In the first blog in this series , Running Effective Meetings: Getting Started (Part 1) we identified the first phase, Getting Started, and the first 4 Key Actions that should take place, prior to the meeting:
- Define the purpose and desired outcome.
- Determine if a group meeting is necessary.
- Identify who should attend. Define when and where
- Communicate the purpose and desired outcomes to all participants.
- Restate the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting.
Running Effective Meetings: Getting Started (Part 2)
At track meets, you’ll often hear coaches say to their runners, “If you get off to a good start, you’ll run a great race”. This also holds true when “running” meetings.
In this second blog in a series about facilitating effective meetings, we are now ready get the meeting off to a good start so we can run a good race.
Key Actions 5-7
The following 3 Key Actions complete the Getting Started phase. They support the premise that meetings, when carefully prepared and executed, can be extremely productive and motivating to all participants.
Participants should already be aware of the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting, either from your written or verbal announcement. Nevertheless, restating the intent at the start of the meeting serves as a reminder; it establishes focus and direction. Participants feel more confident that their time will be well spent. You do this by summarizing, in your own words, the purpose and desired outcomes as communicated in Key Action 4. This is also a great opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings by asking questions like:
- “Does anyone have questions or comments about our task for this meeting?” or
- “I want to be sure everyone is clear on what we intend to accomplish at this session. Are there any questions before we get started?”
Reviewing the agenda helps refocus people’s attention on the meeting itself. This allows the participants the opportunity to ask questions, add information, or include individual items of concern. By encouraging the sharing of group expectations, you have already begun the process of group and individual participation. If you are conducting an impromptu meeting, creating an agenda on the spot helps guarantee that you and the group are on the same wavelength. Participants also gain a better sense of how much time they should devote to each item. Reviewing the agenda helps participants leave behind the distractions they walked in with and begin to focus on the meeting and the task at hand. The following are some Best Practices when creating an agenda:
- Decide how you will make decisions.
e.g., “Let’s try for consensus regarding the topics we need to cover”.
- Note available time.
e.g., “We have two hours. I plan to end the meeting at noon.”
- Invite input.
Ask participants to list agenda items that support the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting. Be sure to note these items and make them visible for everyone to see.
- Briefly specify what you want to accomplish with each topic and decide who is responsible for the outcome.
- Establish time slots for the new items. (Time slots should have been established for the original agenda items.)
- Prioritize the order of topics. Generally, put the most important items first, particularly if you’re constrained for time. If a key person can only be present for part of the meeting, ensure those items are discussed while they are in the meeting.
Ground rules are basic “rules of engagement” and have several beneficial effects. First, they encourage the development of positive group standards. More importantly, they openly state expectations regarding this positive behavior and the kind of participation desired. Ground rules can help eliminate or reduce negative behaviours, particularly in a newly formed group. This gives the facilitator and participants a method of handling unacceptable behavior. Ground rules also establish the facilitator’s role in managing the group process.
It often helps to have a general idea of the kinds of ground rules you will want to establish for your meeting. Consider the following:
- The kind of participation climate you’d like to establish, i.e., “actively participate”, “feel free to question”, etc.
- The need for open expression of opinion and ideas without regard to rank in the organization
- The examination of an idea’s potential and possibilities before being critical of it
- Open to other’s ideas without judgement or put-downs
- Share air time equally
- Listen without interruptions
- Look at issues from a total organizational perspective, versus, “what’s best for me or my group”
- Use of electronic devises*
- Start and end times
- Budget constraints
*Laptops for note-taking: A study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer looked at note-taking habits of college students from Princeton and UCLA. Students watched a 15-minute TED talk video, taking notes along the way. Researchers compared those who took notes by hand and those who took notes on their laptop and found that while the factual recall of knowledge was similar, the conceptual recall had a clear winner. Those who took notes by hand did significantly better on understanding concepts. Beyond a better understanding of concepts, a “no-laptop rule” in meetings (other than to share required data related to the topic) helps with focus and attention.
Cell phones: If meetings are short, focused and efficient, there should be no time to check cell phones. Sometimes a participant is on-call and is required to be reachable at all times. In these cases—which are exceptions and not the rule—the phone should be on vibrate. The reasons for creating a no-cell-phone ground rule might seem obvious (texts, emails, games which detract from the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting) but research from the Marshall School of Business supports cell phone use is almost always frowned upon by coworkers.
- 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
- 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings
- 75% think it’s inappropriate to read texts or emails during meetings
One final Best Practice in getting your meeting off to a good start is the assignment of roles for managing the meeting more effectively.
Recorder: Usually someone is responsible for taking notes or capturing ideas and suggestions on a flipchart.
Timekeeper: This individual sees that time commitments are kept in the meeting by announcing when the time allowed for an item is over or the meeting is nearing the end.
The meeting facilitator can perform both these roles but it is usually better to delegate them. This allows the facilitator to focus their attention totally to process and engaging the participants in meeting the desired outcomes.
With these important beginning tasks accomplished, the facilitator effectively sets the stage to go through the agenda topics of the meeting.
Next Blog in the Series
In our third blog in this series, we will look at how we can keep the meeting moving forward to a point where we can generate action and conclude successfully. For information on how to enroll in Facilitation Skills: Running Effective Meetings, please e-mail Geoff Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org.