Change, Meeting Facilitation

Ready to spice up your Meetings?

Here are some quotes from research about meetings that I came across lately: “Most professionals attend approximately 15 meetings a week.” “…executives [are] spending anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of their time in meetings.” “Around 70 percent of senior managers view meetings as unproductive.” “88% of the participants find meetings useless.” “75% take the opportunity to do something else in meetings.”

Assuming those numbers are true, this is sad and frustrating. In this post you will find some ideas and inspiration on how to start changing what’s happening in your meetings.

I collected the quotes above from the Freakonomics Podcast “How to make meetings less terrible” and “The Meeting Spicer” card deck. The podcast refers to an interview with the organizational psychologist Steven Rogelberg of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and the “Meeting Spicers” mention a survey by IFOB. I recommend both the podcast and the card deck.

So why do we meet anyway?

In an agile context it’s common to work in teams. We need the know-how and the creativity of each team member to do the next valuable step that tackles the user problem we are currently facing (or to conquer the complexity we are living in, if you like). And we don’t want team members only to be involved. We want them to be affected. So we meet “for a purpose that is sustainably related to the functioning of an organization or group… We need to have problems or crisis and decisions to have meetings.” (Hellen Schwartzman in the podcast mentioned above)

Or the other way around: If you don’t have a problem or crisis or decision to make, you actually don’t need a meeting. Doing that properly would probably delete half of the meetings in your calendar.

Meetings where (highly paid) people are gathering to update each other on a status of this or that are not only a waste of time but also a costly expense for your company. The owner of such a meeting should be aware of that and should think of other creative ways how to have everyone status-updated (if that is necessary at all). Maybe the meeting owner is only holding the meeting to establish his or her (boss) status? In that case it’s no wonder the meeting culture produces the numbers mentioned in the beginning.

(Culture) hack your meeting and spice it up

So, but this is your company and you find it hard to change the meeting culture?
The podcast comes up with a couple of ideas. Here are my favorites:

  1. Have your agenda (you have one, right?) not in topics but in questions.
    Framing the topics as questions gets it clearer who and what needs to be there for the meeting.
  2. Invite for the meeting for as long as it should be (and not for 1h)
    Don’t fall for Parkinson’s Law (“Work expands to whatever time is allotted to it.”). Think and then invite maybe for 40 minutes (or 39 minutes?).
  3. Spent the first minutes to connect the people with each other
    Ask e.g. “What was your best part of your week so far? What was the worst part?” Over time some interesting topics will come up.

The Meeting Spicer

“The Meeting Spicer” card set from Dov Tsal & Régis Schneider uses a playful approach to have your meetings more focused and effective. It is a set of short practices that can be easily introduced to any meeting. The practices are based on micro-learning: So you are spending (only) one minute per meeting on the practice. So the idea to try this for one minute will have minimal resistance.

To get you a better idea:
In a first step introduce the “end cards” to your meeting. That is a set of cards with activities to say, think or try. Let someone from the meeting participants pick one card and then read out loud the activity: e.g. “How do I feel now compared to the start? Did the meeting energize me? Did it drain me?” (Think) or “In your opinion: What is the single most important outcome from this meeting?” (Say)

If that is working well, use also the “start cards” in a second step. It’s also a set of card with activities: e.g. “Ask everyone to think silently for 20 seconds: Is the meetings’s purpose clear to me?” (Think) or “Assign a Time-Keeper: Give a participant the “Time Keeper” role card and the time-cards (provided in the card deck). Respect the time keepers remarks during the meeting.” (Try)

I have heard that the second edition is just out now.

At it-agile I provide a training on meeting facilitation together with a colleague.Next to a huge amount of activity and practice, we always find time to discuss topics like this. You are very welcome to join.

Meeting Facilitation, Training

Training “Professional Online Meetings”

In September 2018, I participated in a 2-day training on “Professional Online Meetings”.

What was my motivation to participate in the training?

Online meetings are messy and exhausting. And they are not a substitute for on site meetings. I experienced that during one of my last gigs at a company where the team members where distributed over three locations.

With only some experiences before that gig, I read some blog posts about the topic “Moderation/Faciliatation in distributed teams”, then simply tried out a lot in practice, always wanting to transfer the action, which can prevail in a meeting room on site, into a virtual space. Messy and exhausting it was. And also valuable. And funny. And we did a good job, I think.

I personally believe that the need for online moderation will continue to increase in the next couple of years (keywords: shortage or distribution of capacity of working people, less travel costs / time for working people, …). Therefore, I had researched if there are any training about online moderation. Furthermore, I was interested in whether something valuable is taught in the training (which I do not already know or apply).

In fact, there are hardly any training offers on the subject. I was all the more pleased that the Moderatio people are offering a training. Moderatio are the people around the German moderation guru Josef Seifert, who in my opinion are the leading trainers for business moderation in the German-speaking world. And yes, they are more traditional in terms of moderation compared to what a lot of Agile moderators or facilitators do. (Apart from that: Some years ago I participated in their training to become a certified workshop and meeting moderator and did not regret that. I actually recommended the training to a lot of people, who then enjoyed it themselves.)

What happened in the training?

The training was enormously varied, with an almost perfect mix of theory and practice. The exercises quickly evolved from being dry / unrealistically (We were all sitting in the seminar room imitating a conference call while looking each at our laptop.) to being very practical. (Everyone was in their hotel room dialing into the conference call and connecting to the platform via a browser.) This was precisely when we were confronted with all imaginable (especially technical) problems that you may have encountered in your online meeting. 😉

We worked with Moderatio’s own platform Six Steps. But the training was not a sales event for the software as you may think. The trainer themselves pointed out that other platforms have similar functionalities. Six Steps, however, is perfectly tuned to the Moderatio approach with the six steps:

  1. Introduction
  2. Gathering topics
  3. Selecting a topic
  4. Handling the topic
  5. Planning the measures to be taken
  6. Conclusion

Six Step Software for Online Moderation

Below the Six Steps agenda on the left, you can find a whiteboard for (instant) visualization. In the center of the tool is the working area, on the right the list of all participants and below that a chat.

In “Gathering topics”, the tool always uses a (virtual) card writing method, in “Selecting a topic” always a (virtual) dot voting, in “Handling the topic” always the (virtual) two-field method and always the (virtual) action plan in “Planning the measures to be taken”.

The software works smoothly, which I can not say of other software I tried. The simultaneously adding and editing of several people works without flickering. The handling of writing cards, sorting them and clustering them, I experienced better than with any other software I have used so far.

We worked with the software during the two days with different scenarios.

On the second day, there was an emphasis on dealing with difficult situations in online meetings. Furthermore we were introduced to various other tools. (See below)

Valuable ideas I took away from the training

More leading moderation necessary
In online meetings I as a moderator need to take on a more active part than when being a moderator on site. There needs to be more talking, leading and sometimes maybe even pushing from the moderator side.

My hope was that I would also learn in this training how to transfer the atmosphere and action of an on site meeting into an online meeting. I did not get a good enough answer though, so I need to keep on searching.

Greater integration and use of a chat
Using video transmission or not, it does not matter, but especially with no video: There are always situations in a meeting where a short (fast) vote or check is necessary. So instead of asking openly “Is this okay for you? / Can we continue?” (in the hope that everyone reacts verbally) you can have a quick query via chat: “Please give your feedback on the chat: Type “+”, if you agree, type a “-” if you disagree or you need more discussion.” That worked just fine in the training.

Less focus on video
Until the training my opinion was that I would always try to have everyone visible via video for everyone. I learnt that is a good option to turn off the video, especially while the group is actively working (p.e. gathering topics). You will have less visual distraction and as a consequence more focus.

2nd Screen / Monitor participant’s view
With almost every software, there is a moderator view, which shows more / other things than what the participants see. This can lead to confusion if you refer to something the others do not see. So try to use a second screen where you can see the same as the participants see.
Of course, in the beginning of the meeting you should make transparent that you do so (also as it explains why you appear twice in the list of participants).

Rule of thumb: Activate the participants every 3-5 minutes
Exactly. The concentration of participants drifts away much faster during an online meeting than during an on site meeting. Therefore more activation. You should think about that during the preparation.

Tools that I did not know before:

Vitero
Actually for e-learning. What I loved here is that everyone is sitting around a virtual table using an avatar

Team Speak
Actually a platform for gamers, but good for quickly opening new chat rooms (>> could be handy for Online Open Space Technology?)

Mural
Created by the Design Thinking people and seems the closest to a “real” virtual flipchart / whiteboard. I want to take a closer look in this one.

Conclusion

Online meetings are messy and exhausting. And I will always prefer an on site meeting. Still with a useable software and the right attitude as the moderator, you can have online meetings less messy and less exhausting, for you and the group.

I highly recommend to better gain skills in online moderation than to simply condemn online meetings or distributed teams (as it is popular in the Agile world). If you can speak German, this training is a very good start.

Please feel free to leave your experiences with online meetings in the comments.

Meeting Facilitation, Training

Different Scripts to Guide you through your Meeting or Workshop

You are planning to facilitate a workshop or meeting? And it’s not a routine workshop or meeting? Or you are an un-experienced facilitator who needs to facilitate a challenging group and feel insecure about getting it all right? You have checked all items on the meeting or workshop checklist and planned the meeting or workshop accordingly. You know in which activities you want the participants to engage. Everything makes sense to you in preparation land and still you are anxious you will forget something in the meeting or workshop itself. A meeting or workshop script that you can sneak at during the meeting or workshop could help you here. This post describes three different types.

1. Meeting/Workshop Time schedule

A very easy and straight-forward script is a flowchart or time schedule. On a document it simply gives you an overview of
– the sequence (check-in, gather data, discussion,…)
– the goal of the sequence
– the activity
– the needed material
– the duration of the sequence
– the words of introduction

Here is an example of a flowchart or time schedule to give you an impression:

workshop-schedule
Meeting Time Schedule

Especially the “words of introduction” helped me a lot when I began facilitating groups: As I was nervous or insecure I started babbling incoherent words or sentences (I still sometimes do…) and missed the opportunity to get the activity started. Taking preparation time and writing down the first couple of sentences I want to say helped me to gain more security.

2. Sketching your Meeting/Workshop

The idea of Sketching was introduced to me by Ben, who was a participant in one of our last trainings. Ben is working for the Berlin based company Momox. When we were discussing about different options how to script your meeting, he explained that it helps him to scribble the sequences of the meeting. As you can see in the photo: Ben not only scribbles the starting question(s), the sequential steps of the activity and the needed material. He also scribbles what might happen in the room: Where do the participants interact? Where do the materials go?

workshop-sketching
Sketching your workshop beforehand

What I enjoy about Ben’s scribble is that it makes your meeting/workshop preparation very lively. And additionally it helps you to find some (logistic) challenges beforehand (Where is the flipchart put in the room? Do I have enough space for what I have planned?) and gives you enough time to find options to tackle those.

3. Meeting/Workshop Flowchart

Using a Meeting Flowchart is kind of a mixture of the previous two types. I use those especially for workshops that last for more than one day. As you can see in the photo: It easily shows you the different activities I want to use including all important questions to ask, how I could structure the material and the time the activity will take.

flowchart-meeting-workshop
Meeting / Workshop Flowchart

So here they are: Three different types of a script that can guide you through your meeting: time schedule, sketching and flowchart. Especially for un-experienced facilitators scripting your meeting in one of the three ways can help to give more security. Of course, the more routine you have as a moderator or facilitator the less detailed your script will be. In that case you might want to have a look at stringing your workshop with Liberating Structures. And I’m sure there are more types of meeting or workshop scripts than those three.

It is important to prepare your meeting or workshop and the three scripts can help you in your preparation. It is more important still, to actually sense what the group or the participants really need in the meeting or workshop. As a consequence you might have to trash your meeting or workshop script and need to react on reality.

Please let me know how you are scripting your meetings or workshops.