Monday, July 12, 2010

How To Make Meetings Magic-Tips For Non-profits, Philanthropic and Community Organizations

It seems like I have been to going to quite a few meetings and workshops lately for a number of non-profits and business organizations that I belong to. I have also had the opportunity to facilitate a few myself and, admittedly, noted some of the pitfalls I have run into while trying to get people engaged in the meeting.

I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to jump in and  take control  of someone else's meeting and set time limits on people going on and on, or run up to the whiteboard to write down all the ideas generated in the meeting.How else could participants come to make informed decisions without having some structure to the discussions?

It is no surprise that so often reactions are: “Oh no, not another meeting”, " Nothing ever gets done", “I hate meetings.” These bored, frustrated and vehement reactions are all too familiar to many of us for several reasons: meetings go on too long; individual input doesn’t seem to count; it’s boring to listen to others go on and on; decisions are never made; agreements can’t be reached.

Effective meetings are critical to the management of any organization but even more so to non-profit, community development and philanthropic organizations. Often participants at these types of organizational meetings are volunteers or employees of the organization who are there because they are passionate about the cause, not because it is a required part of their job. Organizations run the risk of losing these supporters and volunteers if they need to sit through ineffective or boring meetings.

With just a few tools and techniques like the following ones dull and ineffective meeting can be turned into sparkling ones that engage everyone and produce quality decisions and results.

Part I- Engagement

Break Through and Get To Know Each Other

Use ice-breakers and introductions. Often people arrive at meetings, workshops or conferences and never get a chance to meet or relate to anyone else in the room, even if they know each other! Using an ice-breaker helps the participants make personal connections and creates a more congenial and friendly atmosphere.Have them introduce themselves in an unusual way, have them interview and introduce other participants, or use any other ways to liven things up.
For a more serious meeting, starting with a common question for everyone to answer unites everyone around a relevant theme, and energizes the group immediately.

Use a “Magic” Marker
Many people think better “visually’. A flipchart, a white board, or any surface that can be written on, helps the facilitator capture everyone’s thoughts and ideas by mapping them together into major themes and topics. Seeing the whole picture helps make decision making better.
Don’t hoard the markers-let others use them too. Some of the best meetings I’ve been to have allowed anyone to pop up randomly to help synthesize the ideas visually.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. Many visioning processes have groups design pictorial representations of the images they have for the future of the group or the organization.

Get Physical
People who are coming in groggy for morning meetings or sleepy after lunch need a little jolt, and not just form their coffee. Ice-breakers can be structured so that people have to get out of their chairs and move around the room.
Later on in a meeting, people may start to get sleepy if they are sitting for too long. Invite people to be the scribe for meeting, pass around materials or hand out food.  A brief break to get up and stretch or to use the facilities, helps people to come back into the meeting more alert.
At longer meetings breaking people into groups where they have to move chairs or go to another room can energize people while giving them them the opportunity to connect with others some more.

Make the Agenda Visible

Make sure that each participant has a copy or can see the agenda posted with the allocated time for discussion of each agenda item. This helps creates a mental structure for anyone who speaks in the meeting to be more precise in what they have to say because of time constraints.
Appoint a timekeeper who will keep the meeting moving along with reminders of how much time is left.
Be sure to include enough time in the agenda at the end of the meeting for "other items to be discussed."

More to come in the upcoming post-Part II- Reaching Effective Decisions at Meetings

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