When he observed yet another huddle at a football game, George Will, the columnist and broadcaster, quipped, "It combines the two worst things about American life: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings."
There are more than 20 million business meetings each day in North America. Most people dread meetings because they are unproductive. But for teams to be effective, they need to meet in order to share information, solve problems, make decisions, and plan improvements.
Learning to run great meetings will make you a natural team leader. You will also earn the eternal gratitude of the attendees! Here's what you can do to improve your meetings:
BEFORE THE MEETING
Ask yourself if the meeting is necessary or if there is a better/easier way of achieving your objective.
Plan your agenda. Your meeting plan should state the purpose, items, length, and process.
Invite key people only. People who don't have an interest in or knowledge of the subject matter will throw you off track or slow you down.
Send the agenda to participants a few days in advance to give them time to prepare.
Book a meeting room early and make sure it has all the needed equipment.
AT THE MEETING
Get organized. Ask one person to keep time, another to keep the minutes, and a third to record key ideas on a flip chart.
Confirm the objective, time, and process. Get agreement on these items.
Work through the agenda item by item. Make sure that each item is complete before moving to the next.
Encourage attendees to stick to one topic at a time.
Establish ground rules (code of conduct), especially if the meeting content is likely to inflame passions. For example, the group might agree to
listen to one another;
respect all ideas;
give everyone a chance to express opinions;
make decisions by consensus.
Post these ground rules where everyone can see them.
Appoint a "sergeant at arms" to help you enforce the rules, if necessary.
Stay on track. If people begin unrelated discussions, remind them of the objectives. If necessary, offer to put an item on the agenda for the next meeting or deal with it at the end of the current meeting, time permitting.
Pass out supporting materials only when the related item is being discussed. If you provide materials at the start of the meeting, participants tend to read them and get distracted from the agenda.
Keep everyone involved. Ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, and that no one dominates the discussion.
Keep the meeting flowing by asking lots of questions, such as:
How does everyone feel about that?
What's next on the agenda?
Are there any other opinions on this?
Can we move to the next item?
Have we all agreed to this?
How much time do we have left?
How will we deal with this issue?
Ensure that each decision has an action before you wrap up the meeting. Ask for a volunteer to complete each item by a specific date. ASAP is not a specific date - it merely indicates that the activity will be done sometime in the future.
Summarize the conversations at the end of the meeting so that everyone is clear about what has been covered.
AFTER THE MEETING
Send minutes to each person. Also post them on your bulletin board for others to see.
Remind each person who has committed to do something of that responsibility by highlighting those action items in his or her copy of the minutes.