We all know a bad meeting when we see one (or live through one): conversations that don’t go anywhere, speakers who are more interested in hearing themselves speak than anyone else, half the room staring blankly into space or surreptitiously checking their phones under the table. Yeah, we’ve all been there, and felt the life seeping out of us.
But meetings are a necessary evil. In order to effectively collaborate, share ideas and come up with solutions, understand each other and managing competing priorities – sometimes we all need to get together in the same room and talk it out. So how to do this effectively?
First, you need to get clear on the purpose of the meeting. What are you seeking to achieve? What do you want people to understand, and what do they need to know before their bottoms hit the meeting room seats? Is the meeting the right length and are the necessary people going to be in the room? Are you going to be coming up with ideas or making decisions?
Second, you need to manage your meeting so it’s fit for purpose. If you’re coming up with ideas, the latest research says that asking people to recount an embarrassing story (and probably having a laugh about it) gets the creative juices flowing. If it is a difficult issue you need to discuss, you need to make it safe and comfortable for people to participate. And if you’re hoping to walk out of the meeting with a plan, you need to walk in with a structured process that will get you to the result.
One of the biggest challenges when facilitating a discussion is how to manage the people who go off track, get stuck on an issue. Atlassian, an Australian software company, has introduced Helmut the Facilitation Chicken and given team members license to give a squeeze and make him squawk when the meeting needs to move along, stay centred or when one person has had the floor for too long. 
Finally, the meeting needs to finish with clear next steps and allocating responsibilities for taking them with timeframes. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting until the next meeting to discover that nothing has happened and you need to have the same conversation again.
Facilitation skills may not be in every job description, but imagine how much more pleasant it would be if everyone in your workplace was aware of how to make your meetings, workshops and planning days more effective? You may even find yourself looking forward to your next team meeting! And not just so you can have some fun with a squeaky chicken.