Start your meetings right, and they are more likely to end right. Master facilitators at The Grove Consultants International say to do one thing at the start of every meeting: remember OARRs, or Outcomes, Agenda, Roles, and Rules.
Effective meetings define desired outcomes for success. I facilitate lots of meetings, and when designing them with a client, I ask, “Assuming that the meeting is a great success, what will you have at the end that you didn’t have at the beginning?”
Typical meeting outcomes might be an agreement, a decision, or an action plan. It could be something tangible like a list of options, or less tangible, like a greater sense of team.
Outcomes are critical because every choice you make about the meeting – from what goes on the agenda, to how you arrange seating, to how much time you take, even to what food you have on hand – is decided based on how it delivers those outcomes.
So if you find yourself in a meeting that starts without a clear sense of what it is supposed to accomplish, ask, “Can we take a moment and establish what we hope to accomplish in this meeting?”
Effective meetings have a clear agenda of activities that are designed to deliver its outcomes. The best agendas define a sequence of topics, specify the amount of time assigned to each topic, list the person who leads each item, and detail any needed resources (like prereading, or handouts, or slide presentations).
An agenda, including desired outcomes, should be distributed in advance so people can prepare. But if you find yourself in a meeting without an agenda, you can ask, “Can we make a quick list of the things we want to discuss in the time that we have?”
Effective meetings begin with an understanding of what roles are needed to ensure success, and who is performing them. You may want a designated facilitator, whose job is to keep the group focused on task, and make sure everyone who wishes to speak gets heard. There may be a recorder, who simply takes notes, or transcribes highlights onto posters in the front of the room as a kind of shared group memory. There may be a timekeeper, who helps alert the group to the time remaining to complete a task.
If you find yourself in a meeting that offers little hope of disciplined guidance, speak up and say, “Perhaps we’ll be more productive if one of us serves as the facilitator for this meeting.”
Effective meetings begin with ground rules for how people behave to ensure the meeting’s success. When designing a meeting for a group for the first time, I often ask, “What agreements do we need to have about how we work together so that everyone is able to make a full contribution?”
People say, “One person speaks at a time,” because many participants who are repeatedly interrupted shut down, and stop talking altogether. Others say, “Speak up yet speak briefly,” since they want everyone to contribute, but they don’t want anyone to dominate. Some say, “Balance advocacy with inquiry,” since they want individuals both to promote their views, but also question others to learn from views different from their own. One client likes to say, “Builds, not bombs,” which says it all.
If you find yourself in a meeting without any norms about how people act, try saying, “Let’s take a minute and agree on a few basic ground rules about how we want to work together in this meeting.”
If you want to experience team alignment in a meeting, don’t forget your OARRs. Start every meeting by briefing confirming your outcomes, agenda, roles, and rules. You’ll get everyone pulling in the same direction.
Jay W Vogt is an organizational development consultant, and author of Recharge Your Team – The Grounded Visioning Approach. Learn more at www.peoplesworth.com.