March 6, 2012 - Now that you’ve started your meeting on time, let’s talk about managing it more effectively. Leading a meeting requires some of the sample planning and organization. It will likely require the same prep whether the meeting is with your team, or a customer.
As the meeting manager, it is up to you to ensure that the objectives of the meeting are met and that it is a worthwhile use of people’s time. Consider these five simple elements to make your next meeting a success:
- Prepare. As we mentioned already, prepare and circulate an agenda ahead of time. It should cover all the main items to be discussed. Make it short enough to be manageable by assessing how long you expect discussion on each item to take. In more formal environments the meeting manager’s agenda would be different from the one circulated to attendees. It would include room for your notes, any sub-items, and an assessment of discussion time to remind your how long the item is expected to take to keep everything on track.
- Manage discussion. Don’t let one person ‘hog’ the discussion. Encourage everyone to have a point of view. With particularly difficult issues, or problem-solving, it can be useful to run the discussion more formally. State the issue or proposal and let every person have a chance to respond. If you ask the group’s permission to adopt this method, most people will comment only once and be to the point. For sensitive items, this can be a useful method of keeping the energy levels manageable and tempers in check. Wrap the discussion up by restating the proposal and sharing the action or consensus-based decision.
- Focus on actions. Determine who is doing what and by when. Everything happens because someone takes an action, but nothing happens without it. Have each action tied to a person, and an agreed completion date. This also prevents a discussion from getting bogged down in complaints and recriminations. Don’t allow one person to do all the work. It is part of your responsibility to make sure the load is spread properly.
- Record. Your meeting minutes can be as simple as a list of actions with who will perform which one and by what deadline. You can pick your preferred format, unless there is a requirement or an organizational rule which governs the format. Whatever the format, you will always need the actions, the responsible person, and the agreed deadline. This way, anyone to the group should find it easy to pick up where others have left off by reading the minutes of the last two or three meetings.
Interestingly, there is also a ‘people factor’ in minute-taking. Little (except discontent) is achieved by recording who said what. However, it can encourage responsibility and participation, if you note people’s achievements and their completion of any task.
- Follow up. As meeting leader, it is usually your responsibility to check around with everyone that the proposed actions are actually taking place and will happen by the agreed date. It doesn’t need to be a heavy-handed process; a simple “how’s it going with such-and-such?” can open a floodgate of information and act as a reminder. It may also be useful for highlighting problems early instead of waiting for the next meeting to discover something hasn’t been done.
Most meetings will begin with a review of what was decided last time and what has happened since. You may do it by formally by reviewing minutes, or just run down the action list from last time with everyone reporting on their progress. There is no one ‘right’ way of doing it. Recording progress is useful. It helps in deciding on further action and when you need to look back to check on something later, it helps to have progress noted in the meeting minutes.
Whether your group follows a formal structure or an informal one, leading the meeting is seldom a case of ‘just turn up and do it.’ Proper preparation, management of the discussion and then follow up will inspire respect in the group members and make managing the meeting itself very much easier.