I was completely green in terms of what was going on behind the scenes in the world of education, the side that you don't experience as a child through 10 years of schooling. With a background in several different industries, including facilitation and process design, I entered behind the scenes with an open mind and a lot of questions.
At one point, I attended a team meeting. We sat around a table in an empty classroom and were supposed to discuss the upcoming project. Within the first 15 minutes, more than 5 different topics and issues were opened without a single one being resolved: What product should the students make? From what material? What were the challenges of obtaining materials? In what groups should the product be made? How does it fit with our schedules? I was completely confused, and Caja could sense the panic in my eyes. She gave me a wry smile that said, "Yes, that's how team meetings are."
That team meeting is not the only time I've been to a meeting that goes off in different directions and doesn't reach its goal. I've experienced that often - not just in education, but to an equal extent in meetings in larger companies or local sports clubs. The challenge is the same: to reach the goal and avoid getting sidetracked by laying out a good plan and then sticking to it.
At the team's next meeting, I asked the group what they wanted to achieve in this meeting: to distribute the tasks before the project started the following week. This was to be done by first getting an overview of the tasks and then distributing them. The plan was in place! But again, the conversation spread to at least five different topics and issues. They saw what was going wrong, got back on track, a process that repeated itself several times during the meeting. Detour – then back on track. A plan is only good as long as you stick to it and talk about one thing at a time, which can be tough work if that's not the meeting culture you're used to. Despite small frustrations of being interrupted to get back on track, the meeting ended 30 minutes early. Everyone was equally surprised, and the 30 minutes could now be used to prepare the tasks they had distributed among themselves.
We have so much we want to say and contribute with in the meetings we attend.
We care about the children and the core task. It's just not always helpful for the team if you say what comes to mind at the given moment.
It's all about timing.
It's about being able to postpone what's not relevant right now but may be relevant later.
It's about having a good plan for the common meeting and helping each other stick to it.
It's not easy, but it can help us reach our goals in the meetings we attend.
I often have to bite my tongue and think: Is what I'm passionate about saying within the plan we have laid out? Will it help move the meeting forward and towards the goal? It is not always the case. I remind myself that meetings are not for my sake or for yours. They are for us to achieve something together, something bigger than ourselves. Making a good meeting an art form is being able to talk about the same thing, at the same time, with the same purpose, in the same way. The enemies are lurking just around the corner: getting off track, unclear purposes and goals (Why are we gathered? Why should we talk about this?) and unfocused meetings where the technology is giving trouble. Who hasn't struggled with getting the HDMI cable to work or getting permission to share their screen on Teams?
My whole "meeting game" changed when I actively started using IDOARRT for any meeting or workshop I had to conduct.
Firstly, filling out the IDOARRT before the meeting gives me an opportunity to establish why the meeting is important and what we want to get out of it in the end - making the purposes and goals clear. The participants in the meeting experience this especially when I present the IDOARRT at the beginning of the meeting, so they know exactly what to expect from the meeting and what is expected of them.
Secondly, as a facilitator, I actively use IDOARRT during the meeting. If I sense that a meeting participant (or myself) is going off track, I politely interrupt them and ask them to come back to the plan. "That's a really good point/question. Write it down for later, so we can come back to it at the end of the meeting if there's time, or bring it up at another meeting." However, I can only do this because at the beginning of the meeting, I presented the plan and got their "buy-in". That is, everyone at the table has nodded yes to the plan, and the roles are distributed so that they are participants, and I am the facilitator. As a facilitator, it is my utmost task to ensure that we achieve the IDOARRT, which gives me the green light for polite interruptions. It can be very uncomfortable at first, as there is generally consensus in our culture that we do not interrupt each other. But with politeness and the goal in mind, when we interrupt, we do the entire group a service by helping each other back on track.
Last but not least, it gives the meeting participants a huge sense of calm to know what is going to happen. It gives them an opportunity to sort through their own contributions, so everyone in the meeting can contribute to the mission of sticking to the plan. It qualifies the discussions and can give participants a feeling that what they bring to the meeting is valuable. The qualified contributions can therefore help us avoid detours, give a sense of flow, and ultimately save us a lot of time, so we can achieve what we need to.
We humans spend many hours of our lives in meetings. Just look back at your last week and count. These meetings can be a breeding ground for great frustrations when we don't achieve what we need to. Therefore, an invitation from me to perform a little experiment: Try using IDOARRT in different meetings and observe the difference it makes. Despite feeling strange to use it at first because it is more structured than many are used to working with, it can in many ways help us take our meetings to a higher level. Let me know how it works for you!
Intentions: Why do we have this meeting? What is the purpose of it?
Desired outcome: What do we want to achieve from this meeting? What should we have at the end of it?
Agenda: What is on the agenda, and in what order is it important to discuss things?
Roles: Who has which role in the meeting? For example, facilitator or note-taker.
Rules: What rules are necessary for us to achieve our meeting goals? For example, it is okay to interrupt if we are going off track, raise your hand if you want to speak, or all phones and computers must be put away.
Time: How long will the meeting last?
Introduce your IDOARRT at the beginning of the meeting. Allow participants to ask clarifying questions and make suggestions if necessary. When the group is satisfied with the plan, you can start the meeting. Refer back to your IDOARRT during the meeting if you feel like you're getting off track.