Mike van der Vijver is an internationally renowned facilitator, moderator and meeting designer. He was co-author of the bestseller Into the heart of Meetings and Meetings, by Default or by Design. And he's the trainer for our Workshop Facilitation Skills.
We asked him for his view on effective meeting facilitation.
"The most astonishing thing to me is that people easily spend 80% or even up to 90% of their working time in meetings while no-one has ever taught them how to do meetings. Think of it… You step out of school or University and into the world of work. You have diligently studied chemistry, engineering or sociology, got fine grades, and what do you do in your day-to-day life? Attend and lead meetings! Doing them the way your colleagues do is the safest bet. And so, we all follow the default.
As a result, we rarely experience meetings that are done well. How do you recognise a “Good” meeting? That is simple: by testing them against on The Three E's: Effectiveness Efficiency and Energy. A good meeting scores well on all three. How can you up your meetings in that respect? By applying the skills of a meeting facilitator. Here are some ways of doing that.
A Good Meeting is Effective – it starts from clear and measurable goals and the meeting programme achieves these goals. Effective means: the meeting produces an output that contributes to a necessary change. This means you have to start thinking about the meeting from the end, actually even later: from what needs to happen after the meeting. What is the change you want and who needs to produce it? On the basis of these two questions, you can decide who needs to be in the meeting and what they need to do there. That goes well beyond simply drawing up an agenda. An agenda is just a list of topics – it only mentions what the meeting is about, the content, not what needs to be the outcome and how to get there. So: good meetings are guided by a programme, which mentions the product of the meeting and the roles of the people who are present.
A Good Meeting is Efficient – it achieves the goals with the best possible use of resources. Efficient means: there are clear agreements on who does what and how the people in the meeting need to relate to one another. That goes well beyond thinking that a meeting is just a “discussion”. Efficient meeting facilitation includes establishing rules at the start about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. For instance about preparation, about the use of phones and laptops, about turn-taking and speaking time, and – yes – about respect. It is risky to leave these things implicit because different individuals may hold different expectations (especially for what is acceptable for themselves…). So: good meetings are guided by clear guidelines on effective participant behaviour.
A Good Meeting has High Energy – the programe makes sure that the participants leave with the feeling that they have had a unique or powerful or, in any case, a useful experience. An experience that has contributed to obtaining an outcome that is relevant for them. That goes well beyond just having people sitting around a table and talking. Meeting facilitation includes designing a process for the meeting that prevents participants from doing too much of the same. It works to get people on their feet and to use different formats to work on the tasks and topics at hand. The working methods should offer participants some surprise and fun. Group work that alternates with moments of individual reflection, use of post-its, body votes, roleplay, games – they all contribute to better energy. So: good energy in meetings means: participants interact about serious issues and meanwhile, they have fun. Serious Fun!
To obtain a good score on the Three E's, your meeting should have a programme that is properly thought through. You won’t get that if you do things By Default; you create it By Design.
The main thing is to have the guts to leave your default settings behind. To defy the skepticism of your colleagues and try different solutions. That is common sense but not common practice. Let’s change that!
Mike van der Vijver