vivid Facilitation: Drama and Structure
By kerry owen
We’ve all experienced it – the long, drawn out meeting that dulls the senses and provokes a sense of dread.
In his book, Death By Meeting, Patrick Lencioni claims that while meetings are critically important to running a successful business, they are too often “frustratingly long and seemingly pointless.” Not revolutionary. The interesting part is why. He suggests that meetings are boring because they lack drama and are ineffective because they lack contextual structure. Indeed. I couldn’t agree more.
So the question is how does one design and lead meetings that offer both drama and contextual structure? Well, here’s our view on leading vivid meetings:
1. Start With The End In Mind. Often the time frame, venue, and other parameters are set for a big meeting before understanding what needs to happen within the meeting. People are busy; many are not interested in a day-long meeting, never mind a few days out of the office. The advice here is a bit trite, but start early and start planning the meeting with the end in mind. As a result of this meeting what will participants come away with?
Have they learned something new?
Have they connected with business content in a new way?
Have they debated, problem solved, ideated, been heard?
How will they feel? (Not all meetings require a high five…)
This discussion is critical. Knowing the outcome is the key to determining what needs to happen in the meeting (think: drama), and how (think: structure).
2. Know The Audience. Once you’ve established the outcome required you can move to understand who will be participating and owning the meeting. The meeting owner sets objectives, introduces the day, and takes ownership for decisions as the meeting is in progress. But it’s the participants that you need to prepare for. What’s their level of knowledge on the subject? What are their expectations, ideas, needs? And just to complicate further, there will be different functional groups, different work levels, and different comfort levels that you will have to respond to uniquely in the meeting.
3. Environment Matters. While we can work wonders to bring energy to a stale setting, nothing works better than ample natural light, comfortable seating, and delicious healthy food. Not all businesses have such oases of wonderfulness and not every meeting requires this level of respite. However when people feel better they bring optimism and smiles to difficult discussions, they work harder, and stay engaged longer. Nothing drains energy like a window-less hotel conference room after a fully-carb-loaded lunch. So think about what you’re asking people to do: if they are ideating brilliant new product ideas then take them offsite and let them walk outside after lunch. Their ideas will be better. Guaranteed.
4. Welcome Drama. Not drama class kind of drama, but playfulness, ‘straight talk’ discussions, provocations, imagery, things that spark and delight. And frankly, things that take their brains and hearts beyond the everyday, beyond what they are used to - even if that’s uncomfortable for them initially. When engaged in the content, people will generate their own drama, but just make sure you offer dramatic elements that are intellectually consistent with your content.
5. Trust Your Structure But Don’t Let It Get In The Way. There is something to be said for great preparation. Design a structure that is simple and easily guides participants to the intended destination and study it well before hand. This will provide some good momentum and ground the group in a shared outcome. But don’t let structure get in the way of a great outcome. Listen to and feel the needs of the group, let them go where they need to go, and ensure they feel empowered in the work they’re doing. Great facilitation is so much more than a tight agenda.
6. Visualize Success. Sounds a bit cheesy I realize, but this practice helps me a lot. Visit the site, imagine the participants, figure out the whats and hows of the room. See your content coming to life in the space, and work out any last intellectual kinks. Feel how you want others to feel and offer them the best you can give on the day.
So instead of death-by-meeting, with a little luck and some strategic planning you’ll experience an energetic and productive meeting.
About kerry owen