How to Hold Better Meetings

How do you keep your most talented employees, staff, board members, or association members focused and motivated in meetings, let alone motivating them to attend? The question has frustrated most of us at one time or another.

Think of the last meeting you attended. Was it the best use of everyone’s time? Did you walk out with a sense of exhilaration and a clear set of actions and decisions? Or, did you wonder why you even bothered to attend?

People need to feel valued and that they’re making a difference not only in their work, but in the way they spend their time. Do you know what each of your people want and find most important? Do your meetings reflect the needs of the people involved?

Checklists before and after

These checklists will help you provide more meaningful forums.

Before the meeting:

  • Is the time invested worth the cost?
  • Are the key people able to attend? (If not, reschedule.)
  • Did you inform all participants of outcomes, objectives, and the agenda?
  • Did you handle logistics (meeting room, handouts, audio/visual needs, markers, equipment, etc.)?

During the meeting:

  • State and agree to specific outcomes or objectives.
  • Display an agreed-upon agenda. Items can have time allotments.
  • Agree on ground rules such as:
  • Meetings start and end on time.
  • No side conversations.
  • Respect all input.
  • Make sure there’s equal participation.
  • Focus on the agenda.
  • Come prepared.

Agree on meeting roles such as:

  • The facilitator assists the group to focus on accomplishing the given task. This person also balances content and process issues, supports the ground rules, and brings closure.
  • The recorder writes down key ideas in full view of group (flip chart, white board), records important issues not on agenda on a “parking lot” chart and keeps a separate chart for actions and key decisions.
  • The timekeeper tracks time and gives periodic warnings.
  • Participants take responsibility for full participation, focusing on the agenda and honoring the ground rules.

Dedicate a few minutes before the end of the meeting to ask:

  • Did we accomplish our desired outcomes? If not, why not?
  • Did we stay focused and productive?
  • What worked best in the meeting?
  • What could we improve next time?
  • Was this meeting the best use of everyone’s time?
    Quality isn’t an accident                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
    Top talent stays with organizations because they believe there are opportunities for professional growth and challenge. We could invest more time planning for these opportunities. High achievers want to be in contact with the colleagues they respect. A well-run meeting is one way to bring the best minds together.Be careful that your meetings are not just information exchanges. Use them for creative thinking and problem solving. Quality won’t happen accidentally. You need a plan.

    Try the following activity. Ask each person to write down the biggest challenge they’re facing along with the biggest obstacles to resolving that issue. Next, have them discuss their issues in pairs. Then each person describes his or her partner’s issue to the large group. The group works as a team to identify some actions and mutually agreed-upon solutions.

    Handle conflicts, offer recognition

    Unresolved conflicts often lead to very unproductive meetings. As a leader or meeting facilitator, you need to confront and resolve issues as they arise. Try some of these strategies:

  • Dominating behavior. Direct responses to the entire group. Give eye contact to others. Ask for others’ questions.
  • Side conversations. Physically move toward the talkers. Ask, “Was there something you needed?”
  • Argumentative behavior. Agree that the issue is interesting, but add, “We must move on in the interest of time. Other questions?”
  • Tangents. Summarize what was said and ask for questions from others. Reduce eye contact to offender.
  • Joking. Show a sense of humor or smile, then re-focus.
  • Irrelevant questions: “I think that’s interesting, but I’d like to focus on ___”.
    Generous recognition sets the tone in any environment. It reinforces the cultural values and even the purpose of the organization and its services. Take advantages of every meeting by recognizing successes. Don’t you often find yourself spending more time correcting faults, mistakes, and problems than you take to acknowledge other’s positive actions and behaviors.Catch people doing something right. Then catch them again and again and again.Vistage Associate Marilyn Manning, Ph.D., is president of The Consulting Team, a conflict mediation firm based in Mountain View, Calif.

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