at a meeting if the invitation isn’t accompanied by an Agenda - even if it’s your boss inviting you! Unsurprisingly, this results in a hastily produced list of four or five bullet points and seriously, I’ve noticed that they are as much use as a chocolate tea pot and gives the loudest voice the chance to dominate.
To make an Agenda really work for the meeting, let me introduce you to the idea of Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think and creator of The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, who suggests the Agenda items should be couched as a question. So rather than an item headed “Budgets”, replace it with a question such as “What are the critical factors we need to consider in next year’s budget”? The beauty of this is that people can immediately start thinking about the critical factors rather than everyone bringing their own assumptions and opinions to the topic.
Tip #5 from Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 7, 2020
Engage everyone at the beginning of the meeting - “Leaders become great not because of their power, but their ability to empower others”, John Maxwell
We all know it’s easy to be physically present in a meeting but our mind is somewhere else completely – hopefully not reading emails under the pretence of reading the meeting papers! Moving swiftly on . . .
Start by inviting the participants to ‘check-in’ as a positive and engaging way to start the meeting. You can do this by introducing a question and inviting everyone to respond e.g. share one success in the last week or share one thing that you have learned since the last meeting. Give everyone a minute or two to think before anyone starts to speak and make it clear when to start sharing and the system for doing so e.g. round the room, call out names around your screen. The added benefit of doing this is, that if some of the participants are nervous about speaking up, they have heard their voice early on and it’s less daunting to speak the next time.
And all those happy faces in the picture? They are my co-authors from our Book in a Day published on 20th August 2020 - Good Work Good Business - Practical People Strategies for a Changing World and available on Amazon with proceeds to The Trussell Trust to stop UK hunger.
Tip #6 from Make Meeting Marvellous
First published on December 8, 2020
Encourage participation- “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.” Eeyore
When there is not enough participation and you feel like you are doing all the work and it’s becoming a presentation or a webinar, don’t struggle. Notice it, don’t get grumpy or critical but craft a question and initiate ‘Thinking Pairs’ (another technique from Nancy Kline, Time to Think) or Breakout Groups, where participants can engage with the question and come back to the whole group with some insights or ideas e.g. how do we make team meetings more interactive?
When participation is slow in virtual meetings or the same people are doing all the talking, step in and invite specific people to talk then give them time to gather their thoughts e.g. “Sam, what do you think?” Or if you want to hear from everyone, tell your participants and set up a system e.g. someone starts and chooses the next person, use alphabetical order, go round your screen and pop the sequence in the chat box so that people know who’s next and avoid that awful waiting for everyone else thing.
Tip #7 from Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 9, 2020
Encourage participation . . . but not all at once - You must extend to others what you want to receive. It starts with you. Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations
Rigorous dialogue is critical to creativity and problem solving however when there is too much or several people speaking at once, we limit the best solutions. I once watched a team member with the solution to a problem be talked over three times before she gave up.
When more than one person speaks at once or someone is dominating the meeting, set up a ‘speaking system’ e.g. round the room, or your screen, even alphabetical order, so that everyone gets the chance to speak. This has increasing importance in virtual meetings where you are less likely to pick up on subtle clues that someone wants to speak. I’ve also experienced the scenario where extroverts, who ‘speak to think’ take up all the air space and the introverts, who ‘think to speak’, don’t offer their thoughts until close to the end of the meeting – make space for them in the meeting. Again, this starts with a carefully crafted question followed by a clear ‘speaking system’.
Encourage the meeting members to listen to each other rather than just wait for their turn to talk and your role at this point is to facilitate and uphold the system – give clear eye contact to any interrupter, or virtually, call out their name. Tell them kindly that their turn will come, then quickly revert to the person who was talking. Unless someone is about to die, stick to this system and continue another round until everyone has said all they need to say then watch how after two or three rounds the real question, decision or action emerges - as if by magic!
Tip #8 from Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 10, 2020
Turn it upside down -“Let’s end at the very beginning …” Adaptation of quote from The Sound of Music
For formal meetings arrange Minutes of Previous Meeting and Matters Arising at the end. By asking for amendments and matters arising to be addressed before the meeting, this will drastically cut down the total time for your meeting. This will also help production of the Agenda apart from anything else. Then cover off the Minutes of the last meeting and matters arising at the end of the meeting rather than the beginning – in one Trustee Group I’ve been part of this has regularly shaved 45 minutes off the duration of the meeting. You might be challenged because "we've always done it this way" but in the long run, no-one's going to objective to a meeting that's 45 minutes shorter or even half of that, would be progress.
Tip #9 Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 12, 2020
Finish the meeting well - Catch them doing it right ….
It's so easy to notice all the things that niggle us or were not they way we thought they should be, then finish the meeting feeling a bit stressed or grumpy. At the end of the meeting, invite the participants to share one thing that was good about the meeting or give appreciation to someone who has been particularly helpful in achieving the purpose or moving a tricky situation forward. Whilst this is a marvellous thing to do in itself because it leaves you feeling good and grateful, the added value is when you watch how it encourages the positive behaviour in future meetings - I promise you it works better than any magic wand!
Tip #10 to Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 15, 2020
When it all goes wrong . . . - “Nothing will work unless you do” Maya Angelou
It’s strange how we always know when a meeting or part of it doesn’t go particularly well or to be frank, goes badly. It’s also strange how we can create a false sense of security around certain behaviours in meetings and tell ourselves “it wasn’t that bad”, or “if it happens again …” or “I’ll probably just make things worse if I say anything”… or worse than that, convince ourselves that it was “actually a good thing because …”. Nancy Kline’s wisdom once again encourages us to ask ourselves a few questions such as:
What are you assuming that lets you ignore this?
If you were to face it, what positive outcomes might result?
If you knew that you can handle the fall out, what steps would you take to live free of this denial?
So that's the last of the 10 Top Tips to Make Meetings Marvellous, an extract from Good Work Good Business - Practical People Strategies for a Changing World, available on Amazon with proceeds to The Trussell Trust to stop UK hunger.
I often find courage from Maya Angelou’s quote that nothing will work unless I do and remind myself that this doesn’t need to end up in conflict or a battle but rather a planned and respectful conversation with the individual or individuals involved.
Tip #11 to Make Meetings Marvellous
First published on December 16, 2020
If you do all that and it still doesn’t improve …. Control, Alt, Delete
If you've followed all the tips and applied even some of them and no progress is made? Now I quote from David Pearl’s book on starting a business revolution one meeting at a time, which I’d highly recommend, with the rather delicious title of “Will there be donuts”? DP suggests that “If you can’t improve a bad meeting … make it worse until even your most conservative colleagues realise things have to change.” It’ll come as no surprise that I always carry my knitting for this eventuality …
Make Meetings Marvellous - Top Ten Tips
First published on December 17, 2020
“I wish I’d spent more time in meetings today” said nobody ever!
Wrapping up all ten top tips to bring hope, peace, love and joy to your meetings - you can do this. Identify which ones you already do - celebrate it then choose another one, give it a go and notice what happens. I promise it will make a difference.
1. Timing for the meeting - Schedule the start at 5 past and finish at 5 to the hour … as Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fit the time available” and give the chance for a comfort break, a good stretch, a coffee fill-up or a raid of the biscuit tin …
2. Have a clear purpose - Ask “what is the purpose for which this meeting exists?” to create clarity on the outcomes and impact from the meeting rather than the inputs and the outputs and avoids what Patrick Lencioni calls “Meeting Stew”.
3. Be clear about the behaviours that will help achieve the purpose - co-create a set of ground-rules and regularly review them to help participants hold themselves and each other to account for helpful behaviours.
4. Have a supportive agenda or a route map for the meeting - have the agenda headings as questions such as “How will we make decisions on spending next year's budget"? rather than "Budgets" to help start with a solution focus.
5. Engage everyone at the beginning of the meeting - invite participants to ‘check-in’ by inviting everyone to respond to a question such as "share one success in the last week" or "share one thing that you have learned since the last meeting."
6. Encourage participation - craft a question and initiate ‘Thinking Pairs’ or Breakout Groups, to come up with ideas e.g. how to make team meetings more interactive or set up a system for everyone to speak e.g. go round the room or screen in alphabetical order.
7. . . . but not all at once - as for Tip 6, set up a speaking system which is particularly important in virtual meetings where its difficult to pick up on clues that someone wants to speak or everyone is waiting on everyone or it's all left to the extroverts.
8. Turn it upside down - For formal meetings arrange Minutes of Previous Meeting and Matters arising at the end of the meeting rather than the beginning - you'll be gobsmacked at what this does for reducing the duration of the meeting - 45 minutes less in my experience.
9. Finish the meeting well - At the end of the meeting, invite the participants share an appreciation of one thing about the meeting - either an action, a behaviour, a ground rule well followed then watch how it encourages positive behaviour in future meetings.
10. When it all goes wrong . . . dealing with poor performance or behaviour in meetings will only improve through having a planned and respectful conversation with the individual/s involved. Be clear on what's not working and find out what's causing it.
and as a wee bonus because it's Christmas here's an extra one, just in case . . .
11. If you do all that and it still doesn’t improve . . . And adopt Tip No 5 from David Pearl’s Book "Will there be Donuts" - “If you can’t improve a bad meeting … make it worse until even your most conservative colleagues realise things have to change.”
“Marvellous” I hear you say as you pick up your highlighter or click you highlight button to choose that first tip . . .
These tips are extracted from my chapter in Good Work Good Business - practical people strategies for a changing world available on Amazon with proceeds going to The Trussell Trust to stop UK hunger.