We’ve all been to these meetings, maybe even hosted them, and some of us have sent each other this blue ribbon as a way to express our dissatisfaction and mutual empathy for the sometimes never ending cycle of meetings that don’t result in much. BUT, to accomplish difficult work and change the odds for children and families, we must work together in intentional ways that require meetings. On the bright side, there is research and best practices on how we can make our own meetings, as well as the ones we attend, more effective.
At UWSL, we convene a lot of meetings of various stakeholders. These collaborative groups are focused on specific outcomes for all children. For example, the Early Learning Network focuses on kindergarten readiness, because, while readiness rates are steadily improving, there is a 25 percent achievement gap between low-income students and their higher income peers. But, to achieve the goals our meetings must be results-oriented and actionable.
This means we must be explicit about what we want to achieve by the end of the meeting, design questions and activities that help groups move work forward, and make sure each participant commits to specific and meaningful action. To make sure UWSL staff we are achieving this within our own meetings, UWSL has started focused trainings to help build our capacity and make positive change.
One of the trainings I recently attended was Results Based Facilitation training. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how the training would really work, or how interested I was in actually participating in a training entitled “Results Based Facilitation”. For starters, there was a bunch of pre-work, and during the training we would break up into small groups where we would be asked to take on various roles, including facilitating a meeting where a person would “interrupt coach” us. Yes, we were asked to prepare a meeting agenda and facilitate a meeting where we would receive coaching in front of other people.
I am happy to report that my concerns and fears were wrong!
The training provided a safe space for me to hone my skills, and explore new methods. For the first time since I bought an iPhone I was not tempted to, nor did I look at my phone for three and a half hours. This was because the training was engaging, and I knew the other participants were counting on me to be a good participant. Which brings me to one of the most important things the training did for me; it reminded me that being a participant is actually as important as being the meeting convener and facilitator. As a participant in a meeting we have the power to make the meeting worth our time. By doing things like asking effective questions, summarizing what others are seeing, seeking input from quieter participants, and identifying moments where the group can make decisions or commit to action, we can help guide the meeting to action, keep the meeting on track, and support the facilitator in achieving the goals of the meeting.
I truly believe that if we want to make real change in the world we have to do it through intentional collaboration with many stakeholders. The Results Based Facilitation training reminded me that to make a meeting worthwhile, we also have to be present. Does this mean that all meetings I attend or that UWSL hosts will be amazing? Hopefully, but not likely. What it does mean, is that UWSL is striving for this. And as a convener, facilitator, AND as a participant it’s my responsibility to also make it true!