I need to get something off my chest. As a facilitator, one of my biggest pet peeves is walking into an inappropriate meeting room. It can sabotage the group before I even get down to starting the job I’ve been hired to do.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a room and uttered, “Oh, ?&*%!, how am I going to make this work?!”
Meeting rooms are a fact of working life, but we can’t seem to find a happy balance between aesthetics and functionality. Picture your meeting room for a minute. Is it the classic setup? Long, rectangular table, with chairs placed around? Maybe some art on the wall, an AV screen at one end, a sad, dusty plant in the corner, and a credenza for coffee/food at the other end? There may even be the smell of stale pizza and coffee lingering in the air.
Meeting rooms, no matter what’s up for discussion, have a huge impact on the experience of everyone in the room. When I ask for the ‘what worked well’ and ‘what would have improved the experience’ at the end of a meeting, this is what I end up hearing: The pluses are, everyone shared, there was respect in the room, we accomplished a lot, and we disagreed and found a way to agreement. The ‘improve’ are, there was no food or drink, (or beer) and yes, it could have been so much better if we had more (better) space.
But the space itself is never the No. 1 priority.
Pretty does not = functional
I’ve walked into rooms that had the aura of power and prestige – and even plush chairs. Often those rooms don’t work because they are filled with a too large table, isolating people away from each other and ultimately inhibiting conversation and creativity. Then there are those rooms that, in the name of technology, sport 82-inch screens on every wall. There’s no usable wall space and it creates a disconnected atmosphere.
I’ve seen it all. In my memory is a long list of sometimes beautiful but unworkable rooms (fantastic artwork, exposed brick walls), or just plain ugly spaces (basement room, beat up linoleum and mediocre lighting) where I’ve had to lead groups for a day or more. Here are some examples of meeting places that sound good – until you get there and find they’re not. Here are some examples.
Sounds good in theory…
Does it have the air of possibility?
So now that I’ve blown off steam about what doesn’t work, let me tell you about the things that make a room an inviting space. Don’t forget people may be spending entire days, sometimes wrestling with difficult or important topics. You want to create a mood that brings people up, not down.
Overall, a room should evoke an air of excitement and the sense that something different is about to happen. The room should welcome you enough to make you say, ‘I could spend a couple of days here. This is nice. It’s different than my daily life.’
Going offsite for meetings is an excellent idea, but you have to choose the space wisely. Not only because it can help people break some bad habits (yes, I’m talking to you, the person who always sits in the same spot at every meeting, but that’s a whole other conversation), but also because it invites the possibility of change.
7 things that make a meeting space special
If your meeting space has some or all of these things, I’m a happy facilitator. I can dream, can’t I?
Some of my favourite meeting spaces in Calgary:
Drop me a note and let me know some of you favourite spaces to work in.
Update: Since I wrote this, the folks at CPHR in Calgary invited me to their offices to see their training room space. It ticks all the boxes, natural light, lots of whiteboard space, flexible furniture, well lit, refreshment counter. They are located in the Kahanoff Centre and their space is for rent!
The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt explores politics through the lens of human behaviour. He identifies intuition and reasoning as key drivers of decision making. His research suggests that we make intuitive decisions and reason catches up. Our intuitive decision making is grounded in a set of moral codes. If you like political science (like I do) and find human behaviour endlessly fascinating (like I do), you’ll enjoy this book.
Parsons Dialogue is based in Calgary, Canada, serving clients across North America. We design and facilitate strategic processes that help teams collaborate with clarity and confidence.