The Balance Between Results and Relationships in Meetings

Some people experience a tension between achieving results and building relationships in a meeting. They see these as two competing – and possibly mutually exclusive goals.

For me this is a false dichotomy. Good meeting outcomes are reached by people working together. Sharing ideas, working through differences and reaching agreement require human interaction. Meeting participants do not need to be best friends, but they do need to listen and learn from each other.

As facilitators, we need to consider both results and relations when planning a meeting or other group process. Here are four questions that every meeting facilitator should consider:

  • Do the participants know each other? If not, you must invest time at the beginning of the session to create enough trust and safety for the group to be able to communicate and collaborate. Even a simple check-in round or a request that people introduce themselves to someone they do not know can help establish a human connection.
    Key concept: Make sure that every person´s voice is heard by at least one other member of the group in the first few minutes of the event.
  • Is everyone clear about the purpose of the meeting? Sadly, many meeting organizers are not very explicit about why the group needs to gather. This lack of clarity creates a breeding ground for boredom and frustration and can be interpreted as a lack of respect for the participants’ time.
    Key concept: Help the convener define the purpose and expected outcomes from the meeting. This will give the participants a common cause and motivation to relate to each other.
  • Does the agenda include time for working in pairs or small groups? Long meetings in which all discussion occurs in plenary are a recipe for isolation. The extroverts talk a lot while the timid sit in silence and the rest are surreptitiously checking their email.
    Key concept: Create a results-oriented process that stimulates interaction among the group members.
  • Do group members collaborate between meetings? Not everything can or should be accomplished in meetings of the whole group.
    Key concept: Committees and other small work groups are an excellent way to both make progress on important tasks and for people to get to know one another better.

In short, every meeting has two priorities: attending to the (clearly stated) business at hand AND building the relationships that transform a group into a team.