Ensuring that meetings are relevant and timely are two of the top recommendations for organizations. People want to know, when they meet, their time (and, in turn, themselves) feel valued. The following tips are ways to ensure that meetings are relevant, and people are engaged within them.
For starters: Don’t Meet
Don’t hold a meeting if the same information could be covered in a memo, e-mail or brief report. One of the keys to having more effective meetings is differentiating between the need for one-way information dissemination and two-way information sharing. To disseminate information you can use a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or a brief description. If you want to be certain you have delivered the right message, you can schedule a meeting to simply answer questions about the information you have sent. By remembering to ask yourself,
“Is a meeting the best way to handle this?”
You will cut down on wasted meeting time and ensure that your team members experience the meetings they attend as relevant and necessary.
SET MEETING OBJECTIVES
Set objectives before the meeting! Before planning the agenda for the meeting, write down a phrase or several phrases to complete the sentence:
By the end of the meeting, I want participants to…
Depending on the focus of your meeting, your ending to the sentence might include phrases such as: …be able to list the top three features of our newest service to youth, …have generated three ideas for increasing membership growth, …understanding what our customer expects, …leave with an action plan, …decide on a new process, or…solve a problem.
One benefit of setting objectives for the meeting is to help you plan the meeting. The more concrete the meeting objectives, the more focused the agenda will be. A second important benefit of having specific objectives for each meeting is the concrete measure against which you and your team can evaluate the meeting. Were you successful in meeting the objectives? Why or why not? Is another meeting required? Setting meeting objectives allows you to continuously improve your effective meeting process.
PROVIDE AGENDA BEFOREHAND
Provide all participants with an agenda before the meeting starts. Your agenda needs to include a brief description of the meeting objectives, a list of the topics to be covered and a list stating who will address each topic and for how long. When you send the agenda, you should include the time, date and location of the meeting and any background information participants will need to know to hold an informed discussion on the meeting topic. What’s the most important thing you should do with your agenda? Follow it closely!
Engage others by asking them to contribute to the agenda content.
What is it that they want or need to talk about?
What are the outcomes they would like to see?
ASSIGN MEETING PREPARATION
Give all participants something to prepare for the meeting, and the meeting will take on a new significance to each group member. For problem-solving meetings, have the group read the background information necessary to get down to business in the meeting. Ask each group member to think of one possible solution to the problem to get everyone thinking about the meeting topic. For example, to start a membership growth meeting on a positive note, have all participants recall their biggest growth success since the last meeting and ask one person to share his/her success with the group. For less formal meetings or brainstorming sessions, ask a trivia question related to the meeting topic and give the correct answer in the first few minutes of the meeting. These tips are means to warm up the group and direct participants’ attention to the meeting objectives.
SHARE MEETING RESPONSIBILITIES
Identify roles (at the end of each meeting) for the next meeting. These roles could include:
- Facilitator -The person who guides the process and ensures progress is made in alignment with the agreed upon agenda. This person is responsible for creating space and conditions that facilitate inclusive processes. The facilitator can, if agreed by team, coordinate the agenda in advance of the upcoming meeting.
- Time Keeper – This person monitors the time and reminds the group and the facilitator when they are off track.
- Note Taker – This person takes notes for the team and provides them after the meeting (within 24 hours is considered timely)
- Scribe – This person writes on flip chart, white board, etc. for groups that the engaging in processes that have visual elements.
Determine Norms for Teams that regularly meet. Norms provide your team with a set of behaviors that they have collectively agreed to abide by within the meetings. These are adopted by the entire group and the start of each meeting includes a “Norm Reminder”. Norms can be added to and changed by the group, within the meeting by the participants agreements.
A few suggested noms:
- Be Present – treat this meeting as the most important work you have to do in this moment
- Be Honest – speak to your truths through your opinions, perspectives, and experiences, Respect the honesty of others as well.
- Be Courageous – say what you need to say and do not hold back. Bring it to the meeting and talk it through.
- Get Curious – Ask questions, seek to understand what others mean (according to their lens of experiences).
ASSIGN ACTION ITEMS
Don’t finish any discussion in the meeting without deciding how to act on it. Listen for key comments that flag potential action items and address them during the meeting. Statements such asWe should really…, that’s a topic for a different meeting…, orI wonder if we could… are examples of comments that may indicate action items to get a task done, hold another meeting or further examine a particular idea. Assigning tasks and projects as they arise during the meeting means that your follow-through will be complete. Addressing off-topic statements during the meeting in this way also allows you to keep the meeting on track. By immediately addressing these statements with the suggestion of making an action item to examine the issue outside of the current meeting, you show meeting participants that you value their input as well as their time. When action items are assigned, ensure an emailed/ written version of who is responsible for what, by when follows the meeting within 24 hours of its conclusion.
Use a “Parking Lot” as a dedicated space to capture items that will not be covered in the meeting. These items should be captured in the notes and, at the end of each meeting, reviewed with the consideration:
When action items are assigned, WHO is responsible for WHAT and by WHEN?
EXAMIN YOUR MEETING PROCESS
Assign the last few minutes of every meeting as time to review the following questions:
What worked well in this meeting? What can we do to improve our next meeting?
Every participant should briefly provide a point-form answer to these questions. Answers to the second question should be phrased in the form of a suggested action. For example, if a participant’s answer is stated as “Jim was too long-winded”, ask the participant to re-phrase the comment as an action. The statement “We should be more to-the-point when stating our opinions”is a more constructive suggestion. Remember – don’t leave the meeting without assessing what took place and making a plan to improve the next meeting!
Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity. A network MCI Conferencing White Paper, 1998.