7 Tips to Executing an Exciting Open Meeting

Are your meetings boring? Are the people who need to engage sitting on the sidelines? Do the extroverts in the room claim all the attention? Do you need to get a team engaged and moving, but not want to dictate who does what and when? photo-1420330454265-b682d57d0592

If these things frustrate you, consider holding an Open Meeting. An Open meeting will add energy to your meeting process, and the people who usually sit on the sidelines will engage immediately. Even the introverts on the team will have equal voice with the extroverts. Your team will be engaged in how they think the problem will be solved, and if they own it, they will implement it.  All you have to do is invite them, and follow a few simple steps listed below.

The Meeting Environment

The meeting room is set up in a circle (this is a must) and large pieces of quartered flip chart paper and markers are in the center of the room. Participants are then invited to come to the center of the room to grab a paper and marker. Everyone at the meeting has the right and the responsibility to place items on the agenda. They write on the paper what is on their mind around the need or the reason for the meeting. There is no right or wrong answer, and this method allows anything that normally would be left unsaid to be articulated.

After the agenda is created by the pieces of paper being posted on the wall, the issues are grouped by topic. These become the major discussion groups. A grid can be created with times and locations where breakout meetings can be had around the topics. You then turn people loose to attend the topical meeting that interests them the most. They can stay at one topic or float from topic to topic. There can be as many of these topics addressed as needed, usually about 60 minutes per topic works well. The group then comes back together at the end of the day to hear action steps to solving the problem. You will need group leaders to report out and send meeting minutes somewhere, but that is it. You have had a productive meeting and the participants did all the work!

Here are some steps to hosting a successful Open Meeting: 

  1. Describe the Need/Problem/Issue. When you invite people to a meeting you should craft a clear reason for why they are coming together. Maybe you have a high unemployment rate in your area and you would like input on how to address the issue.
  2. Invite the right players. To have a successful meeting of any kind you must have the right players in the room to make the decision. I used this meeting technology for a Mothers Against Drunk Drivers meeting. The organization invited Moms, teachers, school administrators, judges, police officers, probation officers, gas station owners (where a lot of alcohol gets sold to minors), student leaders, ect. They had all the right people in the room to solve the problem at hand.
  3. Have No Agenda.  You read this right. You can have a subject you want to talk about, but you must be able to let go of the outcome regarding how the need/problem/issue is to be solved. The group will do this for you, and you will be AMAZED!  If you have an agenda or an axe to grind then do not use this type of meeting. Just send everyone an email and tell them what to do. Hope that works for you.
  4. The Meeting Environment. You will want to arrange chairs in a circle. In a circle all meeting participants have equal voice. Place quartered pieces of flip chart paper and markers in the center of the room. Tell the participants to create the agenda around the need, and post the papers on a wall. Arrange the papers into topics. Have different people take topics and host breakouts around them. I usually run 4 or 5 breakouts at a time. If you have 15 topics you can do 3 sets of 5 breakouts easily. Each breakout creates a report of their findings and presents to the larger group at the end of the day.
  5. Responsibility for Results. Since the group created the agenda, the topics, and the action steps, they are responsible for implementation. As the meeting convener you just have to make sure things are on track.
  6. Keep People Informed Post Meeting. I recommend you put all the action steps into some tracking mechanism like a Google Doc. I have recently started using Asana, which is an App that tracks project management and assigns tasks.
  7. Celebrate Success. When the project concludes, please do not forget to celebrate. People need to come together to see what a great leader you are and to be able to see what they accomplished together.
This process was first described in a book called Open Space Technology: A Users Guide by Harrison Owen. If you are interested in more detail I highly recommend this book so you can get some stories about successful implementation.