Meetings are where minutes are kept and hours are lost.
Building on the earlier post regarding Communication with Large Groups, meetings are a necessary evil when it comes to communication. So how can we effectively facilitate meetings, keeping the discussion productive and being mindful of the timeline? Let's take a look at a few tips.
Planning the Meeting
It's important to put some thought into the content of the meeting. Some of the basic considerations are the goals for the meeting, the topics that will be covered, who should be involved, and the timeline for the meeting.
First, Do You Even Need a Meeting?
Before you plan the meeting, decide if a meeting is actually necessary. Some things can be more easily solved with a group email, or one-on-one conversation rather than holding a meeting. Remember, meetings are expensive when you consider not only everyone's time involved, but if you are pulling people away from other tasks you are actually losing productive time.
Goals for the Meeting
Setting a goal for the meeting is important, everyone should know the purpose of the meeting and what is expected to get out of it. Do you want to reach a decision about a topic? Do you need to inform a stakeholder about the project status? Do you need to assign action items to individuals after reaching conscensus on a topic? Maybe the meeting is informational, just a quick update to inform management about the status of the deliverables. Whatever the case, the goal for the meeting should be clearly identified, and communicated to all members. Letting these folks know the goals for the meeting ahead of time can be beneficial, as it lets everyone know what to expect and enables them to prepare in advance.
Include the Right People
If you've decided a meeting is appropriate, and you've defined your goals, the next step is to determine who should attend the meeting. Critical descision makers regarding the meeting goal must be included. If they can't be included, or are sending a delegate without descision making authority, you should reschedule the meeting for a time when everyone can attend.
Conversely, make sure you are inviting people that actually need to attend. Pulling productive resources away from tasks they are working on is lost production time, but can be worth while if they can help reach the meeting goals. If these folks have no need to be in the meeting, because they have no impact on the meeting goals, then the time is simply lost and the attendees are frustrated.
Distribute Meeting Information Early
Once you've planned the goals for your meeting you know who you want to attend, its time to provide them with information about the meeting. Give them a meeting agenda, including the goals for the meeting, as early as possible. This allows them to think about the meeting in advance, and everyone can come into the meeting ready to tackle the goals. Also remember to provide any information that will be necessary during the meeting, or any assignments they will need to complete and bring to the meeting.
When meeting information is not distributed prior, the meeting turns into an information dump trying to get everyone up to speed before the meeting goals can be addressed. Distributing the meeting information early allows you to hit the ground running.
The other advantage to distributing the meeting information, is it may make the meeting unnecessary. If you send out the meeting information prior to the meeting itself, someone may already have the answer to the meeting's goals and you'll realize the meeting is unnecessary, which is a good thing! It keeps your productive resources doing what they do best &emdash; working on tasks and crossing things off to-do lists.
During the Meeting
While conducting the meeting, use the preparation you've done to jump start the meeting. As the facilitator of the meeting, remember to guide the meeting and keep the discussion productive and focused on the meeting goals. Lastly, make sure the meeting stays on schedule and finishes on time.
Make Use of Preparation
Again, make sure the attendees have reviewed information distributed prior to the meeting. If you assigned any pre-work to the attendees, make sure to review it with the group.
Facilitating the Meeting
As the facilitator of the meeting, make sure you stick to the agenda. Keep the discussion appropriate and productive, do not get side tracked with individual discussions or topics outside of the meeting goals. Make sure the conversation is relevant for the entire group, if individuals need to discuss things one-on-one, politely ask them to get offline after the meeting so that everyone's time is not being wasted. Additionally, make sure the conversation stays on topic. As the facilitator, politely refocus the group on the meeting goals if the conversation shifts to anything else.
Keep all participants in the meeting involved. If someone is monopolizing the conversation, or taking the discussion into unproductive topics, or holding the attendees hostage with one-on-one conversations, politely steer the meeting back on topic. Statements like "We appreciate your feedback, but we need to hear from others before making a descision." or "This isn't a productive area of discussion, lets get back to the goals for the meeting." It's importantly to do this publicly, as it establishes the group rules for all the participants of the meeting.
After the Meeting
Now that the meeting is complete and its goals accomplished, or action items assigned, there are a few closing steps to ensure the meeting is effective.
Publish Your Meeting Minutes
Keep a log of what was discussed during the meeting, what the outcome of the meeting was, and if it met the meetings goals. Also keep track of any descisions that were made, and action items that are assigned to the attendees. Distribute these meeting notes to the attendees, but keep in mind that most wont read them, but that doesn't make the meeting notes any less important! Keep in mind that the meeting notes document the project history, and can be used for accountability later in the project.
Evaluate the Meeting
Think about what went well, or didn't go well, during the meeting. What can you improve for next time? Also think about what successes you had that can be carried over to the next meeting.
Also consider soliciting feedback from the meeting participants, they can have valuable information to help improve the next meeting.
Follow up with the Meeting
If your meetings goals were reached, make sure you communicate the next steps to the attendees and other stake holders. If the meeting had action items assigned, make sure to communicate who is responsible and what the timeline is for completing them. Remember to follow up with to ensure the action items are being worked on and will be completed on time. If your meeting wasn't successful in accomplishing your goals, take some time to seriously evalute what didn't go right in the meeting, and reschedule if necessary. Make changes based on your findings to ensure the next meeting is conducted successfully as follow up meetings should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.