Monday, October 14, 2013

Successful Meetings: Standards and Norms

During my career I've attended lots of meetings, some successful and some less successful. I've been fascinated by the difference in outcomes and the way some meetings engage participants and others don't. From my observations I've come to appreciate the way "norms" can shape the work, the way participants interact and ultimately the outcomes.

  • A crucial part of an effective meeting is being clear about outcomes (results) and the process you will use to achieve your outcomes. 
  • It includes basic decision like seating arrangements. If you want open discussion, try and arrange for participants to face one another, perhaps around a table or in a semi-circle. 
  • Set a firm start and end time and stick to them. That shows respect for participant's time. 
  • If the meeting is lengthy, take a break, but again, set a time and adhere to that. 
  • Ask yourself how the group will maintain a "group memory" about decisions. Plan for recording decisions on chart paper or in some other way. 
  • Use a "Parking Lot" to capture ideas that emerge but could be distracting. It allows participants to identify questions and discussion items that can be returned to later.

Perhaps my favorite tool is to have "Norms of Collaboration" that assure the use of open-edned questions, and provide everyone with an opportunity to speak. Garmston & Wellman (1999) wrote about seven norms of collaboration to help facilitate discussion. They include pausing, paraphrasing, probing gently, putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions, paying attention to your own needs and those of others, and pursuing a balance between advocacy and inquiry.  More information about these norms is available from the Center for Adaptive Schools.

Ultimately, successful meetings are interactive and provide for balanced participation. They don't just happen but instead are thoughtfully planned. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your ideas for conducting successful meetings.

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