Different Angles 15: What Are Meetings For?

In This Issue

  • Core Facilitation Tools Part 1: What are Meetings For?
  • PCC Fall Workshops: Making Online Meetings Less Terrible (2 hour workshop), and Tools for Good Meeting Facilitation (4 consecutive Tuesdays)
  • New offering: Thought Partner work with facilitators and consultants

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It occurred to me as I was revising my basic meeting facilitation workshop for the fall term at PCC, that it would be useful to bring pieces of that training into this eNewsletter format. I’m thinking that even those of you who are deeply experienced facilitators likely have colleagues who could use some of the basic tools. So, the next couple of eNewsletters will be just that — some basic meeting facilitation framings and tools, complete with exercises you or your colleagues can use to immediately strengthen your capacity to create and facilitate good meetings. 

Core Facilitation Tools Part 1: What are Meetings For?

What Makes Us Feel Like We Are in a Bad Meeting?

I’m a meeting junkie — that is to say, I like thinking about, planning, and facilitating meetings, and I even enjoy being a participant in them if they are well-run, engaging, and productive.  However, many people are not so fond of meetings, and mostly see them as a necessary evil.  Regardless of which kind of person you are, we can likely all agree that meetings are especially frustrating when:

  • They are scattered or bogged down, and it doesn’t feel like we are accomplishing anything;
  • We are not clear about the purpose of the meeting/conversation;
  • We don’t know the rules for participating or making decisions; or
  • We don’t feel like anything we say matters.

These are all dynamics that can be avoided through the use of some fairly straightforward tools.

This is the first article in a series that I will send out over the next couple of months that focuses on those tools.  Each of these articles will include one or more exercises, focused on a specific component of running engaged and focused meetings. 

Focus and Engagement Require Relevance

My foundational assumption is that good meetings both accomplish the business of the organization and strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of the group and all the individuals in the group. (Thank you, Sam Kaner.) This is a criteria that is seldom applied when we are planning meetings. And at an even more basic level, many meetings happen simply because they are on the schedule.

Exercise 1

Look at the agenda of a recent meeting you found frustrating.

Identify the purpose(s) of the meeting — what did the organizer want to accomplish?  (If you are the organizer, this should be easier. If not, you will need to guess; try to give the organizer the benefit of the doubt and be curious about what they wanted from the meeting.)

If you can’t tell what the purpose was, or if the answer is something like “we always meet on Tuesday afternoons” or “to make sure we are all on the same page,” or if the meeting seemed like it didn’t stay consistently focused on the purpose(s) you identified, ask: 

  • What did we gain by doing this work in a meeting? In what other ways could we have accomplished this?
  • In what ways did the meeting strengthen the capacity/effectiveness of the group as a collective entity?
  • In what ways did the meeting strengthen the capacity/effectiveness of the individuals participating?

Make sure the meeting serves a purpose; if there is no reason to hold a meeting, don’t hold one — find different ways to communicate.

Think about how meetings can build connection, understanding, and skills for the participants; this will have the added bonus of keeping people more engaged and increasing retention of the information you want them to have.

When Are Meetings Useful?

Generally, meetings should be focused on work that is best done when the group is all together in the same room, and should serve at least two of these purposes:

  • Governing the team/process — making decisions, coordinating efforts, being a mechanism for mutual accountability;
  • Learning from each other (not just info updates, but skills, insights, etc.);
  • Generating energy and creativity, and getting everybody’s honest input;
  • Solving problems that we need everyone’s experience to solve;
  • Building relationships and collective skills and understandings, so we can work together well; and
  • Sharing information everyone needs to know (keep very limited so people don’t get bored/disengaged — there are usually better ways to do this).

Exercise 2

Think about an upcoming meeting you can help design (could be with a group, or just with another individual). Using the categories above as a framing:

  • Make a list of what you want that meeting to accomplish. Make items on the list as concrete as possible.
  • Design an agenda that focuses on those goals.
  • Identify at least one way in which this meeting will strengthen the capacity/effectiveness of the group, and the individuals in the group. (For some ideas about this, see my previous article on the Power of the Format Shift.)

What’s your experience with getting clarity about the purpose of meetings? Or with using meetings to strengthen the capacity of groups? Do you have other questions or comments? Please email me, or join the conversation below. I will respond in the comments or in future eNewsletters. If I refer to your question or comment in a future article, I will keep you anonymous unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

This article is drawn from material in my basic meeting facilitation training. I am offering that training this fall at PCC. (See below.)  

Related Posts:

The Power of the Format Shift

Working with Complaints in Meetings

Using Questions to Move Meetings Forward

Roles in Decision-Making (You’ll find a downloadable handout with an updated version of this framing on my Tools for Team Building and Facilitation page.)


Fall Workshops at PCC

How to Make Online Meetings Less Terrible

This 2 hour workshop for anybody feeling challenged by running online meetings, is Tuesday, October 5th, from 6:30 to 8:30. NOTE: The PCC catalogue lists the end time as 8:20, but we will go until 8:30. The CRN is 45396. The cost is $29.

Are you frustrated by how hard it is to get folks to engage and do collaborative work in online meetings? We’ll use Zoom and Mural to explore facilitation techniques and ways to do visual collaboration online that will energize your meetings, increase engagement, and help you get good work done. This workshop will use the online collaboration tool Mural, but many of the ideas presented can also be done on other visual collaboration tools, like Google’s Jamboard. You will need a computer (not a phone) to be able to participate.

Tools for Good Meeting Facilitation

This workshop will run four consecutive Tuesdays, starting October 26th, from 7:00 to 8:30 pm. NOTE: PCC lists the end time as 8:20, but we will go until 8:30. The CRN is 43804. The cost is $55.

What do you wish you could change in the meetings you run, or participate in? This workshop combines lively presentations on useful tools and practices with Q & A and highly interactive exercises, reflecting on some actual challenges experienced by participants. It will be offered online using Zoom and Mural, and include discussion and practice of best practices and tools for facilitating remote meetings. Because we will be using Mural, you will need a computer, rather than a phone, to participate.

You do need to pre-register for these workshops through PCC.


New Offering: Thought Partner Work with Facilitators and Consultants

As a facilitator, trainer, or organizational development consultant, do you ever wish you had someone to:

  • Brainstorm with you about a meeting agenda?
  • Review the survey data you have and provide another perspective, look for things you might be missing?
  • Think up front about how to design a process?
  • Listen and provide some ideas or new questions when you feel stuck, or something isn’t going well?
  • Read a draft report, ask questions, make suggestions, and check for internal consistency?
  • Bring some specific skills or experience you don’t have?

I’ve been a facilitator, trainer, and supporter of organizational change for over 25 years. If the perspectives, tools and experiences you see reflected in the rest of this website seem like they might be useful to you in a thought partner, I would be happy to talk with you about what I might bring to a particular process or project. Please reach out if you are curious.

“Tasha was an invaluable thought partner for me. My client benefited from my having had Tasha’s help reflecting on their situation and strengths, and co-creating with her an agenda to support their decision-making conversation. Tasha is very insightful and brings a huge box of helpful tools and resources for facilitation and planning. Plus, she is really fun to work with!

Allison Handler, Principal,
Travertine Strategies

I am offering training, coaching and facilitation online

I am currently supporting organizations and individuals primarily online, using phone, Zoom, and Mural, a powerful and easy to use tool for visual collaboration.

If you would like to discuss what I could bring to your organization or team please contact me. You will also find an overview of my services and experience on the Services page of my website.


© Tasha Harmon, June 2021. All rights reserved.

You are invited to share this eNewsletter with friends and colleagues. Please keep it intact, including the acknowledgements and contact information. If you’d like to reprint an article from my eNewsletter, written permission is required. Please do contact me about this if you are interested. Thank you.

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