How to conquer chaos like a Jedi and facilitate meetings like a pro
What does it mean to ‘Control the Room’? This question frequently surfaces related to our free weekly Control the Room Meetup that we host in order to 1) convene and nurture our community of facilitators t 2) help facilitators hone their craft to improve the quality of meetings. In addition to supporting GV Design Sprint enthusiasts, we present and share many different methodologies, including Liberating Structures, Game Storming, Thinking Wrong, MG Taylor, Improv, and much more. Voltage Control is on a continuous mission to rid the world of terrible meetings. The Control the Room Meetup is one of the ways we’re working to create a more effective, productive, and inclusive meeting culture across industries, from the inside out.
Control vs. No Control
In the facilitator realm, the word ‘control’ can get dicey. The big issue is deciding upon the meaning. People hear control and immediately think “tight” control; that a dictatorship is the only way to gain control of a room. This can disturb some people because facilitation 101 enforces non-biased and inclusive leadership; a good facilitator is a mirror that reflects the group back to themselves to help them arrive at solutions, not one who imposes their will against others. We believe that in order to best serve teams it is necessary to incorporate an element of control to triumph over the chaos of unproductive meetings.
This is not about controlling people. It’s about controlling the magic happening in a room. It is about intention. The heart of the purpose of a magical/Jedi facilitator is “controlling energy”, “controlling attention”, and “controlling room intelligence”.
A good facilitator liberates the people in the room by controlling the environment and attention so that everyone can thrive, together.
It takes true mastery to do this fluidly. That’s the inspiration behind the name of our weekly meetup, annual facilitator summit, and podcast ‘Control the Room’–to embody the balance of control necessary for facilitators to successfully navigate the structures, and lack thereof, of meetings. Each space offers thought-provoking insight into and active participation of the concept of control vs. no control. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. The steady question is, “How do we control and how do we do it with ease to achieve a purpose?”
I started the Control the Room Podcast to explore this question. It is a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others have loose. The podcast delves deep into understanding how these opposing approaches translate into meeting success or failure across industries, and ultimately how a balance can achieve the best results.
Forced Control in the Virtual Landscape
The controversial topic of control vs. no control has reached a new height in the recent forced shift to the virtual landscape. For me, it has prompted the questions, “How can I control less in this new space? In what ways am I controlling more?” The thing is, we’re in an entirely new frontier. In a virtual space, many things happen that are hard to control that wouldn’t otherwise happen in person. For example, virtual meetings often suffer from people showing up late, poor internet connection, lack of attendee camera use, etc. It’s just a different world. Therefore, the nature of control is different. And the current technology limits our ability as facilitators to read the room and adjust the energy accordingly.
We’re forced to adhere to and be limited by the structure of the online platforms. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to do an Open Space in Zoom. While there is technology that supports loose control strategies and allows you to run Liberating Structures, those tools fall down when you need to rely on tighter control. Therefore it’s much more difficult to adjust the level of tightness/looseness of control in a virtual space. You can’t easily improv or tweak your approach as needed on the fly anymore like in person; you have to be more intentional.
It actually feels quite counterintuitive: More upfront control is needed to have less control in a virtual space. If you want to create a loose environment for folks, you have to be more controlling to structure it due to the current technology and tools available. We now have to lean in and do a lot of work upfront in order to create an environment that will best serve the (virtual) room. In-person, the environment is all set up. You don’t need multiple apps and various virtual tools to supply attendees with what they need to collaborate and reach their goals. You can improv and not have things go sideways.
Ultimately, a level of control is needed to direct the energy of virtual meetings so that they are productive and successful.
The question is how what level of control is required to achieve our purpose and how might we set our initial conditions such that our outcome is inevitable.
Tight & Loose Control
Control can be tight or loose, but a lack of control altogether is bad. When folks crop dust your calendar with unnecessary meetings that lack an agenda and instead take a blind “hope for the best” meeting approach, then we are out of control. This leads to poor outcomes and people dreading their work. The danger of bad meetings is real, $541 billion dollars real. An in-depth study by Doodle, the online scheduling service, observed 19 million meetings and over 6,500 interviews with working professionals across the U.S., U.K., and Germany, and found that steep price was the estimated cost of inefficient meetings in the U.S. in 2019.
A poor meeting dynamic implodes productivity and falls to disorder and confusion. I.e. a lack of control produces poor results. So what makes a meeting bad? Several things. Here are a few of the top control stealers to be aware of:
- The meeting lacks a clear purpose. There must be a clear objective to drive a successful meeting. That’s because when a goal is unidentified or vague, there is nothing tangible to work toward. Essentially, you will spin your wheels. You can’t arrive at your destination if you don’t know what it is.
- There is an inadequate agenda. You must consider the overall arc you wish to create for meeting attendees as well as a detailed outline of essential topics you wish to communicate. Identifying the purpose and sought-after outcomes of the meeting will allow you to outline and synchronize a timely and focused flow, which will help you get the most out of the meeting. You need a destination and a roadmap to get there.
- The environment is one-sided and not inclusive. The role of an effective facilitator is to be the leader, moderator, connector of big ideas and themes, and guider of solutions. This is the best way to serve the group as a whole so that they may achieve their goals. However, this can’t be accomplished if the meeting is a lecture with no room for open discussion and dialogue or if one person is dominating the conversation. The best meetings are ones where all attendees are seen, heard, and are free to contribute their ideas.
Gain Loose Control With Liberating Structures
So, lack of control broods bad meetings which stunt productivity and creativity; you have no control when you devolve into chaos. Our antidote to chaos at Voltage Control is loose control, which is achieved via Liberating Structures–they distribute control and unleash everyone. They do not enforce too much rigidity, just enough structure to orient and guide the participants towards outcomes. The facilitation framework has 33 microstructures designed to build trust and enhance cooperation and communication between team members. Participation is the main pillar with Liberating Structures; they are built around improving coordination by including and unleashing all participants. Each microstructure is straightforward and unchallenging to implement, which makes them a great way to gain loose control of the room.
The current virtual landscape only supports some of these adequately, and I’m in constant conversation with fellow facilitators and thought leaders about how, when possible, to implement them more. I’m curious to see what technology comes out to support more Liberating Structures in a virtual space.
Facilitators Lead Change
With the tools that are now available, control can be implemented on either side of the spectrum–tight or loose. It is difficult to move fluidly between the two, and some people would argue that you shouldn’t. At Voltage Control, we believe that finding a recipe that implements loose structures, and therefore loose control, is the best way to help groups achieve their goals–enough structure to constructively guide the energy in the room but not so much control that the energy is disrupted or stunted. It takes skill to find the formula that’s just right–enter a facilitator. A skilled facilitator works to weave the tapestry, seamlessly. That’s why I’m passionate about sharing my experiences and tool kit and educating and empowering other facilitators to be their best. Because a great facilitator has the power to help create impactful and important change.
If you are interested in building your facilitation skills, please join us for our weekly virtual Control the Room Meetup every Thursday afternoon. The discussion topics vary, and it’s a great way to connect with fellow facilitators and learn about the art of facilitation. Together, let’s change the meeting culture to offer more creativity, collaboration, and transformation so we can create a better world.
Need help building a better meeting? Bring in a professional facilitator from Voltage Control.
Voltage Control designs and facilitates innovation training, Design Sprints, and design thinking workshops, both in-person and virtual. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk.