Running a meeting requires more than just setting expectations and following an agenda. Because you're expending time (and therefore money) it's your responsibility to ensure that the meeting has a positive result.
However, it's almost impossible to create a positive result when there's a negative mood in the room. And that's a real challenge because groups of people can "go negative" for reasons that are beyond your control, like politics or even the weather.
When confronted with a negative mood in a meeting, some manager try to energize the team with a pep talk. This never works and here's why. In giving a pep talk, the manager is either faking enthusiasm or actually feeling it.
If the manager is faking, everyone knows it, so the attempt fall flat and makes everyone even more depressed.
If the manager really does feel enthusiastic, though, that enthusiasm will alienate rather than energize because it's impossible to create rapport between people who are in diametrically opposite emotional states.
Fortunately, I just learned a simple technique that can quickly and easily upgrade the mood of a meeting. Here's what you say:
"We're going to do something different today. We're going to go around the room and I want everyone to share one thing that they personally accomplished since the last time we met and what they learned from the experience. I don't want something like "a customer made a big order." It's got to be something that you did, personally, that was different from what you've done in the past."
Yes, there will be the usual groans (silent and otherwise) when you speak the words "go around the room," but that's not important because once your team gets into this exercise it gradually upgrades and lightens the mood.
The reason is simple. Moods (in groups and individuals) result from focus. Focus on the negative and you feel lousy. Focus on the positive and you feel better. The exercise essentially forces everyone to focus on something positive.
As a bonus, you learn a great deal about your colleagues and how they think by listening to them talk about what makes them proud and what they learn from their work experiences.
I might note that I've used a variation of this technique in one-on-one meetings with top executives and VIPs by starting the interview with "what do you like best about your job?" Same idea: get people to focus on the positive and they feel better.