Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

How to Build a Collaborative, Productive Meeting

Your schedule is probably teeming with meetings – on projects, with your team, for planning and so on. In some workplaces, the amount of time spent in meetings can be so excessive employees may feel like the only opportunity to “do work” is outside of the workplace.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Meetings can be useful, productive – and even powerful! They have the potential to:

  • Build a sense of team
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Generate innovative ideas and solutions

Working together produces higher productivity and better results than solitary work. One article on Forbes.com referenced a couple of studies that found collaborative work led to higher engagement for employees and more success for teams. One study of over 1,100 companies, found “companies that promoted collaborative working were 5 times as likely to be high performing.” The authors of the study said the findings suggest “the key to productive collaboration is purpose.”

Is a Meeting the Right Tool for the Job?

Let’s start with whether a meeting is the right choice. After all, there are myriad ways to communicate with co-workers and many collaborative tools available these days. If you’re asking people to participate in a meeting, there should be a good reason: something that moves your work forward and provides benefits to participants. While there are many conflicting ideas on how to improve meetings, a few recommendations are fairly universal.

Do not use meetings simply to update people.

This is not a good use of your time or anyone else’s. Sharing information is important. But unless it’s the set-up for immediate collaborative action, use a team tool, email or another method. The rare exception might be an address from the president when there’s a major company announcement, but even then, there are ways to involve people.

Ensure you have a purpose.

Meeting because “well, we’ve always had Monday morning meetings” is not a good reason! Give it a purpose or give people back their time.

Keep it to those you can truly involve in the meeting.

Some people like to assign this a number: about 6-10. As a facilitator, I know it’s about the process. Different processes can provide opportunities for larger numbers of people. The point remains the same: meetings aren’t meant to be a spectator sport.

The bottom line: meetings should be for accomplishing something collaboratively! In addition to meeting a purpose, people should feel their time is well used.

If a Meeting Is the Right Choice, Make It Collaborative

Once you’ve sure a meeting is necessary, there are some significant things to determine:

  • Clearly articulate the purpose
  • Consider who needs to participate (remember: spectators aren’t necessary)
  • Develop the best process to collaborate and achieve the purpose
  • Decide who will facilitate the discussion

Not everyone has the skills to facilitate a discussion and develop the right processes. Even if someone is a manager, project manager or human resource professional, they may not have those skills. Or, they may have too great a stake in the outcomes.

One reason facilitation is becoming an even more important job skill going forward is because organizations will need people who know how to harness all that diversity of thought and channel it productively. ~ Brandon Klein, author, in Fast Company

In successful facilitation, the outcomes belong to the group. The facilitator is there to manage the process, guide the group and draw out their wisdom – not to direct them to a specific outcome or contribute content expertise.

You may need a facilitator from outside the group to bring that neutrality. In particular, consider getting someone else to facilitate if any of the following are true:

  • You want or need to participant
  • You are not sure how to structure it for effective collaboration
  • There is an imbalance of power among participants
  • Participants may not fully participate in the discussion if someone in a leadership position is facilitating the session
  • It’s a topic that can generate heated discussion among participants

The most collaborative and productive meetings are planned and facilitated to achieve objectives. The best leaders know when to let someone else help them get the most from their team.

A professional facilitator is like a figure skater. While the delivery may appear effortless, it’s a result of all the preparation that occurred before that day. We help with the purpose, participants and, of course, the process. Most of all, we want to help you access the wisdom of the group.

Consider the Cost of People’s Time

After I facilitated a half-day collaborative meeting, one of the participants was so pleased with the experience and what the group accomplished that they asked me for a quote. They were having their annual one-day meeting for their 50 employees. Unfortunately, that individual did not see the value of preparation.

Before you get a group of well-paid individuals in the room, consider the cost of their time. Facilitation and the preparation to create collaborative process pays off in several ways:

  • Time well spent on useful outcomes
  • Increased collaboration
  • Improved work relationships

When a meeting is well planned and facilitated, participants leave feeling both their input and their time are valued. You may even find it’s easier to get people to fit your next meeting into their schedules.

I’d love to help you show your people how much you value them!  Get in touch. 

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