Effective Meetings Part Four of Six (Review and continued discussion)

To briefly summarize parts one through three:

1 Effective meetings require planning and structure. They don’t just happen.

2 It’s important to think through the purpose or desired outcome of the meeting, and determine if a group meeting will accomplish it.

3 If a group meeting is necessary, the leader should identify who should attend.

4 The next step is to communicate the purpose of the meeting along with an agenda to the attendees.

5 At the beginning of the meeting:

-restate the purpose of the meeting

-ask for any questions about the purpose of the meeting

-review the agenda and ask if there should be any changes or additions

-note the available time

-Define or review ground rules for the meeting

Let’s continue our discussion.

Meetings typically have common pitfalls and traps that turn a well-intentioned meeting into a waste of time. One very common pitfall or trap is the one where short discussions turn into lengthy meetings with little results. In the first part of this series I told you the story about the Grand Rapids meeting. Although the meeting was supposed to provide meaningful interaction between the facilitator and the participants it did not happen. The meeting became lengthy because it had not been thought through and organized in advance.

Solutions:

-Prepare and organize in advance. Prepare a checklist of what is required for the meeting (participants, equipment, location, materials, etc.).

-Stay focused on the purpose of the meeting and what must be accomplished.

-Follow the agenda and maintain the proper relationship between agenda topics and time available.

-Distinguish between valuable discussion and discussion that’s not. Is the discussion focused on the purpose of the meeting and the agenda items? If it is then its probably valuable, but make
participants aware of time limits and constraints so they can assist in limiting the discussion. This is a difficult skill to learn, but it will improve with the leader’s knowledge of the topic and the leaders experience in facilitating meetings.

Effective Meetings —Part Three of Six

4 Communicate the purpose and desired outcomes to all participants. This helps eliminate confusion and surprises. This can be done formally or informally. Prepare and send an agenda at least 2 to 3 days ahead of the meeting. If it’s an impromptu meeting construct the agenda at the meeting.

Beginning the meeting.

5 Restate purpose and desired outcome(s) of the meeting. Be sure to ask for questions to clear up any misunderstandings.

6 Review the agenda or create one (if it’s an impromptu meeting). When creating an agenda:

-Note available time. Do not overload the agenda so that the meeting ends with agenda items not covered or with meeting times violated.

-Invite input.

-Prioritize topics; most important items first or last depending on agenda topics (could help set the tone for the more important decisions).

7 Define or review the meeting ground rules. Ground rules set the tone for how the meeting will be conducted and have beneficial effects because they encourage positive group standards. Openly state expectations regarding behavior and facilitator control. Come prepared with your own list of ground rules to stimulate discussion. Here are some ground rules to consider:

-Participation in the meeting discussion

-The need for open expression

-Behavior boundaries including preventing put-downs

-Sharing discussion and listening

-Encouraging and supporting behavior

-Time limits

-Money constraints

-Confidentiality

Effective Meetings Part TWO of Six

2 Determine if a group meeting is necessary. After deciding what needs to be accomplished, determine whether a group meeting is necessary. Usually this process gets reversed by deciding to have a meeting and then deciding what will be discussed thereby wasting valuable time and energy.

How do we decide if a meeting is necessary? Ask:

-Does the subject warrant a meeting?

-Is it a complex subject, and no one person has all the information?

-Are the people attending interdependent, and “buy-in” and commitment, are important.

-Will a meeting attain the desired result?

-Can it be handled by routing a memo, a phone call, posting a notice, or holding one-on-one discussions?

-Will I accomplish my purpose and desired outcomes in a group meeting?

-Is there sufficient time to prepare?

-Is the timing right, or would it be better to wait for more data, or for a more appropriate time?

3 Identify meeting participants and determine when and where to meet. Who attends, where the meeting will be held, and when it will be held will affect the quality of the meeting’s outcome.

When planning your meeting, ask the following questions?

-Who should attend? Consider those with relevant information, those who will make the decision, those who will carry out the decision, those who may interfere with implementation, and all members of a team, staff or task force.

-Who would be desirable to have in attendance? Individuals with higher functional responsibility, those with general interest, and those affected indirectly should be considered.

-How large should the group be? It really depends on the meeting format. If the group is going to make decisions the number should be five to nine. Why? Fewer than five may not generate enough information or enough discussion. More than nine may create too much information and too many opinions.

-When should the meeting be held? Consider high energy times, giving participants plenty of advance notice and specific meeting times.

-Where should it be held? Consider accessibility and room facilities (lighting, noise levels, acoustics, size).

Effective Meetings, Part One of Six

Productive meetings don’t just happen. They require planning and structure to be effective. Chances are you have been part of a potentially valuable meeting that didn’t reach its potential. Why, what caused it to be ineffective? Consider the following reasons:

-A key person was absent (the person had important information, or needed to be there before a final decision could be reached).

-The meeting did not have a published agenda (it wasn’t available before the meeting or at the meeting).

-Meeting participants did not understand the objectives or purpose of the meeting.

-Participants were not prepared for the meeting and had unclear expectations (they were not sure why they were invited).
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-The meeting facilities were poor (poor lighting, too crowded, uncomfortable seating arrangements, or unsatisfactory acoustics).

-Equipment or materials necessary to conduct the meeting were missing due to lack of planning or follow-through.

-The facilitator was unprepared.

-Starting and ending time were disregarded.

I remember going to a meeting in Grand Rapids where the facilitator was supposed to ask for feedback from the audience on a variety of topics, and then record them on a flip chart. The problem was the facilitator arrived late, did not have flip chart paper to record the information on, and did not have a marker to write with. How would you guess the meeting went?

Taking the time to plan will prevent these kinds of frustrating experiences. The following key actions will help you prepare and will help you establish an effective framework for conducting your meetings.

Prior to the meeting (think through the following steps and plan accordingly):

1 Define the purpose and desired outcomes. Why are we having a meeting? Where are we going with this meeting, and what are trying to accomplish? Valuable time and talent will be wasted without answering these questions. What are desired outcomes? Answer the following questions to develop a desired outcome(s):

-What are the topics that will be discussed in the meeting?

-What do you want to accomplish as a result of the meeting?

-What do you expect participants to do? Contribute information, ideas, questions, suggestions, make recommendations, decisions, make commitment(s), provide feedback?