effective meetings

10January 2017
Much of my work involves creating self-organising groups. When we create self-organisation we release energy in the people within the system to find their passion and take responsibility. I believe in this way of working so much that I've even integrated it into my personal life – here's an example... In my pre-children era I used to spend Boxing Day with friends at Kempton Park horse races. It was always a fun, albeit usually cold and windy, day out – a chance to catch up with friends, blow the cobwebs away, and enjoy the competitive spirit of horse racing. Race meets aren’t much fun with small children so, with the birth of my children came the birth of a new idea: “Why not have a day at the races from home!?” It started with two families getting together and has evolved over the years to its most recent format with 40 people. What I love about the way this event has changed is that everyone can bring their families, with at least three generations mingling together. It grows each year with new families joining us, and everyone has a great time, including me. So, here is my formula for a great Boxing Day Races party –
  • Each family that's invited can bring their relatives along, as long as they bring enough leftovers to feed them!
  • I provide tables for the food, plates and cutlery and I cook baked potatoes to accompany them.
  • When people arrive they put out their offerings and everyone shares what they have brought to the party.
  • Each person places £10 into a sweepstake for the race.
  • Each person then bets on one horse per race and gets three points for first place, two points for second and one point for third.
  • The races are televised, so, in between eating and drinking, we watch the races. It's very noisy as people really get into supporting the horses they bet on.
  • At the end of the race meet we tot up the scores and award prizes.
  • This year we reached a new level of self-organisation – one of my friends created an app! Everyone placed their bets from their phones before they arrived, or on arrival, and the scores popped up on the app as the day unfolded.
  So here are the principles of self-organisation demonstrated here
  • a common purpose – to have a good time
  • a leader who is willing to let go of control – I am always happy to eat drink and be merry!
  • ways of working, including decision making, that are understood by all – in the rules of the betting and the roles everyone takes
  • an effective induction and integration of new people. I love the way that each year the core partygoers explain the format to the newcomers.
  • the space for people to take the initiative and improve the system – the app!
My experience is that self-organisation appeals to the core of human nature, for people to take control of their environments. It inspires passion and responsibility in those involved, and releases the leader from the constraints of needing to control, so that she can be free to lead the fun. So, as we enter 2017, a fresh new year, have a think about which elements of self-organisation you might want to integrate into your life. Happy New 2017!
27October 2016
These days I think it is generally acknowledged that collaborative planning is more effective than a leader locking herself in a room with a towel on her head and figuring out all the answers. However, there is more to collaborative planning than just getting a group of people together in a room, and hoping the magic of multiple perspectives will take place. Having spent 17 years facilitating group planning, here are some of my thoughts and ideas for those heading into the year end planning cycle.

Who and how to involve

It might sound obvious but getting the right people involved and being intentional about how we want to collaborate is key. Collaborative working doesn't necessarily mean consensual decision making with everyone involved. Sometimes it is best to pick a small team to co-create a plan with. Sometimes we consult with a wider audience as input to planning or we can test draft plans with a wider group after a small group has done some work. Alternatively, getting a large group together to do the whole thing in one go can be hugely effective, but be mindful this requires large group facilitation expertise. So, I find it helps to map out all the stakeholders and then look at them individually and think about how you want to engage with them. A kind of plan for how to plan!!


The pace that most businesses are moving at, combined with the pressure on many leaders and managers means that little time is made for reflection and learning in the workplace these days. The tendency is to do a cursory glance at the results from last year, before drawing conclusions and moving into future planning. This often leads to repeating patterns in businesses, which never get resolved. So, I would encourage anyone doing planning to make time to really explore the facts and data of what has happened, then look at how things happened and the different experiences of that, as a source of rich learning and hindsight that can dramatically inform future plans.


Insight is the bridge between the past and the future. Profound insight is rooted in data, but in the age of BIG DATA, we need to be choiceful about which data we pay attention to and how that is converted onto information, before knowledge and then wisdom can be formed. Insight development also benefits from using different modes of knowing. Most senior teams have a preference for the logical cognitive space, and leaders are usually highly developed in their thinking skills. But how often do we really leverage the amazing right brain capability of human beings. Our right hemisphere enables us to sense and notice patterns to bring insight that analysis of facts and figures can't.


Oh to have a crystal ball ! I know we are called Meeting Magic, but unfortunately my magical powers do not extend to being able to give groups 'Mystic Meg - like' qualities. So, instead we have to develop strategies that are rooted in foresight - this means extrapolating from insight into what might be. This work REALLY benefits from right brain work. By this I don't mean lying on bean bags coming up with crazy ideas, I mean creating an environment in which 'right answers' are not the goal, a more exploratory creative way of thinking... wondering why things are the way they are now, and what that means for how things might be. The art of great planning is to create a plan that is sufficiently grounded in reality that people can see it will work, and yet it has sufficient stretch that it creates a slight tension. The pulling together of plans which build on hindsight, anchor to insight and stretch into foresight is key. Then we need to think about how we sense and respond throughout the forthcoming year, so that we notice if those insights change and the strategies need to change with them. This approach is the art of agile planning - planning for the unplannable - knowing and working with the fact that we live in a changing world - behaving like an organic, living system, rather than a machine. So, I hope you find this useful thought provocation to enable you to think about howyou go about planning this year. Just remember, like any good cook, it's not just about having the right ingredients, it's also about how you combine them that determines whether your meal is a delight or a disaster!
27October 2016
I've spent the last two weeks in week-long immersions with groups and I feel like I have fallen back in love with group working again. This experience has reminded me of the HUGE potential that exists when people truly collaborate together and the work that needs to be done to get there. This chart is a summary of just some of the key theories around group dynamics and the factors that influence group development, and yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. People, as individuals, are intriguing - who knows why we do the things we do in our complex systems of thoughts and feelings. When we then compound that by bringing groups of people together, we create even more complex systems of behaviour that range from the predictable to the bizarre. I have spent my entire career working with groups and still experience a range of emotions in these spaces, from fear and frustration to heartfelt admiration for the pure tenacity of humanity. What never ceases to amaze me is that groups are still thrown together in the workplace, and expected to collaborate effectively without any care or expertise in group dynamics. Just think what this means for the decisions that are made in senior leadership teams, when they come together! What wrangles go on in these groups for power and authority? How conscious are they of their decision making processes, and therefore the efficacy of the decisions they make? How much attention is given to the maintenance of relationships in these groups, versus the tasks they are expected to work on? And yet the magic of groups is that when we work with a group to understand and embrace differences, face into the conflicts arise, and focus on robust collective decision making (rather than individually needing to be 'right'), we can do amazing work together - that is where the magic happens, and that is the work I love!
16July 2016


The wave of interest in visual working has crescendoed in the last five years. I attribute this to many factors including: the increase in global working, in which pictures paint a thousand words; the use of iconography in the electronic devices we use every day; the popularity of books by David Sibbet and Dan Roan, who have made this way of working accessible to business people. The downside I see in the appeal of visual working, is that visuals are often used without understanding the implications of the choices being made so. To the untrained eye, it’s all about pretty pictures. There are three dimensions to working visually
  • The process by which the image is created
  • The underlying metaphor and architecture of the image
  • The way in which the image is used, once it is created
Within each of these dimensions there are multiple choices, which means there is a broad range of different results that can be achieved by combining them. In this article I hope to shine a light on the first dimension, by looking at the different ways graphic images are created and the impact this has. I have summarised this into four discrete areas, yet the reality is that within each field there is a variety of application. For example within graphic recording: some recorders work privately, on sketchbooks; some work publically on large charts; some work completely real time; some do the outline real time and complete in the studio; some work in colour; some in black and white. These variations in each area mean it is more of a spectrum than four clear choices, but I hope this segmentation starts to shine a light on the options available.  
What is it Impact on group Pros / cons
Illustration Illustrators help people communicate more effectively through their skill in developing images that support verbal or written words. This is usually done in a studio, not live with a group. By communicating through pictures and words, people tend to be able to take in and remember information better. ✓ pictures bring things to life × the pictures are developed by the illustrator and therefore not ‘owned’ by the group.
Graphic recording Graphic Recorders help groups see the conversations they are having through their expertise in listening, visualising and use of metaphor. The group can SEE the conversation being recorded all on one page. This acknowledges contributions and makes people feel heard. ✓ Captures attention ✓ Supports group memory ✓ Useful summary × Often added as an afterthought, late in the preparation of meetings × not integrated into group process × Little group ownership
Graphic Facilitation Graphic Facilitators work with groups to help them achieve their outcomes through their combined expertise in group process and visual architectures. Conversations are are designed with a focus on group outcomes. The group can SEE their contributions being added to the charts. The group can make new connections as individuals see their perspectives alongside others. ✓ Focusses attention ✓ Supports trust and respect ✓ brings clarity ✓ supports group decision making ✓ strong ownership by the group × for full impact the visuals need to be planned as an integral part of the design - not added as an afterthought × the combination of facilitation skills and graphical skills are harder to come by  
Visual Organisatational Development Consultancy Visual OD practitioners work to improve an organisation’s performance through their expertise in human systems, system architectures.     Group work is designed within the context of organisational needs. The visuals help the group develop clarity in complex situations. The way the information is synthesised in this approach enables new insights and meaning to be drawn by the group. Same as above and… ✓ visual synthesis brings new insights aimed at business impact × very few people worldwide can do this
  In the complex, fast paced, global world we live in, I believe that visual working has huge potential power. The key to unlocking this power comes from consciously and intentionally choosing the right visual tools for the right jobs. I hope this article has shed some light on this field. In the mean time, if you are interested in finding out more about this area of work, get in touch.  
26September 2015
One way to charge up your group, team, section, division or your entire organisation is to bring in some bespoke training. Not only do we offer four highly regarded workshops, we will design bespoke training that targets your specific needs, including building in the new energy you need to spark commitment, ideas generation, strategy and action. We target your training needs. Have a look at the offers we have posted on our site then give us a call to discuss what we can do to energize your company or your team. Serious work gets done in meetings, we help energize your meetings and we can help you do that, too. +44 (0)20 1628 471 114 or complete the contact form to tell us what training ideas you'd like to explore.
09September 2015
We love this video, both for the content but also the visuals used. This is proof that visual thinking aids understanding. We believe visual or graphic facilitation embeds that visual thinking in organisations. Enjoy! If you want to discuss how visual thinking and graphic facilitation supports your organisational communications give us a call at +44 (0)1628 471 114 or complete the contact form letting us know some of your thinking and how we might help you.
26August 2015
We are excited about our newest pages on the website. In addition to our popular Advanced Facilitation Training (AFT), our training offers now cover Collaborative Leadership, Vision to Action and Team Performance. These four offers round out the messages we have been sharing with clients and offering in training for our 16 years of service.
  • Collaborative Leadership: supporting management and directors who understand that harnessing group working creates a stronger, more focused organisation with rewards for all stakeholders.
  • Vision to Action: our unique formats for creating vision and understanding how to take the vision off the shelf and into committed action.
  • Team Performance: an in-depth exploration of how to sustain trust, commitment and momentum in groups of all types and in all sectors of an organisation.
While the AFT is offered as open, public training (with our next dates of 11-12 November), these new titles are offered in-house so that we can explore the topics within the context of your organisation, applying real-life issues and questions in a non-threatening environment. For more information on each of our training offers give us a call at +44 (0)20 1628 471 114 or complete the contact form telling us the training options you want to explore. We love training. Give us a call.
14July 2015
VoiceAmerica is the online leader in original live talk radio; they more or less invented the format back in the 1990s and have gone on to become the single largest producer, distributor, and online broadcaster of original live and on-demand talk radio programming in the world. VoiceAmerica reaches millions of listeners every month in more than 60 countries worldwide, and in June 2015 their radio host Chris Cooper, whose widely listened-to Be More, Achieve More talk show provides inspiration to thousands of high-achieving  businesspeople and entrepreneurs, interviewed Meeting Magic CEO Katherine Woods. On the agenda: meetings, of course, with all their opportunities and pitfalls, and some insights into what led Katherine Woods to create one of the most successful and longest-running meeting facilitation businesses in the world. (more…)
01July 2015
We like this quote because it supports our thinking on how to approach meetings with openness to ideas. Holding our own ideas loosely so we are ready to change when we learn from others.
30June 2015
During a recent assignment for Scribing Magic, I was asked by #TripwireInc to graphically record* two Information Security events over the course of three days (#InfoSec15 and #BSidesLDN2015). *Graphic recording is the art of capturing the key thoughts, ideas and discussions that happen during meetings and events. This is achieved using hand-drawn images and text created live in real time to produce visual records that act as aide memoirs for participants and a way of understanding what happened for those that were unable to attend. (more…)
19June 2015
C1 pg2a impact I t is my view that HOW things get done has as much impact on bottom line performance as WHAT gets done in business. Most organisations have unhelpful patterns of behaviour that recur in the way people work together (in meetings). These disfunctionalities lead to slow and poor quality decision making. By looking at meeting culture organisations can identify what's getting in the way of performance and drive more effective ways of working. This is not just academic! This approach is practical and it doesn't add work into your business, it utilises  the spaces that exist in business to drive change.
11June 2015

Some really interesting research released today by CIPD in their Employee Outlook 2015 Survey got me thinking...again!

In the survey, "around 50% of the 2,226 respondents described their organisation culture as 'a formalised and structured place to work, where procedures govern what people do and hold people together." (more…)

29April 2015
Our own research does not indicate that this is true and we have not been able to verify it as yet. Evidence at the meetings we attend (and, yes, at our own internal meetings as well) seems to indicate this is not the case. However, perhaps by having good meetings we can also save chocolate! Think of the energy boosts, the boredom breakers and the general mood creation from chocolate. If there were good meetings globally, that included ways to energize, break the boredom cycle and motivate participation perhaps less chocolate would be consumed and the tragedy of looming chocolate shortages can be averted. We think we can help with bad meetings and stem the angst of chocolate lovers everywhere. Give us a call at +44 (0) 1628 471 114 or send us a contact form and we'll sort this out at your organisation.
20March 2015

This article was written by Katherine Woods and was first published in July 2013.

Meeting-Facilitation-Riga-Bendys-June-2014 I've been facilitating meetings for nearly 20 years. It makes me feel old just saying that! During that time, many things have changed. In the early days, the Internet was still in its infancy. I remember sending emails on a painfully slow dial-up connection, and mobile phones were still HUGE. Much has also changed in the business world, yet how people think about business meetings has changed very little. (more…)

19March 2015
We always get excited when we find interesting thinking about visual thinking. We, of course, advocate for visual thinking in all meetings and when creating a new meeting culture. This article graphically shows why the whole brain works best in communicating and engaging with others. (more…)
10March 2015
Dave Grady is using humour to move people's thinking about meetings and the culture surrounding them. This one tackles one meeting syndrome and highlights some important messages for moving from bad meetings to good meetings. It can be done.
06March 2015
We've added a new case study so you can see more of the kinds of work we have been doing and can do for you. Have a quick read and let us know how we can help you with your meeting facilitation needs. Give us a call at +44 (0)20 1628 471 114 or complete the contact form.
02March 2015
Ah meetings! You gotta love 'em. Or not. The love of meetings comes with having effective meetings. Sometimes the effectiveness of meetings rely on who is in the room and what they bring to the meeting. (more…)
02February 2015
I f you think about the times in your life when something profoundly changed your view, I'll bet is was an experience that lead to your changing your mind. It is this philosophy that underpins our approach to the deployment of business direction and strategy. We create an experience that enables people to hear, see and feel the changes they need to be making. This is far more memorable, and likely to change individual behaviours, than the type of annual Kick Off meeting that's prevalent in businesses today. Traditional Kick Off meetings are usually a series of presentations. At best they allow for a bit of Question and Answers. This might mean people KNOW the strategy, but its unlikely to lead them into DOING anything.  
02February 2015
Hotel sign I saw this sign in the foyer of a Crowne Plaza yesterday. This reminded me of how much emphasis is put into reducing the cost of meetings, and how little, by comparison, is put into leveraging the benefits. If businesses could really harness the people power in meetings then I think they would think very differently about how they invest in them - less money on flashy venues and production, and more on designing the substance of the meeting, and how to drive commitment to action afterwards. Come on business leaders - start demanding more from meetings!!!  
28January 2015
I am working with several clients on large events at the moment. As I reflect on this work, I notice the contrasting approaches between the clients I have worked with for a long time and those who are new to Meeting Magic's approach. (more…)
22January 2015
Following an earlier post I found the attached infographic, which supports my arguments about the hidden cost of unproductive meetings in the workplace. I like the visual way this is produced. It shows the power of combining pictures and words. (more…)
27October 2014
What role does a manager take in decision making in a large organisation? How do decisions get made versus how should they be made? This is a common thread I hear in the conversations I am having with many leaders at the moment. How do managers manage the teams that work for them with regard to decisions? (more…)
05September 2014
You can tell Autumn is on its way, the leaves are turning, the hedgerows are full of berries and… the TV is full of XFactor! I must admit that the audition phase of XFactor is my guilty pleasure. It’s just an amazing cacophony of human behaviour – from the humble teenager who doesn’t know the power of their own performance, to the deluded individual who thinks they are going to be the next winner, but can’t even hold a tune. (more…)
12June 2014
Meetings in large organisations fall into two categories - regular meetings and special meetings. Special meetings are usually driven by change - change in leadership, organisation, direction etc. When a special meeting is initiated there is usually great intention, but somehow along the way this gets lost. (more…)
10June 2014
Meeting Magic works with large organisations to take a systemic look at their meetings. Meetings have the power to harness group potential and deliver competitive advantage, but often regular internal meetings do not get the best from people. By taking a look at internal meetings through the lenses of productivity, engagement and alignment to strategy, we can help organisations get the most from their people in meetings and prevent a lot of lost productivity.
01June 2014

Meeting facilitation really works.

*According to an article in the Fall 2006 issue of The Facilitator newsletter, using a skilled facilitator increases the productivity of a project by 25%.
27May 2014
Many large organisations now do employee engagement surveys on a regular basis. This is a trend that seems to have grown over the last 10 yrs. But what impact are they delivering at an organisational level? Are they enabling better  business results? Or are they delivering better employee morale and retention? (more…)
12March 2014
When I look at my schedule of client work, most of it falls into the category of strategy development and deployment, regardless of the type of organisation. For example, I am working with the board of a small charitable organisation who have reached a cross roads because of funding, this means they need to take a strategic look at their organisation and decide how they want to move forward; I am also working with a large global Aerospace client, who is needing to respond to market changes, which requires a change in direction, developed at board level and then executed through a workforce of thousands, worldwide. All organisations, big and small, need clarity of long term direction and strategy, to inform their short term planning and day to day action. (more…)
18February 2014
I happened to switch on my TV last night and caught Richard Bacon doing a great job of demonstrating the antithesis of facilitation on Channel 4s Benefits Britain - The Debate. (more…)
10February 2014
I am enjoying reading Simon Sinek's new book, 'Leaders Eat last - why some teams pull together and others don't'. His observations and insights resonate with my experience, both as a facilitator, and the leader of a business. In particular I am struck by what he says about the need to create safety in the workplace, that this enables people to be the best they can be. (more…)
30January 2014
I was speaking this morning with Pete, a friend of mine who does personal fitness training. He told me about a swimming training programme he runs for adults, that is proving very successful. His approach is to focus on one aspect of swimming technique at a time. He trains this in a 1:1 session, then leaves the person  to get confident with this technique (usually for about two weeks), before adding the next technique. This process repeats itself about 6 times until the individual has all aspects of their technique working well for them, usually a step change in their performance as a swimmer. (more…)
11November 2013
A few weeks ago I had a bit of a rant about the myth of telling = understanding = action which unpicks most strategy deployment. (more…)
30October 2013
I had a conversation with a colleague this week, who has a family member suffering from an eating disorder. She was sharing her frustration and concern at this person not being willing to accept the help being offered to her. I know from my own experience, of living with someone with depression, the help we think someone needs is not always what they seek. (more…)
11October 2013
There seems to be a common misconception when it comes to the deployment of strategy in large organisations: "Telling = Understanding = Aligned action." If only it was that simple!!!! (more…)
19August 2013
In July my cocker spaniel, Lula, gave birth to a litter of puppies. We are now at the stage of finding suitable homes for the puppies. This process has involved families coming to our home, looking at the puppies and deciding which one they want. Observing families in their decision making processes has given me food for thought about how groups make decisions in business. A couple of observations that are top of mind are… (more…)
28June 2013
I have just been to the Hygienist today for a routine scale and polish. At the end of my appointment the Hygienist took time to tell me which areas of my mouth are showing the most plaque build up, because I am missing them in my routine teeth cleaning. (more…)
14June 2013
Oh my goodness! I have just caught up with last week's episode of The Apprentice. This is a UK TV show in which Alan Sugar, aka Lord Sugar, gives a group of young business people, Apprentices, a series of tasks. The programme series culminates in Lord Sugar choosing an Apprentice whose business he will invest in. (more…)
17April 2013
Most of the meetings I get called in to facilitate are complex. Companies don't tend to bring in external support for the day-to-day stuff, so it tends to be the tricky ones that get our attention.  I am often working with global groups, who have been brought together to resolve complex, strategic business problems. A chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, 'What the Dog Saw' have given me an interesting perspective on how to approach these types of meetings. (more…)
22November 2012
The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines conversation as:
'Talk between two or more people, in which thoughts, feelings and ideas are expressed, questions are asked and answered or news and information are exchanged'
19September 2012
There seems to be a remarkable amount of churn or reorganisation going on amongst our clients at the moment, and, at the same time, we enter a new a academic year. All this leads to many people  being in new groups, both as leaders and participants. (more…)
31July 2012
In Meeting Magic we like to practice what we preach. All our team meetings are well prepared, participants are involved in the preparation, and we have well defined OARRs. However, I recently found myself being rather bored in our board meeting! (more…)
15June 2012
This week I have been reading a book on growing businesses, by an American business consultant. In the chapter on personal productivity, the author recommends declining invitations to all meetings, on the basis that they are not a good use of time. My reaction to this… (more…)
30May 2012
I was asked today for some advice on using castles and stately homes as meeting venues. My thoughts below might be useful to anyone considering this type of venue for a meeting. (more…)
28May 2012
I recently read this article about why virtual meetings won't replace face to face meetings. In principle I agree with this view. Fundamentally we are human beings, and the virtual space does not fulfill our human instinct to connect with people. When there is a need for work to be done by a group that need high trust levels, there will always be the need for face to face working. (more…)
21May 2012
There are situations where a little bit more meeting time is worth so much more than time outside a meeting. I experienced it recently in a meeting where I only had a 60 minute slot. This meant we agreed that people would send me their ideas afterward the meeting. (more…)