Have you ever been in a situation like this?
You’re the meeting leader and you’ve posed a question to the room. Silence. You feel dread as you wonder if anyone other than you will engage, or if you alone will carry the meeting. People finally begin to participate, and you enjoy a moment of relief, at least until you realize you’ve spent too much time on this one agenda item. Questions flood your mind: Do I cut this conversation off? Let it continue? How important is this topic in relation to the other agenda items? As you get stuck in your head, you realize that you just missed your colleague’s comments and people are looking to you to respond.
Soon, you’ve run out of time, and people excuse themselves to rush off to other meetings. You realize there’s no clear action plan for next steps. You feel disappointed and frustrated that your meeting didn’t accomplish what you intended. You blame yourself.
Meeting leaders often express feeling overwhelmed during meetings as various obligations compete for their attention – facilitating the conversation, engaging people, keeping the conversation on track, monitoring the time and taking clear and actionable notes. Leaders want to be productive in meetings, but they also want to stay sane during the process.
Is it possible to lead effective meetings without losing your mind?
The short answer is yes. Here’s the longer answer.
“Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.”
— Margaret Wheatley, management guru
Put aside your image of an effective meeting leader as one who can successfully multi-task. Instead, take a step back to look at the big picture. Repeatedly applying specific strategies to achieve desired meeting results and good meeting processes is your goal. Think about the meetings you lead and ask yourself if you and your team:
As the meeting leader, your job is to ensure the above questions are answered with a resounding and consistent “Yes!” As Wheatley says, it’s not about being heroic, but about knowing what to do to get results. To help you get there, try the following strategies.
There are five main strategies that will help you lead a meeting without losing your mind.
When you’re juggling different responsibilities as the meeting leader, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture like the outcome you’d like to achieve. You have a lot on your mind, so why add the stress of having to remember the items on the agenda?
Norms are the ground rules that guide meeting behavior. Decide with the group what kind of behaviors you want in the meeting and agree to follow them. For example, do you want quiet team members to speak up and more extroverted members to pull back? Are you looking for people to play devil’s advocate, build on others’ ideas rather than shut them down, or stay off their phones? Whatever you decide, creating norms will support that behavior.
Norms are powerful. One of our customers, Sivak Stonemasonry, describes the introduction of norms to their meetings as being “written for every problem we had but maybe weren’t even aware of.”
According to Dr. John Kello, an organization psychology professor at Davidson College, when a meeting leader empowers the whole group to share ownership of the meeting, it encourages active participation and improves meeting results. Remember that you’re not alone in the meeting — there are other smart people with you. By sharing meeting roles and responsibilities with the group, you empower everyone to hold the team accountable for the success of the meeting.
When you’re facilitating the meeting, group dynamics may emerge that metaphorically knock you off balance. Difficult meeting behaviors such as someone dominating the conversation can be challenging to handle in the moment. This is when various meeting facilitation techniques can redirect the meeting and keep you grounded.
The follow-up actions of a meeting are as important as the meeting itself. What good is a meeting if it doesn’t lead to decisive action? When you document meeting decisions, next steps, and insights, it increases the likelihood that the team will follow through on them. Instead of you leading the meeting and taking notes at the same time, ask team members to jot down critical information during the meeting and then flesh out the official notes as a team in the last few minutes. This practice establishes accountability, improves follow-through, and creates a sense of teamwork and accomplishment.
“Effective meetings don’t happen by accident. They happen by design.” – unknown
Nope, no heroics needed. Effective meeting strategies will keep you sane, and maybe, just maybe, help you thrive.
What strategies do you use to be a grounded meeting leader? Please share your experiences in the comments section!