Making Your Meetings Better

By Sid Scott

Here’s the situation. You have been asked to attend a meeting with the boss and others, tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. sharp. You arrive on time and find that others haven't shown up, including the person who called the meeting. You look around for an agenda, but none are to be found. You ask others who are waiting about the purpose of the meeting, and you get some vague guesses--nothing based on fact. Those who arrived on time are now getting restless, fidgeting, checking e-mails, sending texts, working on other stuff, telling jokes. To the person, all are frustrated by the lateness of the leader. Some actually leave the room to go back to their workplaces in order to do something productive.

Suddenly, the leader arrives, apologizes for being late and starts the meeting. He doesn't have a formal agenda, but shares verbally why he called the meeting. He has no handouts, charts or data. Those in attendance look puzzled, but hesitate to ask the leader to clarify. Some attendees continue texting or fidgeting. After a period of time where a few comments are shared, some unrelated to the issues mentioned, the leader says he needs to get to another commitment, and states he will have information sent for review. The meeting is adjourned; people leave frustrated and confused. Some are angry because their day has begun with a negative experience.

Maybe you haven't participated in a meeting exactly as described, but I imagine some of the characteristics apply to meetings you have participated in at your workplace. You might not be able to change the leader we described; however, you can be responsible for your own behavior and for meetings you call. There are ways to avoid these awful things through better planning, taking control of the process and by holding yourself and others accountable.

If you are the leader, or you can help train others, here are tips to make your meetings more productive.

1. Understand what kind of meeting you want to have and prepare accordingly. When we break down the types of meetings, they basically fall into three categories--informational, advice and counsel and problem-solving/decision-making. (See the sidebar.) It's up to the leader to determine the type of meeting and communicate it to participants so all understand their respective roles.

2. Never have a meeting without an agenda. This applies to in-person meetings with one or more persons, quick stand-up meetings called on the spot, telephone conversations, text meetings, instant messaging, teleconferences, etc. Without an agenda, we all wonder and wander.

3. Share information in advance so people know why you are meeting.  This step is critical with advice and counsel and problem-solving meetings where the expectations of participants is increased and needed. Participants will want to review, in advance, any information regarding the topics or issues they are being asked to help address and/or solve. 

4. Start and end on time. All of us are busy. It is rude and selfish to impinge on the valuable time of others you have invited. Leaders who do not start and end on time will lose trust, support and the enthusiasm of others.

5. Make certain everyone is engaged. Ask for their expectations at the start. Remind everyone to turn off phones and other devices that keep us from focusing on the tasks at hand. This includes lap tops and tablets unless specifically being used by the person designated to take minutes for the group. When seeking advice or asking others to help with problem-solving, ask every person to share his or her expectations. It gets them talking and allows for a quick group assessment. 

6. Stick to the agenda. Focus on one thing at a time, but be flexible. Agendas are guidelines; however, the group may want and need to move in another direction. You as leader, or others present, might prefer a different order to the discussion. Encourage everyone to be open, flexible and constructive. The best meetings are when all are engaged. 

7. If some people try to lead the meeting astray, nicely bring them back to the issues. Sometimes, when people are uncomfortable with a topic they will try to interject a comfortable topic, or they will use blocking techniques to get the group sidelined. Remind those present what the topic is, and gently move them back on task. 

8. Have someone keep a record of what was discussed and decided. Minutes are important. This can be done by appointing someone to write or type information on paper or a lap top. It can also be done with chart pads so that all can see what’s being captured. 

9. Review your decisions and assignments before you adjourn. Take a few minutes at the end to review what was decided, and to clarify any assignments that were generated. It is worth the time and critical to group consensus.

10. If a follow-up meeting is anticipated, do a draft agenda while all are present.

11. Make the meeting fun. Meetings can be about serious topics, but productivity increases when the atmosphere is open, supportive and friendly. 

Final words of wisdom: don't meet unless absolutely necessary. But if you must meet, make your meetings more productive, participative and fun. Everyone will thank you.

Meeting type

Purpose

Leader roles

Participants' roles

Decision

Informational

Share information

Present, answer questions

Listen, ask questions

Made in advance of the meeting

Advice and Counsel

Seek input at meeting

Present issue, problem; ask for input, listen

Ask questions, give input

After the meeting by leader or another group

Problem-solving/decision-making

Solve a problem, make a decision

Share problem, data, etc., facilitate discussion

Ask questions, understand, help make decision

By the group at this meeting or asubsequent meeting

Sid Scott, Scott Consultants, LLC
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