We've known Tom Flynn for many years. Over lunch recently, he shared with us this story about a master facilitator he met early in his career who had a powerful influence on shaping the kind of leader Tom is today.
With all the "tips" and "tricks" and "5 easy ways" we see every day about how to improve our meetings, it's easy to lose sight of how important the simple things, like really listening and remembering to say thank you, can be. Tom's story is a beautiful reminder and we're very grateful he's allowing us to share it with you here.
Thank you, Tom, from all of us at Lucid.
I learned one of my favorite meeting management tips during my time working with international standards groups back in the early 2000s. It’s as surprisingly simple as it is powerful, and something I practice whenever I chair a committee or lead a meeting today.
Back then, I helped facilitate a weekly teleconference call with 10 to 20 marketing professionals representing different companies on the DLNA marketing committee. Each week, these representatives called in at odd hours of the day from their offices in Europe, Asia, and the US.
Calls like these easily lose focus or become routine and boring. They can also be very stressful. The participants represent different companies attempting to agree on a single way forward. Each person there was supposed to make sure their company’s interests were protected. The competitive environment, the repetitive weekly schedule, and the added challenges of odd hours and choppy phone lines made it very hard for people to engage in meetings like this one.
None of that, however, was a problem for our calls because of the special custom our committee chair practiced.
He closed every meeting beautifully.
I’d facilitated international meetings like this for 3-4 years and thought I had it down. This new marketing committee however, was a revelation. Each and every week, the committee chair concluded the meeting by recognizing and thanking the committee members, to powerful effect. I’d seen people say “Thank you” before, but this was more than simple good manners.
Our chair thanked people individually by name for their contributions in a sincere and meaningful way. He made everyone feel good about contributing, and inspired us to come to the next meeting ready to impress. The whole dynamic of the group changed, as each person worked harder to deserve this recognition by the end of the call.
How did he manage to find something to say about so many people each week? He planned for it in advance.
- to make easier or less difficult; help forward
- to assist the progress of a person.
Designing for Engagement
I worked with the chair before each meeting as he prepared the agenda and organized the topic presenters, working to make sure our committee’s time together would be successful. He intentionally organized each week’s meeting agenda in ways that encouraged broad participation during the call. To truly facilitate a meeting means you must make it easy for everyone there to achieve the desired result, and he took this to heart.
In these meetings, discussions and the decision making process were lively and engaging. Participants held him in very high regard and felt their service on the committee was worthwhile and productive. It was a wonderful contrast from other committee meetings, where presenters read reports and participants lingered on mute, waiting for the meeting minutes to arrive before reacting.
Then, before he would adjourn each meeting, he would spend maybe three or four minutes verbally recapping his notes and thoughts on each agenda item. He would recall the key ideas shared by several, but not all, of the representatives participating in the discussion. With each point, he would thank that person by name, saying something like “Jane, your insights on this proposal and specifically what you said about our goal prioritization was very important. I am thankful you shared that with us today”.
Because he designed the meeting specifically to give everyone an opportunity to participate in a meaningful way, he ensured he always had many contributions from the group to be thankful for. The group’s active engagement made it easy for him to be honest and sincere in his gratitude.
Around the room he would go for each agenda topic (again, virtually because it was a conference call) and it had an incredibly powerful effect of reinforcing for each member of the team the importance of their individual time invested in preparation and participation that week. He was a master at expressing gratitude and could weave together the ideas of even a heated debate or disagreement into progress for the team and organization.
With the line muted in our conference room thousands of miles away, my colleagues and I would smile and high-five at the mention of our names. Sure, we had some fun with it, but I think that was part of the point – prepare well so that everyone might have an opportunity to be engaged and then thank them for stepping up and being engaged.
In Closing, with Gratitude
Want to consistently have better meetings and get more done in your team or committee? Take a minute before you wrap up your meetings and acknowledge people’s contributions in real time. Try it for a few meetings and I can assure you, not only will your team notice and appreciate it, they will bring their very best to your next meeting and help make the time more productive and enjoyable. I see this in my meetings every week. I can’t say that I'm anywhere near as polished or successful as he was, but the memory stays with me more than 10 years later as a model, and I know it makes the work I do now more powerful as a result.
With that in mind… Jim, we’ve lost touch over the years (and I’ve obscured your name a bit here because I know you are far too humble to desire this attention) but I want to say Thank You to you.
Thank you for your wisdom and the special way in which you value others. Please know that your leadership example and kindness are still a meaningful part of my life, and that the culture I am building at my own company today, in some small way, includes a bit of you.