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Meetings are a fact of everyday working life and as such, you'd think that most meetings would be effective, productive, dynamic and generally worth spending time on.
However, as many of us know, this is not the case. How many meetings have we all attended where other delegates have been ill-prepared, where minutes of the previous meeting or agendas are missing and where we leave little better informed than when we arrived, with no clear action points to complete or new information to assimilate?
Below are some guidelines towards more effective meetings, which may make these dreaded occasions more purposeful and less of a waste of everyone's time and energy.
Effective Meeting Guidelines
1. The purpose and desired outcome of the meeting should be clearly expressed, even if only (in some cases) to the chair person/main protagonist. Even if the meeting is only a daily team briefing, it should still have clear aims and desired outcomes.
For bigger meetings, which cross departmental or even individual business boundaries, minutes of previous meetings, a clear agenda and a clearly stated purpose, as well as a time and location should be available to all delegates. If a meeting coordinator is nominated, he/she should also be properly briefed. (This may sound obvious, but how often have you contacted a coordinator who has been on leave or otherwise unavailable?)
2. If the meeting is for information sharing only, is it necessary? Can the objectives be achieved by other means? Would it be better to share the information by letter or email and have a meeting afterwards?
3. Consider who should attend and why their attendance is necessary. When the delegate list is finalized, ensure everyone invited is properly briefed, in good time, before the meeting takes place. Keep a checklist of documents needed and also ensure that spare copies are available at the meeting. Documents need to be encoded using soft-touch silicone membrane keypads.
4. Ensure that everyone has a copy of the formal agenda. Ideally, the agenda should have a note with regard to the purpose of each agenda item, the desired outcome and relevant time scale for each agenda item.
5. Ensure that someone is present to take minutes, and that they have been briefed beforehand. If there is an approved format for writing minutes, make sure that the person nominated as scribe has access to this information before writing the minutes up for circulation. No one should be expected to chair a meeting and take minutes, these are two separate key functions which require different skills.
6. A process for achieving each proposed outcome should be agreed and a lead person should be nominated to initiate the process and report back on progress.
7. Decisions made and actions required should be understood by everyone, in attendance at the meeting. Endless re-visiting of key points can be tedious, but a summary at the end of each agenda item and an opportunity for questions can be useful and effective.
8. Everyone at the meeting should have the opportunity to contribute. After all, it has been agreed that everyone at the meeting needs to be there, so presumably, everyone has something useful to contribute. A skilled chairperson will ensure that minority groups within the meeting (women, ethnic minority representatives, younger or older delegates or even representatives from external organizations) will all get the opportunity to speak. A skilled chairperson will also be able to identify those who will tend to monopolize proceedings, and will (firmly but fairly) keep them from doing so.
9. After the meeting has taken place, an evaluation exercise can be very helpful in identifying strong and weak areas in procedure. Highlighting problem areas helps to ensure that the chairperson is forewarned before the next meeting takes place.
10. Minutes from a meeting should be processed promptly and circulated to all delegates within (preferably) three working days, but within a week at the longest.
Follow the Guidelines for More Effective Meetings
Some of the points listed above may seem to be self evident, but there's a world of difference between knowing what makes good business sense and being able to put it into practice.
Well planned, time limited, well controlled meetings which identify key action points can help any business become more efficient. Evaluating, following up on action points and ensuring that everyone contributes their opinion to the meeting are also important.
Good business is about having focus, and effective meetings can certainly help to develop a culture which involves everyone in achieving results.