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© 2019 by Joseph Stuart

Let's Have A Meeting

 

These are perhaps some of the four most dreaded words in the business world.  Why?  Simply because so few people know how to step up and manage a meeting and the rest of us have wasted untold hours attending meetings where we either had no input, saw no value in participating or saw nothing productive come out of the meeting.  The noted management consultant and author, Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, “one either meets or one works, one cannot do both at the same time.  I think this is a fair statement, since so many meetings breakdown into either “bitch sessions” or sometimes into “joke sessions”.  Part of the problem with meetings is simply the reason for having a meeting.  For me, there are major five reasons or types of meetings:  1.  information sharing, 2. discussion, 3. decision making, 4. creating, and 5. motivational meetings. 

 

1.   Information sharing meetings should be limited to just that, sharing information, not decision making.  Many times information meetings evolve on the fly into decision making meetings and that normally results in faulty decisions, hasty decisions, decisions that are made without performing due diligence.  If the meeting is truly for sharing information, we should consider sharing that information in a different format.  With today’s connected workforce, information can be shared via a variety of electronic mediums including email, SharePoint site, video tele-conference, or voice conference call.  This type of electronic communication tends to reduce side tracking by belligerent participants as it removes their “bully pulpit” to some extent.  NOTE:  Some information meetings must be done in person if all possible.  These include giving the employee a performance review, releasing an employee, laying out personal goals for the employee or similar such personal and related information.  These items should always be done in person and never over an electronic medium unless the employee is geographically separated and there is no plausible “face to face” option.

 

2. Discussion meetings  can be the one type of meeting that gives all meetings a bad name.  Discussion meetings often have participants who wander around the topic, those who voice their concerns loudly and attempt to control or overpower others in the meeting, and those who have no idea why they are in the meeting wasting time when they could be doing real work.  They simple key to controlling discussion meetings is to have an agenda and a timeline.  Don't allow the "spring butts" to control your meeting.  Preview the agenda so all can formulate their thoughts prior to the meeting.  Typically, this is accomplished by a simple "agenda email".  Second, when the meeting begins, have the agenda prominently displayed for all to see and refer back to the agenda as often as needed to keep the discussion on track.  Third, if attendees insist on straying to their pet topics, use  the parking lot technique to capture their concerns and promise (and keep that promise) to address those items at a later time, either at the end of the meeting if time allows, or perhaps at another meeting at some future time.

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3.  Decision making meetings are the most important meetings simply because they are designed to influence the organization’s success.  Decision making meetings should always have the decision makers present and prepared to make a decision.  Advance materials should be provided to the decision makers to allow time for attendees to review in private at their own pace and not hurriedly during the meeting. 

 

4.  Creation meetings are organized to create a solution to a situation.  No matter the situation, problem, task or need, creation meetings have a simple purpose: to come up with a process, procedure, solution, person, goal setting, or brainstorming to meet an organizational need.

 

5.   Motivational meetings are often the simplest of meetings to organize.  The key in a motivational meeting is to know what motivates the attendees.  I’ve seen a number of organizations where the intended motivation failed because of a lack of attendee analysis.  For example, making employees attend a mandatory session to talk about the success (or failure) of a product or program and providing pizza may not be perceived by all as a motivator.  Especially is the meeting is called during lunch when an employee has other activities already scheduled or they happen to really dislike pizza.   

In order to do this, I like to use the 5Ps method.  Yes, I actually learned this from my rocket scientist wife many years ago. 

 

  • Plan the agenda.

  • Provide the meeting agenda in advance.

  • Preside over the meeting - keep control, agree on actions and responsibilities, take notes.

  • Publish notes - especially actions and accountabilities.

  • Pursue agreed actions and responsibilities.

 

Let’s look at what goes into each of these Ps. 

 

Good meetings share the same characteristics.  First and foremost, they are PLANNED and organized.  This means a meeting structure is put in place via some format and the meeting follows the format.  Second, good meetings require preparation by the participants.  PROVIDING READ-AHEADS are essential for the attendees to be prepared to contribute to the meeting.  This is especially important in decision meetings.  Third, good meetings are managed by the PRESIDING official.  Meetings should always start at the appointed time.  Waiting for latecomers will only encourage additional latecomers in the future.  Meetings should have an announced start and stop time with an appropriate length for the material in the meeting.  Meetings should never run over time.  It shows a lack of planning on the part of the organizer and diminishes the outcome of the meeting.  Good meetings should encourage free and open discussion when time for discussion is provided.  Most meetings of any size have a “blood hound” who will take the meeting off track and go down the proverbial “rabbit trail”.  The meeting facilitator, chair, or moderator should ask the bloodhound to either hold that thought until later, or use the “parking lot” technique and write the subject on a dry erase board, flip chart or similar visual aid.  Recording this visually will help the bloodhound feel their idea is important and helps ensure the topic will be discussed later.  Fourth, all meetings should have a DESIGNATED NOTE TAKER AND NOTE PUBLISHER.  This person should be collocated with the presiding manager who should ensure the note taker is able to complete accurate notes, especially on who is tasked with what.  The notes should be published in a readily accessible format to all participants.  Finally, the fifth P, the meeting manager should follow up and PURSUE THE PUBLISHED ACTIONS with those assigned actions. 

 

Today’s distributed workforce often requires the use of conference calls to keep projects on track.  In addition to the normal meeting rules, some things to keep in mind that are especially important for conference call meetings are the use of a designated note taker.  While this is a great idea for any meeting, it’s really important in conference calls.  The nature of not seeing the person talking creates a real need for a designated note taker.  This person needs to be solely dedicated to note taking and not a regular contributing participant in the conference call.

 

Building the Agenda

  • Put the most important item first to ensure it is covered in a timely manner.

  • Vary the content of the agenda between heavy and lite agenda items.  This will help to keep the mood better throughout the meeting and help avoid consistent confrontation between participants on controversial subjects.

  • List approximate time for each item on the agenda.

  • Don’t over schedule.  Your first meetings may not go as smoothly as you would like, but with good notes and perseverance, your meetings will get smoother.

 

Meeting Location

Many meetings are relatively informal, held in meeting rooms 'on-site' and do not warrant extensive planning of the location.  Big important meetings held off-site at unfamiliar locations will absolutely require a lot of careful planning.  The Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is a great rule for any meeting, but especially for off-site meetings.

Venue choice is critical for certain sensitive meetings, but far less so for routine, in-house gatherings.  Whatever, there are certain preparations that are essential, and never leave it all to the meeting organizer.  Murphy lives and will attack when you least suspect it.   Other people will do their best but they're not you, and they can't know exactly what you want. You must ensure the room is right - mainly, that it is big enough with all relevant equipment and services. It's too late to start hunting for a 20ft power extension lead five minutes before the meeting starts.  I have a large metal briefcase containing a portable projector, small laptop, thumb drives, extension cord, ELMO projector, slide changer and laser pointer as well as 3X5 note cards that can quickly become name tag tents.  And of course, a roll of the ever critical duct tape.  If your extension cords are not duct taped down it could lead to a disaster if you or worse, your boss, trips and falls on a loose extension cord. I have learned that no matter what people tell you, the opportunity is always ripe for miscommunication and also for the location having broken equipment or “the equipment person is out sick today” or something similar.  I never leave that to chance.  I also have my own flip chart easel, flip chart paper and markers. 

 

Other aspects that you need to check or even set up personally are:

  • table and seating layout

  • tables for demonstration items, paperwork, hand-outs, etc.

  • electricity power points and extension cords

  • heating and lighting controls

  • location of toilets and emergency exits

  • confirm reception and catering (if used) arrangements

    All of the above can and will go wrong unless you check and confirm – at least twice, when you book the location and then again a few days before the meeting.

    For a big important meeting, you should also arrive an hour early to ensure everything is properly prepared.  If not, you have some time to take care of the shortfalls.  Some meetings are difficult enough without having to deal with domestic or logistics emergencies; and remember if anything goes wrong it reflects on you - it's your credibility as a trainer that will take the hit.

     

Tips for all Meetings

  • LIMIT ATTENDANCE to meetings where important decisions are made.  Keeping the attendance down will help limit the confrontations.  Prohibit “strap hangers” from attending.  If the meeting is a recurring meeting, you will soon be able to determine who the people are that just attending the meeting in order to avoid work.  Don’t let them give you the “I’m here just in case I’m needed” excuse.  If someone hasn’t contributed in a meaningful way in a half dozen meetings, it’s a cinch that they are using the meeting to hide out and avoid work.  The only meetings that should have “mass attendance” are informational and motivational meetings. 

  • Schedule late in the day or before lunch time to help keep them short.

  • Provide an agenda before the meeting and stick to it.

  • Make sure all in attendance at the meeting are heard clearly as appropriate.

  • Summarize each point after completion.

  • Designate a formal note taker. Make assignments with due dates.

  • Publish the notes from the meeting so everyone knows what they were tasked with as well as who else was tasked during the meeting.  

  • Always start and finish on time, late comers will learn that they have missed important information and will make the effort to attend on time next time.  It’s never acceptable to run overtime on meetings.  People have other duties in addition to attending meetings, ending the meeting on time lets others know you respect their time and that you will not abuse that time.

  • Assign time limits to topics.

  • If conflict arises, focus on issues, defuse interpersonal confrontations.

  • Sometimes, it’s useful to rotate the chair.

  • As a last resort, remove all chairs and make the participants stand.  You might be amazed at how productive meetings can be if the participants are all standing.  I’ve done this a couple of times when I knew some attendees had a proclivity to expound beyond what was necessary.

GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR MEETINGS!