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Great Meetings: Start at the End
by Joni Daniels

 
   
 
   

"Great meeting!"

"I'm so energized now."

"Can't wait for the next time we get together."

If that's what people say after leaving one of your meetings, read no further.

But if you hear people complain that meetings leave them annoyed and apathetic and you want to do better, that, keep reading! With a few short changes in strategy, your meetings can become meaningful encounters in which people work hard, produce outcomes, and leave with a sense of accomplishment.

A good meeting provides an excellent way to share and clarify information. It can enable broad-based input into decisions affecting the group. When actions are defined, meetings can help to identify those people who have the ability to complete these tasks and increase the chances that these persons will actually carry them out successfully. Meetings can bring group members together, reminding them that they share common values and purposes even if they have different roles.

Unfortunately, most meetings do not live up to their potential. As corporate downsizing continues and demands on people's time increases, meetings are often regarded as a waste of time and something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Words and phrases like "too long," "boring," "dominated by the leader or a few verbal people," "poorly organized," "poorly led," "diverted by members with hidden agendas," or " not focused on important issues, " are just of few of the complaints commonly heard.

Most of us leave meetings thinking, "there must be a better way." There is!

Conservatively, most of us spend a minimum of four hours per week attending meetings. At this rate, we can anticipate sitting through more than 8,000 hours of meetings in a lifetime of work. This time is valuable, both to us and to our organization. A productive meeting of fifteen top managers can cost an organization from one thousand to four thousand dollars per hour; and unproductive meeting during which problems can't be solved and intelligent decisions are not made costs much, much more.

Most of us have learned to run meetings by osmosis - by watching another person, who, in turn, learned by watching someone else. If the observed process worked, this would be fine. But what is observed and absorbed is a weak version of Roberts' Rules of Order, which may have worked for the House of Lords in the nineteenth century but is grossly inadequate for present day meetings.

Fortunately, there are methods for running meetings that work for thousands of individuals in all kinds of organizations across the country. Here are just a few that will ensure a productive and effective meeting.

Design with the End in Mind

Whether I'm asked to facilitate a meeting, conduct a training program, or make a presentation, my first step is to identify what the client hopes to accomplish as a result of our collaboration. Success of the meeting is dependent on the ability to define objectives. Do you want participants to:

  • Learn? And what do you want them to learn? To work together? Learn processes? Learn a new skill?
  • Increase their awareness? Of a new culture? Of a new market?
  • Share information? Between groups? Among the company? From a new database?
  • Make a decision or recommendation?
  • Take action?
  • Have fun?

The goal is defined as the desired outcome and not only should the leaders understand the desired outcome, participants need to know it as well. This way everyone can focus on the result throughout the duration of the meeting.

Whether you are getting together to celebrate the end of the quarter, decide about a new software purchase, or assign responsibilities to move a project forward, people need to know why they are getting together. The bottom line is that meetings are only effective when those who are doing the planning understand the purpose of the meeting and work to ensure that programming and activities are conducive to reaching that end.

Type of Meetings:

Informational - the goal for informational meetings is to disseminate data and facts as well as decisions and policies made by others. There are three sub-types of informational meetings: manager to employees, in which the former conveys information: employees to manager in which the employees convey the information; and interactive, in which the managers and employees share information.

Validational - Here, the goal is to announce a previously made decision to those affected so that the manager can get their buy-in as to the decisions' implementation. The desired outcome this kind of meeting is the participants' agreement to the wisdom, appropriateness, or logic of the decision.

Planning/Strategizing -when successful, these meetings will generate action plans for each participant and/or group of participants. This includes defining how the group would like to see the future evolve. Often the outcome of such a meeting is a description of both an ideal state and action sequence needed to achieve it.

Problem Solving/Decision Making - This is another meeting where participants generate action plans, but the time factor considered is quite short, and the focus is on day-to-day business rather than on long-range planning.

Staff Conferences - This type of meeting is designed to ensure the progress of action plans generated by planning and problem-solving meetings. Progress reports are provided, a full expression of opinions are solicited, and coordination of disparate actions are achieved.

Feedback/Evaluation - The goal is to assess progress made in accordance with the schedules set forth in previous planning or problem-solving meetings. Organizational and/or personal performance is the focus.

Training - The goal is to educate staff and expand the knowledge, improve the skill, or change the behavior/attitudes of the participants so that they will perform their jobs more effectively.

Celebrational - The intention of this meeting is to bring people together to enjoy being together, relax, and have a good time.

Look to the Leader

A take-charge 'leader' is key to the success of a meeting, regardless of its purpose and there are a number of essential tasks that the leader and their staff can do to insure an effective meeting. Some of them are administrative and many can be delegated, but accomplishing these tasks will mark the difference between a casual get together and a purposeful use of people's time, energy and attention.

Planning:

1. Set the agenda and post a meeting notice.

  • Designate the meeting topic
  • Designate the meeting type and the attendees
  • Specify expectations
  • Identify resource people

2. Assign any necessary pre-work and distribute agenda.

3. Make the logistical arrangements

  • Space
  • Time
  • Seating
  • Materials (audiovisual equipment, etc.)

Starting:

Setting the tone and creating the climate.

  • Convene the meeting
  • Introduce the participants (if necessary)
  • Reinforce/change expectations
  • Define the task/purpose
  • Introduce the resource experts
  • Identify the problems/issues that will and will not be dealt with during the meeting (review agenda
  • Present the time schedule

Focusing:

Keeping the meeting on track.

  • Test issue formation and understanding
  • Reiterate decisions made
  • Monitor pace carefully

Facilitating:

Involving participants, being supportive, resolving conflict, and managing differences.

Concluding:

Ending the meeting, assuring that participants are satisfied with the outcome and that follow-up actions are clear and will be implemented.

  • Evaluate the progress that has been made
  • Assign tasks
  • Establish a means for dealing with unfinished business (such as including it in the agenda for the next meeting)

Follow-Up Documents to Be Produced

  1. Minutes
  2. Action-plan summaries
  3. Individual action-assignment sheets
  4. Action-review reminders
  5. Completion reminders
  6. Appreciation/recognition notes

The results of meetings are lasting - whether good or bad - and word gets around quickly. A bad meeting can undermine the most well-intentioned efforts but a successful meeting can lay the foundation for success.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Joni Daniels is the founder of Daniels & Associates, a consulting group specializing in personal and professional development. A nationally recognized trainer, speaker, author, and entrepreneur, Ms. Daniels has helped professionals at all levels to develop effective interpersonal skills. For more information, please visit www.jonidaniels.com.

     
   
     
   
Many more articles in More Effective Meetings in The CEO Refresher Archives
     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2004 by Joni Daniels. All rights reserved.

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