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Kay Buckby

The Mindful Trainer


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Chairing meetings – what does a strong chair look like?


Let’s be honest – we’ve all been to meetings that have added no value to our day. Surveys on how much time, energy and resentment badly run meetings cost us range from horrifying figures of anywhere between 35-50% of our time. Think of the opportunities lost from having half your working week wasted in unproductive meetings.

My belief is a properly trained Chairperson makes meetings positive, productive and enjoyable. I love making a difference developing meetings skills and truly believe a strong Chairperson, a strong Minute Taker and participants who know what great meeting behaviour looks like are well worth the training investment.

Most people are given the responsibility of a chairing a meeting without being equipped with the skills to do it effectively. So they ‘muddle through’, and usually waste a lot of valuable time – their own, and the time of others - in the process.

Here is what I think a strong Chairperson looks like:

A strong Chair has a strategic view of the meeting.

It doesn’t matter if their day job is about the detail. In meetings, detail merely helps us achieve the purpose of the meeting.

I’ve been to meetings where we’ve drilled down to the tiniest, most insignificant piece of data, only to have the Chair sum up the discussion, and call for another meeting. Really? What a waste of time.

Projects get delayed by this type of behaviour, so it’s important that a Chair keeps that wider view of why we are meeting together, and what outcomes we need to achieve.

A strong Chair can manage group dynamics.

Teams go through predictable stages of formation, so a great Chair will not only be able to recognise each stage, they will know what their role is at each stage (based on Tuckman’s Stages of Group Formation) :

Forming stage – this is where members are unsure of why they are there, and what the purpose of the meeting is. The Chair’s role is to provide strong guidance. This could involve introducing people, enabling people to get to know each other, agreeing the ground rules, and establishing the purpose of the meeting(s).

Storming stage this is where team members are now challenging the Chair’s authority, the purpose for the meeting, and even how you collectively work together. A strong Chair will listen, challenge and coach so that people feel they can re-contract the ground rules, and prioritise their own work whilst still contributing to the group. A careful balance of being firm but fair is needed here.

Norming stage – this is where the members are moving away from individual behaviour, and starting to identify and work as a team. A strong Chair will move to a facilitator role, clarifying objectives for the meeting, and enabling progress to happen. Timekeeping, summarising, and sticking to the agenda should be part of ‘how we do things around here’ once in the norming stage, so the Chair can facilitate discussion, sum up actions and provide feedback.

Performing stage – the team is mature. They are fully focused on the goals they are working towards, the purpose of each meeting is accepted and referred to by all members, the team culture is comfortable, and each individual is contributing, they know their role and they communicate without fear. Each individual is accountable for their own actions, and equally the team’s results. A strong Chair will facilitate, and provide meaningful feedback to each member, so they can take the learning to every meeting they attend. The Chair will mentor others to replicate this meeting behaviour in all areas of their life. They will celebrate success, and make the time for lessons learned.

A strong Chair will be able to manage individual behaviour

I always think meetings bring out the very best, and the very worst, in people. A strong Chair will be able to identify the types of individual behaviour that may occur, and be able to handle it. Here are three stereotypes of individual behaviour:

The aggressive participant

These can be openly aggressive (“What’s the point of this?”), to the silent aggressor (who rolls their eyes). A strong Chair will be able to use tools of assertion to manage this:

Questioning skills – “Can you talk me through why you say ‘What’s the point of this?’”

Observation skills – “Are you aware you just rolled your eyes?”

If/then skills – “If you don’t see this meeting as a priority, then would you prefer someone else from your team attended in your place?”

The silent attendee

In my experience, this behaviour is allowed in meetings far more than any other type of behaviour. However, I prefer to call people ‘meeting participants,’ and a strong Chair will spend some time developing people in the skill of being able to be a contributing participant. This could include spending time to plan and prepare, how to speak up for clarity, and how to challenge without being aggressive or submissive.

Often Chairs think people know how to behave in meetings, yet it can be daunting attending a meeting with people who are more senior, more experienced, or more vocal than you.

The ’Yes’ person

Sometimes, meeting participants get into the habit of agreeing with the Chair or the most influential people around the table. This can be very damaging to achieving the best. When I chair a meeting, I keep a grid of names listed on the vertical axis, and types of meeting intervention (such as idea, challenge, Yes, positive body language, negative body language etc.) along the horizontal axis.

I can quickly tick not only what someone says, but how they contribute. If someone is silent, I will know, as there will be few ticks by verbal intervention. I can then recognise the Yes patterns, and then ask a question such as “You’ve said Yes to every idea so far. Can you share with everyone the merits of each idea?”. Strong Chairs encourage people to say “Yes I agree because…”.

A strong Chair will use a part of each meeting to work on the process of how we work together

A strong Chair realises that they need to encourage people to work together, and realise what works for them and what doesn’t work for them. The agenda is working on the ‘What’ – the purpose for the meeting, the objectives to be achieved and the outcomes of the meeting.

The ‘How’ is the process – this includes the forming, storming, norming and performing cycle, as well as how I am developing as an individual during the meetings.

Get into the habit of adding a final item of: How are we working together?

To continually improve our meetings, we will take ten minutes to review what has worked, one improvement we can make to the next meeting, and individual learning plans.

A strong Chair realises that they can only achieve through the commitment and buy-in of others. It is worth considering developing yourself as a Chair, as if we can Chair meetings that add value, our bottom line will improve.

3 Responses

  1. I just love your idea of
    I just love your idea of making meetings enjoyable and productive…

  2. For a second there I thought
    For a second there I thought you were talking about tables and chairs, but I understand now that you’re talking about the leader of the meeting. I have not had that many opportunities to sit in a corporate setting meeting, but I imagine that you would really need someone who has the knack for recognizing people’s traits and in addition they would have to be a good moderator, in order for the time spent in that meeting to be used in the most fruitful way possible!

  3. Making meetings productive is
    Making meetings productive is important. Much time is wasted in pointless meetings. Your tips are excellent and follow the outline of the training course we run on Chairing Meetings We have been asked for this course many times and it seems the larger the organisation the poorer the meetings skills are? Too many people think that because they are the senior person in the meeting then its only their ideas that matter. If that really is the case then just tell people what you want and cancel the meeting! As you say if meetings are not productive and enjoyable then why have them!

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Kay Buckby


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