Guidelines for Effective Meetings
Recent OIT newsletter articles gave suggestions for using OIT resources for conference call meeting management. A few people commented that a quick review of basic meeting management ideas would be helpful for many of us.
Poor meeting organization or behaviors can derail a group and frustrate the membership. Well planned meetings create a sense of team and organization achievement and members appreciate meeting sessions rather than avoid them.
There are many resources available on the web, one in particular being EffectiveMeetings.com. The site has a wide diversity of tips including a meeting calculator to help organizers determine the actual labor cost of meetings.
A good book on the importance of meeting management is Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business by Patrick Lencioni. The book is written in a fable based format that follows a new manager in his role of modifying company meeting behaviors into a more profitable methodology. The book is quite popular and available in most libraries.
Here is a quick summary (adapted from the website meetingwizard.org) of some of the other tips for organizing effective meeting behaviors:
Before The Meeting
- Define the purpose of the meeting.
- Develop an agenda in cooperation with key participants.
- Distribute the agenda and circulate background material, lengthy documents or articles prior to the meeting so members will be prepared and feel involved and up-to-date. Try to distribute the agenda at least one day in advance.
- Choose an appropriate meeting time. Set a time limit and stick to it, if possible. Remember, members have other commitments. They will be more likely to attend meetings if you make them productive, predictable and as short as possible.
- If possible, arrange the room so that members face each other, i.e., a circle or semi-circle. For large groups, try U-shaped rows.
- Choose a location suitable to your group's size. Small rooms with too many people get stuffy and create tension. A larger room is more comfortable and encourages individual expression.
- Use visual aids for interest (e.g., posters, diagrams, etc.). Post a large agenda up front to which members can refer.
- Vary meeting places if possible to accommodate different members. Be sure everyone knows where and when the next meeting will be held.
During The Meeting
- Greet members and make them feel welcome, even late members when appropriate.
- Start on time. End on time.
- Review the agenda and set priorities for the meeting. Ask if anyone has anything to add to the agenda.
- Stick to the agenda. Use a flipchart to capture off topic items that come up and return to them only after completing the original agenda. This is called the ‘parking lot’ method.
- Encourage group discussion to get all points of view and ideas. You will have better quality decisions as well as highly motivated members; they will feel that attending meetings is worth their while.
- Encourage feedback. Ideas, activities and commitment to the organization improve when members see their impact on the decision making process.
- Keep conversation focused on the topic. Feel free to ask for only constructive and non- repetitive comments. Tactfully end discussions when they are getting repetitive, going nowhere or unproductive. Maintain a respectful and business like atmosphere.
- Keep minutes of the meeting for future reference in case a question or problem arises. Minutes should be limited to action items and assignments only and not a word-for-word transcript of discussions.
- As a leader, be a role model by listening, showing interest, appreciation and confidence in members. Admit mistakes.
- Summarize agreements reached and end the meeting on a unifying or positive note. For example, have members volunteer thoughts of things they feel have been good or successful or reiterate the organization's mission.
- Set a date, time, and place for the next meeting.
After The Meeting
- Write up and distribute minutes within 3 or 4 days. Quick action reinforces importance of meeting and reduces errors of memory.
- Follow-up on delegation decisions. See that all members understand and carry-out their responsibilities. It is a good practice to include a review of action items as the first item on the agenda for the next meeting.
- Give recognition and appreciation to excellent and timely progress.
- Put unfinished business on the agenda for the next meeting.
- Conduct a periodic evaluation of the meetings. Note any areas that can be analyzed and improved for more productive meetings. Ask participants what they would like to see ‘more of’ and ‘less of’ in future meeting sessions.
- Some organizations have recently begun scheduling meetings to start 5 minutes after the hour and to end 5 minutes before the hour to allow participants to travel to their next appointment. This may or may not work for your group.
One last suggestion regarding recurring meetings; if there is no reason to hold a meeting; cancel the meeting. If a meeting can end early because the agenda is complete, do so. The members will thank you.