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Meetings, Bloody Meetings!
Senior Lead, LexisNexis Librarian Relations Group
Does it sometimes feel like you are always in a meeting? Chances are good that you are -- and here are some statistics to validate it:
- There are more than 11 million meetings held each year in the US alone.
- The higher up you are in an organization, the more time you spend in meetings. In fact, middle management spends an average of 35% of their time in meetings.
However, even though we might cringe at the thought of another meeting, they are vital for effective management and communication. In fact, properly run meetings can save time, create new ideas, increase motivation and productivity, and even solve problems. And since more than 50% of the meaning of words is carried in facial expression and body language, face-to-face meetings can also diffuse conflict in a way that emails and voicemail simply cannot.
But badly run meetings waste time, money, resources and are worse than not having a meeting at all. The trick is to have effective meetings – meetings that will make people happy and productive.
Here are some simple rules that will guarantee successful meetings:
- Use the agenda as a planning tool. Identify priorities, outcomes, sequence, timing, agenda, date, time and venue. What is the purpose of the meeting? Decide what outcome you seek for each issue, and put this alongside the item heading in the agenda. This is important so that people know what to expect and are prepared. Examples of an outcome on the agenda is ‘getting feedback’ or ‘finding solutions’.
- Put a number of less important issues at the top of the agenda, especially if you can work through them quickly. This gives the group a sense of accomplishment. If there are a significant number of agenda items, try to achieve a varied sequence by mixing up the heavy or controversial items with the lighter ones.
- Decide the length of the meeting and allocate a realistic time for each item to be discussed. Then stick to the schedule.
- Have lots of breaks. Unless people are participating and fully involved, their concentration drops after 45 minutes. Make some breaks as short as five minutes and others as long as 20 minutes.
- Working lunches are sometimes necessary, but make sure you give participants some time to stretch and get some fresh air.
- Ensure the date you choose causes minimum disruption for all concerned. Take care when finding the best date – it’s a very important part of the process. For meetings that occur on a regular basis, set the dates well in advance with everyone’s participation.
- Venue is critical, not only for attendance, but to make sure that it meets your technology requirements (such as high speed access, screen, phone lines, etc.) Check the room ahead of time for heating and lighting conditions, as this can make or break your meeting!
- Circulate this agenda -- with your priorities, outcomes, sequence, timing, agenda, date, time and venue -- ahead of time to all participants. This will be your tool as you conduct this meeting.
- The key to success is keeping control. You do this by sticking to the agenda, managing the relationships and personalities, and concentrating on the outcomes. Politely suppress the overzealous and encourage the nervous. Set aside some ground rules at the onset of the meeting, such as only one conversation at a time, etc.
- Concentrate on achieving the outcome you drew up when setting up the agenda. Avoid making decisions if your aim was simply discussion, or vice versa. Defer new issues to another time. Practice and use the phrase “You may have a point, but it’s not for this meeting – we’ll discuss it another time.” (Make sure you follow up on this at a later date)
- There is much discussion as to who should take the minutes. Unless it is a formal meeting whereby the secretary’s role is to take them, the person leading the meeting should also take the notes. They are your instrument of control, so don’t shirk it or give them to someone else as the ‘short straw’ if you’re leading the meeting. If you are seen taking notes, two things will happen – people will respect you for not forcing it on someone else, and they will see you as recording agreed-upon action items, which adds to your authority.
- The notes should be brief, but should include relevant facts and accountabilities. Circulate them as soon as possible.
The final crucial element is following up on agreed action items. If you run a great meeting, issue great notes, and then fail to ensure the actions are completed, all is lost, not the least of which is your credibility!
If you follow these simple rules of planning a detailed agenda with expected outcomes, providing the right environment for meeting, and keeping focused on the issues, you will condition participants to respond and perform effectively, and you will make meetings work for you and your team. It may not make your meeting schedule any less hectic, but at least you know you’ll be spending your time more efficiently – and that can ultimately make them seem less burdensome.
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