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Article No.: 1902, February 1, 2019

Article Title: Leading Effective Meetings

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, CEQC

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So, how many meetings have you left this past month that you thought were a waste of time – and they were YOUR meetings?!  Now is a good time to reflect on how you plan and structure meetings, as well as whether you’re setting up meetings that have no real purpose.Dr. Linda Gravett photo

In 2017-18 I led several focus groups around the country and asked 1,500 people whether they really were engaged in meetings or if they used that time for other tasks.  90% of the focus group participants reported that they daydreamed, prepared their grocery list, or texted during most meetings.  60% of the participants admitted that most meetings they attended were a complete waste of their time.

My personal experience with meetings is that they fail when there’s no plan or agenda for what will be covered; only low priority items are addressed when more pressing issues should be discussed first; there are too many topics squeezed into too small a time frame; and interruptions are mishandled.  I’ll bet some of these issues sound familiar.

On the other hand, the most effective meetings I’ve attended recently achieve the stated objectives; take up a minimum amount of time because the discussion is focused and on point; and leave participants with a sense that a process was followed.  You can achieve this, too.

The first question I ask myself when planning a meeting is, “What does success look like?”  This means I need to reflect on what people should know or be able to do by the meeting’s conclusion.  My motto is:  Meet your objective or don’t meet at all.

In preparing for a meeting, I suggest you think about whether the purpose is to share information; gather information; problem solve; make a decision; or strategize a project.  This will help determine the direction you take.  For example, if the purpose is to share information only, this can be accomplished through an email, memo, or other method.

A thoughtful agenda is the starting point.  Considerations when establishing an agenda are:

  •  What absolutely must be covered? 
  • What has to be accomplished? 
  • Who needs to attend in order for objectives to be met? 
  • In what order should topics be addressed? 
  • What is the allotted time required to cover the topics?  

I like to start out positively and strong in my meetings, to minimize the possibility that negative participants will come in dragging their baggage and sucking the air out of the room before the meeting gets off the ground.  One recommendation is to start with a Round of Good News – with each person sharing a one to two-minute piece of good news about an assignment, a customer story, or even great personal news such as an engagement.  Another way to start a meeting on a positive note is to recognize an anniversary or birthday.

I like to have meeting participants take 3 or 4 minutes to develop a Code of Conduct for the time we’ll be together.  (If this is a project meeting, we may already have one previously established, which I’ll post as a reminder.)  Some sample items are:

  •  Start on time/End on Time 
  • One person talks at a time 
  • 100% participation is expected 
  • Cell phones are on vibrate or silenced

One of the biggest mistakes I observe during meetings is when the meeting leader tries to lead and facilitate meetings at the same time.  The role of the leader is to establish an agenda, guide the participants through the agenda, and ensure closure at the end (when everyone knows what their role is as a take-away from the meeting).  The facilitator works with the leader to design ways to accomplish the agenda through activities such as affinity diagramming or dialogue mapping.  His or her role is to encourage even-handed participation.

If you’d like to gauge success over time to see if your meetings are improving, email me and I’ll be happy to share my Meeting Scorecard:

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