September 20, 2019

2 quick tips for better meetings

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Meetings where people are talking but not listening, workshops where laptops and smartphones scream for participants' attention, conversations that go around in circles, …

As it becomes more difficult to grab people's attention and focus, meeting and workshop facilitation becomes an essential part of the analyst's toolkit. Whether you are business analyst, product owner, scrum master, user experience designer or customer journey expert, simply getting people to forget about their busy day when they enter your meeting room is key to getting to a valuable result.

Two things that I've started doing systematically helped me a lot in getting the attention, and thus information, I need. Interestingly, they make meetings more fun for everyone involved and they result in meeting outcomes that are better supported by the whole team.

1. Treat (almost) every meeting as a workshop

When gathering a number of people (anywhere from 2 up, including yourself), you are taking precious time from others and yourself. So ask yourself: is getting together in a (real or virtual) room the most effective way to get to the result you want? If so, how much time do you want to spend "broadcasting" information, and how much time "receiving" information?

Do you need to present information, or can you plan 5 or 10 minutes for people to read your input to ensure everyone's focus? Will the receiving part of the meeting be a simple conversation, or can you draw from the numerous workshop facilitation techniques available to create a fun and interactive context in which participants co-create answers to your questions?

For example, simply having people first work alone for a few minutes, then share in pairs, then in groups of 4, etc, creates a very different dynamic in your "meeting". It's usually more fun and more effective in getting lots of input and shared understanding and agreement.

2. Use a check-in to fully engage people for your meeting or workshop

Once everyone is physically present, simply jumping into the contents of your meeting seems like the best way to make most of your time together. Unfortunately, many participants will still be thinking about their previous conversation or that email they need to answer.

Starting every meeting with a check-in gets people to focus their attention and temporarily set other concerns and thoughts aside. Such a check-in can be really short, for example:

  • Have everyone close their eyes for a minute and think about a quality they bring to this meeting. Then have people share.
  • Have everyone close their eyes for 30 seconds and think about a question they want answered during this meeting. Then have people share.
  • Ask everyone to select and describe one other person with one positive word. When someone is selected, he or she will do the same for someone else until everyone has had his or her turn and everyone has been "described".

Simple techniques like these can be applied in almost any situation, both with people that know each other and with people that don't. They get people to focus at this meeting and temporarily put aside other concerns.

The first two techniques focus on the contents of the meeting, while the last one creates a positive environment.

Both the workshop approach and the check-in help you create an environment where people actively listen to each other, which in turn will get you to shared understanding and better meeting outcomes.

So, every time you plan for people getting together, ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I use one or two simple facilitation techniques to create an environment for a more constructive conversation?
  • Can I apply a check-in to create a safe, open and positive environment and get people to focus and really listen?

Feel free to share your own tips and experiences with running effective meetings and workshops!



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