Outstanding staff meetings for educational settings – Part 2

Conduct more effective meetings by setting ground rules and teaching staff to develop facilitation skills.

Looking at the process of how staff meetings progress can be helpful.
Looking at the process of how staff meetings progress can be helpful.

As discussed in “Outstanding staff meetings for educational settings – Part 1” by Michigan State University Extension, many of us dread the weekly staff meeting. Staff meetings can be a time of hard feelings and stress while we try to manage feelings of anger and hurt by being ignored or harshly criticized. Meeting leaders and participants can feel this way about the same meeting.

We can address this negative culture at staff meetings by looking at the process of how our meetings progress. Margie Carter and Deb Curtis, early childhood education experts, discuss staff meetings in their book “The Visionary Director. They suggest two strategies that can help administrators conduct more effective meetings: setting ground rules and teaching staff to develop facilitation skills.

Setting ground rules

Setting ground rules is, simply put, establishing a list of guidelines for behavior in meetings that will ensure respect for all participants and efficient use of time. Rules such as, “Only one person at a time has the floor,” or “Appropriate language for a business conversation will be used,” tackle behavior that is disrespectful or rude. In his article in the Harvard Business Review, author Roger Schwarz suggests being specific about behaviors may be more useful than a general statement such as, “Treat everyone with respect.” Ground rules about the efficient use of time are helpful in making sure all group members know what is expected. Guidelines like, “Meetings will begin and end on time,” let people know their time is respected and time commitments will be honored.

Negative or disparaging comments can be dealt with by asking participants to think about objections as questions. For example, saying, “How does this suggestion relate to our goal of reducing expenses?” rather than, “That makes no sense,” will help keep the discussion focused and make use of the inquiry process to explore ideas. It also guides the discussion away from personal remarks, which can cause hurt feelings and emotional displays. In order for meetings to be productive, the discussion leader or administrator needs to be sensitive to the emotional tone of the meeting as well as content and process.

Teaching facilitation skills

Another role for the leader or administrator is teaching facilitation skills. Patricia Murphy, Montessori primary/early education teacher, defines the term as follows: I think facilitation skills are those skills that we use to guide our staff towards implementing the strategies they are learning about, and could also be referred to as ‘process’ skills. These are skills that are beneficial when helping staff through situations that can be more difficult or complex, situations where people may have strong emotions and different views. Here, good facilitation skills can help to make the situation is a success for the community.”

An example of a facilitation skill is the open-ended question. These are questions that do not have a “yes” or “no” answer, but require more description from the responder. Questions such as who, what, how, why and where are open-ended questions. When we ask these questions in a discussion, the result is more clarity and detail in responses and a richer, deeper discussion.

For more information on how to conduct staff meetings, MSU Extension suggests the following resources:

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