Meetings…..Are They the Bane of Your Existence?

February 13, 2016 by  

Do you groan whenever certain people in your office call a meeting?
Do you feel that too much of your valuable time is wasted in meetings?
Do you keep checking your watch and daydream about being on a on a sunny beach far away from the meeting room?
Well, haven’t we all! But as frustrated as you might be attending ineffective meetings, are you equally guilty of running them yourself?

Most people really dislike meetings because they generally come away feeling it was a complete waste of time. The reason for this is quite simple, most people do not know how to run an effective, results-oriented meeting with a well-paced agenda and specific outcomes. In addition, when asked to arrange and chair one, it is often assumed that they know how to do it well.
Sure, most of us have attended lots of meetings, however that does not mean that we know how to organize and run it well.
Running an effective meeting requires more than just sending out a notice to your team to meet at a particular time and place. Really good meetings need structure and order. Without these key elements they often go on and on and do not accomplish anything, other than boring and frustrating the attendees.
You need to have a clear objective in mind, a tightly timed agenda, and a commitment to involving the meeting participants in the planning, preparation, and execution of the meeting. If you fulfill those points you will be well on your way to chairing great meetings.
Given the frustration most people feel when their time is wasted, gaining a reputation for running efficient and successful meetings will be good for you and advantageous for your career.

Here are some tips on how to do it well…..
Consider that great meetings really boil down to three items:
1. The meeting’s objective is achieved.
2. The meeting takes a minimum amount of time.
3. The participants leave feeling that a sensible process was followed and specific results were accomplished.
If you structure your meeting planning, preparation, execution, and follow up employing these three basic criteria, the outcome will be an effective, results-oriented meeting.
1. Let’s look at the meeting’s objective:
An effective meeting need to serve some sort of useful purpose so that a desired outcome is achieved. For a meeting to fulfill this outcome, or objective, it must be clear to everyone what it is.

Here are some choices of what that objective might be:

• Do you desire a specific decision?
• Do you wish to generate ideas for a specific project?
• Are you sharing status reports?
• Are you communicating a specific message?
• Are you making plans for a new project?
With the end result clearly defined, you can then plan the agenda and determine who should be invited to attend.

2. Next, be sure to use the meeting time wisely.
As time is a most precious resource to all of us, and because no one wants to feel that their time wasted, you must try to keep the agenda short enough so that it can be covered in an hour, if possible, or two at the most.
The reason is this, most people cannot focus for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, so you need to try to design your agenda items so that they can be dealt with in that time frame….as much as possible.
In addition, you must start and end on time so that people will feel that you respected the time they set aside to attend your meeting. By the way, if you constantly start your meetings late and run over the specified time frame, you will find that attendees will start arriving late and even leaving early.

3. When preparing your agenda consider the following factors:
Priorities – what absolutely must be covered?
Results – what do you need to accomplish at the meeting?
Participants – who needs to attend the meeting for it to be successful?
Sequence – in what order will you cover the topics?
Timing – how much time will be spend on each topic?
Date and Time – when will the meeting take place?
Place – where will the meeting take place?

With these items you want to also remember that it is best to put the most pressing “high brain” items at the beginning of the meeting when everyone is freshest.
You need to be sure that all attendees are clear on the objectives, that if anyone is required to give a report that they have been notified ahead of time, sent a report form to fill out and given a very specific time allotment for their report.
You also want to be sure that the time and place are convenient, distraction free and available for your meeting.
Finally, it is good practice to actually time the meeting from the end to the beginning, allowing time for each item and noting it on your personal copy so that you can keep an eye on the clock to be sure you are staying on time. If you notice that time is running out for a particular item, consider hurrying the discussion, pushing to a decision, deferring the discussion for another time, or assigning it for discussion by a subcommittee.
In addition, if you have a contention issue to deal with, a special meeting should be arranged with a very clear process articulated to the attendees of exactly how the meeting will be run, how much time it will take and that the outcome or objective will be a final vote on the decision arrived at by the information presented.
Overambitious agendas are a real turn off and rarely accomplished. The same is true for meetings with no agenda…..they can be truly deadly, for when there is no clear plan or objective you tend to run on and on and go round and round….very unsatisfying to everyone!
Here are some examples of the focus a meeting could take:
If the meeting is to solve a specific problem, then ask the participants to come prepared with a viable solution.
If you are discussing an ongoing project, have each participant summarize his or her progress to date and circulate the reports amongst members ahead of time. Then you can allow some time for questions or comments on the circulated reports.
Assigning a particular topic of discussion to various people is another great way to increase involvement and interest. On the agenda, indicate who will lead the discussion or presentation of each item.

4. Satisfying participants that a sensible process has been followed is good practice.

If possible, try to circulate the prepared agenda to the participants ahead of time so that you can get their feedback and input.
Once the meeting has begun, to ensure that maximum satisfaction will be achieved for everyone, here are some factors to keep in mind:
• If certain people are dominating the conversation, make a point of asking others for their ideas. If there continues to be domination, interruptions or even disrespectful exchanges during the meeting, you may want to consider formulating “meeting rules” that everyone agrees upon and then if a rule is contravened, you can just nicely remind the person what was agreed upon.
• At the end of each agenda item, quickly summarize what happened, and for confirmation that it was a fair summary. Be sure someone is making notes regarding the necessary follow-ups.
• Note items that will require further discussion.
• Watch the body language of the attendees and make the necessary adjustments. Maybe a short break would be in order, or you may need to stop someone from speaking too much.
• Ensure the meeting stays on topic.
• List all tasks that are generated at the meeting, who is assigned to do what, and what the time line is.
• At the close of the meeting, quickly summarize next steps and inform everyone that you will be sending out a meeting summary.
After the meeting is over, take time to debrief and determine what went well and what could have been done better. Evaluate the meeting’s effectiveness based on how well you met the objective. This will help you to improve your meetings. You may even want to get the participants’ feedback. Depending on the time frame, this debriefing can be done within the meeting itself or afterwards.

Finally, prepare the meeting summary. This will be forwarded to all participants and other stakeholders. It is a record of what was accomplished and who is responsible for what as the team moves forward. This is a very crucial part of effective meetings that often gets overlooked. You need a written record of what transpired, along with a list of actions that named individuals have agreed to perform. Make sure someone is assigned to take notes during the meeting.

Remember, running an effective meeting requires careful and thoughtful planning so that everyone will leave feeling that the objective was reached and in a timely fashion. That means that the chair needs to keep track of time, control the discussion, summarize the outcomes and arrange for whatever follow up and task assignments have been decided.

Meetings have gotten a bad rap, because many meetings are unproductive and dull. However, that does not have to be the case and as they are both necessary and can produce a high potential in small and large businesses need to be done effectively. Good meetings can increase your productivity, efficiency, customer service, and bottom line.

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