1.) Effective meetings emphasize purpose and identity.
The purpose of any meeting should be more than getting through a list of items together. If it were that simple, an email could probably do the trick. (If you’re calling a meeting for a task where an email could suffice – just send the email! You’re giving meetings a bad rap.)
Too often the question of why these people need to come together for this purpose is not clearly worked out in advance. For meetings to be effective, participants must be clear about the purpose of their time and work together, feel connected to the value of that purpose, and understand their role in working toward it.
As a meeting facilitator or convener, it’s essential to:
- Give people opportunities to share what they care about
- Help people make connections between their values and interests to what they’re doing there together
- Connect people to one another so they gain a sense of belonging, community, and being on a team together
- Invite everyone’s contribution, with an understanding that those contributions may look different.
Instead of just asking people to come to a meeting, invite people to be a part of a meaningful and collaborative experience that they will want to be part of again.
2.) Effective meetings encourage meaningful collaboration.
Most meetings involve people being told things, getting tasks assigned or clarified, followed by going off and completing work on their own. Each subsequent meeting becomes a report-back on individual accomplishments (or lack there-of). People tend to dread these meetings as they reinforce the feeling of being a cog in the machine.
Real collaboration and critical reflection are essential for adult learning. Facilitators need to design meeting agendas with ample opportunities for shared reflection, asking questions like:
- How are things going?
- Why do we think this is and what do we want to do about it?
- How can we support each other to accomplish our work as a team?
Meetings should also allow for constructive disagreement and differing perspectives. Collaborative meetings create a welcoming space where people come together to share knowledge and their experiences, to engage in dialogue and get constructive feedback, make new meaning together and expand their thinking. The goal is that people leave feeling like they’ve contributed meaningfully to collective work and come away with some learning or new ideas they can use.
3.) Effective meetings shift power dynamics.
Most adults taking part in a meeting are keenly aware of who has control of the meeting, who has a voice at the meeting, and who makes decisions. Too often the dynamics people experience reinforce a sense of powerlessness or pointlessness – “it doesn’t matter what I say, they’re going to do whatever they want anyway.”
Facilitating powerful and equitable meetings requires paying careful attention to dynamics with an awareness of historical patterns of power and participation based on race, gender, class, age and role.
Disagreements can shut down a group with unbalanced power dynamics, because those with the power are perceived to automatically “win” while those without power feel devalued – again. Groups who are supported to experience balanced power dynamics are able to work through conflicts by helping each other see differing perspectives in ways that lead to doing better work together and achieving great results.
This post was co-authored by National Equity Project Senior Coach Colm Davis. Colm is leading the development and facilitation of our learning seminar series.