Organizational Development Consultant

20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #2 Clearing

November 25, 2013

“It seems like when our meetings begin, everybody is still focused on what they just left behind—their work, their weekend, their vacation, or whatever. It really takes a long time for us all to get settled. What can we do to get focused sooner?”

Technique #2. CLEARING

CLEARING is a productivity technique that allows the members of your group to clear their minds and focus on the meeting. It provides a transition from what participants just left behind to the meeting itself. CLEARING significantly decreases the time it takes participants to settle themselves at the beginning of the meeting, providing earlier focus and greater effectiveness.

This technique involves participants sharing what they are thinking about/distracted by with the meeting group. Once a person has voiced what is on his or her mind, these thoughts are more easily put aside. You may have noticed this in your own life. For example, after sharing your frustration about a current project with a colleague, you find that your frustration diminishes and you are better able to focus on your work. Left unacknowledged, your frustration mounts, further impeding your effectiveness. One-on-one meetings usually include a few minutes of informal conversation before focusing on the formal topic. However, group meetings usually do not have this CLEARING time built in. As a result, meeting participants take longer to settle into the formal business at hand.

CLEARING also allows participants to let the other meeting members know in a constructive way if anything is getting in the way of full participation.

The goal of CLEARING is not to solve problems or address the concerns that arise but rather to allow people to simply state their issues. The few moments of venting time provided by this technique effectively help people focus and concentrate on the meeting sooner.

CLEARING alone will not be enough to transform the effectiveness of your meetings. You will want to use a variety of other techniques as well, which will vary depending on the group and the specific agenda of the meeting. However, the CLEARING technique, coupled with GROUND RULES, technique 3, usually provides a solid foundation for focused meetings.

When to Use CLEARING
• When participants’ other obligations keep their minds on topics other than the meeting
• When participants come to the meeting without taking a few minutes to relax or talk together informally

1. Explain to participants the purpose of CLEARING. For example: “Clearing is a technique for transitioning from your previous thoughts and activities to our meeting. If you agree, we’ll use clearing at the beginning of each meeting to help us get focused more quickly. The goal of clearing is not to solve problems but instead to simply state what you have on your mind. By doing so, you are better able to put those issues aside and give your full attention to the meeting.”

2. Explain the instructions for CLEARING. Post the instructions on a chart or overhead

• Everyone gets a turn.
• One minute maximum per person.
• Briefly share issues, positive or negative, currently on your mind.
• Use statements instead of questions.
• Listen without problem solving.
• It’s OK to pass or say “I’m clear.”
• Keep it quick.

3. Begin the CLEARING exercise. Be sure everyone gets a turn. The first time your group does this activity, you may want to start, thus giving the other participants an example to follow.

OPTION: If your group is large, ask participants to clear informally with others next to them. If people are sitting at tables, each table can clear independently.

NOTE: If someone brings up an issue worthy of group discussion, put it on your PARKING LOT chart or otherwise note it for later discussion. Unless there is some emergency, like an impending lawsuit or supplier disaster, do not change your agenda to accommodate these issues. It would be rare for serious problems to come up in the CLEARING session.
Simple venting and sharing of personal news will be more common. For example, “Our department’s financial report is due in two weeks, and we have two months of data to analyze. Needless to say, I’m feeling a little stressed.”
“We just won the Edmondson account. We’ve been working on them for over a year, and their business will put us in line for their parent company’s business next year.”
“I’m having problems with my back again. Please excuse me if I stand up during parts of the meeting. Sitting exacerbates the problem.”

4. After everyone has had a turn, thank the group and move on to the next agenda item.

NOTE: The first time you use CLEARING with a specific group, note that you will ask for feedback about the technique at the end of the meeting. By then the group will be able to see if CLEARING helped the session run more smoothly. At the end of the meeting, take a few minutes to ask the group:
• “What were your observations about our meeting effectiveness?”
• “What value did CLEARING add?”
• “Do you think we should keep CLEARING as a regular exercise?”

NOTE: If your group agrees, start each meeting with a brief CLEARING session.

OPTION: Use CLEARING sporadically, when participants seem to be restless at the beginning of the meeting.

CLEARING helps participants focus on the meeting by allowing them to put their other concerns and responsibilities aside until the meeting is over.
1. Explain the purpose of CLEARING.
2. Explain the instructions for CLEARING.
3. Begin the CLEARING exercise. Be sure everyone gets a turn.
4. After everyone has had a turn, move on to the next agenda item.

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