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We’ve all been in meetings that are engaging and we’ve all been in meetings that were a dreadful waste of time. Most of the time the success of a meeting depends on the meeting facilitator. So if you are facilitating a meeting, be sure to do the behind the scenes work ahead of time so that the meetings will produce the outcomes that you want.

Good facilitation of a meeting involves three key components:

Analysis – Sometimes meeting facilitators jump to create a debate over issues of content before an appropriate process is in place. Example: A group may be discussing whether or not to fundraise for a specific purpose when they have not yet decided if it is good time to fundraise at all. It is also good to identify if someone involved in the meeting has a specific intent or personal interest in a specific outcome and define that upfront.

Communication – The facilitator must listen, summarize and reframe. Typically they do not advance an opinion but ask questions to stimulate new ideas. The facilitator posts ideas on a flip chart or post board so that nothing is lost and so that later ideas may be voted on, prioritized or put in appropriate categories. If the topic is getting off track or moving in a negative or unproductive direction, it is the facilitator’s job to redirect the focus back to the purpose of the meeting.

Familiarity with Process Models. – Meetings whereby the process is to vote on an issue before moving forward are becoming less popular. Today many meetings operate with the consensus process whereby nothing can move forward unless everyone is in agreement that they can support the issue. This gives everyone less angst about the issue moving forward without appropriate consensus from everyone. Underlying attitudes of cooperation, support, trust, respect, and good communication are essential for a productive meeting and for consensus building.

In order for any project to succeed it must be set up to do so from the start. This concept applies to meetings as well. Ground rules should be shared with a group ahead of time so that everyone understands the culture of the meeting before you move into the purpose of the meeting, agenda and desired outcomes. Typical meeting ground rules revolve around start and end times, no interruptions such as cell phones or email etc. I say establish those as “Logistical Standards.” Additionally, I encourage clients to establish “Killer Ground Rules” such as the ones listed below so as to encourage a safe environment of high energy, idea creation, openness and forward thinking. The reason I call them “Killer” ground rules is because these rules “kill” the negative stereotypical images associated with typical meetings.

Seven Killer Ground Rules for Effective Meetings

1.) Share all relevant information.
2.) Everyone has a chance to speak without interruption.
3.) No idea is a bad idea. All ideas and opinions will be respected.
4.) All ideas and opinions will be encouraged to survive the “Relevant Test”:
a.) You’ve stated the reasoning behind the idea/opinion
b.) You’ve given specific example
c.) You’ve shared any personal intention or benefit to you
5.) All participants are invited to ask questions of an existing point of view.
6.) The focus should be on goals, not solutions or personal intention. A solution is a strategy of how you meet your goals. The group will create solutions to an agreed upon mutual goal. (The best people at creating innovative strategies don’t allow themselves to draw an opinion or solution until they have gathered all of the information.)
7.) Before the meeting ends, the group will jointly design next steps that demonstrate the level of commitment necessary to succeed.

Effective meetings require planning, a healthy culture, a purpose and good leadership. Start now!

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Mary Lee Gannon is an executive leadership coach and presenter who went from being a stay-at-home mother with four children to a difficult marriage, divorce, homelessness, and welfare to CEO. Her book “Starting Over – 25 Rules When You’ve Bottomed Out” is available on Amazon.com and details how she went from an earning capacity of $27,000 annually to president and CEO within just a few years. Visit her Web site at www.StartingOverNow.com.