“Oh brother! Another meeting!!!! Just the word “meeting” can give way to images of boredom, daydreaming and frustration. I have found, however, that much of the frustration is in the lack of proper preparation prior to the meeting, and a lack of effective facilitation during the meeting. When prior preparation and facilitation are done well, the time spent in meetings can actually make projects better and strengthen the work of the organization.
Here are 10 Suggestions for effective meetings:
1. Know the Meeting’s Objective – An effective meeting serves its purpose by hitting the desired target. This means you are attempting to achieve a desired outcome. For the meeting to hit its target you have to be clear about what it is. Do you want a decision? Do you want to generate ideas? Are you getting status reports? Are you communicating something? Are you making plans? Any of these, and a myriad of others, is an example of a meeting objective. To help you determine what your meeting objective is, complete this sentence: At the close of the meeting, I want the group to . . .
2. Establish and Use Ground Rules – Ground rules are explicit rules that the group agrees to follow to help them facilitate productive discussions. The ground rules should be written down on easel pad paper and taped to the wall for everyone to see. Ground rules lay out the expectations of “the way things should be done at meetings.”
3. Start on time, end on time. People appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable. When a meeting begins on time and ends on time, you will be amazed how many people will make every effort to attend your meetings. The ending time is just as important as the start time. If there are items on the agenda that have not been addressed table them for the next meeting. You want to gain the reputation of someone who starts and ends promptly.
4. Stick to your schedule. Create an agenda that lays out everything you plan to cover in the meeting, along with a timeline that allots a certain number of minutes to each item. This serves as your roadmap and time stamps that keep you on track.
5. Keep conversation focused on the topic. Feel free to ask for only constructive and non- repetitive comments. Tactfully end discussions when they are getting nowhere or becoming destructive or unproductive. You can do this by using an Ideas Bin. A “bin” consists of blank sheets (one or two) torn from an easel pad and taped to the wall. Any idea that is unrelated to the current topic is written on the easel pad paper (i.e., placed in the bin). The bin serves two valuable purposes: 1) it stores valuable ideas for consideration at an appropriate and convenient time, and 2) it allows discussion to stay focused on the agenda topic. Using the bin is an effective way to keep discussion focused and it helps people hold onto their thoughts and ideas without being disruptive to the meeting. Explain the use of the bin at the beginning of the meeting. During the meeting the team leader or the facilitator should record bin items as they come up, or participants should record their own bin items when they feel discussion is getting off track.
6. Encourage feedback. Ideas, activities and commitment to the organization improve when others see their impact on the decision making process.
7. Control dominating individuals – Make sure each individual has a fair chance of expressing ideas and opinions. Do not let one person dominate the discussion. Of equal importance is to ensure that quiet participants are expressing their ideas and opinions.
8. Ban/limit technology. The reality is that if people are allowed to bring phones, iPads, etc. into the room, they won’t be focusing on the meeting or contributing to it. Instead, they’ll be emailing, surfing the web, or just playing around with their technology.
9. Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or Action Items. We love Action Items here, but we’re not the only ones. From Apple to the Toastmasters, the world’s most successful organizations demand that attendees leave meetings with actionable tasks.
10. Follow up. It’s quite common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk, email a memo highlighting what was accomplished to all who attended within 24 hours after the meeting. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, and any assigned deadlines. That way, everyone will be on the same page.