12 easy steps to get the most out of meetings.
How many times have you sat in a meeting and not felt listened to? Your experience and expertise ignored? Do louder voices and opinions determine where the discussion goes? Thought it was all a waste of time?
Reputedly, the average business executive spends 23 hours of every working week in meetings.
The more people, the more functions, the more complex and challenging to manage. Every meeting is a form of negotiation. Negotiation is a mixed-motive endeavour, such that negotiators are motivated to cooperate with one another to reach agreement but compete with one another to claim resources.
So, from the outset, the typical team meeting is both competitive and potentially cooperative.
Despite the time we all spend in meetings, few of us ever receive any training in how to lead a meeting, and even fewer of us receive feedback or evaluation on how the participants have received a meeting.
A frequent error is to encourage meeting participants to speak up and give their position and opinion. Typically, this leads the first participant to anchor on each issue for discussion. Research shows a correlation of 85% or more between the opening anchor point and the final outcome.
People tend to build an initial position based on the available information. Even when new information is presented, they find it difficult to move away from the “anchor position”. People will hold on to what is “certain”, the “anchor” may give a sense of certainty. The person speaking first has already gained advantage regardless of what is discussed for the remainder of the meeting.
A defined position or first opinion does not provide the facts which can open up the discussion. Furthermore, it can lead to an immediate conflict situation where those with different roles, power, and positions will fight to be “heard above” the opening first expressed view. Each speaker may be representing their interests or the interests of their function or constituents.
People love expressing their views, their opinions and the way they see things. They will often express themselves with “In my view…”, “I think…”, “It seems to me…”, “Our team…” “I feel this…”, “We want…”.
Some resist change and will do everything to keep the status quo; others may want to change everything.
In desperation to calm so many voices and opinions, the meeting might then be “called to order” by requesting everyone to vote on an issue. It may quieten the room but more often results in people not committing to the perceived agreement. Majority voting is a quick fix, but it does not allow participants to problem solve, collaborate and create value.
You can’t control people’s motives, behaviour, or opinions. But you can control the conditions under which people interact.
The following conditions will increase the meeting’s chances of moving towards a cooperative, collaborative engagement, optimal outcomes, and commitment to follow up actions.
Meeting Preparation – Before A Meeting
Establish an overarching goal before hearing from individuals. Help the team focus on a common objective that best serves the overall interests.
Set the process and rules of the meeting. Everyone should support the process and the meeting facilitator. Focus on dialogue, to hear all views without necessarily needing to act on them.
Discuss with participants beforehand what the alternative is for them should there be no agreement in the meeting. If someone is better off with no agreement, they could likely be obstructive in the meeting. If possible, meet with them individually to resolve any conflicts beforehand.
In the meeting
12 steps to get the most out of meetings
1. Collect facts before opinions.
Let everyone know that creative ideas, suggestions and opinions are welcomed after facts have been collected.
Facts cannot be ignored when the final decision or agreement is made.
2. Determine what constitutes a fact.
People often get confused between a fact and an opinion. A sales figure or a piece of research could be a fact; anything that starts “I think, I want, I feel ” is an opinion.
3. Call the experts to speak first.
Then make a general request for any other facts. E.g., engineering – technical information, supply chain – logistics, sales – sales figures/data, marketing – campaign results.
4. Create a matrix to gather the facts.
Capture each fact with the name of the person who said it to hold them to account.
5. Vet facts as truthful and allow them to be challenged.
“Power of the pen” – how something is written can influence others.
6. Listen, accept and be prepared to modify your initial thoughts, feelings and position.
Not everyone at the meeting will have facts to contribute. Some people may have more information than others.
7. Ensure there are objective criteria.
Encourage everyone to fact check.
8.Ask probing questions.
Build on the contributions of others.
9. Invite everyone to now create value with opinion and creativity.
The facts have anchored the meeting. Encourage support and collaboration with each other.
10. Brainstorm individual concerns or interests that could prevent acceptance of the final decision or agreement.
Let the facilitator act to ensure things are not changed to please one person’s interests.
11. Everyone can check the quality of the final overall agreement/decision package.
Now you are ready for decision making.
12. Summarize and check commitment and timeline for individual actions.
Following Up After the meeting
Thank everyone sincerely for their participation, input and commitment.
Send a copy of the matrix, photos of the team/group working together. The visualization will remind everyone how they took part, integrated and collaborated to agree.
Monitor and track progress of individual actions.
Benefits of Facts before Opinions in business meetings
Allows facts to dominate rather than strong voices.
Serves the best interests of the company, group, project etc.
Reduces emotional positions.
Allows people to modify their initial thoughts or position without “loss of face.”
Improves decision making.
Provides a way to look at all aspects of a situation before acting on one part.
Focusing on facts before opinions moves everyone away from getting stuck or returning to the initial strong anchor position. Confirmation bias comes from a need to self-protect and a wish to confirm your hypothesis. Once you have made up your mind, you look for information to prove you are right and are less likely to look for information that proves you wrong. By hearing facts first and encouraging probing questions, a structure is created that balances enquiry and advocacy. The well-structured meeting solicits new perspectives that lead to better decision-making and commitment to the agreed decisions’ execution.
A helpful resource for your next meeting can be found at Harvard Business Review.
Schroth, Holly. (2020): Cross-Functional Team Negotiation Strategic Overview. Unpublished manuscript. University of Berkeley, California, USA
Narayanan, Jayanth, Joshi, Amit M., Lavanchy, Maude, Buche, Ivy and McTeague, Lindsay. (2018): The Art and Science of Negotiation. Publisher. International Institute for Management Development. Source. Insights@IMD
Galinsky, Adam & Mussweiler, Thomas. (2001). First Offers as Anchors: The Role of Perspective-Taking and Negotiator Focus. Journal of personality and social psychology. 81. 657-69. 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1997.
Lax, D.A., Sebenius, J.K. Three ethical issues in negotiation. Negot J 2, 363–370 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00999004
Weisbord, Marvin, Janoff, Sandra & Macneish, Jack. (2007). Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! Publisher. Berrett-Koehler. ISBN. 9781576754252, 1576754251