Roberta's Rules: Meetings and More

January 5, 2010

REARRANGE THE ROOM FOR BETTER MEETINGS

Filed under: meeting facilitation — Roberta's Rules of Order, author @ 10:01 pm
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CHANGE THE ROOM FOR BETTER MEETINGS

I’m notorious for re-arranging meeting rooms –in hotels, classrooms, community centers, clubhouses and living rooms – you name it.  (You’re not going to do that again, are you???) Yes, count on it. Why?  Most meetings rooms are not set up for maximum eye contact.  Lack of productive interaction and engagement in the meeting can result.

“THE EYES HAVE IT”
Why is eye contact essential in face-to-face (and video conference) meetings? Reading facial expressions and reactions, including the movement of people’s eyes and eyebrows, gives us clues to understand them. We aren’t aware of how much active listening (from hearing) in meetings is dependent upon seeing people when they speak – and reading their lips.

PLACEMENT IS THE PROBLEM
Typically many tables are placed end-to-end, preventing eye contact with anyone beyond the person on either side.  Sometimes it’s a long “U Shape” (the bowling alley).  Even a short “U Shape” beyond a few tables is problematic.

TABLES DON’T NEED TO TOUCH
For some reason hotels can’t grasp that tables don’t need to touch (and that attached “skirts” are unnecessary.)  It also seems to make some people a bit uneasy when tables don’t touch.  (OK, let one corner touch– but only that.)

A SIMPLE CHANGE
At a university’s meeting of 16 subject-matter experts invited to shape the design of a management series, the room was initially set up as an “open square” of eight tables. (Two chairs at one table, on one side is ideal.) The meeting was intended to be interactive with an open sharing of information.  Although the square was a good start, people could only see those seated next to them, and across from them, but not the whole group.

As a simple last-minute solution (without disrupting things too much) I pulled each pair of tables to an angle with only the inner corners touching (yes!).  This resulted in an open octagon shape that allowed:

•    More elbow room for each person (on the right or left)

•    Eye contact with the entire group (and ability to see those speaking)

•    Easier movement into and out of the chairs for everyone

•    A feeling of connection to colleagues in the room – and more interaction

TAKE A CHANCE
It takes a conscious effort to buck habits and arrange the room differently to foster engagement. For anyone wanting to encourage interaction and idea sharing, it pays to do something as simple as moving tables and chairs to facilitate maximum eye contact. (A diagram is available on page 29 in the QuickStart Guide to Roberta’s Rules at lulu.com.)

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Do you have a “pet peeve” about the meetings you attend?  Please comment and I’ll suggest possible ways change it.  Together we can improve the world, one meeting at a time.

RobertasRules.com or AliceCochran.com

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