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8 tips to get people moving in meetings

These 8 tips show how to get people moving in meetings and gives insights how this relates to team dynamics and leadership styles. The 8 tips are written from my role a facilitator point of view.

Tip 1 – Stand up for opening and closure

This tip is the easiest one. At introduction, ask participants to stand up and make a circle to introduce themselves. Yes, it is that easy! And there is more. First : the participants get out of their comfort zone –away from their coffee and computer, Secondly: a circle bonds people, and Thirdly: it is important that people move in the meeting room to ‘feel’ the room and to hear their voice in the room.

I have noticed an interesting element to the introduction round. Instead of starting with one person and then the next person in line, I let the participants freely choose the next person to introduce themselves. Here I have found that in 80% of the cases, the Project Leader or Manager is asked as the last person to introduce him/herself. For me as the facilitator, this is a sign that the participants  have a ‘distance’ to the Project Leader. In these cases the Project Leader is seen as more senior or more important because the participants rather choose a colleague as the next person to introduce hem/herself, than the Project Leader. In 20% of the cases, the Project Leader or Manager is not selected as the last person, so in these cases the Project Leader is more ‘one of us’. There is no good or right, but depending on the type of project/circumstances, I prefer to see the Project Leader been selected as last, as that gives me an indication of the ‘role’ of the Project Leader in the team.

At closure I ask all participants to stand up again for a closing circle to evaluate the workshop. Again I will randomly ask the participants to give a short evaluation, but at that point I specifically ask for the Project Leader to go last, so he/she can evaluate as the last person. In that way I make sure all others can speak freely and the Project Leader can ‘feel’ how the participants talk about the workshop. The Project Leader then continues to close the workshop.

Tip 2 – Make smaller teams

At specific points in a meeting you can ask the participants to form smaller teams for discussions, brainstorming, opinion forming, reflection, etc. That will make participants to stand up, find team members, and look for a place to sit (or stand!) with the smaller team.

Only last week I spoke to a trainee who is investigating ‘the effect of the distance between people on the number of ideas generated in brainstorms’. An interesting topic as I have seen this happening in many brainstorms. If the participants do not know each other, they will firstly keep a polite distance. But as soon as ideas start to flow and are written down, they will move closer to each other. However, if they are not relaxed or confident to be with the other person; then they will keep the polite distance. As a facilitator you can ‘break that spell’ by asking them to make drawings and help each other to draw the ideas. In the next step, while clustering the ideas, you will find the teams that worked together, stick together; they keep sitting close to each other and will keep supporting their team-ideas.

And how about a meeting room with no tables, just chairs. That will make it even more flexible to make smaller teams, sitting together, change places, make new circles, etc.

Way 3 – Move around

Sometimes you find yourself in such a small meeting room, there is hardly room to move. Even then you can choose to sit or stand and to use every corner, chair, wall in the room. I like to change the ‘seating arrangements’ for every different topic; if the presentation is finished, ask participants to stand up and move 2 chairs to the right. Or you can make small teams to prepare questions where the small teams can change where they sit or find a place outside the room. Sometimes I break the discussion to reach conclusions by asking participants to move to the other side of the table. I use the walls to post flipcharts on which will make people having to move their heads or body or you can ask them stand up close to the flipchart. Every time you ask people to move they will hesitate, but once they have moved you will notice a different atmosphere. I take pride in using all possible areas/corners/walls of the meeting room and in that way having the teams I work with moving around the room.

Another tip can be to change the meeting location; instead of using the meeting room, maybe you can find a location at the coffee machine, at the desk of a participant, at the reception, outside, in the elevator, in the CEO’s office, at the toilet.

Tip 4 – Take a break

Have regular breaks: tea breaks, toilet breaks, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, get outside breaks. Make participants stand up & leave the room. They can be mini-breaks; 5 minutes. I call them “1-function breaks” meaning: go to the toilet OR make that phonecall.

A break can also function as an ice-breaker. Decisions can be made outside the meeting room. It allows other persons to speak up (those who do not dare or want to speak up in the meeting room). It can re-set the atmosphere of the meeting. Most importantly: it gives you as a facilitator a break too!

Tip 5 – Walking meetings

This is a technique I have not done yet, but I have heard colleagues using this ‘Walking meeting’ technique.

During ‘walking meetings’ you either use your own offices/building or you go outside to follow pre-defined walking routes. These are not ‘random’ routes; each route has places to walk, to pause, to sit, to drink coffee, to use available flipcharts to draw/write conclusions, T-junctions to decide for left or right, relaxing areas to reflect, dead-ends to force decisions. The programme of the meeting/workshop needs to be aligned to the walking path. And caution needs to be taken that the participants stay focussed on the topic, as there are lots of distractions from other people, traffic, sun/wind, etc.

It must be a great way to meet!

Tip 6 – Measure the distance

Distance is a measure of commitment. The closer the participants are to their work on the flipchart or their post-it project plan, the more commitment there is to their task.

This peculiar behaviour I have seen many times when I facilitate a project start-up workshop at the point where the activities are written on post-its and the network with sequence and interdependencies is built with the post-its on the wall. There are teams that are ‘glued to’ the wall working with the post-its to get the network right. But there can be teams have team members who try to keep the distance between the network and themselves as large as possible: they position themselves behind the tables  or they may even leave the room. In some cases I even find myself moving the post-its in the network. This tells me that the distance between the work done by the team and the team members is an indication of the commitment. As a facilitator you can ask the participants to come closer, and see what happens. Will they stay, or will they go? If the distance is too large, I will share my observations with the project leader warning him that this team may not have the commitment to the project that is needed to make it a success.

And how about the Project Leader; where is he/she standing? And how does that reflect his/her type of leadership style? I have met many junior Project Leaders who did not know the impact of their position in the meeting room; where to stand or where to sit at the meeting table. This non-verbal behaviour are crucial signals for how the team will bond and how the Project Leader will lead the team. Sometimes I advise the Project Leader where to stand or sit, this can be done through very subtile hints. That is subtile, but effective facilitation.

This technique can also be used during discussions. Ask people to take a random position in the room. Start the discussion and ask participants to move closer to the person who is talking if they agree with that person. If a next person talks the participants can choose to change place and stand closer to that person. In this way you can help to team move to where they feel most connected to.

Playing with team dynamics in this way is the fun part of being a facilitator!

Tip 7 – Do not hold the pen!

One easy way to get participants moving is to, as the facilitator, not hold the pen. The participants themselves must write things down on flipcharts or post-its. In that way at least 1 person is standing up, and you can invite the others to join at the flipcharts. The added benefit is that they can write things down in their own words, it shows who in the team is willing to take the lead and ‘hold the pen’ and it enhances the ownership of everything that the participants write down themselves. As a facilitator it gives you more room to guide the flow of the discussions and help to writer to summarize.

It is interesting to see if in these cases it will be the Project Leader holding the pen, or a team member. In my experience the more senior Project Leaders let one of their team members hold the pen, so to let the team decide what is going to go on the paper, instead of the Project Leader. In that way he/she learns to team to take control of the project. My preference is if a team member holds the pen and the Project Leader takes part in the discussion.

Tip 8 – Use energizers

There are hundreds of energizers to make people move and which can be used at any time in a meeting. However, energizers should serve a purpose, otherwise participants might get frustrated of having to do ‘stupid’ exercises for no reason. Reasons can be to have fun together, to laugh, or to address a topic through the energizer, e.g. showing how to communicate better, how to work better as a team, etc.  Another tip is not to use energizers that make the participants really tired or out-of-breath (running, throwing things), because in my experience the energy is very high after the energizers but drops even more than before a couple of minutes afterwards.

I hope these tips will be of benefit to you. Please contact me if you have questions on this topic, or any other topic relating to Facilitation.

I wish you successful meeting where your participants move a lot!

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