Meetings to Manage EQ Projects
Leave the table behind
Meetings are one of the most established rituals in modern society. By gathering a group of people in a room, usually around a table and with the chairman by the whiteboard, the scene is set for a traditional meeting. It is strange though, because if you collected a group of people whose job is about attending meetings, and asked if they find their meetings effective and powerful, most would give and emphatic, "No!"
Why? Because it is too static and too much focused on verbal communication from the left side of the brain. And traditional structures breed traditional ideas. So, instead of inviting the project team to another session around the table, ask yourself: what is the aim for this meeting? Communication is usually one part of the answer. Add the specific issue for the meeting and adjust the procedure to it. Maybe you should sit on the floor? Or meet in the garden? By designing the meeting in a new way every single time, even if it is just a detail will keep the participants curious and awake. It takes some effort to be creative, but still a smaller effort compared to motivating the team members after having had yet another traditional meeting.
Keep in mind your real goals of having meetings:
- Making sure that the team is synchronised.
- Keep the focus on shared goals and next-step objectives.
- Solve problems and make decisions efficiently.
- Build energy, commitment, and shared visions.
To meet those goals, keep your meetings alive. Some ideas are below, and your challenge is to keep changing and adapting them.
Set the dates for meetings well in advance. People who are active in non-profit are often very active -- somehow people interested in emotional intelligence are busy, committed people, so plan ahead so people will give the time. Also remember that everyone prioritizes the work differently -- so people will participate in different ways. If you allow and encourage all kinds of participation, you will get more support: make it as easy as possible for everyone to contribute.
Set and follow agreements in your meetings. If you agree to start and end on time, do so (even if 1/2 the people are present, even if you are not done at the end). See "Ground rules" for some other ideas for agreements.
A short meeting is a focused meeting. What is crucial for the next period and what can really be dealt with later? What is a topic for everyone to discuss and what a group can handle at another time?
Distribute the agenda in advance
Mental preparation supports the focus. Let people know what they can expect, and also if they must bring up their questions at another meeting due to lack of time. Give realistic timeframes so that people know and can adapt to other duties. This is really important in non-profit work, as it is a question of respect for the private life. To be really cautious, ask those present whether they have any problem to work according to the distributed agenda. Adjust if necessary.
Run through the agenda
Before any form of discussion, run through the agenda to see if someone would like to add or change something. By giving a very brief description of the topic, you also prepare the brain so that it is set for the discussions to come. In general you create a safe environment by letting people know what is expected of them.
Plan the breaks
If there will be a long meeting, plan for breaks and prepare with some fruit and beverages. Rather have many short breaks than a few long ones. Remember to point out the bathroom and telephone if it is the first time you are at the location.
Begin with the quick issues
By beginning with the quick issues you relieve those who need the answers for planning the near future, and they can participate in the longer discussions without looking at the watch all the time. The visual effect of moving down the agenda is also an energizer.
Before moving on to a new topic, make sure that everyone has understood the result of the discussion by rephrasing the decision. Look around to see disagreements or wondering faces. Anything more on that? is a good cue before starting to introduce the next topic. Be careful to "close the loop" by reiterating any conclusion -- a common break-down is people leave a meeting and some think a decision was made, while other think a discussion has occurred, so take a moment and state the result before moving on.
When the agenda is long, the group is big and its members trust each other, breaking out in groups to prepare topics is a good idea. Small groups work better and can easily bring up a range of suggestions to present to the others that then can participate in decision making. To secure a sound discussion in the groups, use your knowledge of the persons to form groups of diversity in opinions. Appoint a temporary group leader who will moderate the discussion and formulate a clear result. If time is short , plan these groups before the meeting if possible.
Energizers are those little things you can do to put life in a sleepy group. A good energizer take unused parts of the brain into action, speed up the heartbeat and may well be silly or a little bit embarrassing. The roller coaster below is an example of a quick and silly type of energizer but you might as well bring up games from childhood.
The Roller coaster
Everybody must stand up quite close to each other, facing the same direction. The game host tells how "we all sit down in the roller coaster (bend the knee a little like sitting in the air) and pull down the safety bar over our shoulders. The roller coaster starts to move upwards slowly, (begins to lean backwards with the hands holding the imaginary safety bar) tchuck-a-tchuck-a-tchuck-a-tchuck-a-tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a-soon we reach the top! tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a-aahh, what a view! (straightens the back, looking around) Oops! Look at that downslide, (pointing down) o we're going down! A here we go! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa (leaning forward, stretching the arms in the air, screaming hysterically) aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Ooouff! (sitting straight again) What a ride! Horrible! But ups! Here we go again, tchuck-a- tchuck-a- tchuck-a...
Rituals and symbols to make it yours
All cultures have its own rituals and procedures for meetings, and as long as they don't make the communication suffer they can be really valuable. By making the form and environment of the meeting unique for just this group of people, it becomes easier to focus on the work here and now instead of thinking about all those other things that disturbs the mind. Remember that a group is partly defined by its difference from other groups. In other words and what is well known, rituals strengthen the group's identity.
Play the whole spectra
To exemplify a simple thing to do: start or end every meeting with something talking to the emotional part of those present. It can be a poem, singing a song or maybe start with a short game or an inspiring part of a fairy tale. If the equipment is there, play a song with a message or show a scene from a film. Well done, such a break from the constant steam of what-must-I-do-next-thoughts can be relaxing. But by those who already are stressed it can be seen as waste of time, so make sure that the act contributes in an obvious way. In addition, if you are committed to practising building EQ, then you will make every meeting and discussion an opportunity for learning.
"Well, I have loads of things to do at the job and at Friday my son turns fifteen, so right now I'm quite stressed. Except that I am looking forward to the vacation next week and plan to go to the beach and just relax with my family. The meeting after that I will be full of energy, but today I am a follower. I've checked-in."
Above is a example of a very effective ritual: a check-in. In turn, those who wish, gives a short comment on what's on their mind this day and if there are things that might disturb or strengthen their focus this session. Its also a good opportunity to tell the good stories in life, for example what happened last week with the kids. Keep it short, voluntary and safe.
An alternative to check-in is asking those attending to tell a good story that has happened since last meeting. It can be anythong, personal or global, as lomg as it is making th teller feel good. By doing that you create a positive atmosphere and give the group a reason to smile and laugh. As mentioned below, laughter opens up to more creative thinking and adventurous decisions.
Candleholders and fruit bowls
To push this further the group can decide on a symbol for the group, graphical but also three-dimensional. For example, a special candleholder, which carries the lit candlelight in the finishing, wrap up. A special fruit bowl or a table cloth are other easy-to-bring things that can contribute to creating your atmosphere. Those kind of things can easily be found in a thrift store or alike, as the more odd they are, the more they make the group different from other groups.
One of the most obvious things to use for creating a group identity and inspiration to the meetings are of course the vision, goal and the beautifully scribed plan (scribing, see planning). By writing and scribing on big sheets of paper and bringing them to the meetings, you support yourself having a close contact with your plans and direction. A quick glance during the meeting can be enough to refresh the memory and the keep the focus, and with a big picture it is very easy for everyone to follow when discussing the work so far and in the future.
No involvement -- no commitment
Invite everbody to lead some part of your meetings and rituals; for example, each week, a different member can volunteer to find and read a poem. The other reason for that is to spare the project manager, who might as well be busy enough.
Refuse to be boring
There is scientific proof showing that people tend to think more freely and adventurous when they have seen a funny movie and laughed. Do your part in creating an environment where it is okay to laugh and make others laugh. The biological effects of laughter is an energizer in it self. And do you remember those boring sessions that left of our professional meeting-goers in dread of meetings? Almost anyone in any of those meetings could make the meetings interesting, but it takes courage to be different. People are so tired of conventional meetings that they are willing to pays loads of money to have consultants arrange inspiring meetings. Use your imagination and courage to make people think and act, and you will enjoy meeting your team.