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Productive Meetings

By Ashraf Al Shafaki

Objectives

By the end of this workshop you will be able to:

  • Understand the barriers preventing productive meetings.
  • Design a productive and enjoyable meeting.
  • Provide equal opportunities for participants in a meeting.
  • Capture participant's thoughts more effectively using the "think and listen" and "go-round" methods.
  • Create effective dynamic agendas for a meeting.
  • Prevent interruptions during a meeting.

Duration: 2 days


Content

Issues

Unproductive meetings often suffer from one or more of the following issues:

  • Not completing many of the high priority subjects of the meeting.
  • Waisting too much time in low priority or completely off-topic subjects.
  • Heated debates and arguments that waste time and energy and create a negative atmosphere.
  • A number of participants not given a fair chance to voice their opinions and fully express themselves.
  • Taking more time than initially assigned.
  • Not starting on time.
  • Interruptions.
  • Side discussions.
  • Participants evading responsibility and proposing solutions that they want people other than themselves to carry out.

Principles

  • Facilitators and changed every meeting.
  • Everyone should feel he or she has been heard.
  • Equal opportunities
  • Interruption free proceedings
  • Putting aside time to think
  • Working with visions

People

Facilitator

  • Moderates discussions.
  • Briefs participants.

Recorder

  • Keeps a written record of what is mentioned during the meeting.

Timekeeper

  • Keeps track of set time intervals and signals their end.

Participants

  • Actively participate in shaping meeting decisions thinking, speaking out their thoughts and casting their votes.

Methods

The following methods can be practiced at first as games then later used to effect productive meetings.

    Think and Listen

    When to Use: After picking an item for discussion from the meeting agenda a think-and-listen can be used to start discussing it.

    How it is Done: Participants are grouped in pairs. In each pair, one participant speaks his thoughts out load to his partner for 3 minutes while his partner attentively listens. Then they switch roles for another 3 minutes.

    Benefits:

    • saves time since half of the participants are speaking at the same time
    • helps participant to think better
    • hinders side discussions later on by purging the need for side discussions
    • takes the heat out of avid speakers allowing for calmer discussions later during the meeting
    • prevents and hinders interruptions 

    Go-Round

    Each and every participant in sequence is given 2 minutes to speak to the rest of the group within the framework of a topic mentioned by the facilitator.

    Check-Ins

    Facilitator asks participants a question (such as "Do you feel tired?") and they reply with thumbs up, thumbs down or somewhere in between. This is better than getting the answer from one or two participants only.

    Beginnings and Endings

    Begin and end meetings with simple go-round. Beginnings can be introductions if the group is meeting for the first time. Endings are where feedback can be collected through asking participants to mention something they have enjoyed about the meeting and anything they would have done differently.

    No One Speaks Twice.

    Each participant is given a chance to speak once and is not allowed to speak again until all other participants have spoken at least once.

    One way to assist in implementing this method, is to keep a visible count of how many times each participant has spoken. This can be done by first writing all the names of the participants of a meeting on a white board or flip chart sheet then adding a mark (for instance a slash '/') next to the name of a participant every time he or she speaks.

    Mind Maps

    When to Use: A mind map is a representation of ideas in a flexible non-linear easy-to-edit fashion. It can be used in the preparation stage of creating linear content or as a final documentation format in itself.

    Benefits: As a thinking tool (when used in a preparation stage) mind maps help remove restrictions from the brain assist it in coming up with new and more effective ideas. As a final documentation format, mind maps can give an integrated holistic view of a topic in a quick and clear way.

    How it is Done: A mind map is created by writing the main topic in a circle then radiating lines out of it to point to sub-topics. Sub-topics can be further expanded with lines radiating from them and so on in a branching tree-like fashion.

    Editing Mind Maps

    A mind map can be edited in one or more of the following ways:

    • adding numbers to indicate sequence or priority
    • merging two items together
    • allocating time (for each item)
    • regrouping items
    • adding new items
    • deleting an item

    Constructing Open Agendas

    At the beginning of a meeting, the facilitator mind maps items of the agenda according to what participants suggest. Then items are categorized according to how much discussion time they would need during the meeting. Finally, items are ordered, usually the shortest coming first. Participants are kept aware of progress in the agenda during the meeting by the facilitator and timekeeper.

    A draft of the agenda may be created by the facilitator before the meeting starts yet should be adjusted by participants using the above mentioned method.

    The agenda can be actively modified by the group as the meeting goes (time allocation, priorities ...) hence the need for visible agendas.

    Visible Agendas

    The recorder of the meeting writes the agenda on flip chart sheet in a mind map form. A visible time table can also be added separately to the agenda.

    Colored markers should be used to make reworking of the agenda clear to all participants.

    Vision Support Group

    Why it is Done: The aim of this method is to allow participants to think about their vision and long term goals.

    How it is Done: Participants are divided into smaller groups of 3 to 6 participants. Each groups goes through a think and listen and go-round answering the following 4 questions while the other participants listen attentively.

    Questions: As a ...

    1. What is going well for me? [positive thinking]
    2. What is difficult for me? [fresh perspective to listeners and speaker]
    3. What are my long term goals and vision?
    4. What are my next achievable steps towards achieving this vision and these goals?

    Meeting Sequence

    • Introductions (go-round)
      • say your name
      • any info requested by the facilitator (ex: what you expect from the meeting)
    • Briefing (by the facilitator) can be done in presentation form
      • positive achievements since last meeting
      • challenges ahead
    • Actively create meeting agenda (constructing open agendas)
    • Select highest priority item from agenda and work on it.
      • (think and listen)
      • (go-round) and mind-map ideas, questions, issues and suggested solutions
    • Repeat the last step with the next agenda item according to priority until all items are completed. (Adjust agenda as necessary while doing so.)
    • Feedback about the meeting (go-round)
      • say your name
      • one thing you liked
      • one thing you would have done differently

    Traditional vs. Flexible Meetings

    • Agenda
      • presented by facilitator
      • actively created and modified by participants
    • Minutes
      • written to the letter in a linear fashion
      • notes are taken in a mind map format
    • Control
      • controlled entirely by facilitator
      • facilitator shares control with participants
    • Satisfaction
      • no guarantee of participant satisfaction
      • built-in techniques to insure participant satisfaction while preserving meeting efficiency (no one talks twice, think and listen)

    FAQ

    • How to deal with a participant who interrupts others, fires heated debates and does not want to stop talking thinking his opinion is more important than that of others?
    • As a facilitator should I explain how a meeting will be conducted at the beginning of the meeting?
    • How can the facilitator learn to deal with difficult participants? How can a facilitator learn to be more in control of a meeting?

    Workshop Sequence

    • Ask participants how many of them have attended meetings before.
    • Ask participants to think about one terrible meeting they have attended. Ask them to list what made them feel terrible about such meetings.
    • Gather lists of common problems in unproductive meetings (use think and listen then go-round to do so!)
      • Ask participants for suggestions to overcome each common meeting problem.
      • Use the list as an entry point to introduce the concepts and methods proposed for productive meetings.
    • Ask participants to mention elements of a meeting. Write the elements they mention on a flip chart sheet. This can be used later for comparison between traditional and flexible meetings.
    • Explain go-round.
    • Activity 1: Ask participants to mention their names and from where have they heard about this training session.
    • Explain then ask participants to go through a think and listen on a topic of your choice.
    • Ask participants to say what they know about mind maps then explain it.
    • Ask participants if they feel they can apply the mentioned methods in their meetings. Use check-ins to get their responses.
    • Explain creating open agendas.
    • Activity 10: Ask participants to mention what course or training session they would love to attend one day. [go-round]

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