Saved By Design: How The Meeting Canvas Was Born

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About 4 minute(s) long

I work with large companies.

By large I mean huge – most companies that hire me as a consultant usually have more than 10,000 employees scattered across the globe.

And they all hate meetings.

They hate organizing them and they hate attending them.

During meetings, they hate the lack of purpose, the lack of structure, the poor or non-existent moderation.

They hate that the wrong people are in the meetings – the people who can add the most value are often not present. They hate the endless circular conversations that achieve very little.

They hate that when decisions are made on some action to be taken, there is no follow up – no closure.

Great Conversations Don’t Just Happen

As a consultant Agile and organizational process coach – my professional life is spent helping people improve what they do. I have to be able to have great conversations with individuals and groups otherwise my job becomes almost futile.

After 15 years of consulting and thousands of meetings later, I have learned 2 fundamental truths.

All meetings are conversations but not all conversations are meetings.

Great conversations don’t just happen.

Facilitation is a necessary part of my work and I love it! To be able to help create the conditions for great conversations to happen feels like such a  fantastic privilege.

But how could I apply the years of experience and the my skills and process as a facilitator into something others could use?

“Help Us Have Better Meetings”

At an engagement recently, I was asked by a large multinational networking company to prepare and deliver a workshop on facilitating effective meetings .

I had delivered similar workshops in the past and I have always  tried to design a workshop that could impart my skills and meeting design process to the participates. With limited success.

On this occasion, I didn’t have very much time to put the workshop together and I worked well into the night to get it ready for the next day’s session.

Inspired By The Business Model Generation Canvas

Discovering the awesome Business Model Generation Canvas by Alex Osterwalder was an epiphany moment for my start-up journey. To be able to iterate on my business idea through some very reasonable questions and to be able to see the whole view all of the time was transformative.

Late on the Thursday night, fueled by what was left of a nice single malt, I mentally ‘walked’ through my design process for meetings that I facilitate. I extracted the key steps and identified how the entire process consisted of multiple sub-iterative activities. Then I reverse engineered my last meeting and checked why it was so successful.

At about 4:00am on Friday morning,  the Meeting Facilitator Canvas was born.

Workshop Tested By Frustrated Meeting Goers

As I put the final touches to the canvas and included the usage notes into my workshop slide deck I was a little nervous that my workshop participants – all battle hardened meeting goers – would simply tear this offering to shreds.  I was worried that they would see it as yet another overhead that they have to bear.

To my delight, the participants reworked some of their worst meeting experiences through the Canvas and found that most of them could have been vastly improved. Some of the meetings were even found to be unnecessary – by simply using the design process contained in the Canvas, a few of the meetings would never have actually needed to happen.

What I found really surprising was the willingness of the participants to accept that great conversations don’t just happen – that some time and effort has to go into facilitating them.

The participants were also full of feedback for things I might improve in the canvas – most of which went back into the design.

“Saved By Design”

A few weeks later, I shared the canvas privately with Simon – friend who works as an executive in a major financial institution and he really took to it.  He promised to use it at his next team meeting so I gave him the single usage sheet I was preparing and off he went.

A few days after his meeting we chatted again and he said their ‘meeting culture has been saved by design’ – that the canvas was a beautiful little design thinking tool that had given them a way to focus their conversation and they had one of the best meetings they had ever had.

I’m really pleased I created the Meeting Facilitator Canvas – if it helps only 1% of the people whose time is wasted by unnecessary and unproductive meetings, I would feel deeply satisfied.

Can It Save Your Meetings?

You have a choice right now.

You can choose to continue to complain about how meetings suck in your company or you can download the Meeting Facilitator Canvas and use it to cut down on unnecessary meetings and improve your the ones you need to have. If you don’t organize meetings, share it with those who do.

I’d love to hear from you when you start to use the Meeting Facilitator Canvas. It is free and open source – so adapt it, copy it and share it as much as you like.


Featured image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video .

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

Author: Mike Sutton

I'm the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who've worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I've spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked. I'm on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

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