We've all been in that meeting where you'd literally rather pull your hair out than sit through another energy draining minute. I've been in more meetings than I care to count over my 25+ years in corporate finance and education and have facilitated a fair share of meetings. People are social animals and for the most part enjoy interacting with their peers and this tendancy can cause any gathering to stray from it's intended purpose. If you will be facilitating a meeting here are several important components to running a successful business meeting that can save time and make your meetings more productive.
A successful agenda is one of the most important components of a productive meeting because it will determine who the invitees are and what will be disscussed. A poorly written agenda will make it difficult to keep attendees on task and limit your ability to successfully complete the goals of the meeting.
- Does the agenda item pertain to all parties? If it doesn't, respect the time of invitees and place the item at the end of the agenda.
- Is the agenda item clear, concise, and does it require immediate action? Deciding what to add as an agenda item often requires a keen understanding of your supervisor's needs and the overall goals of the project. It will do you know good if you accomplish the goals of the meeting yet fail to meet the immediate needs or expectations of your supervisor or the project. Keep the agenda concise but provide enough information so that invitees are clear on what they will be discussing and what they will be expected to contribute towards a solution to the item.
- Email the agenda in advance to only those individuals that are critical to the successsful completion of your agenda items. Make it clear to invitees that they need to come prepared with all necessary insight and materials to address agenda items. If the invitee lacks the expertise then there should be guidelines for allowing invitee designee's to participate in the discussion. If meeting participants are not prepared to discuss the agenda item it is a recipe for failure.
Clearly Defined Meeting Norms
Every successful meeting has clearly defined expectations and that includes behavioral expectations for attendees. Meeting Norms should address how attendees interact not only during the meeting but prior to and after the meeting. We have all been in a meeting where one person can derail the entire meeting with one inappropriate comment or unnecessary question. By holding everyone responsible for not only adhering to but calling norms on violators, the goals of the meeting can be met in a timely and productive fashion.
Having a Killer Facilitator
Perhaps the single most important factor in determining the success or failure of reaching the goals of any meeting is having a competent facilitator. The facilitator, like a highly skilled veteran quarterback, can turn a disastrous gameplan into a success by tapping into prior experience as a facilitator and current knowledge about the project. A good facilitator is literally worth their weight in gold because they have the ability to guide the discussion so that the goals of the meeting are accomplished in a timely manner and get individuals back to focusing on their daily work.
In a large organization it is often difficult to find a convenient time to meet that fits everyone's schedule and there are many reasons people are unable to attend. Instead of rescheduling the meeting, have absentees call in when appropriate to share their expertise. It's a better use of everyone's time to reaarrange the agenda items on the spot than delay action or worse yet, cancel a meeting.
Having an adequate knowledge of the issues will enable the facilitator to insert themselves in the discussion and ask the right questions at the right time to move the discussion towards resolution. Having a well respected and credible facilitator endows that individual with the authority to assign action items or make the decision to table an issue and move on to another issue.
Have a Follow-up Plan
There's nothing worse than leaving a meeting and not having a clear understanding about why you were invited and what you are required to do as a result of attending the meeting. It's a common practice to have someone at your meeting take minutes and make them available to all interested parties so it should be no surprise what was accomplished and what action is required of participants. What happens as a result of a meeting is a good indication of how effective the meeting was facilitated.
Readers: Have you ever attended a meeting that was not a good use of your time? What makes a meeting successful?