Five Meeting Problems and What You Should Do About Them

Don’t let meeting problems become a burden

Ever develop that sense of deja vu about not getting anywhere during a meeting?  Meeting problems are indicative of resistance that is generated during a meeting.  Resistance can be prevented and mitigated with professional behavior.  Here’s what to do about five common meeting problems.

1.  Meeting Problems — Lack of clear purpose

All too frequently, meetings are held for the primary benefit of the meeting leader, typically the group’s director, supervisor, or project manager. The session leader has decided to schedule a series of weekly meetings in advance, typically for their own convenience. They anticipate needing the time of others to raise the fog high enough so that they can determine what they need to get done over the next week, until the next meeting.

SOLUTION FOR MEETING PROBLEMS — #ONE:  Carefully articulate the purpose and deliverable of the meeting, preferably in twenty-five words or less. If you are unable to clearly explain why you are having the meeting and the meeting’s desired output (ie, “What does ‘DONE‘ look like?”), then you are not prepared to be an effective meeting leader. If you are the participant, demand a written statement that details the purpose, scope, and deliverable of the meeting, preferably in advance, or don’t attend.

2.  Meeting Problems — Unprepared participants

Lack of clear purpose (mentioned above) is the main reason participants show up unprepared. Before and sometimes during the meeting, they remain unclear about what “showing up prepared” looks like.

SOLUTION FOR MEETING PROBLEMS — #TWO:  Beyond a clearly written statement about the meeting’s purpose, scope, and deliverable, participants need advance understanding about the agenda. The agenda explains how the meeting will generate results so that participants can get out. Nobody wants more meetings or longer meetings. Detailed questions determine agenda topics (eg, What are our options?). Ideally, participants should know the questions to be asked during the meeting before it begins, so that they can attend prepared and ready to respond.

3.  Meeting Problems — Biased leadership

Nothing will restrain the input of participants faster than a leader who begins to emphasize their personal answer. Participants will then hope the leader exposes an entire position before they begin to make contributions, so that they know where they stand, and avoid embarrassment about being “wrong”.

SOLUTION FOR MEETING PROBLEMS — #THREE:  Leaders should embrace neutrality. If they want others’ input and opinions, then ask and listen. If they don’t want others’ ideas, they should not have a meeting. There are more cost-effective means for informing and persuading than hosting meetings. Being neutral is like being pregnant, you either are or you’re not—there is no grey area.

4.  Meeting Problems — Scope creep (strategic and tactical blending)

All too often, meetings dive deep into the weeds (ie, HOW or concrete methods) or challenge the purpose (ie, WHY or ultimate intention). Nobody wants more meetings, they only want results.

SOLUTION FOR MEETING PROBLEM #FOUR:  To avoid scope creep in the meeting, carefully craft a written statement reflecting the scope (see item number one above). Carefully police the scope of an issue so that participants don’t go too deep into the weeds. Thus ensure that others do not argue about the reason for a project, as project approval is beyond the scope of most meetings. For pertinent strategic issues that are beyond the scope of the meeting, capture them in a “Refrigerator” (aka “Parking Lot”) to preserve them until you can meet in a workshop forum that discusses strategic issues, their implications, and what needs to be done about them (recommendations).

5.  Meeting Problems — Poor or non-existent structure

Lack of structure applies both at the meeting level (ie, agenda) and within each agenda step. Structure enhances flexibility and gives you a method for delivering ‘done’. Most leaders are competent at soliciting ideas (ie, creating a list) but remain frail during the analysis activity.

SOLUTION FOR MEETING PROBLEMS — #FIVE:  Determine in advance:

  • What are you going to do with the list?
  • How will you lead them to categorize items?
  • Should you categorize, or perhaps push on to specific measurable details?
  • If prioritizing, have you separately identified the criteria?
  • How are you going to lead the group to apply the criteria to the options that lead to a prioritized list?

It’s not easy to lead a successful meeting. No one ever said it was. Success begins with clear thinking and understanding how to avoid the five most common problems with meetings.

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Finally, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on providing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices methodology and tools before class concludes. Some call this immersion. We call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

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Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH Professional Facilitation Training provides an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, and 3.2 CEUs. As a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), our Professional Facilitation Training aligns with IAF Certification Principles and fully prepares alumni for their Certified Professional Facilitator designation.

Furthermore, our Professional Facilitation curriculum immerses students in the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Because nobody is smarter than everybody, attend an MG RUSH Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world, see MG RUSH for a current schedule.

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In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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