A meeting that drags on too long just plain hurts. It hurts the participants, it hurts the facilitator, and most of all it hurts the organization. Nothing gets decided and no action items are identified. Precious hours are lost; opportunities for growth are squandered.
Organizing the Meeting
The key to running a successful meeting is organization. Here are the five requirements for an effective meeting:
- Creating and Distributing the Agenda
- Selecting a Notetaker
- Running the Meeting and Facilitating Discussions
- Identifying Action Items
- Following Up
Creating and Distributing the Agenda
A meeting without an agenda is like a boat without a rudder. Eventually both will end up on the rocks.
Following are tips for developing an effective agenda.
- Leading Agenda Items: Start each agenda with the same two items to ensure consistency: Approval of the Agenda and Approval of the Minutes of [Date]. As a result, everyone begins the meeting at exactly the same point.
- Regular Agenda Items: Include items such as reports from various committees, ongoing projects, etc. Often these items are the same from agenda to agenda.
- Other Business: List new items in the order in which they will be covered.
After the agenda is set, it should be distributed to all the meeting participants. The participants should also be asked to contact the facilitator if they wish to include additional items on the agenda.
The practice of including additional items on the agenda during the meeting itself should be discouraged unless the items are very short. Allowing important items that may require extensive discussion on the agenda at the last minute – that is, the day of the meeting – opens the way for abuse.
Selecting a Notetaker
The person who will take notes or minutes at a meeting should be selected in advance so that they can come prepared. If possible, the person selected should work on a laptop computer to take the notes. Transcribing notes directly into a computer during the meeting saves time.
The notes or minutes taken at the meeting should be distributed within one week following the meeting date. Each participant should receive a copy of the minutes/notes and be encouraged to make comments. The meeting facilitator can then take these comments into account when planning agendas for upcoming meetings.
Distributing the minutes/notes at the next meeting is far too late. Participants need to have seen the record of the previous meeting in good time so that they can follow up with questions, implement action items, and be ready to additional information, if necessary.
Running the Meeting and Facilitating Great Discussions
At the beginning of the meeting, the meeting facilitator asks participants to approve the agenda. Participants can add new items under Other Business, but these items should be short and informational in nature (see above). Items that require extensive discussion should be provided to the facilitator prior to the meeting.
Once the agenda is approved, sometimes with the addition of new items, the facilitator asks that the minutes/notes from the previous meeting be approved. Participants have the opportunity to question specific items in the minutes/notes and to suggest changes. If an item engenders significant discussion, it should be tabled to later in the current meeting or postponed to a future meeting.
The facilitator’s job is to ensure that every voice is heard and that certain voices do not dominate. Here are some tips for effective meeting facilitation:
- Ensure participants raise their hand if they wish to add to the discussion
- Keep a speaker’s list so that the next speaker is the next person on the list, not the person that has the loudest voice
- Call on people by name
- Limit the contribution by any one person to two or three minutes
- Limit the discussion of any one item to no longer than ten minutes
- At the end of ten minutes, summarize the major points in the discussion
- Call for an action (which may be to table the discussion to a future meeting when more information is available)
Identifying Practical Action Items
Action items are the heart and soul of an effective meeting. The meeting facilitator must insist, throughout the meeting that action items be identified and that people are assigned responsibility. In fact, the primary role of the meeting facilitator should be to identify action items and then follow up.
Following Up on Action Items
The facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the action items identified in the meeting are implemented. To do so, the facilitator receives the minutes/notes within one week of the meeting (see above), checks that the action items are correctly recorded, and then follows up where necessary.
These action items can often become agenda items for the next meeting.
When a meeting facilitator is committed to ensuring that meetings are focused and action-oriented, then progress is made. Participants feel that their contribution is valued and that the work of the company or organization is going forward efficiently and effectively.
A good meeting facilitator must be a good leader – focused, inclusive, respectful, and practical.