It’s not only to good people that bad meetings happen. Bad meetings happen to good elves and dwarves too.
Think of the Council of Elrond from the Lord of the Rings.
Elrond, one of the top elves, gathers some selected men, dwarves, and elves to discuss what they should do with the One Ring, and assumes the role of the facilitator. But when the meeting starts, he loses control in less than a minute and the meeting turns into chaos. The chaos is resolved only by a shocking proposal by Frodo, that it should be he who will carry the Ring to Mordor. From there, groupthink prevails, everyone rallies around this absurd idea. In the end, Sauron is defeated, but at the cost of thousands of lives. All that while a simple alternative was at hand: Gandalf could simply have called his friend’s eagles, and they could have taken the ring to Mordor by air (as described in Lord of the Rings: How it Should Have Ended).
If you don’t want to repeat some of Elrond’s mistakes in your own meeting, read on: I’m going to use “10 Tips On How To Run PERFECT Meetings” by AJ & Smart to help Elrond run a better meeting next time.
Tip 1: Appoint a FACILITATOR
The good thing was that Elrond WAS a facilitator. Unfortunately, the group did not respect him much as one, and he soon lost control.
How to avoid this? As a facilitator, first thing, get the group to agree on the rules of the meeting – and to follow the lead of the facilitator. Examples of rules that could have been useful in this specific case: “One person speaks at a time”, “stop the discussion when the facilitator calls time”, “do not touch the One Ring”.
Tip 2: Get the TEAM right!
Perhaps you’ve noticed that there are some men, elves, and dwarves in the meeting who do not play any active role. This is fine, until the big argument starts – and all those “extras” join the argument, only contributing to the chaos and making the group harder to manage.
Next time, Elrond should Get his Team right, identify who needs to be in the meeting and who doesn’t – and invite only those who do.
Tip 3: SEQUENCE your discussions
Elrond’s meeting completely lacked structure.
When Elrond mentions for the first time that the “Ring Must be Destroyed”, Gimli stands up and tries to smash it with his axe. He hits the ring with full force, but it’s his axe that falls apart, leaving Gimli stunned on his back and the ring unscathed.
This is a clear example of “Jumping to conclusions”; but even when it’s Gimli who embarrasses himself, it is Elrond who failed to lay out the sequence of the meeting. Had he made it clear that there will be time for ideation, discussion, and perhaps even prototyping possible solutions, Gimli might have been a bit more relaxed.
Tip 4: VISUALIZE your discussions
Have you noticed nobody was taking notes? This is not about literacy; Elrond could easily have taken notes in the form of sketches. Visualizing a discussion helps prevent unnecessary misunderstandings.
Tip 5: TIMEBOX your activities
While in most meetings, “Timebox” works to make things go faster, the Council of Elrond went very quickly. The moment Frodo proposed that he would take the ring, everyone stopped arguing. Some of the Council attendees even pledged to join him on his journey and offered their service. Any further discussion was shut down.
Elrond as facilitator got so overwhelmed by the unexpected turn of events that he simply accepted the solution. Had Elrond used a timer, he would have known that there was still enough time to explore other options. Then, he could have said: “Great idea, Frodo! Writing it down. Now, everyone, what else can you think of?”
Tip 6: Work ALONE, TOGETHER
Right after Frodo brought the Ring forth, there was a moment of awkward silence. Boromir – a typical extrovert – did not wait for too long before filling it with his own words: “A Dream – I saw the Eastern Skies grow dark…”
While poetic, it was not particularly helpful. Moreover, Boromir was definitely not the most knowledgeable on the matter of the Ring. Aragorn, Legolas or Gandalf would have had something more valuable to say, but they were holding back. Boromir was the first to speak up, and so the discussion went his way.
It’s the facilitator’s job to create an environment where everyone has an equal chance to contribute. Elrond could have given everyone some quiet time to think and write their ideas down. Maybe even the “extras” who did not get a chance to speak in the scene would come up with something useful!
Tip 7: Have a PARKING LOT to stop sidetracking discussions
When Legolas breaks the news that, actually, Aragorn is the heir of Isildur and the heir to the throne of Gondor, Boromir gets defensive, and the discussion gets sidetracked. This was the perfect moment for Elrond to use the Parking Lot.
“Okay guys, deciding whether or not Gondor needs a king is a fascinating discussion, but it’s a little off-topic. Why don’t we park it for now and come back to it when we have time, perhaps after Sauron is defeated?”
Tip 8: Always finish a meeting with a DECISION
Elrond scored on this one in this meeting – at least one thing was done right!
Tip 9: Use VOTING to help you make decisions
It looked like in the end, everyone supported the idea of Frodo carrying the ring, didn’t it? But did they, really? What if there were many who were afraid to speak up so as not to interrupt the euphoric moment?
Next time, when Elrond will want to ensure a good outcome of the meeting, he can achieve it by pushing the group to generate at least two good alternatives and then by having them vote anonymously on the solutions. Who knows? Had he done that, the story might have been very different!
Tip 10: Show, don’t tell
Elrond tries to explain the task:
“(The Ring) must be taken deep into Mordor and cast into the fiery chasm from where it came.”
Boromir adds some drama and elaborates. But still – it was hard to imagine such a journey! Had either of them shown the group a simple map displaying all the mountains, marshes and other obstacles, they could have improved their understanding of the challenge – and nudged them to come up with an alternative to the journey on foot.
This time, Elrond got lucky, and all turned out well in the end. The next time, perhaps he will improve his facilitation game and will run a better meeting.
And while in your own meetings you may not be discussing saving the world from evil; who knows? Maybe you’ll find these tips handy too.
Lukas is a Design Thinker and Business Facilitator in a global pharma company. In 2019-2020 he was the District Director in Toastmasters International for District 110 – Wild East of Europe. Besides the Lord of the Rings, he is also a fan of movies by Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino.