In our work and volunteer lives, meetings tend to get a “bad wrap”. But, bringing people together in person – and virtually – is still the most powerful way to accomplish shared goals.

When we participate in meetings, we want the time spent to feel important, productive, and energizing. After gathering with others, we want to emerge knowing we’ve catalyzed tangible, valuable outcomes like breakthrough insights, stronger relationships, and shared commitments.

The problem is not “meetings”. It never was. The problem is a failure of awareness – of discipline – of skillfulness when it comes to fostering space for collaboration. In short, the problem is: poor leadership. I know this to be true because I’ve worked with those all too rare masterful leaders who understand and demonstrate that leading is convening.

January is a time for new beginnings – or maybe just a “reset” – use this opportunity to shift your meetings from sucky to superb, by implementing the “10 things facilitative leaders do exceptionally well” as outlined below:

    1. Bring the “Essential” Question. Like a magnifying glass is to light, a clear, open, evocative question creates focus and heat (energy). As a leader, you must ensure that a relevant, central question is energizing every meeting.

    2. Express views transparently. Contrary to conventional wisdom, remaining silent throughout a meeting is not facilitative. People want to know what you, their leader, thinks. Your job is to express your views (not always first) and invite people’s feedback.

    3. Draw out assumptions. As the landscape changes outside and within our organizations, we need to constantly surface and test assumptions about how the world works and what matters most.

    4. Curtail rank dynamics. Meetings are places where people consciously or unconsciously establish their status and power. Strong leaders model inclusiveness and create clear norms through which all voices are invited, heard, and valued.

    5. Foster shared understanding. Paraphrasing, summarizing and modeling attuned listening behaviors invites others to engage similarly.

    6. Encourage exploration and disagreement. It’s too easy to get fixated on a single idea or direction. Encourage clashing perspectives and ideas that cause discomfort. Ask: “What additional alternatives or options should we be considering?”

    7. Guard against ISR (Idea-Squashing Reflex). How many times have you heard: “We tried something like that five years ago and it didn’t work”? Facilitative leaders are quick to respond: “That was then. Let’s examine the merits of every idea in the context of here and now.”

    8. Celebrate achievements and experiments. It’s important to shine the light on successes and equally important to make heroes out of those who try something new in ways that don’t always work out but do inform future innovations.

    9. Look for common ground. Sometimes people are so siloed in their different positions they can’t see mutual interests right in front of their noses. Facilitative leaders are constantly scanning for common ground and perspectives from which people can take shared action.

    10. Go to the balcony. If the meeting is “the play,” facilitative leaders occasionally invite team members to go to the “balcony” to observe how they are working together. They ask: “What patterns are amplifying or undermining our ability to do great work?

Which of the above 10 strategies are you most eager to try in an upcoming meeting – and why?

Image Credit: Camylla Battani on Unsplash

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