Meetings: Know Your Purpose and Be Sure Others Know It As Well

Meetings. We've all been in one, observed one or led one, and are familiar with the feeling or reaction, "Why are we here?"

As a facilitator, as with any form of communication, it's important to consider purpose and audience and to make that clear. By considering purpose and audience we can be more certain that the time used to bring people together is well spent. Knowing the "why" guides the meeting's facilitation. For participants knowing the "why" guides their thinking and participation in meetings.

When I plan to facilitate a meeting, I ask: Is this a meeting for people to learn together, to gain information or to help make decisions? I need to consider the relationship of my facilitation, the content and the participants in reaching the desired outcome.

Learning Meetings

Making and taking opportunities for adults to learn and work together to be more skillful at their job is invaluable. Assuming that adults have time during their busy days to learn is a misstep. Providing time for adults to learn together creates a collaborative culture and nurtures climate. 

These types of meetings don't just happen. Learning Meetings require design thinking and adaptive facilitation. Though the content of the learning is important, the content is the vehicle for the adult learning. For a Learning Meeting consider:

  • Content
    • Is it clear to participants why they're learning what they're learning?
    • How will what is to be learned be presented or provided?
    • What tools or other resources might support learning the content?
  • Participants
    • What seating arrangement/s will support people in learning and working together?
    • How will people engage with the content and with each other?
    • What processes or protocols will support the learning and work?
  • Facilitator
    • What will your facilitative moves be to engage participants?
    • What kinds of questions and prompts will support people to do the learning and work?
    • How will you collect information about what was learned, how people will implement their learning, and their questions/ needs regarding the learning?

Informational Meetings

It's important to be transparent with information that impacts the people within your organization. Remember, information is power and we want everyone in the organization to be empowered and feel a part of the bigger picture. Of course, there's a fine line to walk here. Information overload or extraneous information can be corrosive to the culture and climate of an organization so be thoughtful about the information that needs to be shared. 

Though Informational Meetings seem pretty straight forward, it's not quite effective to rattle off information from a list. If we want people to know, understand and apply the information, we need people to hear what is shared and understand it. For an Informational Meeting consider:

  • Content
    • Is the information major or minor? Is a meeting necessary?
    • What part/s of the information need to be shared? How much? 
    • How will the information be shared?
  • Participants
    • What depth of understanding do people need to have about the information?
    • How will people interact with the information? What are they to do with it?
  • Facilitator
    • How will you provide the information?
    • How will you engage participants with the information?
    • How will you find out what people know/ understand about the information given?

Decision-Making Meetings

Transparency in making decisions that impact people within your organization is just as important as being transparent with information. When people have a voice within an organization and know they are heard trust is developed. Decisions made together can help to nurture commitment versus compliance in a team. 

Though it may seem to be more efficient to make the decisions, there are many times when getting input and feedback are critical. When what is "on the table" directly impacts others, collective decision-making should be considered. For a Decision-Making Meeting consider:

  • Content
    • Is it appropriate for this decision to be made by a group? 
    • Is there enough/ the right information for people to make this decision?
    • How will the decision be shared with others who may need to know?
  • Participants
    • What depth of understanding do they need to have to make this decision?
    • How will this decision be made? Do they need to come to consensus?
  • Facilitator
    • How will you share what needs to be considered?
    • What process or protocol will support decision-making?
    • How will you find out how people feel about the decision? About how to message the decision?

If we're going to hold meetings, let's be mindful. Articulating purpose supports the way in which we, as facilitators, design the time for people to interact with each other and with the content. Engaging adults isn't always the easiest, but purposeful meeting design can offer time well spent.

-Christine H. Hoyos