Conducting Effective Meetings

Every day in the United States, more than 11 million meetings take place.

This morning I attended a half day seminar on Conducting Effective Meetings. The seminar itself was put on by AAIM (hosted by University of Phoenix in St. Louis) and my attendance was sponsored by a leadership development program that I am a part of at work.

This was the second seminar I’ve attended at AAIM (the first was on Active Listening which spawned my: “You’re Not Even Listening to Me” blog series…still in work) and over all, I’ve been extremely impressed by the content of these seminars.

Now before I continue, I’m going to say that all of this stuff seems like common sense – and it is. But for various reasons, a lot of meetings are still ineffective. A brainstorm session at the beginning of the class on “characteristics of an ideal meeting” blatantly highlighted this fact.

I’ve summarized my take-aways immediately below and have elaborated on each as well.

Keys to an effective meeting:

  1. Establish the Objectives of the Meeting
  2. Have an Agenda
  3. Identify Critical Attendees
  4. Allocate an Appropriate Amount of Time
  5. Maintain Order and Agenda
  6. Prepare
  7. Follow Through

Establish the Objectives of the Meeting

Before you schedule a meeting, ask yourself if you really need to have a meeting. If you don’t have objectives for the meeting (i.e. specific actionable goals that you intend to accomplish), strongly consider if you need to have a meeting at all.

Everything that occurs in the meeting should serve the objectives. Objectives aid in guiding the general direction of the meeting and keep the focus of the group on the purpose of the meeting. Good objectives should be written out in a directive-verb form (to determine, to brainstorm, to inform, etc).

Have an Agenda

This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve been to a lot of meetings that have no agenda and are basically a free-form discussion. So – create an agenda, type it out, and publish it (via email) ahead of time (determining how far in advance is reasonable) so that all of the planned participants have access to it.

An effective agenda should include the date/time/place of the meeting, a list of the invited participants, the meeting objectives, the order of the agenda, and anything specific that the participants may need to bring or do in preparation. Create a template and stick with it. Allow others to get used to the way in which you organize your meetings.

Included in the order of agenda ought to be the agenda items (or topics) themselves as well as an estimated time allocation for each. This provides additional guidance as to what the emphasis of the meeting will be, and aids in staying on task and accomplishing the objectives.

In addition, be sure to print and distribute copies of the agenda to the attendees as the meeting begins so that is in front of them.

Identify Critical Attendees

One of the greatest keys to an effective meeting is ensuring that the right people are in the room. In order to protect this, identify the critical persons who must attend the meeting and upon whom conduction or cancellation of the meeting hinges and ensure that they can attend.

If a certain critical person is flat out not available and his/her attendance in this meeting or a rescheduled one is just not feasible, coordinate individually with that person and get their input so that it can be shared in the group setting.

Allocate an Appropriate Amount of Time

Going through the task of creating an agenda (above) and specifically listing out agenda items and time allocations for each item will greatly guide in this direction. By sitting down ahead of time and thinking through exactly what you want to accomplish and how long it is going to take, you can come up with a proper duration for the meeting.

Don’t try to cram 2 hours of meeting topics into a one hour meeting. Likewise, if you have a 4 hour agenda, consider breaking it up into two separate meetings if appropriate.

The important thing is to allocate plenty of time and provide a structure so that the end of the meeting does not get rushed and so that there is plenty of time to properly draw the meeting to a conclusion (review decisions made, action items required, next meeting time, etc).

Maintain Order and Agenda

Since you’ve gone to the necessary effort of creating an agenda and structuring the time allocation, the least you can do is stick to it. As the leader, it is your responsibility to keep the meeting on task, on agenda, and on time. If you are incapable of keeping things on time, assign a timekeeper to keep things moving.

Having an agenda allows you to side-line discussions that spawn up that you have already allocated time for later in the meeting. It also allows you to make decisions as to how to proceed when the discussion runs over on one of your agenda items. When this occurs, you basically have 3 options. As the leader, you must be the one who determines how to proceed:

  • Finish it up the agenda item you’re on and bump the last item off the agenda. This also requires a careful ordering of your agenda to begin with. A helpful way to structure your order is: critical, important, useful, routine, nice – but not necessary.
  • Move on and come back to this item at the end of the meeting if time permits. If you get to the end of the meeting and time does not permit (or you know already that time will not permit), consider scheduling a separate meeting (with only the required participants) to exclusively discuss this item.
  • Purge ahead and run long. Prior to doing this, I strongly suggest you get buy-in from the group so that everyone agrees running long is acceptable.

Maintaining order also applies to avoiding chaos in the meeting. This boils down to stepping up and being the leader. Invite the attendees to turn off or silence their cell phones. Ensure that multiple conversations are avoided – keep one single thread of communication. Make certain that everyone is being respected. Keep the discussion on point and progressing. Don’t be afraid to use the ELMO acronym: enough, let’s move on. Lastly, control the BMWs of the group (b!%*$-ers, moaners, and whiners) and don’t be drawn in to the emotion.

Prepare

The most effective thing you can do as a leader of a meeting is adequately prepare for it. Depending on the type of meeting, this may include several of the following:

  • Get there early. Have your agendas and any other materials printed out and ready to be distributed. Make sure you’re computer is booted up and the presentation is loaded. Make sure the room is clean and is adequate organized for the number of attendees that will be present.
  • Anticipate questions and problems. Do your homework. Obtain data, do the research, talk to people who you need to talk to.
  • Anticipate volatile situations and have pre-meeting conversations with key persons if necessary. This can serve in two ways: First it serves help them arrive to the meeting better-prepared. Second, it enables the leader to gain some critical buy-in support prior to discussing the tough issue in the context of a larger group.

Follow Through

You can conduct the most effective meeting in the world, but if you don’t follow through, all can be lost.

Before concluding the meeting, be sure to summarize all of the important decisions or conclusions that were made and restate them to get them back into the minds of everyone prior to adjourning. In conjunction with this, review any and all action items, ensure each one has a designated assignee, and determine reasonable completion dates. Close the meeting by thanking everyone for their time and contribution.

Finally, publish minutes to your meetings. This doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list of every word spoken in the meeting, but it should record the date/time/place of the meeting as well as the attendees and, again, the important decisions/conclusions (and, if appropriate, summaries of key discussions that led to those decisions/conclusions) as well as actions items, assignees, and target completion dates. One good way to create an effective set of meeting minutes is to reuse the meeting agenda and edit it, add summaries, and action items as needed.

In addition, if the action item list gets long, it may be appropriate to make use of a spreadsheet with columns for assignee, action item, target completion date, and perhaps status. If a separate spreadsheet is used to track action items, be sure to distribute it with the next agenda, the minutes, or both.

The meeting minutes should also include any plans for additional meetings, list a tentative date for such, and be distributed within a day of the meeting itself.

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~ by toddbumgarner on April 10, 2008 4:32 pm.

One Response to “Conducting Effective Meetings”

  1. It’s amazing how much time is wasted in meetings. When I discuss meeting effectiveness with my clients, groups regularly report that between 25-50% of all meeting time is non-productive.

    This is caused by a wide assortment of issues, including: The lack of planning, the wrong people in attendance, a lack of trust and therefore a lack of candor, conversations that spiral away from the agenda (if there even is one), and the list goes on.

    If people were to follow the strategies listed in this post, meetings could begin to shift from time-wasters to time well spent.

    Merrick Rosenberg | President & Chief Learning Officer
    Team Builders Plus
    1873 Route 70 East, Suite 302 | Cherry Hill, NJ 08003

    856.596.4196 x202

    http://www.TeamBuildersPlus.com
    http://www.TeambuildingInc.com
    http://store.teambuildinginc.com
    http://www.360-DegreeFeedback.com

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