Skills for Sustainability – Truly terrible meetings and how to avoid them

IMG_20150721_192535 (2)On Tuesday 21st July, the Net Impact Bristol team launched the first of a new series of workshops entitled ‘Skills for Sustainability’. These workshops are designed to provide professional development for sustainable change and build your personal effectiveness enabling you to collaborate, innovate, inspire and communicate more effectively.

We kicked things off with a great crowd at the River Cottage Canteen with a workshop on ‘Truly terrible meetings and how to avoid them’ – led by expert facilitator Mark Letcher.  We’ve all spent many hours in unproductive, tedious meetings and far less time in meetings with a clear purpose and useful outcomes and so this workshop aimed to explore why we call meetings, when we should have meetings and how to run a good meeting.

Good and Bad Meetings

After some tasty treats and a bit of chatting – the session started with an ice-breaker name game so that we could all get to know each other. We then worked in small groups to brainstorm examples of those really terrible meetings! We had quite a long list of characteristics of a bad meeting including:

  • Dominating Characters
  • Overlong
  • Veering off course

We then worked together to think about examples of good meetings – this was a bit more difficult! However some people were able to give a few examples and the ideas and tips started flowing as to what makes a good meeting, including;

  • Biscuits & refreshments– too make people feel valued
  • Energy & Enthusiasm
  • The environment – Walking and standing meetings
  • A clear agenda

Why do we hold meetings?

We then got thinking about all the types of meetings that we go to in our lives; from one-2-ones with line managers to community group meetings, and the more philosophical question of why we hold meetings in the first place?

This led to some interesting discussions on whether meetings reinforce a sense of hierarchy or status within an organisation or whether they bring an element of democracy into decision making.

Practical Steps

We then got on to discussing the informal and formal roles that we take on in meetings as well as how to deal with different characters. We worked in small groups to come up with a few ideas. Our list became quite long with all the different characters you meet at meetings but to name a few this included the;

  • Challenger
  • Bridge Builder
  • Questioner

Next, we explored tactics to facilitate a good meeting and prevent the meeting going off the rails. Some really simple yet valuable ideas included;

  • Asking how everybody is feeling – This helps to gauge where everybody is at and is a great start to the meeting.
  • Getting any concerns out straight away – If people are concerned about a particular thing they may hold on to this for the meeting. Writing down any concerns straight away helps to show that the concerns have been taken on board and allows people to take part fully in the meeting.
  • Calling people up on jargon – It is easy to feel intimidated by all the acronyms, buzzwords and corporate jargon, or to simply accept this language and continue. Calling people up on jargon allows everyone to understand better what it is they are talking about and what you are trying to achieve.

The Sustainability Agenda and Meetings

Finally, we ended the session with an interesting exploration of the concept of meetings and the sustainability agenda. Mark asked the question is it harder or easier to have a good meeting on sustainability. Often these topics are more emotive and it can be difficult to be challenged on your own behaviour as is often the case. It can also be difficult to have a clear agenda where there are so many ideas and roads to take to a more sustainable society. And yet, the sustainability agenda also allows for meetings where hierarchies are broken down, individuals are empowered and creative ideas are supported.

The event finished with a round of applause for the excellent and engaging Mark Letcher, and a chance to meet and talk with everyone there.

I now feel equipped with some invaluable skills and tips to take in to my next meeting to make it a real success and I am looking forward to the next workshop to develop my skills for sustainability!

By Imogen Dow, member of the Net Impact Team

MSc student in Sustainable Development: In Practice, explorer in creative ways of communicating sustainability, singer-songwriter and lover of nature and getting in the sea at any opportunity!

You can find her on Twitter.

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