Organizational Development Consultant

20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #15 Breaks

February 18, 2014

My last three blogs described techniques to improve the clarity of communication.  My next three blogs will describe techniques to stimulate and maintain high energy.  Today I’ll describe Technique #15: Breaks.

“We seem to run out of steam long before our work has been completed. Do you have any ideas?”

15. BREAKS

What Are BREAKS?

BREAKS are designed to support high energy and focus throughout your meeting.

Meetings are notorious for pushing on too long. The energy level of the group decreases as the meeting progresses, and concentration and creativity suffer as a result. This problem is especially common when participative meeting techniques are not utilized. Research shows that people work better for longer periods of time when they are able to take short and frequent BREAKS. These BREAKS, five or ten minutes an hour, are far more beneficial than less frequent, longer BREAKS.

BREAKS give the group time to stretch and discuss the agenda informally. The facilitator can use BREAKS to ask for informal feedback on the meeting’s processes and results and prepare for the next items on the agenda.

When to Use BREAKS

  •  When your meetings run more than one hour
  •  When the group is stalled
  •  When the group is in conflict and needs a few minutes to cool down
  •  When you need time to regroup your thoughts, for example, if things are going badly
  •  When you see or feel the group’s energy waning

How to Use BREAKS

Schedule BREAKS for longer meetings, and take unplanned BREAKS, with approval from the group, when appropriate.

Use BREAKS to ask for feedback informally from your participants. Ask open-ended questions like, “What are your reactions to the work we’ve done so far?” This information will help you modify the agenda and processes if necessary.

BREAKS are a good time to talk with people who tend to be antagonistic or disruptive in the meeting. Often meeting facilitators will try to avoid these people, perceiving them as problems. Instead, use BREAKS to individually ask the person for his or her input. For example, to a person who seems to be resistant to the agenda you could say, “Tell me more about your concerns about the meeting today.” You might learn valuable information and, at the very least, you will align yourself with the person by showing sensitivity for his or her concerns.

BREAKS are an excellent opportunity to talk to anyone who has been dominating the meeting discussions; you might say, “I would like your help. I know that you feel very comfortable sharing your ideas and opinions, but not everyone in the group feels as comfortable as you. It’s very important for us to hear everybody’s ideas. I was wondering if you would help me do this by holding your ideas a few minutes until we have heard from the others. If your points of view haven’t been stated by the others, then give us your ideas. What do you think? How would that work for you?”

This is a great time to deal with a conflict between a small number of group participants. You can say in this situation, “I know this issue is important to both of you, but I wonder if this meeting is the best place to resolve it. It seems like it doesn’t include everyone, so I don’t think it’s a good use of everyone’s time. What do you think?”

Use this time to prepare for the next agenda items. Move charts, rearrange tables, and so on.

NOTE: Remember to post the time (to the minute) when the meeting will reconvene. It is critical to start on time after your breaks. If you don’t, you and your meetings lose credibility and momentum.

NOTE: If your meeting is exceedingly dull, BREAKS are not going to be enough to perk it up. You will need to look for other techniques to support your goals. Review the other techniques in this section for ideas. Don’t hesitate to ask the group members for their help if you are unsure about how to address the problem of a boring unproductive meeting.

OPTION: Consider adding a short break to the end of small group exercises. This gives the slower groups time to catch up, while allowing the others time to officially rest.

Summary

BREAKS help keep your participants energized and focused. Schedule breaks at regular intervals, and take unscheduled breaks when needed. Use your own time wisely during breaks to talk with individual participants and prepare for the next items on the agenda.

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