We talk a fair amount on this blog about how to have better meetings. And we should! Taking the time for some meetings will save time over all… but it’s a delicate matter and one of great responsibility. But let’s say you feel like you get it. You’re the person charged with meetings going well, and you know which agile ceremonies are worth having regularly, how to determine other things worth discussing synchronously, and how to create and stick to an agenda. But you get it, and you’re hungry for more. This post should help you get here by:
offering structure by which to share skills and...
suggesting when to deviate from (or go without) an agenda.
By including better facilitation practices in more aspects of your work, group dynamics will improve overall and everyone can focus on the actual work at hand.
The more team members in a room know how to facilitate, the easier the conversation can be. Two ways to increase capacity in your organization are by mentorship and encouraging behavior which allows a group to facilitate itself.
We already talked a bit about how to mentor other facilitators in Well Met: The Facilitator, but it merits a deeper dive. To mentor other facilitators, first look for the helpers. Ask folks who see others raising their hands, help get a conversation on track, etc to review agendas with you. If they’re interested in trying out facilitation, backchannel while they or you facilitate, and debrief afterwards.
To get a group to be better at facilitating itself, ask folks to cue the person who comes after them in stack. Then, encourage people to self-regulate for time and how many points they make (one of the “Rules of 1”). Finally, work to get folks to cede the floor to someone who has spoken less than they have, often by prompting a quieter person with a question.
At Truss, we ran a quick 2-question survey to pair those interested in facilitating with those who already feel comfortable doing so. We stagger by skill level, so everyone has a chance to be in both a supporting and lead role.
We are Very Serious People.
When to deviate from the agenda
In Well Met: The Meeting Itself, we talked about how to create an agenda and then facilitate from that arena. This is an important and useful thing to do for a good long while, if not indefinitely. However, if you find yourself thinking “oh, I know what would totally work better instead!” and you’ve built trust with the group, it’s time to deviate.
My agendas, while well planned, often get tossed out within 5 minutes of any meeting starting. It’s similar to agile practices in that way - the preceding research and planning gives a solid sense of what problems are being solved and awareness of the context; but flexibility to adapt (or throw out) a plan based on what is most needed in the moment of action to achieve those goals. Because you’ll have facilitated many different sessions at this point, and tried out a lot of different facilitation practices, your toolbox and skill will be substantial enough to try something that seems more appropriate in the moment than your plan.
Taking a self-assured, but mildly cavalier approach to this is one successful approach to getting group buy-in for these deviations. “Well, I thought we were going to do X, but now that’s not going to help us get where we need to be, so we’re going to do Y instead. Any concerns about that?” while making eye contact to assess before moving on works well. Also sometimes “Wow Past Me has some terrible ideas. We clearly don’t need this entire next section in order to achieve our goal. Let’s skip it and save some time, shall we?” This needs to always be coupled with a reminder of what the goal of the meeting is, to keep all conversations on track.
Sometimes, if sufficient trust has not been built up, people will take this opportunity to discuss how the discussion will happen. Timebox this and move on when the timebox is done.
Other times, in groups with a particularly high level of trust, I won’t even share my agenda, which gives me leeway to adapt without making excuses. That said, I will have absolutely made at least one agenda in advance.
Where we’re going we don’t need agendas
And then sometimes there’s so much confusion about a topic that the meeting itself is to resolve the confusion. In which case it’s highly unlikely you get to have a traditional agenda. If this is the case, have a solid sense of who needs to be there and how the conversation might start. You might discover other folks are needed partway through, or that someone could be using their time better elsewhere. Apply the “law of two feet” here and let folks leave if they’re not needed.
As your comfort in facilitation grows alongside your activity toolbox, your ability to adapt in the moment will likely increase. To gain the benefits of that increased skill, allow yourself more flexibility while building out a stronger overall capacity in your organization. By
offering structure by which to share skills and
suggesting when to deviate from an agenda,
group dynamics will improve overall and everyone can focus on the actual work at hand.