Guide for a good meeting

At the beginning of April I was facilitating a meeting in Bangladesh. It was a kick-off meeting for a large EU funded project, set up to increase resource efficiency in the metal industry. The Project will take place in three Asian countries, people from 7 organizations with members of 6 countries (2 European, 4 Asian) are involved and were present at the meeting.

I facilitated the meeting using Whole Person Process Facilitation (WPPF).

At the end of the 4 days, during our farewell, one of the participant said to me: “the way this meeting was done worked so well, can you please send us a guide for how to conduct such a meeting.” I said something like ‘…yes, but it is a three day training, where you can learn exactly how to facilitate a meeting like this…’ – and somehow, I guess, he did not really hear my reply.

And then I thought ‘wow, so why not, distill the essence of what this meeting methodology is about for someone not having the full experience of a training’. And this is what I do here.

I consider the following as key parts of a good meeting:

The setting

A WPPF – Meeting is set up in a circle, no tables. “But where do I put my laptop, my coffee, my notes…?” – is a question that we hear very often. The circle has been the original method of gatherings in all cultures around the world. The circle is the only setting where everyone can see all others and the surrounding is under surveillance by the participants. In a circle everyone has the same amount of space, there is no beginning and no end. Nothing where you hide yourself, you have direct (viewing-)access to whoever sits in the circle with you. As this is not the common form of meetings in most businesses, the setting can create a feeling of alienation initially, often addressed by jokes or questions like the above. When used together with an appropriate welcome, a circle creates a climate of openness, acceptance and excitement, the perfect condition for a good meeting.

The start

We take into consideration that all human beings not only are bodies and minds – something that seems to be the request from employees in many companies even today – for being able to do physical work and/or ‘brain-work’. We take into consideration also emotions and spirit of human beings. Everyone who enters a meeting-room comes from somewhere: from home, from school (where the kids have been dropped), from hospital (where someone dear has been visited), from another meeting (with a maybe completely different topic), from the workplace (where a really interesting challenge waits to be solved and you might have been interrupted for this meeting). If we were machines we could simply push the ‘meeting-mode’-button and everything would be fine. Considering the many possibilities where we come from, it is evident that it is beneficial (and effective) if we have a moment or two to tune in on the subject of the meeting and the people. We pay special attention to this tuning-in by guided focusing on the topic of the meeting. We use a question and the intuition of participants to explore facets of the topic while connecting with other participants at the same time. No matter how long the meeting is, this kind of a good start will support a good outcome and the time it takes will pay off.

The content

A meeting has usually one or more specific topics and desired outcomes. The content part of the meeting is about achieving the desired outcome. The facilitator assists the participants by using different ways of working. S/he might design exercises that allow active contribution and tap into creativity and wisdom of the group so that solutions towards the outcome can evolve. Or s/he might lead dialogue rounds for exploring the various aspects of a challenge. Many techniques and tools that the facilitator has in his/her toolbox can be used – as long as it allows for maximum participation. The  experience of many WPPF-meetings is that the best solutions emerge if all who participate can contribute – the format supports this being able to happen. People who have worked towards an outcome will also easily own the solution. They have experienced the process, they understand the why. No buy-in afterwards is necessary! The how of a solution discovered during a meeting is often developed after the meeting by the ones who took over respective responsibilities during action planning at the meeting.

The closing

Whatever the content part might look like, at the end of the meeting participants are gathering again in the circle. It is time to close the meeting and we use this time to reflect. We mostly do not ask specific questions but every participant has his/her individual voice in the closing circle. What is being said during the closing often is about what the participants have learned, something that is related to the Hopes & Fears they had about the meeting, related to their work or about the way of working during the meeting. It is not a time to give long speeches but a possibility for participants to close the experience, to take the first steps of transferring into the time after the meeting as well as to say goodbye to the colleagues in the circle. Thus we provide an opportunity for participants to finish the meeting in a conscious way.

The facilitator

One of the main ingredients of a good meeting is the facilitator. Besides facilitating, he or she is part of preparation and also the post-work of the meeting. S/he works with the sponsor (the one who calls the meeting) on the topic of the meeting, the invitation, the participants, the room, the setting, the method… and thus ensures, that a good meeting indeed can take place. At the meeting his/her job is more about being than about doing. Creating a safe space for participants to learn and to work towards the desired outcome, allowing for maximum participation, and having an eye on time-constraints is the facilitator’s job. S/he is not attached to a specific outcome but provides the space for a good outcome to emerge.

Does this sound far off your current practice? Can you imagine a meeting being held like this? If you find it tempting give it a try!

In Whole Person Process Facilitation Training the role of the facilitator is a central element. The sound preparation of a workshop/meeting as well as creating your own designs of meetings you are about to facilitate is also on the agenda. You will leave with several meeting designs ready-to-go after the Training. You will also learn simple to use tools that you can use for preparing and conducting a workshop/meeting, and that will fit nicely in your toolbox. Most of all you will expand your understanding of what meetings and workshops can do for your enterprise. As a leader you can truly use your meetings as catalysts to contribute towards your vision. As a facilitator you will build confidence in holding meetings even in complex environments.

Join us for our Training in Vienna, Austria in March 2017! Read more…

Whole Person Process Facilitation is Module 2 (Advanced Skill Development) of the Genuine ContactTM Program.

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