Archive for the ‘facilitation’ Tag

Meeting Planning

Still working on that project of meetings that don’t waste people’s time.  I’d like to do better than that —  meetings that are fun, meetings that get things done, meetings that inspire or build teamwork for the future — but there are still a lot of stuck patterns that get in the way of making even the low bar.

For one thing, we’re still struggling to get remote people able to participate in a meeting.  At our last meeting, we planned ahead to run Skype,  but had last minute problems both human and technical.  And Skype is not an ideal solution when a handful of people are remote and the vast majority are in the room.  It’s just not what it’s for.   We’re going to try Skype again but I’m also interested in investigating other conferencing solutions.

For another thing, keeping enough control over the agenda but not so much that I don’t get to find out anything new by having the meeting, is an interesting balancing act.  One thing I’m learning is that going around the room giving reports by division is almost always a fail.   Boring.  Disjointed.  No narrative.   It worked once, when the question around the room was  “what do you have to do to get ready for X deadline” .  But open ended reports?  Not making me happy.

Next meeting, I’m planning to experiment with getting the division reports boiled down to about a sentence or two each and onto a handout in advance.

It is completely impossible to over-prepare for running a meeting. At least I haven’t managed to do it yet.  The meeting I’m currently trying to over-prepare for is a full-day retreat of about 25 people — almost all my division heads and some of the assistant division heads.  I think they trust me not to waste their time at this point.  But I’d like this to be really something special, and fun.



Learning from Last Year

Every year the staff of ThatCon ends the year with a pile of notes about what to change for next year.    And then the notes go in a file and we completely forget them.

Wait, not really. The formal meeting that we call “the debrief” is not that effective a way of  fixing the institutional anything.  Three or four hours of sitting in a room hearing reports one division at a time and getting little bullets of feedback in three minute increments with no discussion time is, in and of itself, not a good way to fix anything.  I suspect that far more real change gets accomplished in the informal small-group dinners that inevitably follow.

We keep doing it because it serves a purpose.  A couple of purposes.  First of all, by having a meeting, we have a due date when the written copies of all of those reports are due.  We have about a dozen standard questions about what went well, what went badly, and what needs to be changed for the future.  Sum total of those reports, posted to our staff web site, are a great resource for those that follow.

Second of all, many volunteer organizations have trouble with giving thanks and recognition, and we’re no exception.  It’s insufficient, but necessary, for those people who led the organization to get a chance to stand up and say, this is what I did.

Third, it’s kind of a closing ritual.

Still.  Three or four hour of sitting in room hearing three minute reports, Madame Conchair, how does that jibe with your New Year’s Resolution a month ago about no boring meetings?   It’s hard to do much with this format.

You can:

  • make it run on time
  • take good notes so that people who can’t be there or can’t stay for the whole thing have access
  • make the meeting available to remote participants and let people with laptops write down their comments in real time
  • have a little bit of humor and a little bit of audio-visual
  • have name tags so we stop pretending that we all know everyone, and making the new folks feel even more out of the loop.  I could write a whole little post about that alone.

We did all those things, and the best I can say for it is it wasn’t a horrible meeting.

The best thing we did was make a reservation down the block for a bunch of pool tables for afterwards.  The fun and conversation there  made up,  a little bit,  for our yearly exercise in trying to cram a summary of thousands of hours of work into an afternoon.

But wait!  I have an idea.  For an Experiment.  Of how to do this better, more productively, and a lot more fun next year.  I’ll save that for another post though.


And to get started …

Where better to start than a New Year’s Resolution?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m trying to accomplish in the next year,  and one of the things I’ve been doing is laying out a calendar of the meetings we’ll have.   Years of experience have shown us that we need a certain frequency of meetings to get everything done.  But we don’t always use our meeting time well.  Gathering people into a room because it’s that day of the month again, and going around and hearing status reports without context or dialog?  Doesn’t get people engaged.

So here’s the New Year’s Resolution: no boring meetings.  I’m not sure I can pull off being entertaining and creative at all these meetings.  At least, no pointless, annoying, time-wasting meetings. The ground rules surely have to include

We all know what we’re trying to accomplish in this meeting.

The right people are present at the meeting.  Conversely, people who aren’t necessary for the purpose of the meeting don’t feel like they’re supposed to show up “just because”. 

At the end of the meeting, we know what to do next.

If we’re interested in the outcome of the process, then these meetings won’t be boring.  We’ll be able to see how these  meetings are building up towards where we’re going.

I made this resolution thinking about my work on ThatCon but immediately started thinking about the weekly status meetings I run at  $DayJob.   Well, those meetings are less than engaging, honestly.  I need the information from those status reports and I still feel like that.  $DayJob meetings have a handicap in that we’re meeting over a telephone conference line.  I’m going to think about that as I head to first status meeting of the  shiny new year tomorrow morning.