How to Lead Engaging and Productive Meetings (Part 2)
..with purpose, clarity and confidence so that Agile will work for you and your team.
In part 1 of this series, I gave you scenarios on what successful facilitation looks like, and what common mistakes people make when first facilitating.
Agile ceremonies seem simple enough, but leading them w/o any training in facilitation can get you into deep water with a team.
The team will start to distrust you or more likely, the agile processes. Which ultimately leads to resistance of ‘agile’.
Therefore, I’d like to take you through a 3 step process to lead engaging and productive meetings.
How to Lead with Purpose, Clarity and Confidence
1 The Mindset and Practice of Being Neutral
Maintaining neutrality is 1 of 5 cornerstones of our agile facilitation stance that we cover in our programs.
2. The Key Steps of Planning and Designing
Collaborative meetings start before you ever get in the room – in person or remote! Learn the invaluable first two steps of our five step Facilitation process, so you can be more intentional and deliberate about your meeting design.
3. Decide How to Decide
It’s just what it sounds like. In the room, be transparent about the decision process.
Don’t Participate, Facilitate!
Let’s start with one of the most common mistakes I see facilitators make. Participating rather than facilitating!
Facilitation is both an art and a science. Yes, you need a process to help guide you in planning and design. And tools in your back pocket to help you navigate different stages of collaboration.
But most importantly you need first to work on your own mindset and beliefs about leadership and leading others.
In our complete Facilitation course, we start with the mindset and beliefs about leading and facilitating, because if you can identify where your mindset might be getting in your way of your work with groups, then that’s the first thing to work on.
We call this the Facilitation Stance – the mindset and beliefs of agile team facilitators.
Interested in Reading and Learning More About Facilitation?
The cornerstones of the Agile Team Facilitation Stance include:
- Honoring the wisdom of the group
- Maintaining Neutrality
- Upholding the Agile Mindset and Practices
- Standing in the Storm
- Holding the Group’s Agenda
Click the links of each cornerstone to learn more and visit the book’s website!
1 The Cornerstone of Maintain Neutrality
The most common mistake I see is that people read these cornerstones and intellectually think – “I get this”! The challenge is that the nuances of implementing this are much more difficult. Some of these cornerstones are so nuanced in the moment, that they don’t feel like that big of a deal, when in reality these small choices you are making in the moment can be derailing your whole collaboration experience.
How To Practice Neutrality
- Focus on the process not the content
- Facilitate don’t Participate!
As the facilitator you own the process – the agenda, the room setup or virtual space configuration, how you’re going to get the group from point A to point B. That’s plenty to be focused on! Stay out of the content. Let the team own the work and what’s getting generated. No one wants to be invited to a meeting and asked for their opinion only to be told they got it all wrong or it’s not what you wanted.
- Define the role of facilitation up front with the team.
Not everyone knows what it means to facilitate. AND how the job of the facilitator is to help the group achieve the desired outcomes. Not contribute to creating the outcomes.
- Explain the value of being neutral and holding process authority while the team will hold content authority
- Ask permission from the team to facilitate – I’m going to try something different today. As long as we reach our desired outcome, are you willing to try this? By asking for permission, the power of facilitation is granted to you from the team.
Facilitators Need To Stay Out of Content
As a general guideline you need to stay out of content! I always say, if this is something that you know about and you believe you have a perspective that might help the group right now, and continuing to remain silent feels inauthentic, then you may step aside from your facilitation role for a moment and contribute content or offer your perspective.
Find a way to do so that is clear to both you and your team. You might say “I’m going to step out of facilitation for a minute” say what you need to say, then get back into the role. Do not ‘hang out there’ for the rest of the meeting.
Here’s why clarity on the role is so important. Trust is needed within the team and between the facilitator and the team. They need to trust that when you say you’re going to help THEM get those objectives accomplished that you mean it. Not that you’ll help them until you believe you have a better way at which point you will shut them down, offer your own opinion, and then ask them if they agree with you.
2 Get Input During Planning
Your stance is one component of skillful facilitation. But what do you do when you find yourself facing resistance to even coming to a meeting or participating?
There can be lots of reasons why people resist meetings, but here is one of the first places I look when people tell me that they are getting resistance to attending an agile meeting – Stand-up, Retrospective or any of the planning meetings.
Don’t make These Mistakes During Planning
- Not having a clearly designed purpose and agenda before the meeting starts.
- Cutting short the planning and design phase or not planning at all before the meeting.
These mistakes result in meetings that people don’t know why they are there, or how they are supposed to contribute. The conversation goes in circles, one or two people dominate the conversation. The meeting ends without a clear decision or action item and overall participants feel like it was a waste of time.
We are all stingy with our time. Many of us spend more than half our time in meetings each week.
Look at this data:
We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries:
- 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work.
- 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
- 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
- 62%said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.
~ HBR August 2017 ‘Stop the Meeting Madness’
That’s incredible! Meetings are expensive and worth it – if done well. But look at the impact if they are not done well.
What Participants Want From Meetings
They want meetings to be…
- Purpose driven
- Outcome oriented
- Clear on roles
How do you solve this problem then? You start working on all those characteristics before you get in the room.
If you wait until you’re in the room to start, you’re too late!
If your team finds Retrospectives a waste of time and does not want to participate, then find out why. There is likely a really good reason. Engage them in the planning and design for the meeting and Listen to what they have to say.
At TeamCatapult, we use a five phase model for Facilitation called The Facilitation Process.
Two of the most important, yet often skipped or minimized steps in this process is Planning and Design. Planning and Designing happen before the meeting starts, Conduct is what happens in the room. Then Document and Evaluate and Adapt take place after the meeting.
Within Planning there are several very important scope and boundary activities going on but the one I want to highlight today is Identify the Participants and Involve the Participants!
Just like you would not build a custom home for someone without talking to them first. Don’t design a custom meeting without knowing first what people hope to get out of the meeting.
3 Deciding How To Decide
Do you remember the movie with Bill Murray called Ground Hog Day, where he kept waking up each day and having the same day all over again?
If you make decisions in your meetings only to revisit them the next you get together, that’s a clear sign that your decision making process is missing it’s “stickiness” and your decisions are not durable, meaning they don’t last much beyond the meeting
Another sign is lack of energy or follow-through on implementing the decision.
This will be that action item or decision that was made and somehow the progress on it just drags out and you might be perplexed about why it’s taking so long.
A third sign of lack of durability is watching how engaged or not participants are in the decision making process itself. When people use language like ‘It’s fine’ or “yes, let’s just move on’ or ‘just tell me what you want me to do’. These are signs that something might be missing.
Decide BEFORE the Meeting!
Meeting with your meeting sponsor during planning and talk with this person about these three questions:
- What is in the team’s scope of authority?
- How complex is this decision?
- What are you seeking? Consensu, Agreement or Majority Rules?
The greater the complexity the greater the need for consensus. In the room with the team – be transparent about the decision process.
How Will You Grow Your Facilitation and Team Coaching Skills?
Will you keep ‘winging it’ or make a deeper commitment to yourself? What do you want to be known for? How will you make a lasting difference in your team? One that outlasts your time with them? One that lives on with them regardless if you are there or not? Which way will you choose?
You can spend a bunch of time attending free meetups, webinars and watching others as part of self -study. You might find a mentor who can give you some feedback.
All of which can be good strategies. But done alone don’t always provide you the solid foundation for really mastering the craft of facilitation.
We need leaders, scrum masters, agile coaches who know how to skillfully connect others and lead collaboration!
If you’re charged with leading change in your organization – at any level – I want to leave you with this thought. Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage said “There is no greater way to have a fundamental impact on an organization than by changing the way it does meetings.”
I believe that we can change cultures by starting to change the way people meet. You don’t have to change your team, or your boss, or your HR department. You just need to shift your mindset and change the way you lead your meetings.
Be the one who leads meetings that people will cancel other meetings in order to attend yours.
That’s how we start to change cultures.