Have you noticed that too many meetings are unfocused discussions that seem to go round and round, but never get anywhere?

People work best when we’re working within a framework.  The most creative people build structure around what they do in order to be successful, making ritual their grounding force.  We even prefer structure when we play.  In his fascinating book “Game Frame,” Aaron Dignan explains that games are so compelling and energising because they use “the free space of movement within a rigid structure.”

And meetings are no different.

Structure is certainty

Without structure, there is chaos.  Without structure we feel lost and unbalanced.  With structure, we feel a sense of comfort and certainty that we are at least moving forward.  Successful meetings follow a very specific structure, and the facilitator needs to know that structure in order to guide the attendees from one end of the meeting to the other, in the right sequence.

If you don’t follow this sequenced structure of the meeting, you will lose your attendees’ focus, and your meeting will start going down dark alleyways and will take wrong turns.  The people in the meeting need to be taken by the hand and guided through the meeting, in order for them to feel satisfied that the meeting was useful.

Here are the 5 landmarks on the meeting roadmap that will keep your meeting tight, targeted and tactical.

Clarification

You wouldn’t set out on a trip with a group of friends, meet in the carpark, and not tell each other what the destination is, would you?

The first stop on the meeting roadmap is getting the purpose of your meeting clear.  Why was this meeting called, and what is its objective?  Never, ever let a meeting progress without the first stop being clarification.

Orientation

Now that everyone’s clear on where the meeting’s going, you need to know how you’re getting there.  People feel more comfortable when they have an idea of what’s going to happen next, when they know what’s coming.  The more you can broadcast what to expect, the more focused and participative the attendees will be because they’ll know where they are.

Orientation involves setting down any ground rules necessary for how the meeting is to be run, and deciding on a route to getting to the destination.  Are you brainstorming or discussing?  Workshopping or voting?  There are various routes to getting the result.  Pick one and make it clear.

Exploration

The exploration phase takes the objective that you identified in clarification, adds the method and ground rules you identified in Orientation, and gets to work doing the do.

It’s critically important in this phase to keep checking that the meeting proper is still working towards its objective.  Any veering off the path needs to be corrected before you find yourself in a strange neighbourhood.

Summarisation

Once exploration is (seemingly) done, test your and the group’s understanding of the main points or decisions or ideas.  Recap, review and restate.  In other words, formulate an “executive summary” of the meeting and its outcomes and decisions.

You can expect that there will be disagreement on your summation, so leave time to dip back into exploring in order to get everyone on the same page.

Agreement

After summarisation, most meeting facilitators make a fatal flaw.  They close the meeting.

The final stop on your meeting roadmap is agreeing what needs to happen once the meeting is over.

Unless some sort of action comes out of your meeting, then the whole thing was an intellectual game, and nothing else.  I quite like intellectual games myself, but I don’t particularly think anyone is going to pay me to play them.  We get paid for results, and all the information in the world is meaningless if no action is taken on it.

Bonus tip

The wise meeting facilitator sets up a follow-up protocol that instils accountability without nagging.

Now that you know the 5 landmarks to navigate, get off the meeting roundabout, get to your destination, and take everyone with you for the ride.