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How to Prevent Meetings from Hell

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iStock_000010106679XSmall-300x199With technology forcing constant change in our workplaces, the true “hot commodity” over the next twenty years will be meaningful, face to face contact. However, that contact must be productive. Increasing facilitation skills – of all employees – is key.

Over 80% of my training participants tell me that the number of meetings they must facilitate has increased dramatically over the last two years. “It’s not really in my job description, but with all the team work and collaborative efforts these days, I have to facilitate – and facilitate competently,” said one participant.

A recent article in USA Today estimates that business professionals spend between 25% to 60% of their time in meetings. They report that 50% of that time is unproductive. “So often, people get into a meeting and talk around an issue,” says Beryl Loeb, a consultant in Needham, Mass. “Then they have to meet again.” No wonder meetings are the butt of Dilbert jokes!

Effective facilitation is the key to effective meetings. Anyone who’s participated in a focused, well-facilitated meeting can attest to its results: increased productivity, focus and accountability. The most productive meetings are often also the most enjoyable. Yet most people learn to facilitate meetings by “the seat of their pants” – and end up repeating the same mistakes.

The Importance of Facilitator Development

Building “in-house” facilitation skills is the way to save money on external facilitators, ensure that all meetings are productive and address the demand for increased participation in decision-making. Developing a home-gown cadre of expert facilitators pays off. Over the last three years, the Seattle Police Departments’ Community and Information Services Bureau has trained approximately 250 supervisors, managers and staff in basic and advanced facilitation skills. These facilitators currently facilitate hundreds of more effective meetings – both in the community and in the Department. Social service agencies, city municipalities, corporations, parks and recreation programs and Court Administrators are also benefiting from improved in-house facilitation skills.

Let’s counter the cynicism and low morale bred by badly-run meetings. With the right skills, anyone can facilitate. Consider investing in developing the facilitation skill levels of all your employees!

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