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Over the last year, I have received a growing number of inquiries about how to help teams operate better in meetings, avoid unproductive conversations, and engage in more effective collective decision making.  The inquiry often includes a phrase like; “I need our team to be more strategic….”  I usually begin by describing the three main factors responsible for shaping meetings that deliver better team decision-making…..

Yes, that’s right, I have come to the conclusion that there are only three, however these three are challenging and require a nuanced understanding of them to create the desired change.  The three are:

1.   How the meeting is structured.

Often, very little thought has been given to the design of the conversations that need to happen in the meeting.  Instead, a topic is raised, even placed on a written agenda, then its “everyone for himself or herself!”  We have discovered that groups benefit enormously from being respectfully guided through the steps required for group decision making.  In other words, groups often benefit from someone supporting the group to proceed TOGETHER through the steps.  What are those steps?  Even before discussing those steps, it must be clarified which kind of decision we are making.  Generally, groups work in only one of three spaces; clarifying what the core problem is, identifying agreed solutions to a problem, or creating a shared vision for something that does not yet exist.  Once that is decided, three straightforward steps apply in each case.  They are; Collect, Analyse, Decide.  That is, Collect (or generate) information that is relevant to the topic, and ensure it is shared equally across the group.  Analyse the shared information together by asking questions such as, “what themes exist in this data”?  Decide together based on your analysis, which has been informed by information equally shared in the group.

Now, the right structure is important, but not quite enough…

2.   The Social Context of the Meeting

Just how ‘safe’ participants feel in the meeting is a critical factor in determining how effective your meeting will be.  Yes, its woolly, but it really matters.  The less safe participants feel, the more “undiscussables” there will be, and the more “undiscussables”, the more ineffective the team will be.  So, attending to the social context, ensuring the relational space within the group is becoming increasingly supportive, is simply essential.

What are some steps to take to build safety in your team?

  • Spend a few minutes doing a check in at the opening of your meetings, and remember to retrieve your teams personal objectives for the meeting.  Don’t assume you know what they need in the meeting!
  • When ever possible, do a debrief, even if only for two minutes.  Ask, did you get what you needed?, How could we have improved that meeting?, Was there anything left unsaid?

3.   The System of Meetings

We agree with Patrick Lencioni, there are at least 4 different kinds of meetings that senior teams might plan.  Mixing business across these meetings is common, and ineffective.  Therefore, teams need to plan carefully which different kinds of meetings they need, the broad objectives for each, and when they will be scheduled. What are those four?  Here’s a table that explains them in brief.

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