You’re scheduled for a meeting next week, and you receive the agenda in your email. You’re pleased to see that there is a designated facilitator for the meeting, but not so thrilled that it’s you. If your meetings are like mine, they can sometimes feel like herding cats. So how do you keep meetings flowing and productive?

  1. Have a designated facilitator. Without a person responsible to move the meeting forward, chaos will likely ensue. Does this mean that this person is solely responsible to keep the process moving? Nope. Every attendee is responsible for speaking up if the meeting is getting off track.
  2. Know what you need to achieve. You may know what you need to talk about, but have you defined the outputs you need from the meeting? If you don’t know where you’re going (like whether you need to make a decision on X or brainstorm options for Y), no one knows what a “successful meeting” means. So you’ll be heading in multiple directions, which is never a productive exercise.
  3. Practice gentle firmness. That may sound like it’s an oxymoron.However, gentle firmness is key for facilitation of meetings. While “hey, idiot, get back on topic!” may be what you’re thinking, “let’s put that on next month’s agenda” is a better option.
  4. Develop a code. Some teams benefit from having a standard meeting vocabulary, as suggested by Roger Schwarz in HBR’s article on 8 Ground Rules for Great Meetings. If you use terminology like “parking lot” for things that need to be addressed later, make sure everyone knows what they mean.

Meetings get a bad rap, and often it’s well-deserved. Make the most of your time together by agreeing on what you need to get done and how you’ll chart a course for accomplishing your objectives.


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