In addition to taking standard ten minute bio-breaks every hour or so, you may need to take meeting breaks or offer breakout sessions for the benefit of your team, for your own benefit, or to encourage innovation through a change of scenery.

Extra meeting breaks and breakout sessions enable people to move around, get the blood flowing, grab some fresh air, and think of the situation in a different environment 
(eg, an outdoor courtyard or near a fountain).

Take a Meeting Break to Improve Team Performance and Your Own

Take an Extra Meeting Break

Timing for Meeting Breaks

Take a break when either you, the session leader become fatigued or confused. Also take meeting breaks whenever the group gets stuck on a subject and looks lethargic. Before you send them on special meeting breaks, however, do the following:

  1. Give them a specific time to return (normally fifteen minutes so that they have ten minutes of a ‘normal’ break and an additional five minutes for steps two and three below).
  2. Visually post or give them a question to think about while on the break and ask them to consider the question for five minutes during their extended break.
  3. When participants return, capture their new ideas or responses.

Meeting Breaks Breakthrough

This fairly simple exercise has resulted in many issues being resolved, arguments ending, decisions being made, and participants waking up.

  1. It allows some time for evaporation if the team is saturated, thus allowing space for new ideas to develop.
  2. For the session leader, it affords additional time to regroup while the team remains productive.

Do not be afraid to take meeting breaks. No team ever expressed disappointed when the session leader told the group to take a break.

Ergonomic Meeting Break Alternative

The cognitive benefits of exercise provide a positive benefit for older people, middle-aged people, and even fourth graders. Clinical proof exists that you learn twenty percent faster after exercise than after sitting still.

Why? Exercise improves the blood’s access to specific brain regions and stimulates learning cells to make brain-derived neurotrophic factors, or BDNF, which acts like a Miracle-Gro® for neurons.

What? Consider an ergonomic break where you (or appointee) begin a simple series of stretching. Have participants roll their heads and gently twist their torsos or bend their hips. The should also rotate their arms, or even massage the shoulder trap muscles of the person next to them.

Take special meeting breaks during workshops. Everyone will benefit, feel better, and stay awake longer.

Pause for Two Minutes of Silence

While it may seem counterintuitive to plan a silence period in a meeting, evidence supports the opposite? Alexander Kjerulf, author of Happy Hour Is 9 to 5, shows silence to be an ideal way to encourage deep thinking and ideas, during your meeting.

The purpose of meetings is not to talk–the purpose of meetings is to arrive at ideas, solutions, plans and decisions.

Since few of us can think deeply while we’re talking, two minutes of silence provides a chance to gestate over a decision, issue, or other topics.

Breakout sessions

Breakout sessions or breakout teams enable groups to capture more information in less time. Breaking groups up into smaller groups overcomes the monotony of relying too much on narrative Brainstorming. Typically the session leader (aka, facilitator) may take up to one-half of the total talk time by setting up context and providing thorough reflection of participant input. With ten participants in an eight-hour session, each participant probably contributes less than fifteen minutes of individual airtime, unless you spice up your meetings with breakout sessions.

Rationale for Breakout Sessions

How To Manage Breakout Sessions

How To Manage Breakout Sessions

Additionally, and a very strong benefit of breakout session, all members (especially quiet ones) are given permission to speak freely. Their perspective defends their breakout team’s position, not necessarily their lone voice.

Here are important considerations for managing face-to-face breakout sessions:

  • In advance, have breakout team assignments predetermined and decide on the method for analyzing their input.
  • Publish your assignment or questions to be answered on a screen or in a handout. Be crystal clear with your instructions and the format you expect each breakout team to provide or build when complete.
  • Keep the question or instructions posted (eg, on easel or with a projector) or print out and distribute to each breakout team since teams frequently assemble outside the main workshop room.
  • Give them a precise amount of time or deadline and monitor them closely for progress and questions. Five minutes is typically optimal. It is truly amazing what a group of people can accomplish in three to five minutes when they are provided clear and detailed instructions.

Notes on Breakout Sessions

  • When they return with their contributions, you have already built consensus. Now you need to reconcile the voice of a few breakout teams rather than the voice of many individuals.
  • Appoint a CEO or Chief Easel Officer for each group. They are your single point of contact when asking for updates.
  • Be creative when assigning members to breakout teams. Consider birth dates (eg, months or days); birth position (eg, last child); latitude or longitude of home, office, or birthplace; mountain peaks, constellations, cut up cartoon strips (eg, Dilbert® . . . ), etc. Thematically strive to align with the project or product naming conventions.

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Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practicing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools before class concludes. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

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

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

 

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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2 Comments

  1. Nice post – some good reminders in here. I particularly like the strategy of giving a question for people to ponder during a break. Sometimes groups will come back and NOBODY actually thought about the question they were supposed to think about. But sometimes there are some fascinating break-time discussions that produce ideas and answers that never would have surfaced had you tried to lead a discussion on the topic without taking a break.

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