How to run a meeting
12 essential ingredients for a productive meeting
Running a meeting
Meetings are an excellent medium for:
- An open and frank expression of views;
- Colleagues to work together and blend their respective skills;
- Communicating the same message to a group of people;
- Witnessing the body language reactions of colleagues;
- Planning a future course of action.
Of course there are other media through which information can be communicated notably phone and email. However when communicated by phone (not a conference call) the message may be communicated differently and so interpreted differently by individuals. When communicated by email, the receiver’s reaction cannot be witnessed so the message can easily be misinterpreted without being corrected immediately.
So meetings are an excellent medium but so often they fail to live up to expectations!
Some people love meetings so much that they sometimes hold meetings to arrange meetings! At the other extreme, some people never tell anyone what they are doing or how this will benefit others.
How meetings are conducted rapidly influence the culture of the whole business and poorly run meetings can become endemic. There is no right and no wrong way to run a meeting but there are some important guidelines that can be drawn by selecting the best of the best from a variety of styles and experiences.
The fundamentals to running a productive meeting are:
- Have a clearly defined agenda with objectives
- Keep the number of participants to a minimum
- Circulate information prior to the meeting
- Identify and resolve major objections prior to the meeting
- Ensure meeting starts promptly and is time controlled
- Nominate a chairman for the meeting
- Keep the meeting short
- Ensure all participants contribute
- Identify action points and who is responsible for delivering them
- Question whether the objectives have been achieved
- Minute conclusions and circulate
- Canvass opinions
Clearly defined agenda
The meeting should be arranged with specific objectives in mind otherwise it is likely to be inconclusive and digress. If no objectives can be defined then there is probably no need to call the meeting.
Many people find safety in numbers and ask colleagues to attend meetings as if they have nothing else to do. With increased numbers, either a number of attendees will fail to contribute or the duration of the meeting will increase exponentially with less focus. The invitee should take responsibility for his position and represent his subgroups. “Why don’t you come along too?” is often cover for “I am not certain of my facts and do not want to show myself up”!
A lot of time and frustration will be saved if all participants arrive at the meeting well briefed and aware of the open items. Those that are less well informed can then supplement their knowledge prior to the meeting so that all attendees arrive ‘on the same page’. This discipline will also help to highlight the areas that need to be discussed. The attendees can gather background information in their own time and at their convenience.
If the topic is controversial and it is known that there will be alternative viewpoints, then these should be managed prior to the meeting. There is little to gain by meeting to reach a disagreement.
By ascertaining alternative views prior to the meeting the objectives may be reassessed and the meeting abandoned without interrupting everyone’s diaries.
Some people are notoriously always late for meetings as if they are too important to wait for others to arrive (classically portrayed by Lord Sugar in the Apprentice!). It is true that it is a waste of everyone’s time waiting for participants to arrive. By definition the invitee should not have been invited unless he is expected to participate so the meeting cannot start without him – thus the others have to waste their own time waiting for the late arrival. As a simple courtesy to one’s colleagues, all should arrive punctually and, if necessary, ensure that an adequate deputy has been briefed and is available in case you are delayed.
The opportunity to discuss alternative points of view should have occurred prior to the meeting. Therefore the meeting should be to confirm the consensus and ensure that all are fully aware of the plan of action. It is important to appoint a strong Chairman who will drive through the agenda and achieve results whilst leaving participants feeling that they had the chance to make their suggestions. The efficacy of the Chairman can be measured by the duration of the meeting and the sentiment of the participants.
Meetings are a significant investment for most businesses. They often tie up a number of key staff, all of whom are being paid by you – consider the opportunity if some staff were simply advised of the outcomes but allowed to continue with other work. Keep meetings short and to the point. Remember the objectives that you are trying to achieve.
All attendees should have been invited because they have something to contribute to the agenda. For those, if any, that are there to observe and absorb, their time may be better spent reviewing the outcomes of the meeting. If there is no contribution to make then that person should not be present – they can vote their approval of plans by proxy and use their time more productively. It is important that the Chairman does not steamroll the meeting. Rather he should ensure that everyone has an opportunity to speak even if that involves ‘going round the table’.
The normal purpose of a meeting is to make decisions and move things forward. This is likely to result in a number of action points. These should be clearly identified and someone made responsible for delivering on each point.
Before closing the meeting, the Chairman should reassess the objectives and determine whether these have been met. If not, he should consider whether the meeting needs to continue to do so or propose an alternative plan of action. It is important that something decisive emerges from the meeting even if that is a decision not to pursue the current path. It is desirable to poll attendees after the meeting for their views as to its achievements, style
After the meeting, succinct minutes should be circulated to all attendees (and beyond as required). The minutes should reflect the atmosphere of the meeting and state the objectives and action points. They do not need to detail all discussion points unless some are considered to be relevant. The minutes should be circulated as soon after the meeting as possible and comments invited within a short timescale.
It is desirable to poll attendees after the meeting for their views as to its achievements, style etc. so that future meetings can benefit from this input. Whilst this could be done within the meeting some participants may feel reluctant to express their true views. How often do people agree within a meeting only to criticise it adversely once they are in different company?
None of the above negates the benefit of brainstorming sessions where different brains explore opportunities and seek to blend the best thoughts. However as this can be prolonged it is probably best to encourage this activity out-of-hours.
This is one from a series of articles written by Nigel Grant to help owner-managers increase their profits and achieve their potential. For a free initial discussion to see how you can achieve the potential for your business, contact Nigel Grant of More Profit For You Ltd on 07801624865 or [email protected]