I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting. – Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004). There can be few readers who have not experienced lengthy, time wasting and unproductive meetings (and, like Ronald Reagan, may have nodded off during them). If you’re a meeting chairman you can improve results (and endear yourself to participants) by taking four simple steps to ensuring that your meetings are productive: prepare; inform; facilitate and control; and, summarise and record.
Step 1: Prepare
- Have a clear meetings structure for your project[ref]Normally set out in your Project Handbook or Project Execution Plan.[/ref] which addresses as a minimum: Meetings structure; Meeting’s aims and objectives; Chairmanship; Frequency; Location; Attendees/participants; Duration; Agendas; and, Minutes/Records.
- Create an agenda. Solicit items of interest from others, if appropriate. Make sure agenda items are specific enough to clarify the issues to be discussed. Add more detail to those that are ambiguous or need background and assign responisbility for preparation where necessary.
- Have the right people attending – if a key person is missing, the meeting objectives will not be achieved, and on the other hand having non-contributors at the meeting (unless it is purely informational/briefing) will be a waste of their time.
- Make sure that the meeting facilities[ref]Venue/catering, audio-visual aids)[/ref] are satisfactoryily arranged.
- Appoint a meeting ‘secretary’ whose role includes taking the notes during the meeting and preparing the meeting record.
Step 2: Inform
See that the Agenda is circulated at least 3 days before the meeting to ensure participants have an opportunity to be prepared[ref]Note that this applies even to regular scheduled meetings.[/ref]
Step 3: Facilitate and Control
The principal role of the Chair of the meeting is to facilitate:
- Set a good example – be on time and turn off[ref]or put it on silent[/ref] your mobile phone!
Provide a short introduction at the start of the meeting.
Keep the discussion on topic.
- Keep the meeting to time. If the meeting is planned to run for longer than an hour, provide comfort breaks.
Don’t hog the discussion – involve participants and listen.
Summarise the discussion from time to time and at the end.
Assign actions and make sure they’re understood.
Praise in public/criticise in private.
Take meeting minutes (or see that they’re taken by the meeting secretary) and see that they summarise: discussion items; decisions and actions; action responsibilities; and, agreed action completion deadlines.
Step 4: Summarise and Record
Distribute minutes to summarise the discussions and confirm decisions and action items within 2 days of the meeting.
Bonus Tip 1
Cancel regularly scheduled meetings if there is nothing to discuss.
Bonus Tip 2
There are many techniques for managing conflict in meetings. Here are a couple I found useful:
- Break up cliques by planning placement of participants and then placing people round the meeting table at allocated seats.
- Silence a trouble maker by seating yourself beside them rather than opposite.
Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908 – 2006)
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