Welcome to the Meetings That Work blog.
This is where we put our helpful tips and hints and we discuss all aspects of meetings.
This is where we put our helpful tips and hints and we discuss all aspects of meetings.
One of the key reasons often cited for holding a meeting is to take action in a particular area. Before this can happen then the meeting has to decide what needs to be done. This involves the tricky task of making decisions, which can be difficult to get a group of people to do. However without decisions the meeting will just keep talking round the subject meeting after meeting, leading to frustration and disillusionment
Here are some ways that, as the meeting leader, you can ensure those key decisions get made
If you get it right the whole group should leave the meeting feeling that they can support the decisions and champion it to others.
How do you ensure that decisions get made in your meetings?
In this context I don’t mean the thing you’re sitting on but the person leading the meeting! Chairing is a skill that we’re expected to learn by osmosis and the thought of leading a meeting can strike fear into the inexperienced.
Here are some rules and tips to help you manage your meetings with confidence
What tips do you have for running a successful meeting?
As people, we are all complex creatures and approach situations in many different ways. This is often seen in meetings. There are the people who like a meeting to be fast paced and decisive but also people who like to discuss, reflect and reach a consensus. When leading a meeting it can be a delicate balancing act to keep everyone on board.
Sometimes the behaviour of delegates can interfere with the running of the meeting so here are some tips to keep things on track when chairing a meeting
Know yourself – make sure you understand your preferred style and decide if it is appropriate for the meeting. Some delegates may really grate with you but you should always be even handed
Think what you want to achieve and make it clear to delegates what you expect of them – a decision, a point of view or information for example. Reinforce this at the start of the meeting
We’ve all met delegates who think their view is the only valid one or who just like the sound of their own voice. Make it clear you want to hear from all delegates and keep to timings on the agenda. Develop a supply of phrases along the lines of “Thanks Jane, let’s hear from John now”, “We’ve only got 20 minutes to hear from everyone, lets move on now”
Often there will be a delegate with a fixation on a particular issue, which they raise at every opportunity. Often their pet issue will be totally irrelevant to the meeting. One way to diffuse the issue is to have a “Car Park” sheet. You can say to the delegate “I appreciate that’s an important issue for you but it’s outside the aims of this meeting. I’ll put your issue on the Car Park sheet and you and I can discuss it at the end of the meeting”. Make sure you follow through and do this of course!
Some delegates are naturally more quiet and reflective. They can find robust debate harsh and aggressive. Try and draw them into discussion by asking them easy questions or using their name in an example. “So if we make Mark a super user he’d be able to change the master list”. Flattery can also be a good technique “Sue, I know you worked on a similar project last year, it would be really useful to hear your views”
What techniques do you have for dealing with behaviours in meetings?
The agenda is a key tool to ensuring a successful meeting. It makes the leader think about the best use of the time in the meeting and outlines to the attendees what will be happening during the meeting. Timings on the agenda are very useful especially if you have a few talkative attendees. The chair can use phrases like “We’ve only got 20 minutes to discuss this so thanks Janet, lets hear from John”
Here are a few tips for drawing up a successful agenda
What tips do you have for preparing an effective agenda?
Evidence that even the Great and the Good can get distracted! In the UK The Sun newspaper has published photos of MP Nigel Mills playing Candy Crush Saga during a recent meeting of the work and pensions committee. Mr Mills is a member of this committee and the meeting was discussing pension reforms. He admits
“There was a bit of the meeting that I wasn’t focusing on and I probably had a game or two.”
This has led to comments about the arrogance of MPs and hasn’t done their general image any good. However, if we are being honest, is there any one out there who has not got distracted during a meeting? We’ve all seen fellow attendees with that glazed look in their eyes and also experienced that feeling of “coming to” when we’ve drifted away from the discussion. So what can we do to minimise these distractions?
What are your downfalls in meetings? Which distractions do you find hard to resist?
I’m the first person to say that the leader of a meeting plays a key part in it’s success. If the leader does not have a clear purpose for the meeting, select the delegates who can contribute to these aims and keep things on track then the meeting will be ineffective.
However I also believe that all the delegates at a meeting have a part to play in ensuring a successful meeting. These are some of the key actions a delegate should take to make a positive contribution to the meeting
How do you make sure you make a good contribution as a delegate?
Talk to a senior manager in any large organisation and it will soon become apparent that they spend a great deal of time in meetings. Their staff can struggle to get time with them and they often feel that they aren’t doing any real work.
One consequence of this is that staff further down the ladder believe that to get on in the organisation they need to be seen at lots of meetings. Often they will accept a meeting invitation just to be seen there as that’s what the boss does. However they may then find themselves sitting in a meeting of little relevance and the temptation to do work during the meeting becomes overwhelming.
This scenario is described in much wittier terms by David Grady in his recent TED Talk “How to save the world or at least yourself from bad meetings”
So before you accept the next meeting invitation ask yourself this key question
“What is the purpose of the meeting?”
If you don’t know get in touch with the organiser and ask them. You may find that they struggle to answer the question, in that case you’ve prompted them to clarify their thinking. If they can answer the question and it’s clearly a meeting you can contribute to then accept the invitation. If it’s not clear why you have been invited ask them what they expect you to contribute. If you cannot make a valuable contribution to the meeting then decline the invitation. This will allow you to focus on preparing for the meetings you do attend and stop you from spending precious time in meetings that are irrelevant to you
What’s your approach to meeting invitations? How do you assess an invitation?
We’ve all heard the term “talking shop” and most of us have probably sat in one! It’s the sort of meeting where you spend a long time talking about an issue, only to repeat an almost identical discussion at the next meeting. This can happen when no decisions are made and hence no actions agreed and progressed.
At the end of a successful meeting everyone needs to leave fully understanding what actions they need to carry out. Every action has three components and they all need to be specified before the action can be completed successfully. These components can be thought of as the Action Triangle
In the heat of a busy meeting it’s very easy to forget to set a deadline for an action or to not assign an owner for an action. If everyone at the meeting remembers the Action Triangle then these oversights can be corrected during the meeting, making it more likely for actions to get completed. The talking shop will then become a place of action and progress
How do you make sure that actions are clear and get completed?
Recent news coverage of an appointment here in the UK has made me think about the expertise the chair of a group should bring the their meetings. I’m not trying to take sides or make a political point but the coverage I’m thinking of is about the appointment of Fiona Woolf to head the public inquiry into historical sex abuse.
Some of the concerns expressed are that Mrs Woolf has no background in these issues and so should not be chairing the inquiry. She is a lawyer and currently Lord Mayor of London. I understand that she will be chairing an inquiry team of nine others
In my experience this is a misinterpretation of the role of a chair of a group. I see the role of the chair to
The role of a chair needs a different skill set to that of a subject matter expert, though often this is not taken into consideration when appointments are made. There are risks with appointing an expert on a subject to lead a group, these include
What do you think? Can knowledge get in the way of chairing a group?
“We need a meeting about this” can be a knee jerk reaction from some managers. Meetings take people away from their core tasks and managers can easily find themselves going from meeting to meeting all day. That’s before you’ve taken into account the driving, printing of documents and the work left undone. There is comfort in sharing a task or issue with other people and it can give the illusion that something is being done. However a meeting is not always the most effective way to deal with an issue, think about the following issues
Are you overwhelmed by meetings? How do you control the number of meetings you attend?