In the first two blogs in this series about running effective meetings we identified the first phase, Getting Started, and the 7 Key Actions that should take place, prior to the working part of 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. Blog Part 1
- Restate the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting.
- Review or create the meeting agenda.
- Define or review the meeting ground rules. Blog Part 2
Running Effective Meetings: Keeping Moving
Meetings seem to be getting longer, less efficient and are generating fewer results. It appears that more meetings are needed to accomplish objectives but with so much time spent on less effective meetings, people have less time to get their own work done.
So why does this problem exist? As we saw from our earlier blogs in this series, usually it’s a lack of preparation. There is a direct correlation between preparation time and meeting productivity, specifically, in preparing materials and the agenda.
Many participants feel that meetings are unfocused, off topic and generally unproductive.
Let’s look at some key actions that facilitators can use to: (1) keep the discussion focused and on track, (2) maintain an appropriate meeting pace, and (3) reach topic conclusions that support the agenda.
Keep the meeting moving or participants will say goodbye!
1. Focus discussion on purpose and desired outcomes. Much time is wasted in meetings because irrelevant information is dumped into the discussions. We have all been in meetings where the group has wandered from one topic to another, including the discussion of topics that are not part of the agenda. Irrelevant information is discussed for long periods of time with no apparent direction in sight. Even when the purpose and outcomes have been communicated, the facilitator’s ability to know when and how to intervene is essential for keeping the discussion on track. Effective facilitators recognize if the discussion is off target or if it’s time to refocus the discussion.
The following are questions that facilitators ask themselves before deciding to take decisive action.
- Is the discussion drifting off into left field?
- Are we losing the focus of this agenda item?
- Is the discussion focusing on trivia?
- Is the discussion moving from point to point without resolution?
- Are participants referring to previously presented items in the middle of later discussions?
Effective facilitators will redirect the discussion by asking questions or making statements that will lead the discussion back to the objectives of the specific agenda topic or general purpose of the meeting. For example:
- “Jim was giving us an update on the new order entry procedure and we’re now talking about customer reaction to our invoicing system. It seems we’ve strayed from our original topic.”
- “Let’s review what has been said to this point in our discussion. Bill, would you please summarize for the group?”
2. Maintain a balanced meeting pace. Even when the discussion is focused on the objective, the meeting must move at an appropriate pace. We recognise that time is a precious commodity and can’t be wasted. However, there are two situations to avoid:
- firing through agenda items and reaching conclusions too quickly
- having a discussion that is bogging down and appears that it will never end
Both cause problems and waste time. Maintaining a balanced pace will stimulate ideas as well as get better involvement and results.
You’ll know when the discussion is moving too quickly when:
- Rapid conclusions are reached with little discussion
- Not everyone has had sufficient opportunity to give opinions or ask questions
- Not enough data has been generated.
You will know when it’s time to pick up the pace when:
- The group is groping for ideas
- The same information and ideas are being rehashed
- Energy levels are dropping
- People look bored or tired
3. Reach conclusions as you go. Productive meetings occur when conclusions are reached throughout the meeting. It’s a process that happens as each topic is discussed. When left ‘til the end, earlier ideas are often forgotten and important points are lost. When you break the meeting down into “achievable chunks” that correspond to your agenda topics, you are reinforcing a positive direction towards your desired results.
Remember, reaching conclusions as you go, could simply mean making a summary of the discussion that took place to that point.
Running Effective Meetings: Generating Action and Concluding
Simply keeping the meeting moving does not ensure you will see results; you need to generate actions and end the meeting. Most of us have attended meetings where a lot more was said than done and we became weary of the long tedious discussions that led nowhere!
The following key actions show how to develop workable action plans and how to effectively conclude the meeting.
1. Specify what actions need to be taken. Effective facilitators must clearly specify the necessary action steps to be taken, otherwise, resolution and plans simply won’t happen. Too often the participants of the meeting understand the resolutions reached but the facilitator neglects to identify the necessary action and means by which they will be achieved. Decisions occur during the meeting and actions occur after the meeting. To be effective, the facilitator needs to list the steps or what need to be done, and put them in priority order. For more complex situations, the facilitator will need to seek group support to help identify the steps to be taken in implementing the decision.
2. Make specific assignments with clear completion dates.
Determine who will do what and by when. Without clear task assignments and completion dates, plans tend to dissipate. Other priorities and pressures can take precedence causing lengthy delays.
3. Agree on how to monitor progress and evaluate outcomes.
Assignments do not guarantee implementation. A clear plan to monitor and evaluate outcomes after a reasonable time ensures a greater likelihood of effective implementation and success.
4. Conclude and ask for an evaluation of the meeting.
Summarizing decisions and commitments reminds the meeting participants of their assigned tasks. A brief evaluation at the end of the meeting also allows participants to comment on what went well and what needs improvement for future meetings.
Effective meetings do not just happen. They require careful planning, execution and follow-up.
In our fourth blog, we will look at some Best Practices on how we can encourage constructive participation in our meetings. For more information on how to enroll in Facilitation skills: Running Effective Meetings, please email Geoff Nolan email@example.com.