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Kevin Fong - Organizational Design
Meetings – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
 

What makes a meeting good, bad or ugly?  I’m sure you have attended enough meetings to come up with stories of your own, but I want to present specific examples that a friend, who is school principal, recently experienced all in one day. Let’s start with the good.
 
My friend’s day began with a staff retreat which she facilitated.  She opened with a short exercise that reaffirmed their mission while demonstrating the diverse perspectives in how it is interpreted.  Within twenty minutes, she acknowledged the value and contribution of each person, established common ground for the collective to move from, and portrayed herself as a caring and facilitative leader. The rest of the retreat progressed successfully and they accomplished their goals.
 
She then experienced the ugly, as she moved on to a district-wide meeting with thirty other principals.  The goal of the three-hour meeting was to pass on several new initiatives that the principals would have to implement.  The facilitators used the “you sit, we talk” method with the accompanying PowerPoint presentations.  It was a classic case of delivering too much content in too little time, and the result was thirty principals returning to their schools feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and under-supported.
 
Her day ended with the PTA meeting, which turned out to be an example of a bad meeting.  With over 100 people in attendance, it was a perfect opportunity to establish a collective vision for the school and engage a large group of volunteers in a meaningful way.  Instead, the president spent the time reading the legal requirements of the PTA, with the likely result of many fewer parents attending the next meeting.
 
What did my friend do to make her meeting good?  And what could the other facilitators have done to turn their bad and ugly meetings into good ones?  In order to ensure a good meeting, my friend followed these three guidelines:
 

1)  Invest the proper time in the planning, execution and follow-up activities.  A basic facilitation rule of thumb is to set aside the same amount of planning time as the meeting itself.  For example, a three-hour meeting requires three-hours of planning. Since my friend, like many other leaders, did not have the time to invest herself, she employed the next step.

 

2)  Consult an expert.  In her case, my friend gave me a call and we mapped out a good plan to get buy-in from the staff, develop clear goals and a script for the meeting, establish a welcoming space, and build her own facilitation skills.

 

3)  Balance content with teambuilding.  Most meetings are focused on content, which is perfectly appropriate.  But she also realized the importance of investing the time to establish trust and rapport by setting a safe and productive space to conduct their work.

 
In the bad and ugly examples, the PTA president could have conducted a quick “Needs and Offers” activity where the principal posted the top five needs of the school, and parents could have offered their help by signing up under the appropriate need.  This 15-minute process would have assessed where the parents’ interests and expertise lie and provided a good mechanism for engagement and follow-up.  The principals’ meeting could have been improved by dividing the participants into three groups of ten and rotating them among the 30-minute content presentations.  The smaller groups would have allowed for more interaction and discussion and the rotation would have kept the energy up and moving.
 
You can turn a potentially bad or ugly meeting could into a good or even great one if you take the three steps above and add one more crucial goal to your agenda - “to build a stronger and more unified team.” Because in order to have a great meeting, people need to feeling more inspired, energized and engaged than when they came in.  This will both greatly improve your chances of achieving your content goals and make you a more caring and effective leader in the eyes of your team. 


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