Because they probably suck… and it’s probably not your fault.
Why are so many workshops and meetings that are supposed to be important, so hopeless? Boring talkfests, frustrating circularity or outright disengagement are raging in meeting rooms across the world, despite the best efforts of leaders and facilitators alike.
There’s lots of good reasons, but here’s one biggie:
Because we expect our time in the room to be enough.
We think that focusing on the time we spend together will do the job, and we pour our energy into that. Materials. Slideshows. Exercises. Building marshmallow towers. Having good discussions.
But fast forward three months, and still nothing has happened. What’s that about?
Meetings that matter are about driving change outside the meeting room - which means we need to put our attention there. You know at university, when your lecturer explains that for every hour of class time, you’ll have an hour’s reading, and an hour’s assessment? This is a bit like that.
People have way too many meetings to go to, and not enough time to do the work they talk about in them
Every one is under so much pressure that they’re dropping balls left right and centre
It’s easy to forget or deprioritise stuff that you actually care about, much less things that don’t have a direct impact on our life.
In Meetings that Matter, we put just as much attention on the work we do before and after a workshop, as we do on the time we spend in the room. Making the most of our time together is important. We need to build trust and understanding, shape meaningful choices, share new perspectives and make careful decisions.
But if we don’t pay careful attention to what happens when people leave, we’re going to see progress stall.
Here’s three simple things you can do to turn the curve on workshops that suck:
Make your purpose crystal clear
Eliminate obstacles to engagement
Close the loop - quickly
Tip 1: Understand your purpose
Every meeting should only have one job - and everyone should know what it is, ahead of time. If people are opening their calendars to find a meeting invite that says something like “digital transformation committee workshop 7” with no other information, they’re going to groan, and do their best to get out of it. To change this:
Choose the one job of your meeting
Think about how people are feeling coming in, and how you want them to feel when they leave
Send a brief email, video or invite that makes the purpose of your meeting crystal clear
It’s hard to focus when there’s lots of other stuff going on. Whether that’s interpersonal, personal, or professional, people find it hard to show up and engage at the best of times. Because of that, running an effective workshop process is less about adding things - exercises, questions and activities - than it is about removing obstacles. Technology, conflict, unsaid worries and fears, disenchanting meeting rooms, people that don’t pay attention… all of these issues have the potential to throw your meeting off course, regardless of how good your agenda is.
Before running a meeting, take the time to think about:
How you can make it easy for people to show up at their best
What obstacles you will need to remove to make your meeting great.
Tip 3: Close the loop
Once people leave your session, you have a short window to tie things back together and keep them on track. Respecting people’s time, energy and input means going out of your way to thank them and show them the product of their efforts. No-one should wait more than a week - and preferably no more than three days - to see an output, even if it’s a simple email.
Simple but effective tools for closing the loop include:
A brief video thanking people for their time
An email with bullet points summarising the discussion and next steps
Photos of the whiteboard or flip charts
An additional resource, link or book to build on what you discussed together.
Note that none of these suggestions are based on what you do in the room - because if we’re targeting action to happen outside the room, what we do there matters at least as much.