Run Your Meetings Like A Preschool?

September 1, 2015
Maya Stosskopf

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One of the hardest things to get used to in facilitating good meetings is the amount of obvious structure and repetition required.  You tell people what you are here to do, you do it, you review what you did, repeat.  It can start to seem a little childish.  Like you are running a preschool not a meeting of adults.

A skilled facilitator embraces the necessity of structure and referring back.  The rewards of running a meeting like a preschool make it worth pushing through your resistance.  Heck, even the participants might resist.  But just like 4-year-olds, adults don’t always recognize what their brains need to function.

Here are some of the ways a skillfully-run meeting is run like a preschool class:

  1. Begin with Circle Time

Preschools kick off by getting everyone situated and still.  Once the teacher has the attention of the kids, he or she uses visual aids to take them through a review of where they are in the week, the month, the year.  The teacher will then move on to a review of what they did recently, and a preview of what they are going to do today.

2) Get People Involved Early

During circle time, the teacher makes an effort to involve as many members of the class as possible.  The kids will call out the days of the week, or offer a thought about the seasons.  Preschool teachers know that if you don’t give the kids a chance to participate in an appropriate way, they will tune out or find an inappropriate way to participate.

3) Plan for Recess and Breaks

We don’t expect preschoolers to sit and absorb material for more than a few minutes.  We also don’t expect them to work on anything longer than 20-30 minutes.  The adult attention span is more adult-sized, but task fatigue does set in, and breaks are a part of the process, not the enemy of the process.  When kids don’t get enough recess time, they act cranky and unfocused.  Adults need a break too.

4) Work around the rhythm of the day

My son’s school won’t even let you take a tour at 1pm right after lunch.  They aren’t up to anything.  That time right after lunch is nap time for the kids and break time for the teachers.  You probably can’t get approval to structure nap time into your meeting agenda.  But nap time will show up anyway.  After lunch, the sleepies kick in, and you’d best have some on-your-feet fast-paced activities to help your group combat the sleepies.

5) Plan for Transitions

Preschoolers have a difficult time transitioning from one thing to another. Teachers stay two steps ahead, letting the kids know what they need to do now and what is coming up later.  We don’t usually do this for adults, but grown-ups also like understanding what’s coming up next and how it relates to what happens after that.  The process and order of things might seem logical and obvious to you as the meeting leader, but by explicitly stating what’s happening and where you are in the process, you free up mental energy in the group that allows them to stay focused on the thinking you want them to do.

6) Snack Time is Important

Sitting in a meeting room, working through problems, facing disagreements and looking for win-win outcomes, all this is taxing and tiring in a way that is hard to define.  You’d never expect a preschooler to go all the way from lunch to dinner without a little snack, and adults can’t do it either.  Adults in a meeting need a protein or whole grain snack.  Sugary things are popular, but the whole group might also crash right after, you want to be a little careful, save the sugar for the end of the day.  Right before you send your meeting participants back home to their families :)

When I use techniques that I would use on a preschooler in a meeting, I feel self-conscious and silly.  But  after experiencing this style of facilitation both as a meeting leader and a participant, I know it is one of the best things you can do to keep everyone focused on making decisions.

Do you think running your meeting like a preschool is a good idea? Should we add nap time to the agenda?

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/67321821@N06/6155145035″>10509_Handy Road Roller</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

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