by Steve Roche

Providing a process to complete tasks (micro)

When you are running a meeting, you will be providing process at two different levels. At the macro level it is about the structure of the meeting, and at the micro level it is about small interventions to keep things running smoothly through the agenda.

The following are some of the things you can do at the micro level to provide process in a meeting.

Defining problems

Hopefully you are removed enough from the problems and issues that you can define them in a way that makes them easier to tackle. You can describe the forest without getting distracted by bumping into trees. Part of your job when running a meeting is to invite the attendees up into your helicopter and show them from that perspective the forest they have been bumbling around in. From the helicopter, solutions are far easier to find.

Asking questions

Ask questions to seek clarification and to encourage different thinking. When running a meeting, you are often able to ask questions that perhaps members of the group cannot ask due to company politics or because the subject is a ‘sacred cow’, or even because the question is so basic that people won’t ask it for fear of seeming foolish. Questions that are specifically helpful to ask the group (or yourself) include:

  • Is this useful? Is this what we want to spend time on?
  • How is this relevant to the objectives? What’s the priority here?
  • Does everyone understand this? Does anyone not understand?
  • What’s the real agenda here? What is the issue that’s causing the problem? How can it be made explicit?

Changing perspectives

Encourage the group to look at things from a different perspective, perhaps from the customer’s point of view, or that of the factory floor worker.

Generating ideas

People often get stuck when considering an issue, and offering other ideas will often help them get unstuck. The ideas do not need to be workable, just good enough to get people thinking differently.

Raising people up out of detail

It is often easier for a group to discuss peripheral issues in detail than the real ones it is facing. Keep their focus up and on the main issues and meeting outcomes.

Encouraging and balancing participation

You will often need to assist some people to contribute and even put the brakes on others who like the sound of their own voice.

Soliciting information

Very often, the information required to solve a problem or to move an issue forward is in the room, but the person with the information is not speaking up. This may be through shyness, or because they feel too junior, or because they think the answer is simple and don’t realise that others have not thought of it. One of your jobs is to draw out information that is useful to the goals of the meeting.

Giving information (in other words: providing expert content )

You may be running a meeting because you are an expert in a particular field. Here you will be providing information to the group so the group can reach a decision. Note that this is not about you alone making the decision.

Identifying and ranking alternatives

Help the group come up with alternatives, and then choose between them. It is often recommended that at least three different alternatives are considered before making a decision. It has been said that one option is not an option, and two simply provide a dilemma.

Use the relevancy challenge

The relevancy challenge is simply the question,

‘How is this relevant?’

If the person proposing information is able to establish its relevance, the information is allowed. If the relevance is not clear, it is cut off. This keeps the meeting on target. Challenge not the person, but only their information. Soon people learn to check relevancy themselves before opening their mouths. As meetings become shorter and more productive, everyone appreciates the relevancy challenge.

If you have the agenda/outcome written up on a flipchart or handout, you may choose to point to it when you ask the relevancy question. After two or three times, pointing to the outcome without saying anything is all that is needed to enforce relevancy. This will quickly kill off hidden agendas.


When a group is bouncing ideas around, the discussion can wander, and this is good from a creative point of view. It is your job to then gather the relevant pieces together and summarise. This then provides a springboard for the next round of discussion on the topic. If you summarise each major decision as you go along, participants know where they are and where they have been, and can compare this with the meeting’s desired outcome.

Checking for consensus

People will implement decisions better if they feel the decisions are the result of consensus rather than being imposed by authority.

Where consensus needs to be reached, a technique known as ‘Fist to five’ can be used as way to quickly check each group member’s support for a specific idea or proposal.

Once a proposal has been voiced and there appears to be some acceptance of it, you state the proposal. You then ask all the attendees to indicate their support of the proposal by raising a hand with the appropriate number of fingers displayed.

  • 5 fingers: strong support and a willingness to lead proposal.
  • 4 fingers: solid support and intent to work for it.
  • 3 fingers: neutral.
  • 2 fingers: minimal support but a willingness to work for it.
  • 1 finger: no support.
  • Fist: no support for the proposal and a desire to fight it.
  • You can then use this information to ask the people indicating little or no support to elaborate their positions. Often these people raise concerns the group had not considered. When everyone indicates some support for the proposal, the groups accepts it and moves ahead.

Where to start

There are quite a few things to think about here. Just pick one of them and practice it over a few meetings until it becomes second nature. Then add in another. You will find it easier as you add in more because you will develop a sixth sense about how the meeting is progressing and what it needs next. A part of you will go into ‘meeting overview’ mode.