How Effective Meetings Maximize Engagement

At Create Forward we specialize in designing gatherings and training the facilitators of those gatherings. We believe that every major change that we seek to create in our communities, our institutions, and in the nation begins with a gathering of concerned people. We’re constantly thinking of ways to make those gatherings more generative containers for discovering shared values, solutions to problems, and collective visions for a more equitable future.

If you’re reading this post, then you probably spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to make your gatherings more effective too. We’ve all attended a meeting and at the end left feeling like that could have been a 15-minute phone call. Yet gathering has value. It cultivates collaboration and reinforces a shared sense of purpose. Whether you gather your employees for a Monday morning all-staff meeting or your volunteer advisory board to fulfill an organization’s due diligence requirements, you want to make the time spent worthwhile for everyone involved.

Here are three ways to increase engagement at your next meeting:

1.    Co-Create the Agenda: if you’re facilitating the meeting you might have a handle on what you think the agenda needs to be but if you want to increase engagement and collaboration then you need to consider that there might be other agenda items that you might be missing. Try sending out an email a few days before the meeting with a rough draft of what the agenda will include along with a sentence or two about the overarching goal of the meeting. Invite the group to suggest other items or even eliminate some of the ones there. Then request volunteers to facilitate some of those suggestions. Provide a deadline for agenda changes and for facilitators. If there are items that you know are non-negotiable then be transparent about that. You might also notice that there are some people who never raise their hand. Check in with them and invite them to facilitate a section of a future meeting. They might require additional support or want someone to co-facilitate with them on the first go around but it’s a good way to ensure that the more introverted members of your team don’t get left behind.

2.     Opening and Closing Rituals: how we open a meeting and how we end it matters. A consistent way of opening establishes for the group that we are beginning. The opening should be something that everyone takes responsibility for and participates in. It creates a sense of shared ownership it also allows everyone to arrive, get present, and ready to participate. Depending on the group it might look like an opening question to learn something new about each person or a brief check-in about how people are doing beyond the work. The closing should allow the group to focus on what’s coming next and even provide an opportunity to identify opportunities for support and collaboration.

3.     Shared Power = More Engagement: the worst meetings involve one person, usually the one with the most power, doing all or most of the talking. These types of gatherings are deadening. They are where creativity goes to die. After a while most members of your team will be able to guess what you’ll say in these meetings before you say it. Breaking this dynamic can be really scary for everyone involved. When you begin to shift this dynamic, it can feel like a set-up. It’s anxiety inducing to have your boss go from telling you what to do to asking you to co-create strategies and solutions with them. It’s on the person holding the power to patiently guide their teams toward a meeting culture that encourages collaboration and thought partnership. That starts with listening and relinquishing control of what the outcome will look like. In your next meeting, try inviting someone else to lead a discussion or pose an open-ended brainstorming question and then sit back and listen to the range of ideas that get generated.

More collaborative meetings means more inspired and motivated teams. The change doesn’t happen overnight but eventually you can create a meeting culture that strengthens relationships and cultivates fresh perspectives and ideas.

If you’d like to learn more strategies for effectively facilitating all kinds of gatherings then join the next cohort of our Empathic Facilitator training February 15-16, 2019. Learn more.