• Helen Chapman

A Christmas Carol: Meetings of Past, Present, and Future.

“The future ain’t what it used to be!” Yogi Berra.

Oh my! When I wrote this four years ago, I predicted that technology would play an increasingly important role in meetings, but I never imagined it would come true in the way it has. That said, after the initial shock of getting to grips with online meetings, it remains true that no matter how brilliant the technology, it’s human beings that bring the value after all, the tech can’t talk to itself.

I offer you this blog post as a trip down memory lane and you will also find:

  • an agenda to use for an effective team meeting. This agenda will work well both online or face to face. If you opt for the online version, I suggest 3 sessions of 2.5 hours using Miro or Mural as your workspace.

  • 5 reasons why the best online meetings succeed.

MEETINGS PAST...

What can you remember about your meetings when you were just starting out? I wonder how they were different to your meetings of today.

My own early meeting memories are filled with the hierarchy of the 1980s, where job titles and shoulder pads entered the meeting room ahead of people themselves. My boss at that time seemed to me a fierce and ambitious woman. The fate of any of us in her team could (and often would) be sealed if we made a mistake or were a fraction slow in replying. She hid beneath a thick mist of YSL, and each of us would be her favourite person one minute only to be quickly dismissed with a piercing stare soon after. When we were out of favour she would make us the butt of a joke in meetings while others would laugh along in fear of being her next target.

This all seems completely archaic now but much of work and meeting life was like that back then. That old boss of mine may have been the Ebenezer Scrooge of my memory but, back in the day, that was typical of how bosses behaved. Many of us learned the hard way – we started at the bottom and worked our way up. Meetings, board rooms, fixed meeting tables, cigarette smoke, long agendas, people holding their breath and hoping to avoid scrutiny. Much of it was about power play with little or no time spent thinking about the productivity of meetings, not to mention the people in those meetings and how to get the best from all.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and, in my case, it’s true. I survived those meetings past and have those memories as insight into the work I do today. Pure, pure gold.

MEETINGS PRESENT...

How times have changed. I say this knowing poor habits and behaviour do still exist, but in my daily work I know that meeting life is much sweeter now. Yes, there is always room for improvement, but I see that meetings today are in transition; shifting from tedious blah, blah, blah agendas to experimenting with the new to get meetings just right.

This festive season brings a natural break in the rhythm and routine of our work and is the perfect time to take stock of where you are as a team.

Here, for you, a Christmas present. It is an agenda for a team of up to (say) 15 people.

Firstly – how to introduce the meeting:

Meeting Purpose: To pause, reflect and learn so that we can achieve more together in the future

Meeting Outcomes:

By the end of this meeting we will:

  • Understand what is working well for us that we should continue / make more of;

  • Know what and where our important challenges are and be aligned on the first step to overcoming them;

  • Plan about how we will work together to enjoy achieving even more.

Secondly – how to use the time...

Meeting Agenda:

  • Welcome and Set-up For Success – be super clear about the meeting purpose and outcomes as well as why each person’s contribution is required and how the meeting will run;

  • Reasons To Feel Proud – each member of the team shares a point of positive progress / success in their area and supports this with whatever artefact is appropriate e.g. number on a P&L, photograph of a successful moment, a fact to be proud of, etc;

  • Gather Our Hindsight – the team tells the story of the last year or so about how we arrived here today; what we did, the challenges we faced, the products we launched, the goals we aimed for. You could use a large timeline wall chart to capture the story. Include the BIG HEADLINES about what happened & when (people, places, product, aims);

  • Learn From Hindsight – now step back and consider how it was for us as a Team along the journey, the contribution made by each team member, what others experienced and saw and told us. This will be a reflective and considered conversation designed to deepen the collective insight.

  • Our Private Truths (that we can say to each other and nobody else) – a process that looks in detail at our team routines, behaviour and decision-making.

  • Define the BIG QUESTIONS we must consider as we prepare to step into our new future. It is so easy and tempting to jump quickly to solution, but much wiser to pause and consider our future as big questions like, “How can we improve our team decision-making?”

  • Future Possibility Part 1 – a ‘what’s possible’ session that encourages everyone to dream wildly about the best possible future. Get as creative as you like here

  • Future Possibility Part 2 – what will it take to get us there? Create a ‘first steps’ plan towards our future. Often the first steps are the most difficult so my advice is to focus on this and commit to those first steps as a team.

How Did We Do? Practice answering this question at the end of every meeting to continue to learn and grow as a team.

You will see that the over-arching design of this meeting is a timeline of past, present, future. Whether this approach sounds daunting or exciting, I urge you and your team to give it a go. Learning to meet well together is like oiling the wheels of your business – both essential and valuable.

MEETINGS FUTURE...

** I wrote this in 2016 when the use of tech in meetings was novel and new

I’ve glimpsed the future – and I LOVE IT!

Last week I facilitated a meeting that, back in the 80s, I would not have believed it possible.

This meeting comprised of seven people: five were physically in the meeting room in Brussels and two were attending virtually; one on Skype and one on Beam (imagine a TV monitor atop a 5ft pole ‘sitting’ beside you at the meeting table – the person was actually in an office in Virginia and able to use the Beam controls to move himself around the meeting room, turn to look at charts etc. – very, very cool!)

That meeting was a huge success. Why? There are five reasons:

  1. Every individual was clear about the purpose of the meeting and why their contribution was needed.

  2. We listened to and understood each other’s perspective and contribution – in this way we grew the scope of what was possible.

  3. We used templates to support the meeting process and to create a record of our discussion and decisions.

  4. Nobody once blamed the technology (even though we had the occasional blip) – we managed around it, were patient and kept focus.

  5. We held true that to collaborate well with each other would create a fantastic sum of insightful parts.

My prediction about meetings future is that while technology will continue to play an ever increasingly important role, people in meetings will come to realise that they are the most important part. How they listen and understand, how they focus together, being super clear about what they can achieve together that they couldn’t do apart. While the wrapping of technology and cool meetings spaces are an enormous help, in the end, the sparkle comes simply from the best contribution from each person.

So, here’s to us all. Let’s ‘Mingle All The Way’ and make the very most of our meetings present and future, and try to learn from the past.

A very Merry Christmas.

Ye oldy meeting

Helen Chapman is a Co-Founder and Director of The Facilitation Partnership. Helen is the author of 'The Meeting Book - Meetings that Achieve and Delivery Every Time', published by LID Publishing in October 2016.


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