Towards the end of well prepared meetings, good facilitators ask the participants to give feedback on the meeting and gauge the effectiveness of the session from the team members’ perspectives. One common technique is to ask the participants to rate the “Return on Time Invested” (ROTI, you might learn more about it by reading the excellent “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen) where participants have to decide if the received benefit was greater, equal or less than the time invested.
Good facilitators do not “own” the meetings. They know that the outcome of meetings depends on how they guide the group, but also on what the group does. Facilitators make that fact visible and evident to the group. Good meetings result out of the mix of good participation and good facilitation. ROTIs measure the effectiveness of the whole group, they are not a measurement of the quality of the facilitation.
Over the past decade I’ve been using different variations of ROTIs to understand how the participants of the sessions I facilitate feel about the outcome and the time they invested. I’ve learned and adjusted. I’ve had good discussions with the participants and many have lead to better sessions. I’ve also observed many other facilitators, agile coaches, scrum masters use similar techniques and I’ve seen more and more a pattern which I find increasingly concerning.
Pain and confusion are part of change
But let me start from the beginning. Imagine that you are in charge of modifying an organization. You’ll have to bring people together and help them to have important, relevant and deep conversations. You’ll see that the change will generate supporters and detractors. Some people will be happy, some will hate the whole thing and others will get frustrated because they will feel that there’s no progress. Not all meetings will be good. Some will be terrible.
In fact, you’ll need to get through bad, confusing and frustrating situations to move to a better place. That is how organizational changes work. That is how any change works. Making a better building sometimes requires demolishing a previous one. And that might be painful, stressful and difficult. The same happens with organizational structures and behaviors.
The pattern I’ve started to observe is that those in charge of facilitating meetings feel increasingly the pressure, almost an obligation, that they have to deliver “good” meetings. And they feel that good meetings are those where participants give a good ROTI at the end.
That is an obstacle, an impediment, in the way towards improvement. Yes, meetings should generally be a good time investment for everyone. You should change or question those meetings which are wasting peoples’ time. But “bad” meetings should be allowed too!
Focus on the long-term
If you are in the “fog of change”, you must be able to withstand confusion, chaos and frustration. You’ll have to withstand meetings that your participants are going to hate. You’ll have to endure situations where people will question your leadership and facilitation skills. You’ll have to accept bad ROTIs. Those situations are unavoidable, even necessary to move you to a better place.
The chart above shows a mood histogram of a real meeting. The session happened a few weeks ago and most participants left the meeting unhappy. The bad mood the participants had at the end was unpleasant, but not surprising. It was just a local measurement and not relevant in the bigger context. It helped us to see things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. From today’s perspective, it was a good to have such a “bad” meeting.
We have been tracking the mood of our online meetings for months now. That has made many things visible. And we have learned a lot about ourselves and about our expectations and feelings with regards to meetings.
My conclusion is that measuring the peoples’ view on the effectiveness of meetings (for example using ROTIs or our fitness-tracker for meetings) is a good tool which helps you improve your meetings. If you are transforming your organization, instead of trying to get high scores on each and every meeting, focus on the long-term return on the time you and your team invest interacting. Make that long-term view clear and tangible to everyone. And be prepared to withstand short-term setbacks, resistance and confusion.
Don’t let “good” meetings kill your change.