How to make meetings work

Make your meetings work productively

Most people agree that positive and productive outcomes should be the key objectives of meetings.

Unfortunately, it is quite common for many people to say that a large proportion of the meetings they attend do not work and achieve little if anything at all.

Yet running meetings efficiently is a relatively straightforward process.

Even if you have never run a meeting, by doing a little preparation in advance and being willing to take control of the proceedings, you will go a long way to ensuring that your meeting achieves its overall purpose.

Whether you chair a local committee, run regular business meetings or find yourself having to referee family gatherings, knowing what you are doing will greatly enhance your confidence and improve the outcomes.

The problem with meetings

It’s essential to remember that meetings are always a means to an end; they are never an end in themselves. The conclusion of a meeting is usually just the beginning for other activities, even if it is simply the setting up of another meeting.

By regarding meetings as a constructive way of making decisions and the start of getting things done, you will find it much easier to direct your efforts. This means that the purpose for which the meeting was called is more likely to be achieve

There are four key stages involved in ensuring that meetings work well for you.

1. Meet with momentum

Meetings have a momentum of their own and will vary in pace, rhythm and mood. But because they bring people together as a group, they also exert another influence – one which imposes a more or less predictable pattern of behaviour on the participants.

To make a meeting really productive it is necessary to take account of what is going on below the surface. When a group of people meet regularly they need to learn how to work together and for this they need to go through a process of forming, storming, norming, and ultimately, performing, in order to become a coherent and productive group.

Group pressure can also be brought to bear on individual thinking and decision-making and this can alter the dynamics of the meeting – sometimes lead to more risky outcomes than expected.

When you are called upon to run a meeting, being aware of how groups develop and function makes it considerably easier to understand the range of underlying forces which may be at play

2. Organise the meeting

The amount of care you give to how you organise a meeting contributes greatly to its success. The four things that you need to decide are

  • What type of meeting it is. By spending a little time organising the meeting, this will help you to run the proceedings smoothly.
  • What the meeting is about. It is said that over 80% of a meeting’s success is determined before it takes place. A relevant agenda is an essential constituent of any meeting, since it ensures people know in advance what the meeting is about.
  • Who needs to be present. When you give thought to who should attend the meeting, this also contributes considerably to its success. With the right people there, it is easier to get things decide.
  • Where and when it is to be held. Meeting in comfortable conditions enables everybody to concentrate on the subject matter, and apportioning time to each topic means that a plan exists to provide a framework for results.

3. Control the meeting

For any decision to become a solution, you need to take positive action. This means planning how you will go about implementing your decision. When you take direct action, you put yourself well on the path to solving your problem, and this should give you plenty of confidence to go out and look for another one to solve.

Whatever form meetings take and whatever their purpose, it is up to the person running (or chairing) them to be clear about what needs to be achieved and to keep that aim in view at all times

The role of Chairperson is not unlike that of a sheep dog, having to herd its flock into a pen. The sheep may try to stray, but constant checking and chivvying keeps them moving in the right direction. It is vital to sum up the main conclusions of the meeting, so that action can result.

4. Document the meeting

A meeting needs to be accurately documented so that everyone knows precisely what was agreed and specifically who is committed to doing what.

Recording the proceedings is a key activity. Without written evidence it can only be recalled by hearsay and memory, neither of which is reliable. The record needs to be succinct and should be written sooner rather than later. It should be viewed as a prompt to all those attending to act on the decisions made.

Therefore the clearer the record, the more likely others are to take note of what they are supposed to be doing, and the more likely it is that the meetings you run will result in action.

Enjoy the benefits that you get from running meetings well

Meetings are an integral part of managing anything. It is important to bear in mind that to have results, they need to be well run. And to run them well, you need to know what needs to be done and have confidence in doing it.

The main benefits that arise from running meetings well are that:

  • People are better informed.
  • People have a forum to express their views.
  • People can explore and assess ideas.
  • Agreement is reached.
  • Decisions are made, even if they are decisions to take no decision.
  • People are more likely to accept the decisions because they have been part of the decision-making process.
  • Action is taken.
  • Things get done – which is why you held the meeting in the first place.

Getting people involved in what is happening is a very good way to gain their commitment to taking action. By running your meetings effectively, you will prompt this to happen and reap the rewards.

Kate Keenan
©May 2017

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