Are you getting the most out of your team meetings or offsites?
Are dominant voices overshadowing what could be nuanced and productive discussions?
How much time is wasted with monotonous 'learning' sessions featuring a one-way flow of information?
I've been in those situations, observed them firsthand, and assisted in designing and facilitating offsites that circumvent these common pitfalls. Here are three strategies I employ to enhance the productivity of team meetings and offsite sessions:
Strategic Agenda Planning: Prior to the meeting, determine if the agenda is meant for teaching, integration, decision-making, idea generation, or other purposes. Ask yourself if this is something that can be turbocharged with ‘pre-work’ such as reading or research? Defining your desired outcomes in advance will lead to planning and managing the meeting more effectively.
Multiple Modalities for Discussion: How many meetings have you attended where a topic or question is thrown out with an expectation that a good dialogue will occur? Instead of relying on a single method for discussion, diversify the approach. Here are some modalities I find effective:
Individual Flip Chart Sessions and Gallery Walks: All participants jot down their thoughts on individual flip charts. Later, the team engages in a 'gallery walk' where they can read the other flip charts, stroke their chins in contemplation, and maybe even use some stickers to identify priorities they agree/disagree with.
Dyads, Triads, and Small Group Activities: Break the larger group into smaller units to work on specific questions or topics. Have these groups reconvene and share their findings with the whole team. One effective tactic involves organizing team members by their position on a topic (for or against, or option A vs option B, etc.) and then asking them to make an argument for the position they oppose–this draws out areas of commonality as well as reveals blindspots on both sides. You may be surprised what is revealed when one has to develop an argument for a position/idea they may not fully buy into.
Individual Reflection: Have you ever had a meeting where you had to ‘go around the table’ and give your thoughts and by the time it gets to you, the idea(s) you were planning on sharing had already been mentioned? Me too. Instead of the conventional 'round-table' sharing, ask participants to document their top three thoughts before selecting one to share. In my experience, this approach yields more nuanced and refined ideas compared to those that have to be created ‘on the spot’.
Avoid Overloading the Agenda: This is probably the most common mistake I see with offsites and team meetings—cramming too much into the schedule DOES NOT lead to increased productivity. If you plan to have discussion on a topic—it’s going to take longer than you think—allocate for that time. Build in breaks thoughtfully—I love the practice of giving people breaks but with a task they have to complete such as contemplating a question. When the meeting reconvenes, the topic is addressed with the benefit of people coming prepared with their ‘independent’ thoughts and perspectives.
In conclusion, optimizing team meetings and offsite sessions isn't merely about the time spent together but rather about maximizing the quality and depth of interactions. Through strategic agenda planning, setting clear objectives, embracing diverse discussion modalities and encouraging individual reflection, you can transform your meetings and offsites into dynamic platforms for collaboration, innovation and idea generation.