By Ann Gergen, Executive Director
Late last year, we brought together pool leaders for Executive Think Tank, an event in which participants used collaborative conversation methods to discuss important pooling issues in 2021 and beyond.
After the event, we were surprised by how frequently participants inquired about how we developed the conversation methodologies. Executives told us the conversation prompts, supportive technology and facilitation methods were instrumental in producing useful outcomes they could bring back to their pools.
Because of this feedback, our Executive Think Tank Report presents not just the insights that came out of conversations but also the methodologies that helped structure them (e.g., discussion formats, reporting methods, secondary tools used). In my view, the most productive formats were small groups using structured secondary tools to whiteboard or frame a discussion (see the fifth and sixth sessions for examples).
These methodological inquiries are a good reminder of how important it is to carefully plan out meetings ahead of time and an indicator that pool leaders are considering how to do just that.
So, in addition to the specific methodologies presented in our think tank report, I’d like to share two foundational strategies I’ve picked up over time and routinely use in preparation for all sorts of meetings. These precursor strategies helped shape our think tank and I believe are useful in preparing for any meeting.
1. Consider the impression you want to leave.
This is the first thing I think about in advance of a meeting, whether I am facilitating or attending. Note that this is not a question about meeting outcomes or personal branding; this is a question that helps me set my own meeting priorities and tone. I frame the question in my head this way: When others walk away from this meeting, what (if anything) do I want them to say about my role, participation or input?
This prompt helps me frame a meeting because it cuts right to the heart of meeting culture. Do I want participants to feel supported? Inspired? Connected to each other? Do I want to leave participants with a sense of my leadership or followership? Do I want to give others a sense of my professionalism or my empathy? The impression I have in mind helps shape the meeting agenda (if it’s mine to determine), influences how participatory I am, and even affects the words I use.
Don’t mistake this reflection as being driven by ego. Clearly, the nature and purpose of most meetings are much broader than the impression any one person wants to leave. But meetings are the collective result of many individual behaviors and inputs. Determining the impression you want to leave can help ensure your own participation is appropriate and productive as well as help set the tone for all participants.
Of course, your desired impression will vary depending on the type of meeting. For example, the impression you want to leave in a one-on-one staff meeting might be different than in a standing monthly team meeting. The impression you strive for in a governing body meeting or large member event will be even more different.
Considering your intended impression in advance can also help you recognize when you shouldn’t attend a meeting at all. In some cases, your presence might not be additive – or could influence outcomes more than it should. If the impression you want to leave in a meeting is “none,” ask yourself whether you should even be there.
2. Determine what you want attendees to do, think or feel.
Regardless of the meeting’s core purpose or objective, considering what you want participants or attendees to do, think or feel when they leave is another helpful strategy for success.
For example, for a meeting whose objective is to talk about coverage changes for your upcoming member renewal, you might want attendees to think strategically about member needs and recent coverage gaps because they feel motivated to help members. You might also want attendees to identify further research that’s needed and take ownership of next steps.
An effective meeting to achieve these broader goals will require two-way discussion, ideation, brainstorming and work by participants in advance. The meeting facilitator or leader will have to guide open discussion but also be sure assignments and next steps are clear by the end. A whiteboard (real or virtual) might be helpful for brainstorming at this meeting, and you might want someone there to take notes and document accountability for next steps.
Compare this example to an all-staff meeting where you will share an update on remote work plans during COVID-19. In this meeting, you want attendees to learn about and understand new operating protocols and expectations. You might want them to feel informed to reduce any anxiety around changes.
As a result, the meeting will be very different from your coverage review meeting experience. You will likely use a structured agenda and delivery of information. There won’t be pre-work, and the meeting format won’t include brainstorming. Instead, you’ll want to be direct and clear in key messages. You might plan a one-page summary of your main points so that people have something to reference later.
There are a slew of ways you can structure and conduct a meeting. Each meeting is different and each meeting convener has their own style and preferences. Regardless, to be as effective as possible, meeting strategy and methods have to be intentional. Considering the impression you want to leave and the meeting’s ultimate “do, think, feel” goals will boost meeting productivity and outcomes.
This is exactly how we prepared for the recent think tank: The combined answers to the two considerations above led us to choose the specific discussion formats, exercises and facilitation methods that were ultimately appreciated by attendees.
As you think on these two strategies, I suggest you review the seven meeting methodologies we utilized. Our hope is that you can use these to inspire your own meetings over the coming year.
Ann Gergen is AGRiP’s executive director and a former pool administrator. She has worked closely with and for pools, public entities, reinsurers and related service providers throughout her career.#PoolingPerspectives