Those of us in social change and knowledge work spend a lot of time in meetings. Too few meetings optimize the contribution of everyone who is participating. Undoubtedly you have sat in meetings in which you wondered why the group was having it and why you were there.
A first step and very practical approach to improving meetings is to start with answering why you are having the meeting in the first place. I covered some of those basics here and have a handy worksheet to plan better meetings.
Yet most of what I covered in those posts and worksheet were the cognitive tasks you need to think through when planning: the why, who and how.
Beyond the Cognitive
:I was at a training led by Cocreative Consulting recently during which they introduced another way to think about meetings which I appreciated. They named four agendas (besides people’s personal agendas :) that engage the whole person in a meeting. They are:
Aligning – Connecting – Learning – Making
Aligning – This agenda engages the spirit and your intentions. Is the ‘why’ clear? Has the group aligned around a goal or shift they are trying to create?
Connecting – This agenda engages the heart. This is the agenda that too often in our action oriented culture we ignore. It can get dismissed as too “touchy feely.” Yet without trust, groups do not work at their highest potential. What element of connecting people to each other could you build into your next meeting? Remembering to do a check in and check out is a way to build this into your meeting. Asking each participant to answer a simple question that goes beyond basic introductions is another way. How do you help people share with other to build connection and connect to the people impacted by the work?
Learning – This agenda engages the head. Before the group jumps into problem-solving, have they clearly defined (and agreed) on the problem they are trying to solve together? Is there a wider more complex landscape that the challenge lies within? How might the group map that system so that they create a shared understanding?
Making – This agenda engages the hands. While traditional meetings often leave this out and end up being a lot of talk – what tangible product could the group produce that would move their work forward? How might you design the meeting so that the time spent together is focused on creating a product together rather than just planning? Is there a way to create a prototype together that brings the group’s ideas to life quickly?
I will be keeping these four agendas in mind as I design meetings in the future.
Need help thinking about how you might apply this to your context? Inquire about a coaching call.
What does all this growth mean for us going forward?
Challenge: An education related organization had accomplished all the key goals in their current strategic plan. Over this period, the organization experienced substantial growth both in the number of clients it was serving as well as the scope of the services they were providing the field. With the increased staff strength, the board had become accustomed to relying on staff for direction and strategic thinking. The organization needed to assess the implications of this growth, ensure that there was alignment of staff and board in order to set direction and clear goals for the next 3-5 years.
Approach: After interviews with each of the board members, and external stakeholder interviews as well as focus groups with staff, I facilitated a one-day retreat with the board and staff leadership. The retreat focused on:
• conducting an environmental scan to identify key trends impacting the organization’s work,
• reviewing the themes from the interviews and focus groups and discuss their implications
• envisioning the organization’s future impact on the field,
• resulting in identifying two to three key strategic goals for the organization.
Results: The organization now has a new strategic plan with clear support from both the board and staff leadership. The process helped the board step into its strategic role. Board meetings now have time dedicated to focusing on strategic questions. Staff leadership was also able to recognize how some of their actions encouraged the board to rely on them. Thus they are now equipped to make different choices moving forward. They can be clearer about what is staff work and what is the board’s responsibility.
Are our board and staff focused on the right things?
Challenge: A local land trust organization had a regular good practice of conducting a board self-assessment each year. Over the past couple years, a few indicators created some concern. The group decided it would benefit from outside facilitation for its annual board staff retreat to dive into the issues raised in the self-assessment, including roles and responsibilities between board and staff.
Approach: In addition to the board self-assessment results, I conducted a survey of staff and board. My goal was to learn about the board’s current concerns and to understand the staff’s perspective on the organization’s current state. During the retreat, after a brief presentation on nonprofit life cycles, the group considered where their organization stood in its development. I then shared the themes from the survey and had the group discuss the implications.
Board and staff learned that they had more in common than they thought on their perspectives of what the organization needed to improve in terms of operations. It also became clear that the board was eager to stay at the governance level and focus on longer-term strategic issues. Through small group work, the groups considered its current initiatives and areas for future development and sketched out next steps. The group then gave each small group feedback.
Results: Through the retreat, the board and staff were able to open up conversations focused on roles and responsibilities that they had had some trepidation about addressing. The conversations revealed more agreement than individuals had expected. The group identified areas for growth and left with increased clarity on roles, goals and next steps.
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