People hate meetings. This is not earth-shattering news. Many of the complaints are legit: meetings are unfocused, too long, or unnecessary. Some of the complaints are humorous (but still true.) One of the lesser-mentioned reasons that merits consideration is meeting purpose. People get frustrated with meetings because they are unclear about expectations surrounding the reason for the meeting. If meeting leaders did a better job of setting the right expectations about the meeting, there would be less irritation from meeting participants.
Setting Meeting Expectations: Two Types of Process
When you plan the agenda (you do have an agenda, right?) for your next meeting ask yourself as the meeting leader, do you expect participants to expand possibilities, or to come to closure? The answer to that question will help you, as the meeting leader, set the proper expectations. It will also drive the process you use to meet that expectation.
If the primary purpose of the meeting is to expand possibilities, then the recommended process is a “Divergent” type of meeting discussion because you are seeking a fluid, dynamic vibe. The meeting format should be designed to explore opinions, share ideas, gather data and/or brainstorm.
Now, what if the main role of the meeting is to come to closure? “Convergent” meetings are built around consensus-building, narrowing of choices and decision-making because they create focus and bring ideas together.
It’s certainly possible that a meeting may have both aspects built into it. If that’s the case, then it’s very important for the meeting leader to be clear about which agenda items are divergent and which are convergent.
[Related: 10 Reasons People Resist Attending Your Meetings]
Not sure how to make the process flow in a divergent or convergent manner? Here are 16 discussion questions that can help keep your meeting on track.
Divergent Meeting Discussion Questions
Where should we start?
If X were to happen, then what?
What does the data tell us?
What prevents us from trying X?
What’s the most outlandish idea we can come up with?
Where are the gaps?
What haven’t we discussed yet?
Where’s the elephant in the room?
If it’s been tried before and didn’t work, why not? How can we reconfigure it for success?
Convergent Meeting Discussion Questions
What would need to happen in this meeting for everyone to gain comfort in moving ahead?
If we knew we couldn’t fail, which option would we choose?
Of all these ideas we’ve generated, which one makes us most nervous? Why?
We don’t need to decide on all of this today. What one task would best help us move forward?
Who will own each task? What’s the deadline? Who needs to stay informed?
What’s the risk/payoff of each option that we’ve identified?
That’s a possible outcome – now, let’s assess the probability of that outcome occurring.
Setting Expectations is a Key Function of Meeting Leadership
When people show up to a meeting unclear about how to proceed, it’s a recipe for frustration – both for them and you, the meeting leader. When you understand the two main types of meeting process, you’ll be in a better position to help direct the flow of conversation. Not only will the meetings be more productive, but your participants will be more energized and less frustrated. And maybe, they’ll hate meetings just a little less. Well, at least your meetings.
Avi Kaye says
An excellent post, and I think you’ve definitely nailed down two very effective forms of meetings. Of course, in both cases, there are a few factors that are vital in terms of making the meetings truly effective.
1. A meeting agenda: Without an agenda, whether it’s talking about the elephant in the room, or what’s the risk for each new feature, an agenda is extrememly important when setting the tone of the meeting. (there’s a good post over at MeetingKing about this: http://meetingking.com/meeting-without-agenda-is-like-shopping-without-list/)
2. Parking lot: To make sure the meeting stays on track, any off-topic or off-agenda discussions should be cut short (as politely as possible) and moved to the parking lot, where they can be discussed at a later date, between two people, at a new meeting, or via emails.
Jennifer Miller says
Hello, and welcome! Thanks for sharing another meeting tool.
I agree that an agenda and a parking lot are essential tools in any meeting leader’s toolkit. By the same token, I’ve also seen meetings with BOTH of these tools go awry, because some of the meeting participants had a need to “diverge” while others were expecting to “converge”. Even if a meeting leaders doesn’t set a strict adherence to convergence or divergence, simply understanding that group dynamic can help him or her understand how the meeting is flowing.
Avi Kaye says
Hello back 🙂 And yes, I couldn’t agree more – making sure the participants know what to expect beforehand (diverge or converge) goes a long way to making sure the meeting has effective results.
By the way, from my experience, some people have a tendency to be one or the other. They either want to make a decision, or they want to brainstorm and toss around ideas. So knowing who to invite can also help in keeping the meeting going the right way.