Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Money Makers: Effective Meetings

 Being in a leadership position means you should always have the answers, right? Wrong!

Marsha Acker, professional facilitator and an executive and team coach with 25 years of experience supporting leaders and coaching leadership for companies around the world, says that the most powerful thing a leader can do is to admit their weaknesses in any given area and ask for help--and use the three magic words: "I don't know."

"The belief that the leader should be the hero and have all the answers to any issue is fairly straightforward and really common," Acker, The Art & Science of Facilitation: How to Lead Effective Collaboration with Agile Teamssays. "In the competitive world of business, many believe that expressing anything other than the traditional top-down leadership model is tantamount to expressing weakness and relinquishing power."
Instead, the founder and CEO of TeamCatapult advises, asking your team for input will inevitably lead to more success, more respect and even more authority.
"Collaboration can be a powerful process. At its best, it’s the doorway to collective intelligence, better decisions, alignment, shared understanding, and commitment," she says. "But when people convene to get work done, they often do everything but make progress. We have a habit of getting in our own way when it comes to what we want to accomplish. Letting go of our beliefs about what leadership “should” look like is the first step to clearing a path forward for better facilitation and, ultimately, better results."

I had a chance to interview Marsha to learn more.

We've all been in meetings where we've had the reaction, "This could have been an email." How can managers and other people know when it's worth having a meeting and when an email will suffice?

Start with the end in mind. Think about these questions:

  • What do I want to have achieved by the end of the meeting?

  • What is the desired outcome?

  • Who stands to gain the most from this outcome? 

  • Who will be most impacted by the outcome? 

  • What degree of collaboration is needed in order to support the outcome? 

If the meeting is to collectively make a decision together or align on how we will work towards a decision that has already been made; and the decision or the process will impact multiple people then a collaborative meeting would be very helpful and having someone facilitate the meeting for full participation would be effective. Design the meeting for collaboration, ask participants ahead of time for contributions and use the meeting time for conversation, alignment and decision making. 

If the meeting is to inform or tell a group of people about a decision that has already been made and you want to raise awareness or ask if anyone has any questions then record a 5 min video or write an email that tells people about the context and the why behind the decision and ask them to send you any questions they have after they watch the video or read the email. 

Find ways to be more intentional about when you need to hear all voices in order to make a decision and when the decision has already been made and you can summarize it in asynchronous communication rather than a meeting. 

Meetings should be used for talking with people rather than at people. 

One problem with meetings is that they can be filled with what participants often see as inefficient. How can meeting leaders keep meetings short but still make sure participants have a sense of connection?

Connection before content. I start each meeting with a check-in, before we dive into the content. I tailor each check-in question to the meeting purpose and what I know about the group who is gathering. I’ll prompt the group with a question and ask to hear from everyone, in no particular order - just speak when you are ready. I make sure we hear from everyone and ask that people not interrupt or ask questions or comment during the check-in. It’s a way to welcome everyone to the space, to focus and transition into the conversation and a ‘warm-up’ to get everyone’s voice into the space. Sample Check-In questions are:

  • What’s your state of mind as you arrive today? 

  • What’s on your mind regarding <the meeting topic>?

  • What do you hope to take away from the conversation today? 

  • What’s something that you want to celebrate about the team right now? 

  • What’s a pivotal moment in your career that shaped who you are today? 

Are there special considerations for meetings that take place over Zoom or other distance collaboration technologies?

  1. Connection before content - I ask everyone coming into a virtual meeting to turn their camera on and be off mute. One of the things we miss the most in the virtual space is seeing and hearing one another - that includes the body language, the laughs when someone cracks a joke, the sigh when someone doesn’t quite understand what was said, it’s all those subtle verbal cues that we are missing when everyone is on mute. So unless you have a large group of 50+ participants then ask everyone to be off mute. Spend time doing a check-in to warm up and get present before diving into the content. 

  2. Level the playing field - If some people are on video and others are video it creates an unlevel playing field for conversation. So if there are people who cannot or will not be on video then ask everyone to turn off their video.  Have a facilitator and ask that everyone take a piece of paper and draw a circle, then place the names of everyone in the meeting around the circle table. Imagine that you are in the room and make notes about who has spoken and not spoken. Ask permission to call on people. This shifts the power dynamic and levels the playing field. 

  3. Use collaborative workspaces. There are many tools for online collaboration - Google Docs, Jamboard, Mural, Miro, etc. For virtual meetings these are invaluable ways to get everyone involved and actively contributing.  

  4. Chunk it up. Attention fades after about 50 minutes online. Take frequent breaks. 5 min stretch break every hour. 15 min break every 90 min. 

  5. Recognize that the outcome may require multiple sessions.  Divide up longer meetings across several consecutive days, meeting for 90 min - 2 hours each day. This provides ‘soaking and reflecting’ time in between each meeting. 

Why is it important to get feedback from team members - and how can managers show they're really listening to the answers?

If you don’t know how things are working or not working for your team then it leaves you ‘guessing’ about how to respond and what the team needs from you. 

  • Take time to set-up one-on-one conversations with your team members. It shows that you care and hearing from them is important to you. 

  • Co-create the agenda together, ask about what’s on their mind. You can also bring topics to talk about. 

  • Do not multitask. One of the best way to listen is to focus on the other person. Turn off your notifications on your computer. Silence your phone and put it away so you’re not distracted. 

  • Acknowledge what you hear the other person saying. 

  • Ask specifically for what you could do to better support them. 

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