Designing Effective Meetings that Work!
Communicating Successfully for a Stronger Organization
The key to effective meetings is to identify why they are significant to the attendees. The failure of meetings is that they are on the calendar and regularly scheduled to occur despite whether there are reasons to meet or not. This presentation discusses finding the purposes of meeting topics, creating an agenda that communicates the purpose of each item, and developing an action plan identifying leaders who will carry out the tasks on a timeline and report the progress or results.
- Analyze strategies to increase the effectiveness of meeting preparation and reporting.
- Integrate significant practices to improve communication.
- Apply strategies to individual communication practice.
Designing a Meeting Effectiveness Pathway
- Purpose of Meetings
- Situational Factors
- Minutes/Action Items
- Archiving Meeting Minutes
Meeting agendas and minutes are artifacts of the steps to achieving outcomes for projects and mission.
WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE DISLIKE MEETINGS?
Most people don’t hate meetings, in general. They hate poorly run meetings. Meetings are often seen as a waste of time. Most participants have been in enough bad meetings that they think they can use the time better if they just worked on their own. This may benefit the individual as they check boxes to complete a list of tasks, however, it does little to benefit the organization as a whole.
Meetings imply importance. Many employees feel a responsibility to have to attend them since they are usually mandatory.
Here is a list of the reasons why people dislike meetings. You may have other personal reasons to add to this list.
- The purpose for the meeting isn’t well defined.
- Meetings are mandatory (usually).
- There is seldom an urgency or importance communicated about the content of the meeting.
- Things get talked about, but rarely get done.
- The meeting fits the time. If you get done early, the meeting lasts until the end of the scheduled time anyway.
- In many organizations, the individual is more highly valued than the team.
- Meetings usually disseminate more work. Who wants more to do?
- Poor group experiences are a carryover from “school” assignments.
- Meeting facilitation is often done by people who don’t know how to run effective meetings.
- Participants don’t understand the importance of their role in a meeting.
- What gets said in the meeting usually will be repeated in subsequent meetings so there is little evidence of action to accomplish the goals.
- Self-assessment of the purpose of meetings doesn’t occur. Different meetings have different purposes. Knowing the importance of your role in each type helps you to see your significance.
- Extroverts like meetings more than introverts do.
- Meeting inflation is filling our calendar.
The myth is that everyone hates meetings. However, some individuals actually like and embrace them. Meetings are still one of the best ways to ensure that the same message is being communicate organization wide. It helps everyone to hear the message at the same time and in the same way. Email doesn’t do the same since people will read these at different times.
Think About It
What is your take on meetings? What do you enjoy about meetings and what do you dislike about them?
Tips to Consider
The following ways to change meetings came from the Forbes article, Why Do Employees Hate Meetings, And What Can Be Done To Make Them Better? (Feb. 8, 2020).
- Cut Meetings in Half. It seems like an impossible goal, but with time and the agenda plan shared later in this presentation, it is doable. Remember, we tend to fill the meeting time no matter how long it is.
- Use a Trained Facilitator to Run the Meeting. Much of what needs to be discussed in the meeting is content. A facilitator isn’t involved with the content, they are only looking at the effective use of time in working with the meeting’s framework.
- Remember that the Meeting is About More than You. By communicating the purpose of the items of the on the meeting agenda, participants can come prepared to learn and contribute to those items.
KEY ELEMENTS TO DESIGNING EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
To Meet, or Not to Meet
The first question to be asked is whether there is a purpose for having meeting? Is the meeting venue the best way to communicate information or could the content be shared in another way to gain the same result.
Meetings cost money. Have you ever counted up the time it takes to have a meeting. Let’s say that 10 employees and managers attend a 1-hour meeting. Add up how much each person attending gets paid for an hour of their work. To keep it simple, use $40 per hour, per person. This meeting cost is $400. Is the purpose of the meeting worth $200? Most leaders would say yes. However, take into consideration that employees make more than $40 an hour (with the additional costs of benefits), and that the entire meeting experience with preparation, networking as the meeting starts, and getting back to tasks after the meeting will take more than an hour. Probably, closer to two hours away from getting other work completed. Now the meeting cost is closer to $700-$2000 for the organization. Is it worth it? Finally consider, standing meetings that run each week, and may or may not have much important information to address.
Think About It
What are the best reasons for conducting a meeting instead of using other forms of communication that may achieve greater results? Have you considered using other means to gather information or convey the information that is presented in a meeting (i.e. email, survey, online discussion posts, etc.)
Positive Results of Meetings
Meetings can provide networking and trust building opportunities. There is a benefit of growing closer relationships with those whom you will work with. The understanding of one another can be a cost saver later when teams are formed and skill sets have been previously identified. These relationships develop ways to know who is a trusted colleague to bounce ideas with. These face-to-face opportunities don’t happen as easily in a more isolated online web meetings. Meeting in person and developing strong relationship foundations will be helpful when employees will have to meet online, since they will have a base with one another.
Planning for the Purpose of Effective Meetings
Reasons to Identify a Meeting’s Situational Factors
Focusing on the Situational Factors for a series of meetings is critical to better design effective meetings that are meaningful and significant to the participants. Meetings should be designed to announce initiatives, identify roles, identify deliverables, list the effective strategies and tools leading to success, monitor progress, assess performance, demonstrate accountability and archive results. The results are a way to determine what is valuable to the organization, its employee teams, and clients/customers. Doing so will build success experiences today that will be used to achieve even more in the future.
The design of the meetings will help to create collaborative teams that can work efficiently and effective during this initiative and all future initiatives. One of the key outcomes is to develop a shared vision in how to work together and how to blend each participant’s strengths in a cumulative skill set. Creating a common vision around the purpose of the meetings helps to minimize the question, “Why do we need to meet?”
Great meetings don’t usually happen by accident. They are intentional. Many people call for a meeting without doing the prior thinking and planning to set the framework for effective communication. Each series of meeting will have a set of Situational Factors. Considering these factors will guide the meeting successfully to get the results you want to achieve. The table below was adapted from the book, Designing Effective Teaching and Significant Learning. The table is used for designing effective meetings as it will help you plan the thinking involved with purposes for establishing a series of meetings.
Think About It
Consider a project or initiative in your organization that will need a series of meetings to implement. Use the Meeting Situational Factors sheet to think through the planning for the meetings. Identify the key factors will impact the series of meetings.
Activity: Download or reflect on the Situational Factors for Meetings planning sheet. Identify and describe the situational factors in the follow categories that will impact the meetings. Knowing the factors will help you plan for meetings that are effective and efficient. Identify and describe the situational factors in the follow categories that will impact the meetings. Considering the factors will help you plan for meetings that are effective and efficient.
Once you have established the planning for meetings and understand the elements behind them, use these following strategies to develop an agenda that will act as the framework for the meeting.
ACTION AGENDA: THE FRAMEWORK TO PROVIDE QUALITY AND SUCCESS
Purpose of an Agenda:
- Like all initiatives, meetings can run better when they have goals and outcomes.
- Stay on point when communicating; it keeps the discussion on topic.
- Clear and concise information communicated.
- Participants can prepare for the meeting by bringing ideas when asked for, researching for information to add to the discussion, and be able to share deeper responses through reflection that adds to the productivity of the meeting.
- Send a call for meeting agenda items several days before the meeting. Establish a process and point person to gather the items and any documentation needed to add it to the agenda.
- Send the agenda to all participants 2 days prior to meeting so participants have time to prepare their thoughts.
- Tell participants of an item’s purpose, status or outcome. Is the topic there to gather information, create a discussion, reach a decision or to take action?
- Set and follow the time limits for each item to keep the meeting on schedule. Choosing a time keeper whose role it is to watch the timing explicitly.
- If a longer discussion or new items is needed during the meeting, stay on time and add it to the end of the agenda if time allows or add it to the next meeting’s agenda.
Activity: Download or reflect on the Meeting Agenda planning sheet. Identify the places for the following information:
- Meeting Information,
- Agenda Items,
- Meeting Notes for each Item.
- Decisions Made during the Meeting and Who is Responsible,
- List of Issues or Questions that Need to be Addressed,
- Action Items for Follow Up, and
- Future Items to be Considered.
Consider how having all of this information in the agenda framework can help with running a successful meeting.
Practices for Taking Minutes:
- Take specific notes. Details get less clear once the meeting has concluded.
- Fill in the entire sheet so all participants will agree on:
- Decisions made
- Issues/Questions that need answering
- Action items/follow-up by specific individuals
- Future items to be addressed
- Have participants take their own notes as well. Writing things down has a positive effect on memory and helps participants engage more with the topic and the ideas they may come up with. Participants can take a more active role than sitting passively by during the meeting.
Assessment of Meeting
Quite often when the clock runs out or the last agenda item is completed the meeting stops and participants return to their own work. This practice is a missed opportunity as it doesn’t bring closure to the meeting process.
Quick Meeting Assessment Practice
One-Minute Paper survey (face-to-face meetings). On a half sheet of paper have each participant complete the questions below and submit them on their way out. If you want a high participation rate we recommend keeping it anonymous. If you send this via email after the meeting the return rate tends to be much lower.
- What was the best takeaway from this meeting?
- What topics remain unclear or need further clarification?
- What do you need help with?
- What would you like to discuss more or learn more about?
- Optional: Include your name if you would like individual follow up.
Purpose for Quick Assessment
By providing this short assessment you can quickly determine the effectiveness of the meeting and you may get some very helpful feedback.
- Follow up with items that need clarification with all participants
- Develop communication on items in which participants need help.
- Fast assessment – allows you to see quickly how effective the communication in the meeting was. Provides an avenue for questions to be asked.
Formal Meeting Assessment Practice
Occasionally you may want to include a more formal survey of the participants. Two forms are included for you to consider in making your own. The first is an overall meeting assessment. The second is a participant self-assessment in order to model the expectations for an organization’s meetings.
Archive for Past Agendas
- Establish a place to electronically archive all meeting agendas, minutes and documents for meetings accessible from any location 24/7. Perhaps there is folder on a shared drive for all to access.
- Designate one person to be the archive curator.
- Software/Cloud-based vs. Computer. Keeping the archives on the cloud make them accessible
- Encourage all employees to create an archive folder to keep on their device.
Think About It
Agenda Reflection: How can the framework of this agenda help your team to complete the work that must be done in a timely manner and communicate the action that is taking place within the organization?
Additional Effective Meeting Strategies
Using the strategies previously discussed can lead to more ideas about designing effective meetings. According to NBC News consider:
- Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings. This allows time for attendees to leave a meeting and get to the next one on time. They can prepare themselves for the meeting physically and mentally to be productive in the next meeting.
- Do the prep. With agendas and content previously sent, participants will be able to form ideas to share to the meeting so that the time together can be used more effectively.
- Give people the option to opt out. This tip may be a bit more controversial. It may give the meeting leader a chance to better think about who should be there and who shouldn’t prior to the meeting.
- Leaders should establish a meeting policy for the office. This helps everyone understand the expectations around participating in meetings.
- Set the meeting length to what will be covered. All meetings don’t need to run for exactly an hour or two. Using the agenda with timing for each item can keep the meeting on schedule. It is alright for meetings to run for 30-45 minutes. Don’t fill the time with meeting. If you are done early, then adjourn.
- Use the agenda to state the meeting outcomes and timing for each item.
- Put your devices away. Unless you are researching items for the meeting most aren’t necessary. Be present at the meeting. Don’t allow checking emails and cleaning up documents isn’t effective. If the meeting is important, then participate.
- Don’t attend, participant. Participation is active. Attending is passive. Let everyone know they are there to participate.
- Meetings have beginnings, middles, and ends. Most people forget the endings. Use the agenda/minutes to quickly summarize the action items as closure to the meeting.
In order to get your participants engaged in your meetings, consider flipping them. Send out the information about each of the items ahead of time so they read and get up to speed prior to attending. This provides attendees time to think and form questions. Tell them that they will have time to share their thoughts. Since many meetings feel like you are drinking from the first hose, they can prepare their foundational knowledge and bring application and implementation questions to the discussion.
Another idea is assign champions (1 or 2 employees) to take on initiatives and guide the topics through discussion. This brings more voices into the room increasing participation and engagement. You can also assign one participant the role of being the client or customer to bring that perspective into the meeting. This helps everyone remember, why you are trying to make the changes you are making.
Listen to all voices. Sending out content with a few questions you want answered in the meeting, allows employees the opportunity to think, reflect, and solve. You want to hear from all of them. One technique that I have seen that works well, is to have each team member type their responses into an online site prior to a meeting anonymously so that all ideas are shared with everyone during the meeting. This can also be done with a half-sheet of paper and left at the door at the conclusion of the meeting and then the champions can reread them to make sure they include them in the solution.