A Practical Guide To Better Meetings And Shared Decision Making
By Eli Mina Published by the American Management Association (AMACOM, 2002)
Table of Contents


I began serving as a professional meeting facilitator and management consultant in 1984, and have been fascinated by the complexities of this work ever since. As my practice evolved, my clients and seminar participants presented me with a seemingly never-ending set of questions and challenges to address. This process has been enlightening and has forced me to continually develop my thinking.

My purpose in this book is to pass on to you the practical lessons I've learned and the tools I've developed through my facilitation, consulting and training assignments. The tools I present should be immediately usable by the corporate or civic leader who facilitates or participates in meetings and who leads shared decision making processes.

So what will this book do for you? Naturally, the first set of tools you might expect from a meetings book relates to planning and managing meetings, and, yes, this book gives you plenty of them. However, if this was all I gave you, my advice would be of limited use, and would address only a part of your task.

To consider your leadership challenge more holistically, we must first consider the tools required to build a healthy foundation for shared decision making. Without this foundation, truly meaningful meetings would be impossible to achieve.

Just what do I mean by "a foundation for shared decision making" and why is it important? Here are four examples of run well meetings, where the outcomes are undermined by a flawed foundation:

First, let's consider strategic planning workshops. Such sessions are invariably very exciting and invigorating. Participants leave optimistic and confident and ready to make changes in their organizations. But how long does this enthusiasm last? I make it my habit to contact past clients to check how much of a difference a workshop made. Often the answer is enthusiastic: "Yes, we are putting the ideas to work, and the workshop has been a real benefit". But other times the answer is: "Yes, it was a great session. But when we tried to persuade our Chief Executive Officer to implement the ideas, he would have none of it". This begs the question: What tools do you need to 'manage upwards', to ensure that your meetings and decisions are taken seriously?

Second, let's consider a management team which meets and agrees on policy changes that profoundly affect employees. Upon attempting to implement the changes, managers encounter resistance by staff. Some of them indeed follow their leaders obediently. But many follow reluctantly. Others undermine the changes, and others leave. Which leads to this question: What tools do you need to manage 'downwards', so those who will implement the decisions made in your meetings will do so willingly and enthusiastically, because they want to and not because you tell them to?

Thirdly, let's consider a government agency which decides to consult community stakeholders about a proposed project. Community consultation meetings are productive, but part of the consensus cannot be responsibly implemented and is therefore rejected. Upon learning about this, stakeholders get angry and go to the media with allegations of tokenism and dishonesty. They thought that their input was binding, and were never told of it being only advisory. Yes, the meetings were productive, but the overall result was negative. Which leads to this question: What tools do you need to ensure that expectations of external stakeholders are consistent with yours?

And finally, let's consider a committee which is given a loosely defined mandate. It then holds productive meetings, conducts research, makes commitments, and spends money. It comes back a few months later with what it believes to be sound recommendations, only to be criticized for acting irresponsibly, spending money recklessly, and exceeding its authority. Which leads to this question: What tools do you need to make sure your committee's mandate is sound, accountability is maintained, disputes do not develop, and time and resources are not squandered?

Responding to the questions raised in the above four examples, this book gives you tools to build a solid foundation for shared decision making. These tools will help you manage 'upwards', 'downwards', and 'sidewards' and make your group's consensus building efforts more meaningful.

Having given you the tools to build a healthy foundation for shared decision making, my next step is to give you practical tools with which to plan and run good meetings. The challenges you may face are domination by outspoken members, an inappropriate focus, an adversarial climate, and more. Let me elaborate on some of the meeting management tools that this book offers.

A frequent frustration with meetings is that 'he playing field is uneven' Talented but unassertive individuals just won't speak up. On the other hand, experienced and outspoken members dominate and take up most of the time. The result? People leave a meeting frustrated and dissatisfied, and, in the absence of their input at the meeting, narrow-sighted decisions are made. What tools do you need to 'even the playing field', rein in' dominant members, and capitalize on the talents of quieter ones? How do you convert passive spectators into active and empowered contributors?

Another serious meeting ailment is squandered time: 90% of a meeting time is often spent on minutiae and only 10% on significant and relevant issues. Items which have little or no relevance to the group's mandate are on the agenda. What tools do you need to focus a meeting on the things that are significant and make the meeting truly beneficial? How do you ensure that meeting time is properly allocated and spent?

Sometimes you find a meeting becoming a war zone, with members entrenched in adversarial positions, attacking, accusing and blaming one another, being verbally abusive, trying to figure out how they can overpower others, and all but forgetting to pay attention to the group's mandate. What tools do you need to turn your contentious meeting from a war zone into a construction zone, convert it from a problem into an opportunity? What tools will help you motivate the members to listen to one another and build win-win solutions that will work for the organization as a whole?

The list goes on: What tools do you need to deal effectively with a complex issue? How do you balance the need for creative and free flowing discussions with the need to move forward on the agenda? How do you make your meetings more interesting, engaging, and even fun? How do you encourage creative thinking and innovative solutions, unconstrained by past traditions?

Responding to the above questions, this book contains practical and proven tools to address these challenges and many more. I hope your organization will benefit from it. No one deserves the pain and agony of confusing and monotonous meetings, nor the acrimony that comes from dysfunctional relationships and communication breakdowns. Given your expenditure of time, money and other resources in meetings and consensus building efforts, you, your group and your organization deserve substantial returns on this investment. Insist on them.



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