Five Phases to Exceptional Meetings!

There are two concerns people bring to the meeting experience; "Why am I here?" and "Where are we going?"

These concerns come up because meetings are often placeholders to guarantee face time with coworkers. This rationale for meetings, however, rarely impacts individual or group productivity and is a low standard for meeting excellence.

So what can be done to transform meetings so they are a valuable use of people's time and contribute to group productivity?

The Five Phases

When exceptional results are realized in meetings, the following five phases are navigated effectively. They are:

Phase 1: Define objectives for each topic
Phase 2: Identify type of actions needed for the topic
Phase 3: Conduct focused dialogue
Phase 4: Transition to decision-making and accountability
Phase 5: Validate results (what was heard and what was said)

Phase 1: Define objectives for each topic

Often overlooked, people dive into a topic without a clear sense where they want to end up. It usually is characterized as an "update", which actually means the presenter hasn't thought through why they are bringing this topic to the team.

Groups that regularly meeting often do not distinguish topics that require a decision from those that could simply be communicated offline. The mistake is thinking the topic itself is the objective, versus it being the background that leads to an objective. Define the outcome in terms of "What do I want individuals or the team to do differently as a result of discussing the topic"?

Phase 2: Identify type of actions needed

Often unspoken, groups leave it up to each person to determine the mechanism for achieving objectives. Consider ten people planning a trip to California from Boston, each having a different idea how they are going to get there. Some want to fly, others drive, while still others think a bus is the best alternative. Now imagine these alternatives don't get discussed. What a surprise when people discover the trip never happens.

This ambiguity happens constantly in meetings. Like planning a trip, groups need to be explicit with each other about HOW they are going to achieve meeting objectives. Will it be a vote, consensus, thumbs up or down or maybe it's just information gathering? As an example, if you were attempting to come up with quarterly goals for your organization, the type of actions needed might be brainstorming, prioritizing, then voting.

Framing how the objectives will be achieved gets people on the same page. By taking time to identify the "type of action", you'll have a better chance of getting out of the parking lot and on the trip.

Phase 3: Conduct focused dialogue

Focused dialogue is that phase in a meeting when people get to express opinions, ideas, facts, arguments and counter arguments. It's basically an opportunity to engage in discussion so that everyone is up to speed on the topic.

This is not decision-making, but information sharing, a critical step to insure buy-in for the next phase of the discussion.

Phase 4: Transition to decision-making and accountability

Once sufficient dialogue has happened, the discussion must move into this phase, which is the equivalent to "We've heard everyone's point of view. Now it's time to focus on our agreed to method to achieve the outcome."

It's critical that the group collectively agrees to make the transition to decision-making. Often groups unconsciously move into this phase out of frustration that the dialogue is going on too long. Then someone slips back into expressing an opinion, easily digresses the group back into unfocused dialogue.

However, when it's been explicitly stated that the team is in phase 4 (decision-making) and someone slips back into an opinion, it's possible to express "I just want to point out that Johns comment will move us back into dialogue. Is that what we want to do right now?"

Being able to ask this question at that moment will keep the group focused on the task at hand, and is only possible if the group has the awareness where they are in the five phases.

One more thought on decision-making. Don't confuse buy-in around a decision with the need for consensus. Buy-in is about agreeing to approach the problem in a specific way. Everyone does not need to agree with the approach, but everyone does need to express that they are willing to go along with the decision. Buy-in is not necessarily consensus.

Phase 5: Validate results

Finally, one of the most critical pieces to meeting effectiveness is validating results. It's an opportunity for those people who committed to something to verbally reflect on what they will do. It's also the leader asking the group "What did you hear me request", and then letting people speak what they heard.

You will be surprised how often what was heard was not what was requested, or some key piece was left out. Validation takes the ambiguity out of who made what decision and each person's understanding of what they committed to.

By conducting your meetings with these five phases in mind, you'll have greater success getting to meaningful outcomes, potentially transforming the meeting experience from one of frustration to one of value to you and the organization.

Meeting Effectiveness Model

If you are interested in a visual representation of our "Meeting Effectiveness Model", send an email to hteibel@teibelinc.com. I'll send you a copy. You can also inquire about our programs that teach this skill to individuals and teams.