Need a great meeting facilitator?

Feel like you’re always in a meeting? You’re not alone. Recent research shows that the average office worker spends around 16 hours in meetings each week. Over a year, this works out to more than 200 hours, or almost nine full 24-hour days!

A lot of the time is wasted too. Over a career, the average office worker sits through 9,000 hours of needless meetings. That’s a year and ten days!

I can help your meetings go from boring boardroom to dynamic discussion, ensuring you leave the room aligned, energised and ready to make things happen. I’ll help you improve the way you identify and solve problems and make decisions.

There are many reasons for holding a meeting, for example setting goals, making decisions, defining roles, making plans, building consensus and alignment. And there are many things that get in the way of a good meeting too – it’s my job to help you avoid meeting blockers and successfully deal with difficult situations.

Everything I do is tailored to you: I’ll work closely with you to understand your team dynamics and the nuances of your project, designing and running your meeting so you get the end result that works best for everyone.

I’m James Allen. I’ve facilitated over 100 workshops, meetings, focus groups, strategy sessions, teambuilding events and corporate offsites for a range of clients, from corporate household names to creative agencies and startups.

Recent clients include:

Setting the ideal outcome & agenda

Most meetings won’t require an outside facilitator – but they can be highly useful for certain crucial meetings where the subject matter and outcome is high in priority and value. The best meetings focus on just one or two issues – an important topic with clear outcomes will engage everyone attending to bring their best attention and performance to the meeting.

We’ll start by working with you to get very clear on the meeting’s aims and outcomes. What are the goals of the meeting? We’ll then consider the participants. Why should people be there? What’s in it for them? What should they do in advance of the meeting? Is everyone clear on and agreed on the desired outcomes? Does everyone have a clear sense of their role within the meeting? We’ll work with you to clarify all these elements and prepare the meeting effectively.

At the meeting’s close, it’s important to have a clear summary of the results and next steps. Were the goals for the meeting achieved? Who is doing what? What are the next actions? We’ll help you achieve a clear, positive outcome at the close of every meeting.

We’ll also provide a concise write-up of the meeting and all subsequent actions and responsibilities.

Information & analysis meetings

Getting together to analyse, digest and make sense of complex information can be highly rewarding and instructive in terms of helping teams generate ideas, formulate strategies and develop shared approaches.

We can work with you to ensure information is presented in an effective way, so participants can understand it quickly and identify patterns, opportunities and insights.

We can also design activities to facilitate discussion and analysis of key themes and sources.

Goal setting & planning meetings

Teams who work together on shared goals are far more likely to hit their targets than those who don’t. If everyone knows what they’re working on together, everyone is able to make confident, purposeful steps in the knowledge that they are working on a valuable shared project and they have the trust and support of others.

Setting goals as a group gets you are aligned and motivated from the start: if everyone feels involved in the early stages of group projects, they are much more likely to feel invested in making it a success in the long-term.

Effective group goal setting can also result in more challenging, ambitious goals – as team members build on each other’s ideas and realise the potential of their collective strengths.

We’ll help you and your team set ambitious, meaningful goals that they can all get behind, and make sound plans for achieving those goals.

Decision making meetings

Meeting excess is largely down to an inability to make effective decisions. Meetings have become a stalling tactic to avoid tough decisions, and individuals inside organizations are terrified of making decisions, so they call meetings instead. Those meetings turn into more meetings and the cycle is often never-ending. We’ll help you break this cycle and make decisions you can be confident in.

One of the key ingredients in an effective decision-making meeting is to ensure all the available information has been gathered, distributed and digested prior to the meeting.

Another is to articulate to the group why they are coming together to make a decision. What will the decision lead to and why is it important? Who has ultimate responsibility and sign-off?

Once we have all these things in place we can work with you and your group to weigh up all the data, opinions, predictions and after-effects to formulate the best outcome.

We’ll do this by helping you think objectively about the issue at hand. This is important because the psychology of decision-making isn’t as straightforward or rational as we like to think. In fact much of our decision-making is shaped by hidden biases – such as confirmation bias, availability bias, groupthink and stereotypes – which sometimes lead us to make grave errors.

Consensus building & alignment meetings

When you need all members of a group to reach agreement on roles, goals, team projects or decsions, we can help you come together to find solutions that everyone actively supports.

It’s important that all members of the group are able to express their needs and viewpoints clearly. We’ll ensure the flow of the meeting, that everyone participates and feels comfortable doing so. We’ll respect the hierarchy but strive to put everyone on a level playing field so you get the most from each participant. 

We help make sure that all views, opinions and concerns are taken into account, making the most of the group’s strengths and shared purpose to make concrete plans for progress. This is the ultimate win-win: the best possible solution and a united team supporting it.

Meeting blockers

When it comes to bad meetings, these are some of the biggest culprits…

Naysayers

Many people find it easy to say “no” to everything. Saying no keeps them on familiar territory, safe from the unknown. However these naysayers block progress and stop important new ideas seeing the light of day.

Groupthink

Groupthink has been defined by Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius, as “a state of lazy, shared consensus where no one wants to rock the boat”. Groups can also often be wary of anything that challenges their assumptions. 

Coasters

Often some people aren’t fully invested in the purpose and outcome of a meeting. They see it as an excuse for a safari away from their desks, to kick back and make jokes. If you’re in a meeting, give the topic your attention and respect.

Self-censorship

Often people will keep ideas and opinions to themselves for fear of being judged or disagreed with by other team members. It’s important to build an atmosphere where people feel safe to speak up.

Arguments

Some topics are controversial, and participants may find it hard to keep their emotions in check. This can lead to heated conflict, which can sometimes turn nasty. It’s important to deal with this carefully and considerately.

Distractions

While we don’t go so far as to ban laptops and smartphones from our meetings, we do ask that participants use them responsibly, respecting their colleagues and the focus and flow of the meeting.

Dominant voices

Much to the frustration of other participants, some people dominate meetings, hogging the floor and making all the decisions. They use these meetings for validation and ego-massaging.

Rabbit holes

Meetings can quickly go off the rails when conversations veer off-topic and into pet projects and issues off the agenda. To stop meetings running too long and key items being missed, park these issues for later and get back on track.

Hippos

Many meetings are dominated by the “highest paid person’s opinion”, with other attendees too scared to question their wisdom. This scenario is dangerous for teams’ health and objectivity.

Meeting rockers

Here are some of our favourite examples of ways to liven up meetings…

Phone fines

During meetings at Keller-Williams Realty, anyone whose phone rings must make a donation to the company’s charity. This cuts down on interruptions during meetings, and when it happens, it supports the corporate nonprofit. Win win!

Good or new

Japanese company Ozvision has a morning meeting called ‘good or new’. Every morning people share either something new (news from work, the media, or their private lives), or something good, work-related or not.

Standup meetings

Agile teams champion the daily standup – also called the daily scrum. The whole team meets every day for a status update, standing up to keep the meeting short. Meet where the work happens, not in a meeting room.

Time for beers

The staff at Tripping.com, a search engine for holiday rentals, sets a stopwatch for 30 minutes at the start of each meeting. If the meeting goes on for longer, the person who called the meeting has to put $5 in the team beer jar. Cheers!

Why in five

Start your meeting by asking each person to define in five words or less the problem to be solved. If the answers are inconsistent or too long, you’re probably not focused on the same problem. Work towards clearly articulating the goal.

Active colouring

Every Thursday, baby food maker Plum Organics gives everyone colouring books and holds a creative-thinking meeting where staff colour, talk, and decompress. Research suggests that colouring helps promote active listening.

Roombot

At digital design agency O3 World, the boardroom is hooked up to Roombot, an app they created. It reads everyone’s Google Calendar and warns when it’s time to finish. It also dims the lights in the final minutes of the meeting.

The DRI

At Apple, every project component or task has a DRI – a Directly Responsible Individual whose name goes next to all the agenda items they are responsible for. This way there’s rarely any confusion about who should be getting what done.

No Meetings

Productivity software maker Asana has a no-meetings-on-Wednesday rule, ensuring that team members get at least one schedule-free day: a large block of time to focus on heads-down work, without having to fit it in between meetings.

Let’s set up a meeting!

Love them or hate them, teams wouldn’t get far without meetings. They’re an essential element of collaboration, and a good meeting can work wonders – it can get a team pulling in the right direction, clear on group goals and roles.

Meetings are also important social occasions for many teams. These shared rituals allow for group bonding and social interaction, where colleagues work together in the truest sense, all mutually responsible for the success of the meeting.

So – let’s set up a meeting to discuss your next meeting!

Our workshop with Creative Huddle achieved all our aims. It offered a chance for the team to think in different ways using different tools, some of which they have already put to use in other meetings. The second part of the session was a great practical exercise where the team agreed an action plan for our next steps that were solution driven. It was also brilliant to have someone independent of the team which freed me as manager to be more involved, and the team to be more confident about speaking up. Thanks Creative Huddle!

Jane Stewart, England Athletics