Many thanks to Graham Allcott for this guest article. Graham is a social entrepreneur, fellow-Brightonian and founder of Think Productive. His career has included running a charity, advising the government on youth and volunteering policy, setting up two international development charities and lots of other things in his attempt to change the world. If you’re looking for meetings facilitation training, then their ‘Making Meetings Magic’ offering is well worth a look.
I’ve been hugely privileged to work alongside some people who are serious about their meetings. I first met Martin Farrell in 2003 at a conference and we struck up an immediate rapport: I was the young voluntary sector worker on a mission to change the world, and Martin was the middle aged guy who seemed even more hungry than me to change the world. By complete coincidence, a year or so later I got a job running a charity called Student Volunteering England and found out that Martin was one of the trustees.
I later learned that Martin’s job was as a facilitator. He ran a facilitation company called get2thepoint, and worked with groups large and small to do what appeared to me to be pretty magical: he’d help a group of people in a muddle to solve a problem or harness considerable enthusiasm to get to maximum results in a short time. Martin had learned his trade from people like Lois Graessle, co-author of ‘Meeting Together’ and was coached by Nancy Kline, author of one of my favourite books, ‘Time to Think’.
The truth is, as Martin told me years later, there’s no magic to what he does. But by practising some specific approaches and learning the art of proactive, determined listening, it appears as such. It’s the real tragedy of the modern working environment: meetings SHOULD be wonderful opportunities to change the world. It’s just often we fail to plan them, we fail to listen during them, we fail to act after them.
So, what can we do to change this? Here are a few ideas.
Meetings seem to the organiser like a “free” activity, whereas in reality, meetings are one of the costliest business activities there are. They not only cost our organisations money, but they rob us of our attention. I recommend introducing the concept of scarcity to your team when it comes to planning meetings. Does everyone you’re inviting need to be there? Who are ‘nice to haves’? Who are, frankly, completely expendable? You can use a tool like this to get the message across in a fun way!
…and Skip Meetings!
For those people in your teams who just can’t resist block-booking meetings, you need a more stealth-like approach. Tim Ferriss has a great take on this in his book “The 4- Hour Work Week” where he suggests a range of cheeky tactics to avoid meetings. He suggests doing everything possible to skip those two hour update meetings and simply read the minutes or catch a quick update from a colleague. Cheating is OK! Tim’s general approach to productivity is pretty ruthless and not for everyone, but here he is talking about the book.
Think about the last few meetings you attended. At each of those meetings, do you remember the chair reminding people of the purpose of the meeting at the very beginning and revisiting that purpose at the end? Probably not! Purpose is critical, and meetings (usually) need leadership, so don’t be afraid to be the one clarifying the purpose beforehand or drawing people back to it as the meeting goes on.
Two hour update meetings are long, boring and inefficient, whereas if you break that same update communication into a structured 15 minutes a day, you’ll actually start to see amazing results from relentless alignment to the key numbers and key questions in your team or in your company. At Think Productive, we developed a daily huddle based on the principles from Verne Harnish’s excellent book “Mastering the Rockerfeller Habits”. Here’s me explaining more.
If you’re the one running a meeting, you need to ensure you’ve covered all the bases. Now I implement many of the ideas that Martin has taught me over the years. He’s also Think Productive’s ‘meetings magician’ when he isn’t running meetings with the UN Climate Change Secretariat, the Cabinet Office and a range of international organisations. Here he is talking about his 5P’s+1 framework, which helps keep everything on track.
If you’re running a meeting, try to focus your time and energy using the 40-20-40 approach: spend 40% of your focus on the preparation, 20% on the session itself and 40% on productive follow-through, holding people to account and ensuring that agreements are kept-to. We usually focus most of our energy on the meeting itself, and miss the two most important stages. The 40-20-40 approach is from the aforementioned book, Meeting together.
So next time you’re either sat in a boring meeting or invited to one, don’t sigh out of frustration. Realise each and every meeting is an opportunity to change the world. And also realise that if you don’t make it so, there’s a good chance no one else will either. It’s time to be the change!
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