meeting

How to organize an effective meeting

I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings – Jonah Goldberg

 

H

ow many times did you find in a meeting that didn’t need to be held or that was attended by more people than necessary? Let’s think also to call conferences and virtual meetings, of course.

Meetings are necessary to coordinate individual efforts, gather support for ideas, solve problems collectively (the famous “brainstorming”), and make consensus-based decisions.

Essentially, meetings are a gathering of two or more persons to collectively accomplish what one person cannot.
 

Do we really need a meeting?

Sometimes meetings don’t need to be held, and often, those that are held, are attended by more people than necessary.

We have to know that there are more efficient ways to “meet” our objectives without holding a meeting. Some of these alternatives include: phone calls, conference calls, memos, e-mails, teleconferencing, and so on.

Before scheduling our next meeting, we have to clearly define the objectives. Let’s try to answer the following four questions to understand if a meeting is really necessary:

What do we want to accomplish or gain?

What do we want to accomplish or gain?

  • Why are we scheduling this meeting?
  • What do we want to accomplish or gain?
  • What information will be exchanged or decisions made?
  • Who will be attending that we need to meet or gain their support?

Once we have clarified our objectives, we still need to determine if a meeting is the best way to reach them. To make sure a meeting will be the best use of time and energy for all concerned, we have to determine if it will be used for at least one of the following reasons:

  • To suggest information to a group
  • To gather information from a group
  • To answer questions
  • To participate in group decision making
  • To brainstorm ideas
  • To solve problems
  • To show or provide support for others

If we have determined a meeting is the best mean to carry out our team’s objective, then we should begin to organize for an effective meeting.
 

Let’s organize the meeting!

Good meetings are the result of good planning. The time we spend before will result in major benefits later by efficiently using the meeting time, accomplishing objectives, and avoiding the need for follow-up meetings. When deciding to hold a meeting, we should also decide who should attend and what is the objective of the meeting. To help in planning meetings, below is a checklist of major elements essential for meeting effectiveness.

  • Objective: we have to plan meetings with a clear purpose. Let’s define the objective of the meeting (e.g. to decide the marketing strategy for our product this year).
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  • Participants: who needs to attend this meeting to accomplish the purpose?
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  • Structure: how should the meeting be organized to best accomplish the purpose? No ideas? Here are some examples: guest speakers, videos, brainstorming sessions, discussion groups, demonstrations, etc.
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    Agenda

    Set location and time

  • Location and Time: let’s select a meeting place that best matches the participant’s needs, the objective, and the meeting structure. When planning where to meet, let’s give consideration to size, comfort, accessibility, adequate parking, room acoustics, equipment needs, etc. Choosing a meeting time depends on the availability of participants and meeting facilities. The anticipated length of the meeting should also be a factor in deciding when to schedule the meeting.
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  • Agenda: we have to prepare a meeting agenda and, most important, to distribute to participants at least three days prior to the meeting day (it’s a good sense rule, we’ll have to adjust it based on our needs; we could even have a rule establishing a more long timing). An agenda is crucial to meeting success in three ways: 1) it clarifies the objectives, so people understand the meeting purpose and tasks; 2) distributing the agenda prior to the meeting helps participants plan and prepare to make an effective contribution; and 3) during the meeting, the agenda provides direction and focus for the discussion.
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    Set individual assignments

    Set individual assignments

  • Responsibilities: there should be a mutual understanding of not only the meeting purpose, but also individual assignments and how they fit into the program. Those meetings that are more focused on brainstorming or creativity may require little or no individual assignments. In task-oriented or policy deciding meetings, it is best to prepare a written summary of assigned duties so individuals know what their responsibility is for the meeting.
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  • Confirmation: if it is a first meeting or if the meeting is on a new day or time, let’s individually contact all participants a week to three days before the meeting day. Contact can be as simple as sending everyone a friendly reminder through office e-mail or phone calls. For regularly scheduled meetings, choose a location and meeting time and try not to change it.

 

The facilitator is responsible for seeing that the planning gets done, not necessarily for doing it. Every step can be delegated. If we are responsible for conducting the meeting and we chose to delegate the tasks of organizing the meeting, we’ll have to make sure we are familiar with the agenda, objectives, and any relevant background information before the meeting begins.
 

Let’s run an effective meeting

The meeting facilitator is responsible for setting the meeting tone, keeping the discussion on track, and making sure everyone has a fair chance of being heard. The facilitator should also summarize relevant points and tie things together when the discussion jumps around between interrelated topics.

Filling the role of facilitator is no easy task, especially when misunderstandings occur. Although a well-planned meeting will significantly reduce surprises and meeting confusion, there is no guarantee everything will run smoothly, even with the best planning. Here are some suggested guidelines on how to run effective meetings:

  • Begin on time and end on time – If we begin a meeting five to seven minutes after it was scheduled, we are starting late. Starting a meeting late sends the message that it’s okay to be late and it shows a lack of respect and appreciation for those who make the effort to arrive on time. Some people may have back-to-back meetings. Ending on time shows respect for participant’s valuable time. However, no one ever complains if you are fortunate enough to end early.

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  • Use the Agenda – Let’s review the agenda with participants at the beginning of the meeting and ask them if any changes need to be made on time allocations or discussion content.
    Let’s constantly refer back to the agenda throughout the meeting to keep discussion centered on the stated purpose and specified agenda items. It’s a good hint to post the agenda on an easel pad and tape it to the wall, this way everyone can refer to the agenda when discussion seems to be getting off track.
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    easel pad

    Use an ideas “bin”

  • Use an Ideas Bin – A “bin” consists of blank sheets torn from an easel pad and taped to the wall (we could also use post-it). Any idea that is unrelated to the current topic is written on the easel pad paper. The bin serves two valuable purposes: 1) it stores valuable ideas for consideration at an appropriate and convenient time, and 2) it allows discussion to stay focused on the agenda topic. Using the bin is an effective way to keep discussion focused and it helps people hold onto their thoughts and ideas without being disruptive to the meeting. We should explain the use of the bin at the beginning of the meeting. During the meeting the facilitator should record bin items as they come up, or participants should record their own bin items when they feel discussion is getting off track.
     
    Another useful trick we could use for brainstorming meetings, for example, is to try the mental maps; I use them personally in those occasions and I assure you that are fantastic because are a great way to generate new ideas, find solutions to troubles and so on.
  • Mental Map Example

    Mental Map Example

  • Establish and Use Ground Rules – Ground rules are explicit rules that the group agrees to follow to help them facilitate productive discussions. Whether the group formulates the ground rules or the meeting facilitator presents them, all group members should reach consensus on following the ground rules. The ground rules should be written down on easel pad paper and taped to the wall for everyone to see. Ground rules lay out the expectations of “the way things should be done at meetings.” Ground rules are used to facilitate group interaction, not to restrict it. The group can change the ground rules or add new ones based on group needs.Examples of some typically used ground rules include: arrive and start on time; stick to the agenda; everyone participates; be realistic when accepting follow-up tasks; focus on interests, not positions; separate people from the problem; respect different viewpoints; share responsibility for following the ground rules.
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  • Control dominating individuals – Let’s make sure each individual has a fair chance of expressing ideas and opinions. Do not let one person dominate the discussion. Of equal importance is to ensure that quiet participants are expressing their ideas and opinions. This may require the facilitator to directly call on the quiet member and ask them for their opinion or for any ideas they would like to share.
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    Bring Food

    Bring food

  • Bring Food – Food energizes and motivates people more effectively than any other meeting tactic. Although many people still prefer the standard coffee, alternatives such as fruit, juice, and muffins could be provided. For afternoon meetings, cookies, hard candy, fruit, and cheese are several suggestions.
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    Summarize

    Summarize

  • Summarize – Let’s conclude the meeting by summarizing the discussion, decisions made, tasks delegated, deadlines, and any action required by participants. Depending on the time available, either address bin items or place them on the agenda for the next meeting. Let’s include in the summary any review plans for follow-up or the need to schedule any succeeding meetings. It is far easier to schedule the next meeting while everyone is at the table then it is to wait and contact each participant individually.

 
The responsibility for the success and effectiveness of the meeting ultimately rests equally with everyone in the group. A well-planned agenda, posted ground rules, and using a bin are the three most important keys to running effective meetings. Meetings can be fun and productive. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of the meeting and lose sight of perspectives. Stress diminishes creativity and spontaneity and generally lowers the quality of results achieved by the group. So relax and remember that the best results come from groups who are able to laugh together, discuss their mistakes, and take pride in their efforts.
 

I’m an enthusiastic and highly motivated PMP and Prince2 (Foundation) Senior Program Manager with 16+ years experience in the Healthcare industry. I often work in highly pressurized and challenging environments, managing a large-scale software development program up to an order value of €6M. I’m extremely professional in approach and behaviour, adaptable to change, very meticulous, collaborative, energetic, resilient, innovative, proactive and pragmatic. I’m passionate about process improvement, technology innovation, knowledge sharing techniques and how businesses can capitalize on social media integration. My greatest strength is helping to focus my organization’s efforts on the activities necessary to achieve strategic goals and objectives in order to consistently meet both the customer’s and business’ needs; on time and under budget.

 
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