Six Secrets for More Productive Meetings

Updated on August 7, 2019
Audra Stevenson profile image

Originally educated as a Physicist, Audra specialises in Human Resources Management, Facilitation and Hospitality through her varied career.

Meetings I've Attended

Meetings that I’ve attended are typically too long and a waste of time.

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Ok, we've all been there... we just sat in a meeting for what seems like an inordinate amount of time and it seemed like a colossal waste. Everyone did a lot of talking, some of it was completely off topic and it is not evident what was actually accomplished. Sounds at all familiar?

Luckily there are ways to run meetings that make them more productive. Productive meetings always have a purpose, they are effective in how they are conducted and are scheduled for the right amount of time.

The following six tips may help to transform your next meeting:

  1. Great meetings don't run themselves.
  2. Planning starts with the end in mind.
  3. There is always a formal agenda.
  4. Ground rules are explicitly expressed and agreed.
  5. There are key role assignments to keep the meeting on track.
  6. There is an action plan for follow up.

Let's take some time together to explore these in some more depth.

1. Great Meetings Don't Run Themselves

Someone needs to conduct the orchestra for everyone to play in harmony, keep an eye on the prize, lead from the front... hmm, get the picture? When everyone in the meeting is focused on their singular role one person should be assigned as the facilitator to zoom out to see the big picture as discussions evolve and guide the process for effective communication to take place.

Good facilitation helps participants to move smoothly through the itinerary and iron out challenges where they occur. The facilitator should be a good communicator and can be the meeting chair, one of the participants, or an external person who is not involved in the meeting discussions.

2. Planning Starts With the End in Mind

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are we trying to accomplish by holding a meeting? What are the desired outcomes?
  2. Is a meeting the best option or can some or all of the objectives be achieved by using email or other means of communication?
  3. Who needs to attend? How do we identify the right participants and the right number of participants?
  4. What level of preparation is required to best achieve the end-result?
  5. What processes do we need to incorporate into the meeting? For instance, do we need to consider including a brainstorming session to generate new ideas, or have individual presentations delivered for more informed collaboration?

By starting with the outcomes that need to be achieved you can better identify the attendees and process the amount of time and pre-work that may be required for an effective meeting.

3. There Is Always a Formal Agenda

The most effective meetings have an agenda, i.e., the list of items that need to be discussed at the meeting. While we are used to agendas that just state the items to be discussed, a better way is to include the intention (objective) and desired outcome of each agenda item so that all meeting attendees are on the same page.

When an agenda is created in this manner it becomes more obvious when a discussion is going off-track, is complete or when it may be time to move on. Formal objectives will tell the participants how best to contribute and outcomes provide a measure of the effectiveness of a discussion. It is also a great tool for the facilitator or chair to direct the meeting to a successful conclusion.

Example of an agenda showing schedule,  outcomes and objectives
Example of an agenda showing schedule, outcomes and objectives

4. Ground Rules Are Explicitly Expressed and Agreed

Implementing the right ground rules can produce meetings with more fluidity and less friction. Typically when you hear the term ground rules you may think of "phones on vibrate" or "be on time" or "apply the golden rule" etc. These may be the standards most often applied but ground rules for fruitful meetings should also focus on enhancing communication for greater group engagement.

A good sampling of ground rules that exemplify this comes from Roger Schwarz (Schwarz, 2016). He lists eight rules for effective meetings: "State views and ask genuine questions; share all relevant information; use specific examples and agree on what important words mean; explain reasoning and intent; focus on interests, not positions; test assumptions and inferences; jointly design next steps; discuss undiscussable issues."

These rules were designed to guide the behaviour of individual and group discussions for more extensive dialogue but are just an example of the some of the protocol that could boost positive participation. Creating or adapting your own set of procedural and behavioural norms may regulate and steer the meeting towards richer outcomes.

A full understanding of each ground rule at the beginning of each meeting will be important for participants to agree and try to conform to the desired standards.

5. There Are Key Role Assignments to Keep the Meeting on Track

The most successful meetings have some essential roles that may be assigned to participants as a dual role, or to external persons. The roles assigned would depend on the length of the meeting, number of participants and purpose behind the meeting.

Timekeeper

Ask for a volunteer to monitor the time based on the agenda. This can be rolled into the responsibilities of the meeting chair or facilitator however if the meeting is lengthy or expected to be complex in nature it may be best to ask for a separate volunteer.

The timekeeper's role is to alert participants when the time is drawing to a close for a particular agenda item so that the group can decide on additional time if the outcome has not been achieved, or agree to move on.

Flipchart/Whiteboard Note Taker

When someone charts the progress of the meeting on a flipchart easel or whiteboard it provides a broad view of how the meeting is advancing.

Diagraming contributions can stimulate new ideas or create linkages between concepts that may not have been made otherwise. It may also encourage persons who may be hesitant to share, especially in a group with of vocal participants with a tendency to assert themselves over others. Conversely, it could also moderate these persons, especially if their tendencies stem from a feeling that no one is listening or taking their ideas seriously. Ideas, once captured, can be referenced if there is repetition.

Flipchart notes should be legible, and accurately capture key contributions. They can be represented or accompanied by visual symbols or abbreviations for ease and alacrity. At the end of the meeting they may be transcribed and added to the formal notes, or stored and used as a reference in subsequent meetings.

Meeting Note/ Minute Taker

There is never a guarantee that you and the other meeting members will share the same understanding at a later date of what was discussed or agreed, no matter how short or simple the meeting may have been. Meeting notes or minutes should provide a record of important decisions, agreements, discussions and action items.

Because there may be different interpretations of what constitutes "meeting minutes" or "meeting notes" it is a good idea to provide a template or agree on the format in advance.

The person responsible for capturing the notes can be a meeting participant or an external person whose sole purpose is to create an accurate record of the meeting.

6. There Is an Action Plan for Follow-up

The final secret to successful meetings is to ensure that the meeting has been more than a just "talkshop". If there is an item that needs to be followed up then it should have an assigned timeline and an accountable person or persons. The list of items, timelines and persons responsible should be created and agreed as part of the recap at the end of the meeting. This should not be buried in the body of the meeting minutes/notes but should have a separate section where they can be clearly referenced.

Applying These Tips

So there you have it, six simple tips for more valuable meetings. You can be assured of a more productive meeting where all or some of these tips are applied.

If you are planning to add any of these suggestions to your next meeting you may want to implement them in stages so that it is not an overwhelming change for you or the other persons involved in the meeting.

References:

Schwarz, R. (2016). 8 Ground Rules for Great Meetings. Retrieved July 23, 2019.

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    © 2019 Audra Stevenson

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