Below are eight habits we call meeting killers that every facilitator, or meeting leader, must avoid.

#1 – Neglect to prepare your participants in advance.

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone asks: “So, what’s this all about?”

People attending a meeting should know the purpose of the meeting before they accept.  Since their input is presumably valuable, provide them with a pre-read package.  Participants should show up properly prepared to make the contributions you seek.  That’s why we call them subject matter experts. See our post on  “Participants Package”  for items to consider in your pre-read package.  Read our post on “Meeting Announcements” for other meeting announcement considerations prior to shipping your pre-read packages.

#2 – Penalize people who are on time.

Meeting Killers

#7 – Disregard the use of any ground rules.

Imagine it’s one of those days when you have two or three meetings back to back. Time is precious, so you make sure to arrive on time, only to discover the meeting will be delayed (and possibly run late) because the session leader insists on waiting for late comers.

As a professional session leader, do NOT wait for people who are running late.  You do NOT want to penalize people who are on time.  You don’t even know if the people who are tardy will show up at all, so start promptly.

If someone does show up late, and needs to be informed or updated, pair them off with someone and ask them to go in the hallway for a quick debrief, while you continue.

The last thing you want to do is stop the meeting and review (i.e., repeat) what has already transpired.  Do NOT penalize everyone else and force the them to waste time reviewing things they’ve already heard once, twice, or even three times.  Note that the first ground rule we recommend is “Be Here Now”.  Control context and be an enforcer, not a wimp.  We also recommend starting your meetings five minutes after the normal start time.  Conclude five minutes early.  Be the one smart enough to know that participants deserve a few minutes between meetings to attend to stuff.  Enhance your track record with punctuality and your reputation will soar.

#3 – Don’t have a deliverable, or any concept of what DONE looks like.

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone seemed to have their own discrete and sometimes competing purpose?

As a professional leader, it’s your job to insure everyone fully understands the purpose of the meeting.  Professional leaders always have a vision of success. More concretely, they can visualize what the meeting will produce or deliver.  Steven Covey used the expression “Start with the End in Mind.”  We prefer the concept of knowing what DONE looks like.

#4 – Don’t have an agenda, or any structure.

Have you ever been in a meeting where one comment (or one person) suddenly sends the discussion—or, worse yet, the entire meeting–in a completely new and unrelated direction?

As the meeting leader, it’s your job to prevent meeting scope creep from the beginning until the end. Limit discussion unrelated to your deliverable.  Your agenda is a road map that tells the group how you are going to get them to the deliverable.  There is more than one right answer, so do not permit any arguments around context.  As leader, you have predetermined the best way, given your constraints, to get there.  Not having an agenda is truly the ‘kiss of death.’  We provide many specific and useful suggestions for building agendas, here are a few:

#5 – Begin every sentence with the word “I” as in “I think . . .”, “I want . . .”, “I need . . .”, “I believe . . .”, “I feel . . .”

Ever heard your meeting leader constantly refer to themselves in the first person?

As leader, you should consistently substitute integral terms and pluralistic rhetoric such as we, us, and ours.  Make sure everyone knows that this meeting is NOT about you.  Walk the talk by controlling your rhetoric.

#6 – Better yet, don’t shut up.  Start talking and never stop.

Ever go to a meeting and say nothing? 

Why?  Because the leader spoke one, long sentence from the beginning of the meeting to the very end.  When anyone else is speaking, rarely should you, the leader, interrupt or cut them off.  Remind them that you are servile, and the meeting serves to support them.

#7 – Disregard the use of any ground rules.

Have you been a meeting where everyone is head down, buried in their laptops or phones?

Do not permit dysfunctional behavior.  If everyone behaves and does whatever they want, you might as well not have a meeting.  The adage, don’t text and drive applies equally well for a meeting. A meeting where participants aren’t paying attention (i.e., texting or checking email) is bound to end in a wreck—one where the damage means economic loss for the company. If email must be responded to, ask them to take it out into the hallway where their keyboard inputting is not such a distraction.  Build and use ground rules.  You’ll be glad you did.

#8 – Ignore your virtual or remote participants entirely.

Notice how teleconference or video-presence participants contribute much less frequently than live participants?

Remote folks are frequently ignored.  Begin with them instead.  Do not string them in at the end for additional comments.  Ask them to take the lead.  If you take a round robin approach, start with them.  If you create a virtual seating arrangement, put them up front.  However, make the ground rules apply to them as well.  No multi-tasking, working on email, or shopping.

Follow these suggestions to ensure that the output and next steps of your meeting are clear, certain, and shared.  Wouldn’t it be great if participants left the meeting saying: “It’s pretty clear what I have to do next to add value.”

Meeting Killers

What are we missing? We’d love to hear from you about some irritant we left out. Enter a comment or leave a reply below.

Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills

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.

Additionally, go to the Facilitation Training Store to access our in-house resources. Finally, you will discover numerous annotated agendas, break timers, and templates.

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

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, 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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