7 Ways to Lead Meetings That Rock?

Excuse me? When do meetings ever rock?

People hate meetings. Who can blame them? For the most part, meetings are an inefficient, ineffective gathering of people spouting off their complaints and beliefs. There is often very little concrete decision making taking place to change the future, and they do not often encourage action between meetings.

Frequently there is no agenda. And when there is an agenda it is often a repeat of the last meeting to revisit the same topics that have had nearly zero action. They often start late or at least some people arrive late. They run over time with complete disrespect to the schedule of attendees. Sometimes there are even people multi-tasking and only partially engaged. Finally, often the same people share the same ideas in long-winded dissertations that does little to encourage true participation of all.

So your answer Dawn is to play board games and poker at our meetings instead? What’s with the poker chips and Scattergories? 

Meeting facilitation is something I’ve done in my career for many years and working through how to change the culture of a meeting is often very difficult. Here are a few ideas on how to inject your next meeting with more effectiveness, bring about more engagement and add some fun to the meeting even!

This list is specifically for a strategy type of meeting. Keep in mind different tools and formats work better for different types of meetings. For example, stand up meetings can be very effective where the goal is just to get a team on the same page of what the priority is for that day. Often times, where a meeting has existed previously, a limited time check-in call is a better fit than a full sit down meeting if the goal is simply to report on progress from the last meeting.

  • Take a moment to Arrive. 

    If you work in a very conscious organization this might even be a mini-meditation. But, for most of our work environments, that would be a bit out of bounds for our co-workers. So instead start the meeting by asking everyone to “take a minute to arrive.” This means to set aside or put away entirely the phones. Take a moment to ground yourself into the intention for this gathering and bringing any emotions to a calm and present state so communication can flow easily. If you feel a meeting is one that you can devote only partial attention to and want to remain on your phone I’d challenge you to examine if your presence in that meeting is truly needed. Distracted attendees are distracting for everyone else.

  • Use an Ice Breaker.

    This is especially helpful if you are pulling together people who lack trust or bring to the meeting preconceived ideas about the contribution of others. One great ice breaker is to play a round of Scattegories. One round only takes about five minutes. It calls upon people to think outside the box. It gives the group a chance to see others in a different light. The risk here is low for sharing because the topic at hand is light in nature. How often have you played this game when you were stunned by another person’s creativity you didn’t know existed?

  • Another Icebreaker Idea.

    A second ice-breaker idea is to do a trust-building exercise called Individual Mind Maps. Everyone generally has a personal goal or work goal they are working towards. It could be getting healthier, watching less TV or communicating better in a relationship. Each person has a large white sheet and writes out in a circle in the middle of the paper what their goal is. Each person in the room gets a different colored marker and everyone takes turns adding one idea, resource or words of encouragement to the person related to their goal. This creates an interactive activity that injects vulnerability and trust. When you assist someone with their goals you can’t help but feel a little more connected to and invested in their success.

  • Consider Visual Voting.

    This technique is especially helpful when you have a group of very vocal people that tend to drown out the voices of those less vocal. This is an exercise in setting priorities that does not use verbal communication at all. Everyone has a Tic Tac Toe sheet or Bingo type of grid on a piece of paper and in each square are listed one of the conflicting priorities. One of the areas of struggle in businesses or families is to agree on where the priorities are so that focus on achieving goals can be done. When we lack focus we spread ourselves too thin and fail because we never set the goals. Having a limit of 3 Most Important Priorities gives room for focus and success. If you have several priorities you have none. Priorities need to be set. But how to gather input without a shouting match or some people just going quiet and not speaking up? Visual voting. This asks everyone to use poker chips to vote. Each person is asked to stack their chips on the squares they feel most strongly about. Everyone has the same number of votes. You can even use divider boards as mini-walls if you really want to ramp up the suspense during voting. Then when the boards are revealed the votes are counted and the priorities have been set by everyone having an equal voice. There can still be verbal sharing after the results are revealed.

  • Use Mind Mapping instead of traditional Brainstorming.

    The problem without out loud brainstorming is again that some wonderful ideas don’t get heard. The talkers drown out the nontalkers. While everyone has a responsibility to speak up for themselves often the culture has created a pattern of certain people taking the floor and keeping it. For this exercise, the participants do the mind mapping exercise for one of the priorities on an individual basis. They list on their own sheet a gathering all steps, tools, and resources to bring that one goal to fruition from their perspective. Then all the mind maps are combined by the facilitator with the common ideas joined together or restated. This requires everyone to think through the process, but still creates the outcome of multiple minds being more valuable than just one.

  • Set Times for the Agenda. (and stick to them!)

    There is little benefit to having an agenda if the time will run out and items will be skipped. Set some time guidelines to each phase of the meeting and then set some buffer time at the end for questions. Time will also need to be set aside for finalizing the next steps discussed in the item below. When we rush through the agenda and linger too long on just a few subjects people do not feel heard. If a subject feels like it warrants more time a different meeting is needed as a follow-up for just that topic.

  • Finalize with a Plan.

    One of the biggest complaints of meetings is that there is a lot of talk and no action. One way to combat this is to have each person in the meeting make a promise to the group. Research shows that promises to multiple people have better results than promises to just one person. What are they personally going to accomplish, and by when? Who will they get this deliverable to? As the group goes around sharing their next action make a chart of each promised action and deadline. Ask each person to personally let you know if something comes up that the goal can’t be met and why. After the meeting e-mail the chart of goals and deadlines to all attendees. This seems like extra work, but if it gets movement and action where before there was none isn’t that worth it? Decide in the meeting when a follow-up checkpoint will occur if you need one before the next meeting to drive accountability.

What are your biggest meeting pet peeves? What are your best techniques for effective meetings? I’d love to hear more ideas on this much-needed topic!

Interested in having me facilitate one of your meetings? Contact me for how I can help.

You can also reach me at dawnmariehafner@gmail.com. Often an outside source can change the culture faster than someone inside.



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