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Leading Effective Meetings : Avoiding déjà vu

Leading Effective Meetings : Avoiding déjà vu

Have you ever experienced déjà vu in a group meeting? It feels something like this: “jeez, didn’t we discuss this last time?” or, “how much longer are we going to beat a dead horse?” We’ve all been in them, and we all dread them – meetings that go on and on. You spend months – years – discussing the same topic. Meetings can be great for getting work done, but too often they’re a time suck. Even a good meeting can turn into a forum for complaints or analysis paralysis as attendees get decision fatigue. But the good news is that meetings don’t have to be that way.

I recently attended a fantastic board meeting. No, that is not an oxymoron, and yes, you heard me correctly: Board meetings can be productive. The facilitator flawlessly executed the meeting and turned what could have been herding cats into a productive work day. What’s more, the President played his role to perfection – prepared, participated, and followed up like a pro. The next time you’re running a meeting, consider these suggestions to keep people engaged and discussions purposeful.


Before the meeting:

  1. Ask yourself “is a meeting the appropriate setting for this discussion?”  Some discussions are better had one-on-one.  Make sure there is a legitimate business purpose for bringing people together in a group setting.
  2. Use the “two-pizza rule.” Avoid group think and improve decisions by never inviting more people than two pizzas can feed.  For more information, refer to this Business Insider article.
  3. Consider your stakeholders. Who needs to be in your meeting?  What do they care about and why? Don’t invite people who don’t need to be there, but if you exclude people, make sure you understand the potential implications.
  4. Circulate the agenda in advance. Ask for input and edits. Whoever controls the agenda controls the meeting. If you don’t ask for inputs into the agenda, you could miss important topics, or get derailed by unanticipated discussion. Share the agenda beforehand.
  5. Include critical information in the agenda: (a) meeting logistics, (b) meeting objectives, (c) topics to be discussed, (d) decisions to be made, (e) what roles people will play, and (f) what people need to come prepared to contribute/do. Make sure people can participate remotely if needed, and include the call-in info.
  6. Show up early, arrange seats, and deal with technology. Don’t be “that guy” – the person who comes late to their own meeting, then wastes the first 15 minutes rearranging the room and trying to make the A/V equipment work. Come prepared.

During the meeting:

  1. Begin on time. There is no other way to say it.
  2. Have designated meeting roles.Consider having a facilitator, timekeeper, note-taker, devil’s advocate, etc.
  3. Remind people of the expectations for participation. Set ground rules.
  4. Create a parking lot for topics or issues that are important but not on the agenda. Sometimes discussions pop up in meetings that are important, but not relevant to the issue at hand. Decide when those issues should be resurfaced or discussed – at the end of the meeting (time permitting) or some other time.
  5. Decide how to decide. At the beginning of the meeting, get the group’s agreement on how decisions will be made. Don’t wait until everyone is clamoring to make their point.
  6. Encourage different opinions and perspectives.Silence is often mistaken for consensus. Be sure to invite people to disagree or offer other insights.
  7. Keep a decision log and action item log.Assign owners to deliverables and set deadlines.
  8. When it’s over, it’s over. Don’t let the meeting drag on and on.

After the meeting:

  1. Send a meeting summary and list of action items, their owners, and deadlines to everyone. Make sure everyone knows what they’re accountable for and who’s responsible for which action steps.
  2. Follow up and hold attendees accountable. Ask for updates on deliverables.
  3. Communicate progress on action items. Tell people when action items are complete.
  4. Prepare for the next meeting the same way. Update the agenda to reflect changes. Add outstanding discussion items from the last meeting to the top of the next agenda.

Etherington, Suzanne 004882404Don’t forget that a meeting is only as good as the quality of the decision-making that takes place.

Some of the best decisions and worst decisions in history have been made in group meetings. Look for a future post on effective decision-making.

Authored by: Suzanne Etherington, Client Solutions Manager, Community College Workforce Alliance

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