How can we improve the quality of our work meetings?

How often do you start your meetings discussing professional behaviour or ‘ground rules’? In my experience, I’d say not very often. This is usually because we have met before, we are all professionals, and we don’t have time. We have a lot to get through and to suggest we need to address our behaviour would be just rude!

Setting the thinking environment by working on the mindset of those present can still seem a bit ‘woo woo’ and not really challenging work, therefore not worthwhile. So, what is worthwhile? Tough negotiation, convincing others to see things our way, knocking heads together and driving challenges forward? How often do you think – ‘there must be a better way?’

Well, there can be, if you take a little time to get people into the right frame of mind first.

​Imagine starting a meeting in a positive and relaxed frame of mind, looking forward to listening and being heard when you speak. How good it would it feel to be appreciated for your achievements and successes. Focusing on positives and acknowledging what’s working well sets the scene for a more positive outcome. But how is it possible?

I was ‘briefed’ recently for a meeting I was due to facilitate and warned of the ’troublemakers’ who would try to convince everyone else that their ideas were better than everyone else’s. They will take over the meeting, become louder, argumentative, opinionated and more demanding until others gave in and resentfully agreed to bring the meeting to a conclusion quickly just to get out of there. Decisions weren’t unanimous and not much happened in between meetings. Probably because there was no real ‘buy in’. The process was repeated at the next meeting. I could see why they brought in facilitator!

As an external facilitator (find out more here) who didn’t know the group I spent the first 20 minutes on a feedback exercise – this was a board-level meeting and they wanted to ‘get down to business’ to feel like the time spent at the meeting was worthwhile. With a few sighs initially, they participated to humour me and get the ‘woo woo’ bit out of the way then they could get on with the arguing and shouting others down.

In the exercise we produced a list of what valuable feedback is; constructive, honest, backed-up with evidence, respectful etc. We also had a list of poor feedback, vague, rude, attacking the person to get your own point across etc. This completely disarmed the board as they weren’t used to reflecting on their professional behaviour or how they wanted to be treated. This brief reflection reinforced the view that people respond better to respectful, constructive feedback. We created the meeting mindset together. We used the positive and negative list to establish the meetings ground-rules. Only then, when we had created an appreciative environment, did we move on to the agenda – and within an hour had agreed on a way forward with harmony and without acrimony.

We finished the meeting with genuine appreciation for each other's efforts and a real willingness to take forward the actions agreed, this time unanimously. And we finished 10 minutes early, people mingled and chatted together instead of rushing off at the end of the meeting. Well, to be honest, no-one can leave early anyway due to the security of the building. They’d never finished early before; they were usually late and frustrated so finding this out was a real novelty!

I don’t know what would have happened if they’d just gone straight into the agenda as usual. I suspect they’d have felt the meeting was exhausting, a bit of a battle but that is what being on a board is all about, right? I’d say the 20 minutes of creating a positive mindset paid back several times over.

Whether this is coaching, or facilitation is open to debate. I think all conversations, whether they are one to one coaching sessions or working with a group, have improved outcomes when we take the time to focus on creating an appreciative environment with the right mindset. There is another way – who knew?!

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