Monday, June 14, 2010

Three Steps to Running Better Meetings

There are good meetings, bad meetings, and meetings where those in attendance would rather jump from the windows than sit through one more wasted minute.

If you work for a company larger than one person, serve on a volunteer committee / board, or belong to any type of organization then you will eventually have to sit through a meeting. There is a lot written about the effectiveness and necessity of meetings, but there is no reason why meetings should not be more productive. No meeting should be a waste of time for anyone in attendance.

I cannot estimate the number of meetings I have attended. The common denominator of a good meeting rests in the hands of the person in charge. Clear communication of goals, respect for all in the room (or on the phone line), and holding to a time limit can all be a reality. If the meeting sucks, you can be sure that the leader is not really in charge.

Here are my three suggestions to running better meetings:

1. Be sure the meetings is necessary, and how often a group should meet. Meeting for the sake of meeting is dumb. But not all meetings are a waste of time, but some of them are just held out of routine or a feeling that a group "should meet". There are reasons why groups need to gather to discuss important issues, but every organization must be careful not to overburden members with meetings.

A law firm of 25 lawyers had a consultant recommend they create 17 different management committees within the firm. The idea was each committee could meet monthly to discuss individual issues pertaining to the organization's future success. WHAT? So much for servicing clients. The lawyers would have spent much of their time planning for meetings, attending meetings, re-capping meetings or figuring out how they could avoid meetings.

2. Have a written agenda with time frames. You should never plan a meeting that does not have a pre-determined agenda that is distributed to all attendees in advance (a minimum of three hours in advance all should be emailed the agenda). Make sure that those who will be attending know the deadline to submit items for discussion in advance. Be clear that there may not be time for items not pre-approved for the agenda. You must allow for really important issues to be added while simultaneously avoiding rambling about unplanned topics that are not pertinent.

Have a start time and finish time for the meeting along with approximate time for each topic spelled out on the agenda. If the time for discussion needs to go longer for any one item, make sure the group agrees to extend the discussion. If the topic can be tabled until the next meeting, do it. When agreement is reached to extend discussion, and all are aware that this will make the whole meeting run longer, people will not gripe about the length of the meeting. Do not cut items lower on the agenda to make up for time.

3. Have time set aside to discuss underlying issues that might effect the group. Let members know if they have any issues with any items or individuals that they are required to bring them up at this point in the meeting. No organization can prosper if there is gossip, back biting, or secret "bitch sessions". Establish a culture where it is safe for people to share their views, while those on the other side are not instantly offended by what is said. If the group all understands the common goal, and egos can be left in check, then discussing problems does not have to be a negative or hurtful experience.

This is a hard thing to do, as sometimes people are often either too harsh in sharing their critical view points, or too sensitive to what others say. However, when a group can have an respectful airing of issues, then you will be more productive in future. When people harbor resentment and stew about things between meetings, everyone loses. This may require an education process for the whole group and strong moderation by the leader, but if done correctly this step can lead to the creation of a highly productive team.

If you leave the success of meetings to chance then you get whatever result you get. If you pre-plan and take ownership of running a better meeting then all in attendance (including the leader) will benefit from an effective and productive use of their time. You cannot hide from a bad meeting procedures.... and you do not want to encourage people to jump from the windows..

Have A Great Day.



David Morris said...

How do we do against these criteria?

Eugene Sepulveda said...

I haven't done this but Steven suggest making everyone stand and scheduling for no more than 20 mins.

I did recently announce that I'm done with meetings without resulting action items