Sooner or later, every facilitator will experience a meeting, executive retreat or team building session that goes off track. This can happen for a number of reasons included but not limited to
- Failure to get executive buy-in.
- Not reading the group accurately.
- Not taking time to crowdsource the content.
- Trying to force content in too little time.
When it happens, how your react will determine whether or not the meeting gets back on track. The key is to be prepared with a strategy.
Here are a few tips.
Learn to read the group.
If the group is rowdy, if there is a lot of cross-talk or if you are finding it challenging to capture and hold the group's attention, these are signs that the meeting is likely off-track.
It may feel as if you are losing control but this should be perceived as an opportunity to ensure that you add value and not a problem not a problem.
Remember, the meeting does not belong to you but to the executive sponsor and the participants.
Also remember that the responsibility for resolving any issues or challenges is a shared one that will require efforts by you, the executive sponsor and the group.
Let the group know what you are observing (e.g. participants are popping in and out of the meeting, distracted, not engaged in the main discussion).
Let the group know that you are committed to making adjustments to ensure that their time is well spent and that the meeting is of value.
Pause to solicit feedback and brainstorm ideas for improving the meeting.
Depending on the dynamics, one of these approaches may be effective:
- Distribute a checkpoint survey ahead of schedule. Take a break to review the feedback and then discuss it with the group.
- Break the participants into small groups and get them to identify the changes in content and approach are needed to make the meeting of value.
If the group is small, guide a discussion and flipchart the group's concerns and proposed solutions.
Don't be defensive.
Spend more time listening than responding or explaining.
The meeting may not unfold exactly as you pictured it but the most important thing is to meet the needs of the participants.
Review and re-shape the agenda and timing.
Don't be afraid to skip content that the group does not find to be of value and add content that is of interest even if this will involve some research and re-work over lunch or in the evening.
Be honest with the group and let them know what is realistic (i.e. what content can be addressed immediately and what will require some preparation on your part.)
- Urge the group to provide immediate feedback if they have any other concerns as the meeting unfolds.
Meetings get off-track but they don't have to stay off-track. With open communication and a team effort, despite the glitches, participants can go back to work feeling that their time was well spent and the content was of value.
For more tips to get and keep meetings on track, read Designing Meaningful Content for Executive Meetings and Events, Re-capturing the Attention of Rowdy Meeting Participants and Measuring Meeting Effectiveness 2: Mid-Course Corrections.
Photo Credit: Meeting Facilitators, Executive Oasis International