We are pleased to offer this toolbox as a supplement to the online course Meetings Re-imagined. We invite you to dig in and consider what is useful for you.
- 3 Phases of Meetings
- 4 Part Meeting Framework
- 3 Decision-Making Roles
- When is a meeting the way to go?
- 4 Strategies to Advance a Meeting Before it Begins
3 Phases of Meetings
Meetings begin before they begin and end after they end. So, we suggest thinking about every meeting you have in 3 distinct phases: before, during, and after. A different skill set is needed for each of these three phases, whether you are participating in the meeting or calling the meeting.
If you are calling a meeting, you are like a zookeeper, with two important roles.
- Get your ducks in a row by asking questions like…
- What is the situation that this meeting will address?
- Who needs to be there?
- What will we actually accomplish?
- Get elephants out of the room by asking questions like…
- What may come up at this meeting that will be a trigger for anyone there?
- What crucial conversations need to happen in private prior to this meeting?
If you are a meeting participant, your role before the meeting is kind of like that of a duckling or an elephant.
- If you are a duck, get in a row – do your pre-work, get ready for the meeting.
- If you are an elephant – be proactive and have needed conversations to lessen or remove tension or conflict.
If you are running a meeting, think of yourself as a conductor with an eye on 3 things.
- Everyone is playing from the same score (carefully constructed meeting plan).
- Everyone is on the same beat – staying together as you move through the agenda.
- All instruments are heard, not too loud or too soft, in harmony (all voices are heard and no one voice dominates).
If you are a participant, look at it as being a musician playing an instrument.
- Don’t play too loudly, not too quietly – speaking and listening as appropriate.
- Watch the conductor to stay on the beat – sticking with the agenda and with others.
If you are running a meeting, look at it as being an air traffic controller.
- Ensure all the planes in the air land – make sure everyone knows what commitments they made and when they will get them done.
- Ensure the planes get to the gate because they are going to turn around and leave again!
If you are a participant, look at it as being a plane.
- Know where you will land – know what commitments you have made.
- Get to the gate so you can depart again – follow through and complete your commitments so that others can do their work and the full results of the meeting can be realized.
4 Part Meeting Framework
A description of what is going on currently and the need that this meeting will address.
For example, as part of a “brand refresh,” our company has a new color palette. We need to update the colors on our core content graphics.
List/describe the people who are invited to participate in this meeting, their role in your organization, and the role they’ll play in this meeting. Also name people who will not participate, but need to be kept in the loop about meeting outcomes.
When thinking of “people,” think about who would need to be there to provide key information or to advance a decision.
Here are a few guiding questions to consider:
- What is each participant’s role in each phase (i.e., before, during, after)?
- What do we expect each participant to contribute?
- Who definitely needs to be present? Who could be excused and kept in the loop some other way?
- What do I hope participants will take away?
- What dynamics will be present, given the mix of participants?
- What decision-making role(s) will participants have?
For example, we have invited the following to this upcoming “brand refresh” meeting: 1) the graphic designer so she can make the changes in the graphics and offer her keen eye; 2) three Senior Partners who can ensure that the colors can help communicate the meaning of the graphics.
Results-Based Accomplishments (RBAs)
Clarify what participants will accomplish at a high level during the meeting. They are written in a way that makes it obvious when we have actually accomplished the desired result. RBAs begin with the phrase, “By the end of this meeting we will have…”, followed by a verb(s) that clearly points to the result.
- What will everyone have accomplished together?
- What are we looking to have discovered or decided during this meeting?
- Double check that each RBA actually requires a meeting to accomplish it.
For example: By the end of today’s “brand refresh” meeting, we will have:
- Confirmed that this team of 4 will make final decisions on the newly branded graphics
- Prioritized which core GLP teaching graphics we want to refresh this month
- Clarified how many colors we have to work with
- Finalized our decisions for 3 of the graphics
- Set next steps to get learner input on 1 of the more complex graphics
- Set a next meeting for this group
A carefully sequenced plan that breaks down how the group will successfully complete each Results-Based Accomplishment. Each agenda item includes the 4 T’s:
- Task – the detailed steps participants will take toward each RBA
- Technique – the efficient, effective way of carrying out each task
- Technology – the specific form(s) of technology (virtual or in-person) used to carry out each task
- Time – the amount of time each task will take
- How can we advance the meeting before it begins?
- What pre-work would be helpful?
For example, in our brand re-fresh meeting, 2 of us were at a kitchen table with the graphic designer, and 1 was virtual. Our virtual team member piped up to ask to see the color palette (which we were all looking at and forgot to share!). So, we used a double screen – with the existing graphics and the new color palette, on a Miro board. We used a round robin technique with the question: What is important for you to see or convey in this graphic? Before finalizing each decision, we invited “thumbs up” in lieu of “consensus cards.” We set aside 1 hour for the meeting and agreed to go over by 15 min.
Setting Results-Based Accomplishments
When we call meetings, we often think in terms of what we will do during a meeting (e.g. I will share this piece of information; I will ask for feedback; I need to guide everyone to make a decision).
An effective meeting, however, shifts the attention to what participants can and will do. In this approach, we use Results-Based Accomplishments to:
- Clarify what attendees will have done with each agenda item during the meeting.
- Begin with verbs that let attendees know what they will be doing and “points” to the result.
- Make it obvious when the item has actually been accomplished – the result.
- Clearly state the result of the actions to be taken.
- Clearly state the type of input attendees will have.
- Keep attendees engaged.
We find that this approach to meeting planning helps:
- Clarify expected outcomes and demonstrate when they are met
- Free people of personal agendas
- Give everyone an easy way to be respectful of each other and of time
- Keep all engaged by defining an active role for them in meeting
- Clarify what really needs to be on the agenda before the meeting actually starts
- Avoid confusion as to what roles meeting participants have
- Specify the level of involvement for each agenda item and realistically estimate the type of interaction and time required for each agenda item
Continue reading the Sample Verbs for Results-Based Meeting Accomplishments below.
Sample Verbs for Results-Based Accomplishments
These verbs describe what attendees will have done by the end of this meeting. If it’s helpful to you, notice how we’ve organized the verbs according to your expectations for participants.
Many of these verbs could fit into multiple categories. The idea is to think through your expectations and write accomplishments with clear action verbs.
A Checklist for Setting Results-Based Accomplishments
Shift the attention to what attendees can and will do.
Ensure that each Results-Based Accomplishment does the following:
- Clearly states what attendees will have done
- Begins with an action verb
- Makes it obvious when the item has been accomplished (i.e. points to the result)
- Keeps attendees engaged
Setting Intentional Agendas
Example Meeting Agendas Using the 4T’s
Task – each agenda item (i.e., 1, 2, 3…)
(1 hr) By the end of this meeting, we will have reviewed and answered questions about the new HR policy.
- (10 min) [Name] will review the new policy (link to Sharepoint) and highlight the key aspects.
- (10 min) Post questions you or your staff have about the new policy using sticky notes on our Miro Board.
- (5 min) Group the sticky notes into categories on the Miro Board.
- (30 min) [Name] will offer responses to questions in each category and field further questions.
- (5 min) Closing – review outstanding questions and when a response will be given via email.
NOTICE: in this agenda, all four ‘technique’ highlights make up the elements of an affinity grouping exercise. Implicit here is that we’re giving people some time for silent reflection and some time for dialogue.
(55 min) By the end of this meeting, we will have named how this proposed policy could affect efficiency.
- (5 min) [Name] will highlight the key aspects of the proposed policy (link to Sharepoint) and the context for it.
- (20 min) In Zoom breakouts “test drive” the policy by envisioning its use in your own Department. Then, name anticipated positive and negative impacts on efficiency if we were to adopt this policy. Compile them in our doc (link).
- (20 min) Each department will report out their anticipated impacts on efficiency. Other departments name ways they can support to mitigate loss of efficiency.
- (10 min) Set next steps (who, will do what, by when) in Trello.
(90 min) By the end of this meeting, we will have finalized the wording of our new policy.
- (10 min) [Name] will clarify the purpose of this new policy and to whom it applies.
- (5 min) [Name] will read aloud the policy (link) as it now stands. While listening, highlight phrases in the policy that call for further clarification.
- (60 min) As a full group, go section by section – name suggested changes and use consensus decision-making (red/yellow/green technique) to reach agreement on the final wording (link).
- (15 min) Set next steps (who, will do what, by when) in Asana.
Checklist for Closing Meetings
- Reflect on the value of this time together
Take the time to state not only what was accomplished but also the value of it. Acknowledge and appreciate what worked well in the meeting. Use every opportunity to validate both the conversation and the individuals in it.
- Confirm common understanding and alignment
Review the notes taken during the meeting. If decisions were made, note these. Check to see if anyone has a different understanding. Encourage people to voice any lingering questions or concerns so they can be resolved as soon as possible. This removes any newly created elephants in the room!
- Plan the follow-through
All the hard work of the meeting may be lost unless the group identifies how to follow-through. Make updates in your project planning tool or create a chart for action steps at the start of the meeting and fill it in along the way. Encourage timely follow-through on action items by having people name their own commitments. Celebrate progress at the beginning of the next meeting; this then becomes expectation and habit.
3 Decision-Making Roles
When a decision has already been made.
When information is presented at meetings, we want people to do something with it whether we are explicit about that or not. For example, if we are sharing our team’s plans with another team, we may want them to look for synergies or potential conflicts. Plan ways for people to respond to the information they receive. Try asking yourself these questions:
- Why is it important that meeting participants get this particular information now?
- What kind of response might meeting participants have?
- What will meeting participants need to do with this information? What will help them do it?
When a decision will be made by someone else and you can influence that decision.
At times, we want more than responses – we actually welcome suggestions. People have a consultative voice when they are invited to modify or influence the outcome of a decision, but do not to have the final say on it. When you run a meeting, clarify in advance who will be asked for suggestions and how the ultimate decision will be made. Try asking these questions:
- How can we make sure meeting participants leave satisfied and confident about how decisions will be made?
- How can we avert meeting participants taking on decisive voice inappropriately?
- Could meeting participants have some decisive voice around some aspect of this issue? If so, how?
When you will make the decision.
In some cases, we might want all who are in a meeting to collectively make some or all of the decisions around an agenda item. It is extremely helpful for everyone to understand what their level of decision-making will be for each agenda item. Ensure that the accomplishments reflect the level of decision-making, that everyone has the right information (relevant and complete) with which to make the decision, and that they have the right amount of time to do so (without rush but with immediacy). Try asking yourself these questions:
- What method(s) or technique(s) should we use to arrive at the decision?
- Who will make the decision?
- How much time will be given at the meeting for people to plan the implementation of the decision?
Guidance for Clarifying Decision-Making Roles
Consider the examples below as you work to explore and clarify decision-making roles in your own meetings.
As a meeting planner, you are inviting participants to have a “responsive” role when the purpose is to…
- Ensure Clarity
By the end of this meeting, we will have reviewed and answered questions about the new policy.
- Personally Connect
By the end of this meeting, we will have named elements of the new policy that are useful to us.
- Make Meaning
By the end of this meeting, we will have described ways this new policy supports our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
As a meeting planner, you are inviting participants to have a “consultative” role when the purpose is to…
- Expand Perspectives to Inform a Decision
By the end of this meeting, we will have gathered team leads’ input for a new policy around X topic.
- Play Out a Proposed Decision
By the end of this meeting, we will have named how this proposed policy could affect efficiency.
- Provide Input on a Decision Before It Is Finalized
By the end of this meeting, we will have explored the pros and cons of this draft policy.
As a meeting planner, you are inviting participants to have a “decisive” role when the purpose is to…
- Finalize a Product or Statement
By the end of this meeting, we will have finalized the wording of our new policy.
- Approve a Plan, Policy, or Strategy
By the end of this meeting, we will have refined and approved the proposed new policy.
- Agree on a Way Forward
By the end of this meeting, we will have defined the key checkpoints for rolling out the new policy.
When is a meeting the way to go?
Call a meeting if you need…
- to distribute the same information to everyone at the same time
- active exchange of ideas
- group problem-solving
- dialogue for decision-making
If none of the above apply, then consider alternatives, such as:
- a few personal phone calls
- a walk and talk with a colleague
- a group email
- a broadcast message
4 Strategies to Advance a Meeting Before it Begins
1 | NARROW THE FIELD
Agenda items can get bogged down when people are given too many options to consider. And, problems will arise if people are presented with options that leadership has already ruled out. So… take time before a meeting to narrow the field of options being presented at a meeting.
Ask: What needs to get decided? What pre-work can we do to present decision-makers with the best possible options?
For example, narrow down the potential pool of candidates, narrow down the logo ideas, narrow down the possible dates for the retreat.
30 organizational leaders will gather for 2 days to finalize their strategic plan for the next 3 years. Beforehand, a core team narrowed down to 4 possible geographic hubs for the organization in this new strategic cycle.
2 | PROVIDE RELEVANT DATA
Debating issues without actual data at hand can be VERY frustrating and inefficient. Progress is fueled by having reliable, relevant data on hand when meetings begin. So… take time before a meeting to research data that will inform the dialogue at the meeting.
Ask: What data is available easily? What’s the best way to share it? What data is important but harder to get? How can we move closer to having that data on hand?
For example, provide data about how the new position was advertised and the number of people who responded through each channel; provide data on staff preferences for the new logo, provide data on staffs’ likes/ suggestions following last year’s retreat.
Prior to the strategic gathering, the core team worked with their staff to summarize key data indicating progress made around each objective in the current strategic plan.
3 | OFFER A DRAFT
Creating a document from scratch is harder than reacting to a draft. And, seeing a draft helps people clarify what they do and don’t want to see in a final product. So, consider drafting something before a meeting, for others’ reactions at the meeting.
Ask: Who is in the best position to draft something for other’s reactions? How will we get input at the meeting? How can we ensure a sense of shared ownership of this draft as it evolves?
For example, draft a rubric with key criteria for assessing applications for a new position, invite the communications specialist to draft a description of the new service you’ll be providing, draft a high-level design for the upcoming staff retreat… Plan the best way to get input at the meeting to ensure shared ownership.
Leaders of each Division surveyed their team, drafted strategic priorities for the next cycle, and met with other Division leads (the core team) to refine their drafts. This draft was sent to all 30 staff to read prior to the 2 day event.
4 | EXPLORE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES
We all know how important it is to anticipate elephants in the room. But, we don’t always take the time to actually greet those elephants and walk them off the field, before the meeting starts! So… turn off all the other noise around your upcoming meeting, and turn on your empathy headlight.
Ask: What is going to come up at this meeting that will be a trigger for anyone there? How are people going to feel as they move through the agenda? Who can you talk with directly to address contentious issues before everyone convenes?
Program leaders anticipated tensions with the Development Team at the upcoming Strategic Retreat. So, there was a “pre-meeting” with the Development Team to acknowledge their need for public-facing content and to map out a plan for them to get this content once program staff were clear about their direction, internally.
What strategy/strategies might you use to advance each of these example meetings they begin?
Our leadership team is meeting to clarify the kinds of decisions we want to make together, moving forward (and which will be held by just one of us – or by individuals outside this team).
Our podcast team is meeting to lay out a high-level plan for the next season.
Our facilitation team is meeting to review the design for our upcoming training and clarify roles during the event.