All too often meetings are unproductive, demotivating and a waste of time. Whether you are a member of a community group, a parents association, a team leader or chairperson of a board – every meeting needs somebody in charge; to manage time, manage content, stay on track and record outcomes.
The tips below should help your meetings run more efficiently:
Does this require a meeting?
Do we need to meet at all? A fundamental question that we don’t ask often enough – Can the issue be dealt with by email? Can I record a short video or voicemail? Can this become an agenda item for another meeting?
Do I need to attend?
Can I delegate this? Could it be a learning opportunity for someone on the team? Is it sufficient for me to review the minutes or agreed actions? Do I need to attend the entire meeting, or just a section?
Who else is required?
This will a good indication of how important the meeting is (or isn’t)
What is the structure?
Is this a formal meeting? A huddle? A walking meeting? A lunch meeting? Where is the agenda? How much time is allocated? There’s no structure? Then it’s just a chat – count me out, I’ve other things to do…
Ask those who will be attending if they have specific issues for inclusion (give them a deadline by which to respond), it doesn’t mean you have to include them all but it makes people think and it avoid the AOB issue (more on that later). It will help you plan the agenda and allocate appropriate time to each topic.
The person who asked for the item to be included is the ‘owner’. This means when the agenda item comes up, they speak to it. So, no scratching heads and wondering why the item is on the agenda and usually the owner will take away any actions arising.
What is the purpose of this agenda item? Is it for decision? For discussion? For information? This will help to manage the time allocation and draw the topic to a conclusion.
Each agenda item should be given a time allocation, this should be on the agenda clearly for all participants (and particularly the item owner) to be aware of.
Any other business? This question often comes at the end of a meeting, just as everybody is getting up to leave. Cue somebody raising an issue that’s not important, could have waited or been dealt with in another way. Worst of all some participants use it to ‘sneak’ an item onto the agenda, that they didn’t want to notify participants of in advance.
If it’s important, it goes on the agenda – in good time. If it’s not on the agenda, it’s not given air-time.
Even in the most informal meetings, somebody must be in charge. The golden rule of chairing any meeting is this: Start on Time, Stay on Time, Finish on Time.
Start on Time
The meeting is scheduled for 10am, only one person has arrived. The others are getting coffee, having a chat or running late. Start anyway. When late arrivals offer an apology you can acknowledge it with a nod of your head but don’t stop the flow of the meeting.
Don’t recap or go back to the beginning. This is disrespectful to the people who were on time – and it sends a message that turning up on time is discretionary. It may feel a little tricky the first couple of times but very quickly, people will learn that 10am means 10am!
Stay on Time
It is the responsibility of the person running the meeting, or Chair, to keep each item to its allotted time. A quick reminder, such as ‘We’ve 2 minutes left to wrap this up’ can be useful. If the item is not concluded in the time allowed, move on anyway. You can revisit the item if there is time left at the end or address it in another way. Once you make one exception, it’s an invitation for everyone to run over time.
Finish on Time
It is really important to be respectful of peoples time. Finishing late or running over time suggest the opposite. Sometimes this is unavoidable, for example technical difficulties caused a delay. If this happens, seek the agreement of all attendees to run a little over time. Be specific about what this means, e.g. Is everybody ok to stay another 15 minutes to finish this item? we will defer the remaining items to our next meeting’
4. Set ground rules
Ensure everybody has opportunity to contribute
Some people like to talk a lot, others find it difficult to speak up in meetings. It is the responsibility of the chairperson to ensure that all voices are heard. It’s not just demoralising to the people who don’t get to speak – you can potentially miss very important information or feedback because you didn’t create the environment for everyone to contribute.
Ensure accountability is agreed
What is to happen next? Who is responsible? When will they do it? Make sure this is said out loud and agreed, in order to avoid future misunderstandings or lack of action.
Capture actions/outputs as you go
Always keep your own notes and records of what was agreed, to compare with the note taker. This reduces the chances of something being overlooked or misrepresented.
5. Minutes and Action Items
Don’t delay - write up minutes or notes as soon as possible after a meeting, while it is still fresh in your mind. If possible add a little extra time to the meeting in your diary to facilitate this before you return to a backlog of emails and calls. The more time that passes the more difficult it becomes to remember what we meant by that note or sometimes even to read our own handwriting. Cross reference a first draft with note taker/secretary.
Include the details of the person responsible for any actions. I like to add a ‘status’ column which allows me to note any other input that is required, before the person can act or note when an action is underway or complete.
Circulate draft for review
Again, do this the same day if possible, for the reasons outlined above. Be clear about what you are asking for, you’re not asking for feedback on your style or a spellcheck – you want participants to review for accuracy. Give a deadline and instead of ‘Please reply by..’ say ‘I will finalise the minutes at 5pm today’
6. Follow Up
Follow up on actions and accountability – don’t wait until the next meeting to discover that items haven’t been progressed.
Take 5 minutes to review the value and effectiveness of the meeting. Ask periodically for feedback from participants. Asking these questions will help decide whether to attend such meetings in the future or understand how the meeting could be improved.
· What did I learn?
· What did I contribute?
· What will I do next time?