Great meetings include certain, repeatable characteristics. A high level of participation in meetings frequently indicates the likelihood of a great meeting. What encourages participation? Here are some meeting participation tips worth reviewing.
We share select characteristics with you through the sequence they would occur in a well-conducted meeting; namely the beginning, the middle, and the end. However, we find the following to rank among the most important items for inciting high levels of meeting participation and collaboration.
Beginning (aka Preparation) Phase
Learn to transfer meeting results and ownership to participants before the meeting starts. Optimally, participants should review the purpose, scope, and objectives (ie, deliverables) before the meeting begins. They need to confirm that they understand and find them acceptable, or provide their input to change something before the meeting begins. Review the agenda and tools with participants to ensure that they find the approach sound. Always hold participants responsible for meeting output.
Include a glossary or lexicon should in the pre-read or handout so that individuals can refer back to the operational definitions of terms as challenges arise. People frequently find themselves in violent agreement with each other. Ensure that all the participants agree on the terms used in the purpose, scope, and objectives statements. Typically, the glossary should be maintained by the project team, project management office, program office, or strategic center of excellence. Teams normally don’t argue about the difference between a vendor and a contractor or a bill and an invoice. Unless the definitions are part of the deliverable, they should be determined in advance.
When meetings or workshops support projects, the participants need to know and understand the purpose and objectives of the project, the reason for the project (ie, program goals), and the goals and objectives of the mandating organization (ie, the strategic plan of the business unit and/ or enterprise). Ultimately, all arguments should be resolved by which position best supports reaching the enterprise objectives. Optimally, the meeting room should have large, visible copies of enterprise mission, values, and vision. Handout material should include the more detailed goals (ie, fuzzy and directional) objectives (ie, specific and SMART).
Knowing One Another
Biographic sketches of other meeting members can inspire empathy and understanding. With virtual meetings, include photographs that show the face behind the voice. If you provide supplemental reading material, customize a cover letter for each participant highlighting the pages or sections upon which they should focus. Thus suggesting they do not give their equal attention to everything in the handout. Prompt each subject matter expert in advance with the questions that will be raised during the meeting most pertinent to them or their role. Ask them to focus on those questions since you will turn to them for the first response when the question is raised.
Ultimately the session leader is responsible for tying together the issues mentioned above, known as managing the context. The session leader needs to emphasize the importance of the meeting output, hopefully expressed in terms of how many financial assets or labor hours (eg, FTE) are at risk if the meeting fails.
If the session leader and the participants show up prepared, chances of success are highly amplified. The term ‘facilitate’ means to ‘make easy‘ and if you embrace the suggestions above, you will see meeting participation increase substantially. More importantly, you will have properly begun transfer of ownership and responsibility from the solo session leader to the group or team, as it should be.
Great meetings include certain, repeatable characteristics. A high level of participation frequently indicates the opportunity for a great meeting. What encourages participation?
We share select characteristics in the sequence they would occur in a well-conducted meeting; namely the beginning, the middle, and the end. We find the following to rank among the most important items for inciting high levels of meeting participation and collaboration.
The Middle (aka During the Meeting) Phase
Line of Site
Nobody wants more meetings. They want results. Presumably the results they seek will have an impact on the quality of their lives. If the session leader can quantify the impact of the meeting on the personal wallets in the room, participation is guaranteed to increase. Conversely, if the participants are disengaged, unsure about the meeting purpose, its deliverable, or subsequent impact; their attention will be diverted to email, tardiness, and other means of non-productive behavior. As session leader, make the line of site between the contribution of your participants and the impact of the meeting deliverable, crystal clear. One way to capture this expression is by asking, “What is at risk if this meeting fails?” Rather than claiming your meeting is “important”, prove it—typically by expressing its worth in currency or FTE (ie, Full Time Equivalents)
Using breakout sessions gives everyone permission to speak freely. When they assemble in smaller teams, they are better able to have intimate conversations with fewer people. They discover that they are not a “lone” voice giving them increased confidence to speak on behalf of “our team”. Rarely does a breakout team fail to discuss everything it developed during its break-out session. Make sure you are creative and thoughtful in your assignments, rather than 1-2-3. Appoint a CEO for each team (ie, chief easel operator). Consider when to use homogeneous teams that think alike versus heterogeneous teams that tend to think differently.
Actively seek and beseech participant input with open hands and eye contact. Let them know that you want to ensure that their input is not lost at critical and appropriate moments. Give them confidence that you will protect them by separating the value of their message from their personality. Emphasize that the facilitator protects the people first and then secures participants’ input secondarily, because the content gathered is being assembled to serve the people, not the other way around.
Reinforce During Breaks
Constantly remind them (in private) that their input is important and valued. Reinforce your role as protector and ask them if they have avoided making a contribution when, perhaps, they should have spoken. Ask them if there is anything else that you can do, as facilitator, to make it easier for them to provide input.
Great meetings include some repetitive characteristics. A high level of participation frequently indicates the opportunity for a great meeting. What encourages participation?
We share meeting participation tips with you through the sequence they would occur in a well-conducted meeting; namely the beginning, the middle, and the end (ie, The Wrap). The following is not meant to be exhaustive, as substantial detail is also found in other articles. However, we find the following to rank among the most important items for inciting high levels of meeting participation, collaboration, and today’s focus—ownership.
Ending (aka Review and Wrap) Agenda Step
While meeting participation concludes with the wrap-up or close of each meeting, participation and ownership need to extend back to the project or the other reasons for holding the meeting in the first place. For example, the term ‘plan‘ can minimally be defined with four words—who does what, when. Ownership of results is clearly important to truly call a meeting, successful.
As session leader (ie, frequently referred to as facilitator), conduct a thorough review of the agreed upon outputs. Do not relive the meeting nor provide a transcription. Simply focus on the final items of agreement, and not necessarily the rationale behind them. Ensure that everyone supports the outputs since this is their last chance to speak up. They need to now agree to support the outputs, even if not their favorite, in the hallways and meeting rooms after they leave. As professionals, you have every reason to expect them to either walk the talk or speak up. It’s not your responsibility to reach down their throat and pull it out of them. Ensure that they will both support the output, and not lose any sleep over it.
Based on the expectations and culture of the participants, modify your roles and responsibilities tool to ensure accountability, responsibility, and support for action items that need to be assigned. Demand that one and only one role accept responsibility since you do not want to allow for the pointing of fingers at the ‘other person.’ If you have followed the suggestions of the first two blogs in this series, assignments comes as no surprise and your participants have already considered whom they feel would be optimal for each of the action items. If necessary, remind them of the holarchial value of their assignments and how completion of the action items will impact their quality of life, income, workload, etc. If no one steps up, assign it as on ‘open issue’. Then escalate it back to the executive sponsor or his or her equivalent.
Relevant items captured, typically beyond stop of the meeting, may also be assigned. North Americans frequently refer to this category as the ‘Parking Lot.’ We prefer the term ‘Refrigerator’ to connote a sense of value, something that can be cooked up into a new meal, rather than a place where stuff goes to rust. While covered in other articles, do NOT ask, “Who will be responsible for this (ie, open item)?” Rather, ask “Who will take the point of communications and report back to this group on the status of this (ie, open item)?” Again, if no one steps up, assign it as on ‘open issue’ and escalate it back to the executive sponsor or their equivalent.
Ensure that your participants now sensibly and similarly communicate with others the results of the meeting. Make sure it sounds like they were in the same meeting together. Build consensus around “If you encounter your superior at lunch, and they ask you for an update, what will you tell them we accomplished in this meeting?” Secondarily consider other stakeholders that may be affected by the meeting outputs, “If you encounter a stakeholder in the hallway, and they ask you for an update, what will you tell them we accomplished in this meeting?” Do not underestimate the value of this activity. Groups that claim to have consensus may discover based on their interpretation that significant difference remain. The best time to resolve these differences is right now, before the meeting adjourns.
Ask them how you did and obtain their ownership over the fact that their input can help make you a better session leader. To allow for anonymity, ask them to jot down on separate Post-it Notes, at least one aspect they liked and one aspect they would have changed for the meeting. Have them mount their notes using Plus/ Delta as they exit the meeting, either using easel(s) or white board to label your titles.
Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.
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- The Role of Session Leader (mgrush.com/blog)
- How to Facilitate a Consensual Sphere of Concern, Influence, and Control Using the Bookend Method (mgrush.com/blog)
- How to Get a Promising Meeting to Fail (mgrush.com/blog)
- SMART Versus DUMB Criteria (mgrush.com/blog)
- How To Actively Listen (mgrush.com/blog)
- How to Facilitate Requirements Gathering (mgrush.com/blog)