Guidelines for Engaging People in a Planning Meeting

One key to successfully getting a change started on the right foot, is to use meetings effectively. Too often, so-called planning meetings are passive. People sit in the dark while people show them slides. You need meetings that are alive. Noisy. Where people want to jump in and do the work.

Here is a list of things to consider when holding a planning meeting. By the way, I have seen successful meetings held by ten people as well by three hundred. But what the small and large meetings had in common was that they adhered to many of the things on this list.

sqInvite representatives from all groups that have a stake in the outcome of this change. When possible, invite everyone. If that’s not possible, make sure all groups and interests are represented.
sqConsider using a planning group made up of many diverse interests to help you plan this meeting. This will help you see things you might miss. Plus, you are getting some people engaged just by planning the planning meeting.
sqPre-assign seats so that each table of eight to ten people is a maximum mixture of the whole. Every table should be a microcosm of the entire organization. Each table should include various departments, interests, and levels of the organization. Do not allow people to sit wherever they like. You need diversity of thinking, experience, and professional interests.
sqAllow plenty of time for conversation. Don’t try to speed things up. Good conversation is a cornerstone of an effective planning meeting. Make it active.
sqEmphasize conversation, not presentation. Except for an introductory presentation that sets the stage (and even that might not be necessary), don’t make speeches.
sqBefore getting reactions to a presentation, make sure people are clear about what has just been presented. Ask for questions of clarification before you get people’s reactions. If you miss this step, people will be responding from their assumption about what they think they heard, rather than responding to the actual idea.
sqInvite resistance. The creators of Real Time Strategic Change and Whole Scale Change developed a simple technique. After a proposal is made, each table is asked to respond to three questions: What makes you glad (about this proposal)? What makes you mad? What would you add (or change)?
sqTell people how you will use this information. And then keep your promises. If you say you’ll get back to them within three days, don’t miss that deadline. In fact, the sooner you can get back to people, the better.
sqBe honest. If some items are not negotiable, tell people, and tell them why that’s so. Don’t pretend that everything is open for discussion if that’s not the case. You may take some heat for this, but it will be far better than acting like you are open to being influenced when you are not.
sqConsider using an unbiased facilitator even for small planning groups. A good facilitator can keep things moving. Slow things down when that’s needed. And a facilitator can allow you to be an active participant.
sqStay awake. Meeting agendas are merely road maps. Actual driving conditions will vary. If it seems clear that people are resistant to something, take time to explore what’s in their hearts and on their minds. I have seen good meetings disintegrate simply because the leaders felt compelled to get through the agenda in spite of what was occurring in front of them.

Next Steps

To learn much more about ways to get people engaged in changes that matter to them, download Getting Started on the Right Foot, excerpted from Rick’s book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance.

© 2013. Rick Maurer.  Adapted from Building Capacity for Change Sourcebook. Maurer & Associates 2000.



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