Anyone in a professional role will be aware of the meme ‘I survived a meeting that could have been an email’. The culture of how a team runs its meetings has a massive impact on productivity as well as morale. Yet many workplaces are still a long way off getting things right. This blog explores how some questions from the world of coaching could help you to conduct good meetings.
We are not talking about all meetings – some are brilliant. There is most definitely a time and a place for meetings within any team. But, when we think about the meetings that DO fail… what is going on that gets in the way? The common issues for teams are:
Any one of these factors can de-rail a meeting – and there are probably times when you have seen a combination of the above play out and lead to a disaster.
As a leader, it’s your job to know what a good meeting looks like. Stephen Covey would say “Begin with the end in mind.” Broadly speaking, you are aiming for the opposite of the above points. When you are the leader or chair of the meeting you cannot be responsible for everything that happens in the meeting – people bring their own agendas, emotions and qualities to the space. But what you are absolutely responsible for is creating the best possible conditions for a good meeting to happen:
Some of these features happen outside of the meeting itself – creating cultures of equality and harmony happen at every level and place within an organisation and therefore draw on your full set of leadership skills.
For the more concrete framing of a meeting, we can draw from the world of coaching to give our meetings a solid container for success.
The definition of coaching can get complex because it is used by many professionals in different contexts to mean different things. It is a close cousin of counselling and therapy as well as being used (sometimes incorrectly) in the world of sport.
For the purposes of this blog, coaching is a reflective conversation with a thinking partner. It is a collaborative process where the coach uses their expertise in questioning and listening to help the other person think better about a situation, change or action. The coach does not direct, but instead empowers the other to do their own thinking and take responsibility for their own outcomes.
Coaching is not always appropriate in the world of work – there are times when the leader may have to be directive (assigning tasks, holding someone to account) or work in a more hierarchical way (making the final decision on a budget). However, the principles and style of coaching helps to nurture positive cultures by encouraging people at all levels to be engaged thinkers who are intentional about their decisions and actions.
One of the key skill sets of the coach is asking effective questions – this is an excellent resource for good meetings.
An excellent set of coaching questions to help you frame a good meeting is the STOKeRS acronym (developed by 3D Coaching)
This set of questions is a simple but powerful way to establish right from the start exactly what will be happening, for how long and why. Taking the time to define the content and process of the meeting may feel like a slow start – but the clarity it brings often makes the rest of the meeting go faster because everyone is following the same compass.
A challenge you may face is competing answers to any of these questions. In which case, discussion may be needed to reach consensus (which is a whole other skill set). Having this discussion out loud where everyone can voice their views and move towards an agreement is a good antidote to hidden motives or situations where simply imposing the agenda would be met with resistance.
Answering the STOKeRS questions at the beginning sets the meeting off on a clear direction and also gives you a goal to hold yourselves accountable to. It is normal in a meeting for new ideas, questions or topics to emerge organically as you explore together. Sometimes these add immense value to your meeting and at other times they are a distraction.
Using a coaching style can equip you with handy questions to help steer the meeting on track without fully taking over:
The common theme of these questions is that team members are aware that they are just as responsible for the outcome of the meeting as the chair or leader. This sense of responsibility and partnership can help to build trust and empowerment when it wielded respectfully, because people feel like what they say and think matters.
Common pitfalls of the bad meeting are over running in order to get the long agenda done or cutting short because time has run out. In both cases, it’s likely that the meeting ends abruptly without the opportunity to really think about what happened and what comes next. A good meeting conclusion wraps up the session with clarity and direction so that team members understand the next part of the process.
Some helpful questions to conclude a meeting are:
You may not need ALL of these questions to form a good conclusion – but picking a handful of the most relevant ones will help to consolidate the bulk of the meeting topic and clarify the direction moving forwards. Giving a good 5-20 minutes (depending on the length of your meeting) to do this well ensures that your team members have fully decompressed the topic before moving into the next part of their day. This is important for their emotional state and productivity.
In summary, using a coaching style throughout the meeting process helps to define the boundaries of the meeting – which we can think of as a container. This helps people to understand exactly what they are there to do and how long for. This makes doing the work much easier than when people experience an abstract or poorly defined meeting.
By setting out a clear container, the coaching style can also give team members a lot of freedom and autonomy within the space. Being asked questions and let loose can encourage creativity and collaboration so that meetings evolve past the traditional talking shop into something that adds more value to your organisation.
If you want support in developing your coaching skills or facilitating good meetings then The Self Leadership Initiative provides bespoke development services for teams. Get in touch today.