In last week’s blog we identified several reasons why meetings are often a waste of time.
FKA’s Facilitation Skills: Running Effective Meetings program identifies key actions that allow the meeting facilitator and organizers to effectively plan and establish a clear framework for governing their meetings.
The framework identifies crucial actions around three key phases: 1. Getting Started; 2. Keeping Moving; and 3. Generating Action and Concluding. The following summarizes the key actions needed for success in the Getting Started phase.
Key Actions: Prior to the Meeting
- Define the purpose and desired outcomes. When a clear purpose and the desired outcomes are not identified for a meeting, participants’ time and talents are wasted, an underlining feeling of frustration and potential resentment sets in, and participants fail to contribute their best efforts. When we don’t know where we’re going, we too often address the wrong issues or address the right issues the wrong way. The purpose of a meeting is the reason why one is called in the first place. The desired outcomes are the objectives. They identify what you hope the meeting will achieve. For instance, you might call a meeting for the purpose of informing your people of a procedural change that must be implemented in the next two weeks. The desired outcomes for the meeting might be to receive verbal commitments from everyone on when they plan to begin the implementation process, and to describe possible road blocks that might develop.
Answer the following questions to specify your purpose and desired outcomes.
- What are your topics?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- What do you expect the participants to do?
You might expect participants to contribute: information, ideas, questions, suggestions, recommendations, decisions, commitment, feedback.
- Determine if a group meeting is necessary. After deciding what you wish to accomplish, you can then determine whether to hold a meeting. Many meetings are called without a clear picture of the objectives, therefore wasting time for everyone involved. If the results can be obtained as well in other less time-consuming ways, then a meeting should not be held.
Ask yourself a few basic questions.
- Does the subject warrant a meeting?
Some situations suited to a group meeting may include: the subject is complex and of a serious nature to the goals of the organization; people receiving the information are interdependent; no one person has all the information; group acceptance of the decision is important to make it work; complex problems need to be solved.
- Is a meeting the best way to get this result?
Can it be handled by an email or report? by some brief phone calls? Or holding brief one-on-one discussions?
- Will I accomplish my objectives in a group meeting at this time?
Is their sufficient preparation to take the group’s time? Is the timing right? Would it be better to wait for more data?
- Does the subject warrant a meeting?
- Identify who should attend. Define when and where. Thoughtful decisions about who, when and where will help avoid some of the common meeting problems identified earlier. These decisions also correlate directly with the quality of the meeting outcome. Who needs to attend, should be those with relevant information or expertise and those who will make the final decision, as well as people who are affected by or will carry out the decision. How large should the group be, should also be considered. For example, if extensive participation is required, you may want to limit the group size. The upper limit should be no more than 15; six or seven is preferable, according to the Harvard Business Review. Overall meeting size can be reduced by inviting some participants to attend only the parts of the meeting relevant to them. A second option is to have one person represent a group of people from a business unit/department. Scheduling the meeting must take into account your organization’s needs, participants’ schedules and the availability of suitable meeting facilities.
The following are best practices concerning when a meeting should be held:
- Hold important decision making/problem solving meetings when people have higher energy.
- Give adequate advanced notice, especially if attendees need to prepare.
- Set the length of the meeting based on the agenda items and any time constraints.
- Communicate the purpose and desired outcomes to all participants. Announcing your intentions for the meeting ahead of time, either in writing or verbally, eliminates the confusion and minimizes surprises. Participants arrive better prepared to contribute. Create and send out a copy of the agenda at least two or three days in advance. Encourage participants to suggest additional items. This generates involvement and commitment. Ensure to communicate that additional items must relate to the purpose and desired outcomes. The agenda, which includes the meeting objectives, discussion topics and logistics, is a crucial meeting facilitation tool. Like GPS or a road map, it will guide you throughout the meeting, keeping you on track and on time. An article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that following a detailed agenda and starting on time would reduce the time people spend in meetings by 80%. Interesting note, The University of Arizona’s Teamwork study reported that 63% of the time, typical meetings do not have agendas. An agenda, as a minimum, should always include:
- The name of the person who called the meeting
- Date, start and end times
- Location of the meeting
- Materials, data and reports required at the meeting
- The purpose and objectives of each topic
Taking time to plan the meeting is a critical success factor that ensures your meetings are effective and not time-wasters.
Part 2 of this Series
There are five blogs in this series about running effective meetings. In our next blog, we will look at how to create a participative climate at the beginning of the meeting, as well as the key actions that keep the session discussion focused and on track, so you can accomplish your purpose and desired outcomes.