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Organizational development consultant Jennifer Miller says people get frustrated in meetings because they are unclear about expectations – specifically, whether they are expected to expand possibilities, or to come to a decision. Most meetings are intended for one of those two processes, and because they are diametrically opposite in approach it is vital that everyone know the goal. On her blog, she says that if the purpose is to expand possibilities, you need to explore opinions, share ideas, gather data, and perhaps brainstorm. By contrast, in a decision-making session, the focus should be on narrowing choices and building consensus around a course of actions.

Some questions to expand possibilities:

  • Where should we start?
  • If X were to happen, then what?
  • What does the data tell us?
  • What prevents us from trying X?
  • What’s the most outlandish idea we can come up with?
  • What haven’t we discussed yet?

Some questions to reach decisions:

  • If we knew we couldn’t fail, which option would we choose?
  • Of all these ideas we’ve generated, which one makes us most nervous? Why?
  • We don’t need to decide today. What one task would best help us move forward?
  • Who will own each task? What’s the deadline? Who needs to stay informed?

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