5 ways to… make the most of meetings

How to make meetings more productive

In the 1960s, executives spent an average of 10 hours a week in meetings: now it’s closer to 23. Yet we still haven’t mastered the art of meeting well. By employing clever facilitation techniques and managing tricky attitudes, we can turn a time drain into a productive teamwork tool.

  1. Establish ground rules. The first 30 seconds of a business meeting are the most important in determining what you’ll achieve and how. From no mobile phones to majority rules, set out how the meeting will run and how actions will be agreed to establish your credibility from the start.
  2. Vary the processes. Everyone needs a reason to be at a meeting, just as they need their voice to be heard. Prevent one or two people dominating the discussion by introducing paired and small group discussions, and using a variety of facilitation techniques to keep attendees engaged.  
  3. Delve deeper. Surface-level discussions are circular, unproductive and frustrating for everyone. Use clever questioning to draw out unsaid tensions and open up richer seams of debate. Ask not just what people know about a topic but their judgments of it, how they could apply that knowledge to current challenges and how they might combine it with other viewpoints.
  4. Acknowledge tricky attitudes. Conflict in a meeting is sometimes inevitable, but if managed correctly, it can bring valuable insights to light. When responding to tricky participants, adopt a mindset of ‘yes, and…’: engage with their point and build on it to keep the conversation flowing. They’ll be more likely to respond positively if they feel listened to.
  5. Try out different thinking hats. Creativity guru De Bono uses six different ‘hats’ to evaluate a situation: facts, emotions, negatives, positives, creative possibilities, and big-picture thinking. Encourage participants to move together between these stances to ensure all viewpoints have been considered before drawing conclusions.
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