As I write, the tree outside my window is laden with a flock of multi-coloured rainbow lorikeets. They’re having a meeting – is it to discuss the quality of their breakfast, to show off their beautiful orange waistcoats, have a chat about the wet weekend, or because the boss lorikeet said ‘Every Monday morning we have to have a meeting’?
Do they have an agenda? Do they know why they’re there? Are they meeting for the sake of it? As I watch, a late one flies in. Is someone spending 5 minutes bringing him up to speed, or had they been waiting to start until he got there? One bossy one seems to be making most of the noise. Is she pushing her own barrow, dominating the conversation, being verbose, talking without good reason?
Does any of this sound like your workplace? A huge amount of money and time is wasted with unproductive and poorly run meetings, and yet they fill a vital role in modern communication.
Key Points for Effective Meetings:
- Do you need a meeting at all? Is there some other more efficient way to reach the decision needed; a more efficient way to pass on the information you’re there to share?
- Even if some of you need to be there, do you all need to be? Have you ever counted up the salary cost of a roomful of senior executives?
- Have an agenda, which everyone should be able to contribute to – circulated at least a few days before the meeting. Benefit – No hidden surprises, no sudden dumping of issues.
- Stick to the agenda. If other issues are thrown in, and are relevant, ask for them to be held until General Business.
- Place the most important items at the top of the agenda. Benefit – if someone has to leave early, the critical items have been discussed.
- Where possible, get closure on each item. What’s the point of having another meeting if agreement can be reached now? At the very least, make sure there is SOME progress.
- Distribute minutes straight after the meeting – saves confusion over who is doing what.
- If meetings you attend are not well run, what are you doing about it? Don’t moan about it – bring it up as an agenda item.
Functions of A Chairperson:
- The agenda
- Control and atmosphere of the meeting
- ‘The buck stops here’
- Making sure that everyone contributes
- Ensuring that the tasks are evenly shared out, and the willing horses don’t end up with all the work (conditional on individuals’ time constraints, of course)
- If you need training, get it. An effective chairperson can make or break the effectiveness of any meeting.
- Be structured. Don’t dodge all around the agenda. Stay focused on one issue at a time, finish, and then move on.
- Give trivia the time it deserves. If something is urgent, but relatively unimportant, put a time limit on discussion.
- Watch the quiet people, and involve them. It is very easy for these folk to be dominated and talked over, and yet, because they are quieter, and not in such a hurry to air their opinions, they usually have very valid things to say.
- Ensure that the vocal members don’t dominate the meeting. If someone wanders, a chairperson has to kindly but firmly thank the garrulous one, saying something like, “Let’s hear from … ” , or “I think we need to keep on the topic.”
- Side conversations. These can be huge time-wasters, and the chairperson must nip them in the bud immediately, or the precedent will be set. They may have to stop the meeting and INSIST on only one person speaking at a time. If the pattern has already been set in an existing group, put it at the top of your next agenda for discussion, and get agreement. The rest of the group can then help the chairperson enforce it. Anyone who wants to chat socially can carry on after the meeting.
- Start on time. Benefit – why should the organised people be made to suffer for the slackness of others. If someone comes late, don’t stop and recap – it is their responsibility to catch up later, or from the minutes. By their tardiness they are expressing total disregard for the importance of other people’s time. If the chairperson is regularly late, one of the other participants can begin (they’ll soon cotton on!).
- Set a finish time, and stick to it. Benefit – People can plan their next appointment with confidence. Sometimes vital items may cause an over-run, but if they’ve been placed at the top of the agenda, this should be very rare.
- Don’t waste the time of the whole group on something which can be easily handled by a sub-committee of 2 or 3. If 10 people each speak for 2 minutes, 20 minutes has gone for ever!
- How about a stand-up meeting? When we get comfortable we’ll usually take longer. A number of companies regularly have morning stand-up meetings, and get through their agenda very quickly and efficiently.