The Art of Steering Meetings Sideways  

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I recently attended a meeting with an impressive agenda and we set out with great hope. Excellent presentations prompted conversation which slowed the agenda, but it was worth it. With many interesting minds in the room, we hit many, but not every agenda item.

The facilitator remarked on the fact that even though we weren’t progressing as planned, good conversations were happening, and he was right. You could see it on everyone’s faces- discovery and connection in the shape of smiles, nods and slightly pursed foreheads that go with new ideas bubbling just below the surface. It was that energetic mix of shared knowledge and possibility.

Time for discovery is important, even if it seems to make your work go sideways. It might feel messy and unproductive – Hey! We had a plan! – but the mess can uncover directions for the meeting as it unfolds or for future meetings.

The facilitator of the meeting knew that. The agenda was excellent, but he also recognized that what he hadn’t planned was just as vital to the meeting as what he had. Part of the plan for this meeting was for people to connect, and time was needed for that. The possibility was built into the agenda with decent breaks, but it also unfolded during the presentations themselves.

There is an art to steering, of course.

There is an art to letting conversations slip around from the start, and bringing them back on course. There will be some speakers that emerge as ones to rein in fast, others who will wander yet reach brilliant points. Recognizing this takes practice, humour and humility. It also takes a good watch and respect for people’s time.

I appreciated the meeting itself, but also the skill of the facilitator. He listened to the audience he too was part of. He acknowledged his responsibility as facilitator and participant in the process. He was part of the excitement of making work work, and making it meaningful. This inspired and connected people to carry forward with their work with new energy, and that is success.


Image: Steven Snodgrass, Flickr

2 thoughts on “The Art of Steering Meetings Sideways  

  • April 11, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Just attended a 2 day meeting and this resonated with me. It honors both the agenda and the space to move sideways in our work and lives.

    • April 15, 2017 at 6:48 am

      I agree, and it’s *definitely* an art. I recently attended another meeting that went sideways and couldn’t be brought back on track, resulting in frustration for many. Observe, respond, steer are words that spring to my mind as I think about how to make it work.


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