Meetings provide one of the best possible vehicles for communicating information within a work group. An effective leader will make the difference between a meeting that is productive and successful and one that is not. Preparation is the “key” to success in any type of meeting. Thorough preparation on behalf of the leader equals the good use of an employee’s time and added value to the organization.
Prior to the meeting the leader should complete the following tasks:
- Focus on the objective. – Decide why you are calling the meeting and what should be achieved.
- Research background information. – Determine what is known about the topic to be discussed and what information is missing. Gather the information and materials needed for reference or to be used as discussion aids during the meeting.
- Make a decision about who should attend. – Make sure that you only invite the “right” people. Decide upon the minimum number of people who can make the maximum contribution to the objective or purpose. Generally, two to 12 participants will accomplish this task.
- Prepare an agenda. – Use the agenda to accomplish the meeting’s objectives within the allotted time period.
- Promote participant preparation and involvement. – Send out the agenda with a cover memo prior to the meeting offering specific suggestions on how participants may prepare for the meeting. This allows the participants to think and/or read about the topic or bring materials or information to the meeting appropriate for the topic.
Preparing an agenda and sending to all participants prior to the meeting communicates the plan for the meeting. For impromptu meetings, agendas should be given out right on the spot. Agendas also help to prevent common meeting problems to include: unprepared participants, too much time spent on less important items, not completing the items in the time available, and accidentally omitting important topics. Thus, the agenda is used as a reference to maintain focus and stay on track during the meeting. Ideally, an agenda should:
- explain the meeting’s discussion topics and state the desired outcome,
- be to the point – less is more – the longer the agenda the less likely it is to be read,
- be specific – should the participants be prepared to make decisions or merely brainstorm and generate ideas, and
- include the date, location and a list of participants.
When organizing the agenda make sure to discuss the important items first. The structure of the meeting should also provide a logical sequence to your discussion. All ideas should be put on the table before you agree on actions. In addition, make sure to plan for breaks when meetings are planned for greater than one hour. If possible, keep meetings to one hour or less as participants start to lose their attention to the topic at that point.
At the start of the meeting, open by welcoming all of the participants. Explain the purpose and importance of the meeting and briefly review the agenda. Assign a participant to take notes and attendance and don’t have them take attendance until approximately 15 -20 minutes into the meeting. That will prevent the leader from having to continually restart the meeting for those participants who are not on time. Review the background information necessary for the meeting topic and ask for other information and issues from the participants. Summarize all background data and move forward to the development of new ideas. Ask for suggestions and explore alternatives from each participant. Build on everyone’s ideas and then summarize all new ideas before agreeing on actions. Decide who will do what by when and close with a total review of all ideas discussed. Decide at this point, how and when to check for progress of each participant and thank them for their participation. Follow-up notes from the meeting will help each participant to remember everything that was discussed and to complete their tasks, if appropriate. Follow-up notes should be sent out within three to five days after the meeting.
So, how do you keep a meeting moving forward if it gets stalled? Check for understanding from all participants. Restate or summarize what has been said in the form of a question. When you restate, you learn whether the participants understand what was said enabling them to clear up or confirm your understanding. This leads to increased participation and the avoidance of both backtracking and confusion. Making a procedural change helps to move a stalled meeting forward too. Use this tactic when participants get stuck on a topic or wander from subject to subject and back again. Offer a new process or plan to move the meeting forward in order to get the group to return to the original meeting process or plan. Remember that during a meeting the leader needs to make the most efficient use of time, resources and participant’s contributions.
Remember, an effective leader makes the difference between a productive meeting and one that wastes time. Leaders need to identify a clear purpose for the meeting, carefully plan the agenda and provide participants with the necessary information in advance. The leader also needs to stick to the agenda during the meeting and keep it moving if it becomes stalled. In turn, this results in more productive meetings which ultimately equals the good use of an employee’s time and added value to the organization.
For additional information on training employees on how to participate in and lead meetings, please contact New Focus HR.
Written By: Kristen Shingleton, M.B.A., CCP
President, New Focus HR LLC