“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”― George Lucas
Garbage in, garbage out.
I hate spending my energy and time to get nowhere. That’s why bad meetings drive me crazy. So I decided to write yet another post on the topic to help you avoid that pain too.
Lack of a clear purpose is why most meetings drain your passion. When expectations are vague, having a crappy output is anything but a surprise.
The biggest problem with meetings is that they are trying to achieve too many things at the same time. Asking one single question will drive clarity and make your sessions more powerful. Let me show you how.
The Formula for Powerful Meetings
“When the why is clear, the how is easy.” — Jim Rohn
A meeting purpose is more than an objective — it defines what the meeting is and is NOT all about.
Defining a meeting purpose will help address ‘why’ the meeting is necessary; it clarifies both the outcome and rules of engagement. If you were to cancel it, the team would move backward rather than forward.
The POWER Start is a facilitation technique developed by the Agile Coaching Institute to put an end to bad meetings. POWER is an acronym for the following:
- Purpose: Why is the meeting necessary?
- Outcomes: What do we want to achieve?
- What’s in it for them: Why should people attend?
- Engagement: How will the facilitator keep participants engaged?
- Roles and responsibilities: Who is accountable for what?
You must start with purpose a reason: when you know the ‘why,’ it’s easier to define the other elements. This simple question will help you shape the most suitable meeting:
Do you want participants to flare or to focus?
“Flaring” and “Focusing” are critical elements of the Design Thinking lingo. The innovation method requires switching mindset across the different stages of the process. Research and Ideation phases require Divergent Thinking — to explore (flare). Defining the problem to solve or analyzing results from research demand Convergent Thinking — to arrive at conclusions (focus).
Understanding the mindset required should not be limited to Design Thinking; your regular meetings can benefit from it too.
Purpose: unblock the team, drive clarity and alignment, move forward
Types of meetings: Mostly decision-making. There’s information that needs to be distilled or analyzed to arrive at conclusions, define a problem or make decisions.
Convergent Thinking: Improving, Reflecting and Analytical
Mindset: Quality of ideas, selection and prioritization, pros and cons
Purpose: solve a problem, drive excitement, explore possibilities
Types of meetings: Mostly, Idea Generation. You are looking for options and potential solutions.
Divergent Thinking: Exploring, Discovering and Illogical
Mindset: Quantity of ideas, building on other’s concepts, nothing is wrong
Understanding the purpose of the meeting will not only drive clarity; it will help you stay focused rather than trying to achieve too many things in one session.
Divergent and Convergent Thinking are the two sides of the same coin, but when done simultaneously they confuse everyone and get the team stuck.
Focus And Flare — But Not at The Same Time
“The main thing is to keep the main thing a main thing.” — Stephen Covey
We love multi-tasking, but very few people can do two different things at the same time effectively. Flare is like stretching out your body an trying to reach for the stars; Focus is trying to touch your toes with your hands.
That’s the danger of simultaneity — you can’t touch your toes and reach for the stars at the same time, as this clever Harvard video illustrates.
Convergent and Divergent thinking don’t go well together. Keep them separate intentionally.
You can’t expect one person to come up with great ideas when other participants are judging or being critical. Creativity requires a safe space, but also a different mindset. Conversely, if the team is trying to make a decision and someone continues to bring more options to the table, will frustrate everyone.
Being in permanent brainstorm mood is as bad as continually judging and analyzing. That’s why most teams get stuck. The most important alignment is when everyone is clear on what needs to happen. Avoid multitasking — “Flare” and “Focus” but not at the same time.
You can separate sessions by having two separate meetings. Or by having one after the other with a pause in-between.
Before switching from one meeting type to another, reset the space and the mindset. Give the team a 10-minute break. Re-arrange the room, clean up, and set up the ‘Focus’ phase. Help participants switch gears and understand that the rules and expectations have changed.
When facilitating team, I like having a giant sign that says “Flare” or “Focus.” Depending on the type of meeting, I hang the proper one. When participants ‘forget’ to play by the rule, pointing out to the sign is an easy way to bring the right mindset back to the meeting.
Clarity Adds Power to Your Meetings
Understanding when to Flare or Focus increases effectiveness. Going back to the POWER acronym, clarity will help you score high on the other variables.
Use the graph above as a reference. It will help you define the type of meeting based on the result you need.
Specificity is critical. If you are planning a brainstorming, what types of ideas are you looking for? Concepts or ideas that can be tested right away? When analyzing data, will the outcome conclusions or hypothesis for further validation?
Do you expect to solve everything in a meeting? Or the complexity of the problem will demand a couple of sessions? Specificity is clarity too.
What’s in it for them?
No one wants to go to a bad meeting. And one without a single clear focus is a recipe for frustration and mind draining experiences. When people know what to expect, they will be more willing to play.
A clear purpose will help invite those who will contribute and benefit from the meeting. When organizers lack a clear purpose, they invite people by default — because they have to, not because they need them.
When rules are clear, it’s easier to get everyone attention. Most side conversation in sessions happens when people are playing two different games. If one person is sharing ideas and some are judging, your team attention is putting the meeting in jeopardy.
Set up the space and the experience to remind attendees of the ultimate purpose, but also to drive engagement. Consider every element along the experience to get everyone excited — the tone of the invite, the agenda, the dynamics, facilitation and exercises, and, of course, the food.
Having a clear purpose will help you strategize whom to invite. Start defining the roles before you choose the names of the participants.
Brainstormings, for example, require people that are good at ideation but also outsiders that can see the problem from a different perspective. Don’t limit yourself to people within your team or your organization. Define the types of profiles or mentalities you need to have, and then look for the right candidates.
The roles don’t just limit to ‘active’ participants. Who will facilitate the dynamic? Who will be the ‘secretary’ or ‘scribe’ to capture everything? Who will take care of setting up the room and logistics?
Being part of the overall experience, not just the meeting per se increases excitement.
One simple question can make your meeting more powerful: Do you want your team to focus or to flare?
Keep this mind before planning your next team session.
Also, people need to feel safe to both express their ideas or provide opinions. That’s why building a culture of transparency and promoting Psychological Safety is critical. You want people to play freely without being afraid of getting fired.