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Meetings Don’t Have to be Frustrating Time Wasters!
by Marie Kane

 
   
 
   

One of the biggest complaints in the business world is about time spent in meetings. And, indeed, that is the issue. Time is often spent rather than invested, because meetings are poorly conducted. The outputs are inadequate in relation to the time and effort involved. But meetings are not inherently bad. They are one of the best ways to make quality decisions and get buy-in from people when they are conducted well.

Here are some hints to help you in your meeting management. They are not rocket science, but surprisingly few people follow them well. Be the role model in your workplace on how to do this well!

Basic Meeting Management Hints

  1. Use the correct brainstorming techniques (list below) every time you are gathering input on an issue. This requires discipline and focus by the facilitator and the group. Be tenacious!

  2. Start and end your meetings on time. Starting late encourages habitual late-comers to continue that behavior and discourages those who come on time. Finishing late creates conflicts with other priorities and encourages bad feelings about meetings in general.

  3. Remember -- It is every participant's responsibility to make the meeting productive and enjoyable. The entire group is in this together and responsible for the results and outputs regardless of their individual jobs.

  4. Keep the group focused on what is best overall for the organization you are working on, whether company, division or other, not what's best only for them or their own part of the organization.

  5. Hold information pieces not needed for current process until the end of the meeting so that people are not distracted and reading them while the rest of the meeting is on.

  6. Make a separate follow-up list of any "hot" or urgent items that come up that are not part of this discussion, but do need follow-up. Agree on by whom and by when those will be addressed. Don’t let these become discussion side trips that derail what the meeting is intended for. Create a “parking lot” list for these to be handled later.

  7. At the beginning of any session where all participants do not know each other, the facilitator should have each person introduce themselves and what they do briefly.

  8. Active enthusiasm and high energy from the facilitator helps to move the process along.

  9. At appropriate intervals, acknowledge together the positive results that the group has accomplished so far.

  10. Monitor group fatigue levels, including your own, and stop if people get so tired they can't function, even if some things have to be finished later. Plan for reasonable food and rest breaks, with no longer than two hour stretches without some break.

Guidelines for Brainstorming

  1. Identify the specific topic under discussion. Write issue (one only) under discussion at top of clean flip chart page at beginning of that discussion.

  2. Request all possible ideas, as many and as rapidly as possible from everybody. Record all of the ideas generated exactly as offered, making no judgments and allowing none by the group at this point and with no discussion. Remember, no idea is too crazy in the initial jotting down phase. A kernel of genius often exists in apparently wild or impractical ideas. Emphasize thinking outside current practices and models.

  3. After you get all ideas for a single issue on flip chart sheets (or as you fill up each sheet), post in sequence along one wall where everyone can read (so write large enough) as material for the discussion.

  4. Now discuss the ideas looking for combinations of whole or partial ideas to get the best answer or solution. Definition of Synergy: 1+1=3 or the whole is greater than mere sum of the parts. Open discussion is a must with all opinions valued and a consensus decision of the highest quality is the objective.

  5. When you get consensus on an issue, write the issue name on a separate flip chart sheet along with the group’s conclusion about it and post separate from the original brainstorm sheets, which may be taken down at this point. It is helpful to pick one wall in your meeting room as the place where you post in sequence the final conclusions.

When you are the formal leader/manager of a group and the facilitator of the meeting:

  1. If you as a manager are facilitating a meeting wherein you are asking for input on an issue, you should take care to request all input from the group before offering your own on any given subject, with the exception of any opening statements or information needed to create the context for the discussion. Only offer your input first when it is necessary to get a discussion going because no one else will speak up. Be patient and wait out the silences for a bit before you jump in.

  2. Actively solicit input from all group members. Be sure all inputs and opinions are acknowledged and given a fair hearing even if they are not yours or the majority of the group.

  3. Remember, when someone in authority offers an answer, the tendency of groups is to consciously or unconsciously shut down their own thinking processes. The job of the manager/facilitator here is to achieve the highest level of participation, which, in turn, produces both commitment and better quality outcomes.

     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Marie Kane is President of Executive Evolution. Since 1981 Marie has provided executive consulting and coaching services to help clients develop and implement the right strategy, leverage the company's human talent, and create optimal culture and communication. Her services include leadership, executive, management and team development, strategic and operational planning, employee selection, retention and development, change management, conflict resolution and a variety of profiles and assessments, including 360’s. She is the author of the TEAMS assessment and creator of “The Leaders Way - Discovering the Inner Art of Leadership” program. You can reach Marie at 770-461-3820 or Marie@ExecutiveEvolution.com.

Visit http://www.executiveevolution.com/ for additional insight.

     
   
     
   
Many more articles in More Effective Meetings in The CEO Refresher Archives
     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2006 by Marie Kane. All rights reserved.

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