Moderating does not mean babbling – leading meetings the right way
With 6 rules for good meeting management in the new working world
Moderating means “moderating” in the literal sense, but it also means handling and directing. One could also use domptieren as a new choice of words, because everyone “should” be able to do something and show their best. And that means: let them participate, but in a controlled way. How this can be done, so that a new style can take hold, is shown here in six steps.
For me, there is one cross-cutting competence: stringent moderation. I observe time and again that there is too little decisive moderation in team meetings. For example, people want to be “nice” and not interrupt anyone out of cultural politeness. And then the meeting gets out of hand. The problem is that motivation is lost. And once the let-go mode is underway, there’s no stopping it: the chatty mode gains momentum. The task here is to find out how to master the art of allowing the right amount of “letting things run” and putting a stop to excesses in good time.
Surprisingly, the word moderation has degenerated into relative meaninglessness; people associate it with people in discussions who present or lead something. Two things are lost in the process: moderation is more important than ever. Because teams and departments are increasingly expected to work and develop autonomously, the exchange at meetings, the coordination via the vessel “meeting” and, if necessary, the decision-making process must be carefully planned and orchestrated. And: working more effectively should have the goal of nourishing the growth and innovation mindset so that the head is then free for further action. And that means not letting the head go slack due to agonizing length. An experienced facilitator once said: a good meeting must be like a glass of champagne: sparkling and stimulating.
Here are some guideposts for this:
Rule #1: Brevity!
There is nothing more frustrating than long meetings. And especially when scheduled times are not kept. I remember sessions that lasted four hours each. Loose. Framed by nice chatter and long-winded rapports. This was supposed to serve a good team feeling. It did, initially, because all the rapping from the upper floors created trust. For the first time. But eventually fatigue took over. You already knew all this and you felt: “another afternoon lost”. The first thing this management wanted when a new boss arrived was: shorter meetings. Fortunately, this was also the first spontaneous feeling of the new manager.
So, in other words, less is more, as long as you have the discipline to use a deliberate hand to focus meetings on what they actually are: necessary exchanges to keep working.
Rule #2: Don’t be afraid of stringency
This is a nice word; it means something tense, to be tense. It is not for nothing that people commonly say: something is exciting. Actually, we look for exciting things all the time.
So why not conduct the meeting in this way? First of all, that means starting on time and ending on time. This is called suspense: Start a session indefinitely later because you wait a few more minutes: The tension slackens, the posture becomes a drooping one (yes, that’s right, check it, it’s true). Of course, this is also true in online mode.
And if the session drags on beyond the scheduled end, the brain immediately perceives this as a disappointment. The reward, namely the end, the brilliant final gong does not take place and unfortunately the brain learns this and stores the experience as a disappointment. For each coming session there is less pre-tension and finally sighing and boredom and displeasure increase.
Rule #3: Assertiveness
Don’t be culturally self-restrained. Are you at home in a cozy environment where people still love long sessions? Meetings used to be awards for rank: the higher up you went, the more you “sat.” Remember? But these were not necessarily companies or units that were looking ahead and wanted to develop new things, right? There is just a shyness to be stringent: The moment a conclusion would be appropriate, it is formally in the room – they continue to talk. What a disappointment and dramaturgical failure. A wasted opportunity to hold energy.
To show assertiveness means to show strength. It doesn’t have to be force, but it should be up to the moderator, the presenter, to “restrain” those present and refer them to the list of topics. Quite forcefully. This is the only way to enforce a new style. Announcing this beforehand helps a lot. And establishes understanding. And requires courage, because one outes oneself, becomes visible as possibly “unnett”. But this is only the case at the beginning. The added value will prevail. This will not be enough once; it will be necessary for the facilitator in each session to show stringency and assertiveness in the sense of the matter. For yourself, take this guidance to heart, but also recommend this to others. Encourage other session leaders to reshape their session leadership style and “pull” harder.
Only then will there be some tingle when the session is over.
Rule #4: Participation and decision-making
Facilitating also means: bringing about decisions; actually, these are the purpose of the meeting in addition to the need for coordination. If no decision is made, the meeting has another goal: coordination and information alignment. Then this must also be mentioned in the objectives. If, however, it is a matter of decisions and these are meant seriously – i.e. not as consultation by the boss – then a clearly defined procedure is required here. Is it only about consultation and the boss makes a decision afterwards? Also good, but then this should be stated exactly. The quintessence here is a clean procedure – and again: stringency.
A blueprint already exists here: In self-organized teams and companies this practice is already there. Self-organized teams are powerful when you understand and internalize: it’s not about consensual, ell-long discussions, and it’s not about “democracy.” It’s about a declared course of action that is rules-based. It is about an approach that seeks to bring about a decision that is widely accepted, if possible. These are practices as they are practiced in organizational patterns that call themselves sociocratic or as holocracy. One does not have to name one’s own practice in this way, but one can orientate oneself on how others proceed who are dependent on supporting results. The paradox here is: Rules lead to “freedom”. Freedom to have made decisions and to be able to proceed to action. And to have decided according to one’s best conscience – here qua rules.
The procedure is as follows: A distinction is made between a pure information round, an opinion round and finally the decision round. And in the latter, there may be no more “discussion” – that is not the point of any of the rounds – but only hard vetoes may be formulated here if the company or team purpose is in danger. So no feelings or personal votes, which strictly speaking are not factual. In sociocracy, the word “serious objection” is used for this. Only this may be expressed and the moderation – which takes a leading role here – classifies whether a serious reason is present. Serious here does not mean personal concern – that belongs in the opinion round – but possible damage for the whole. In general, acting “for the whole” is at the center of this type of action. This is an idea that has often long since been lost in team meetings that get out of hand.
The challenge here is to carefully inform a team or department that is to decide in this way about this practice in advance. And the chairperson of the meeting must have permission in his or her role to lead here. So the roles must also be clarified: is the management itself the moderator? The rules apply all the more. It is then a case of wearing two hats. Often, however, a person is appointed as moderator or facilitator who is authorized to lead the meeting comprehensively. This is also a challenge: to give up some control. And for the facilitator: to fill that role.
This is a significant mindset shift. Ideally, it needs to be accompanied and nurtured over the long term, again any culture change. For stringent meetings, however, a clear, open and expeditious decision-making process is a prerequisite.
Rule #5: Structure? – Structure!
For the moderator/meeting leader this means: objectively, what the result should be.
So: optimally prepare the material for the meeting: be it as a basis for decision-making (attention: decision-making processes still require special preparation and must be marked as such, see above) and as information that is given.
Planning also includes: being true to yourself and not giving away “goodies”: it is sad when people fall behind with meetings and then just cut the nice “goodie” like a great customer feedback, or a satisfied stakeholder feedback, because there is not enough time. What a give away of power, of motivation and joy. It is a priority to plan so that just such facilitation kicks stay in the session and are not dropped. This is simple motivation psychology and – just – time planning.
So the time planning should be a careful one and the stringency should be planned in. The person facilitating must anticipate the course of the session piece by piece and check for realistic planning. Stringency is one thing; objective workload must be weighed against it. A classic, which often does not work well, is also the technology. It does not always work as planned. This means that here, too, you have to anticipate alternative solutions; either try it out calmly until it works, or switch to the alternative.
Careful planning also includes a decent “check-in” and “check-out” round. These serve as entry and exit points and are intended to pick up and acknowledge sensitivities, especially so as not to miss having addressed any important liabilities that may play into the session. This can be toothache, it can be feelings of stress, it can be other problems that are currently burdening session participants. This also requires a competence to be authentic and to be free of fear and self-confidence. This also points to the larger scope of this type of stringent session facilitation. It takes the courage and conviction to align a team or unit with sincerity and to break away from master or lady posturing.
Rule #6: Define preparation and goals
It sounds as familiar as an admonition from school: when preparing for a meeting, ALWAYS ensure that outcomes and next steps are stated at the end. These are part of the meeting and especially of the preparation. What exactly needs to be clarified – from the facilitator’s point of view – so that everyone can work? Agenda items such as expected goals, for example, can be obtained in advance. Once these have been recorded and presented, they can be dealt with and a feeling of security and progress will promptly arise. It is quite legitimate to postpone decisions and to record them again as objectives if there were ambiguities in the decision-making process or in meeting topics. However, the condition is always the renewed embedding in a stringent and rule-guided procedure.
The good thing about this type of preparation is that there is almost no need for follow-up. The results can be published internally in a tool common to all, where topics for the next meetings are also collected. But beware: the whole thing should be agile, i.e. moving and alive. Out of pure attachment to 100% perfection, it is not worthwhile to fill container-like topic memories. Who has ever – hand on heart – really emptied theme memories? They are well-intentioned, but in everyday life they are dead repositories. In any case, it is advisable to do what is really important and to prioritize this from a collection of topics. But the then unimportant can be safely left out. If it is important, it will come back. It does not have to be immortalized as a memorial, because this then becomes a tombstone. Topics, which stand obligatorily up, should be maximally three. So that the feeling remains, they are really in sight and realistically approachable and treatable.
And last but not least: With this kind of meeting, taking minutes is largely unnecessary. Once this is prepared, the session can start; the facilitator focuses on leading, the content comes reliably, and finally there is the wrap-up: everything is done; the follow-up is minimal, everyone can look forward. The glass of champagne has an effect. So: be the change.