Over the course of my career I have attended literally thousands of meetings and planned and facilitated many of these meetings. Regularly scheduled meetings, annual planning meetings, status meetings, sales meetings, employee meetings, lunch and learns, motivational meetings, customer meetings, board of director meetings, the list can go on and on.
I have observed great meetings that created a lot of positive results and I have attended meetings that were a complete waste of time for everyone involved and wasted a lot of the company’s money. Meetings are an important part of doing business and there is nothing better than getting a group of people to agree and working towards a common goal. A productive meeting is a great tool for this. However there is nothing that wastes more time in your employee’s day or the productivity of your company than a needless or poorly run meeting.
Here are a few tips to keep your meetings on track and ensure they are productive for the attendees, achieve your objectives, and move your business forward.
Rotate responsibility for facilitating the meeting; You or the senior person in the room don’t have to run every meeting, especially in a regular meeting such as a weekly staff or status meeting. Rotating the facilitator of the meeting will keep a fresh voice in front of the group, give each person facilitating the experience of leading the group, and keep the meeting fresh and not routine. This will also make the person responsible for facilitating the meeting more prepared than if they were just an attendee.
Have an agenda; If it is not easy to create an agenda for your meeting no matter how brief it might be than it probably isn’t worth having the meeting. Knowing what you’re going to talk about, what information you want to share with the participants and what feedback you are looking for will give the meeting purpose, keep the meeting on track, and keep the time needed for the meeting to a minimum.
Share agenda ahead of time; When possible sending the agenda out before hand will allow the participants to prepare their thoughts and provide you input that is thought out and organized.
Allow for some social time but keep the meeting running on time; People want to visit about Sunday’s football game, their family outing, where their meeting after work for a beer and so forth, you get my point. You should build a little time in your meeting either before it formally starts and at breaks to allow the participants to visit and socialize with each other. As the facilitator you should keep side conversations during the meeting to a minimum. They are distracting to the other attendees and tend to make your meeting run longer than they need to. In a larger group if you have a participant that initiates a lot of side conversations with the people they are sitting next to you can as the presenter moving towards them or stand in front of them while facilitating the meeting. This will usually put an end to it or gain their attention back on you.
Put the cell phones away; There is nothing more disrespectful and distracting than participants checking email, facebook, texting or simply playing with their cell phones. I would suggest creating a standard policy in your meetings that cell phones must be muted, turned off, and out of sight. There may be exceptions if someone is expecting a call from family or a client that may take precedence over the subject matter being discussed but if so this should be stated prior to the meeting starting so the facilitator and other participants know beforehand that a person’s phone may go off and they will need to excuse himself from the meeting.
Does your meeting justify the cost; Have you ever thought about the cost of having an hour meeting with six employees? I’m not talking about the costs of the bagels and donuts or Jimmy John sandwiches, I’m talking about the cost to the company for having those six people attend the meeting rather than do the work assigned to them. If the average salary of those six employees were $50,000/year their hourly wage would be approximately $25/hour. That meeting cost the company $150 plus any other ancillary costs. Are the decisions made, direction provided, problem(s) solved worth more than $150.00?
Don’t have a meeting if there’s nothing to talk about, just to pacify the boss; As the boss are you calling a meeting to catch up because you’ve been away from the office, on vacation, working on other things or just plain out of the loop. Is the information you are looking for going to be as beneficial to the other participants or is it things they already know and are just going to be bored as each person shares what’s going on in their area(s) of responsibility with you. You might be better served by visiting with each one individually and asking questions that are only relevant to that one employee to get caught up than wasting a whole lot of your group’s time by listening to information they already know.
If you want to command attention Stand-Up; If you want to command attention Stand-Up; Especially in a large group or even with a small group of team members standing and leading the group will command their attention and focus the meeting on you, the facilitator.
If you’re not there to solicit the input of the others in the room don’t have the meeting; If you don’t want to hear what the other people in the room have to say or care about, write a memo. It will more than likely accomplish the same thing. In my experience, it is impossible to get buy in from your team unless you truly listen to their concerns and ideas. The purpose of your meeting should be to share your thoughts, directions and ideas and then enrich them with the thoughts, directions and ideas from your team. After all you can’t accomplish your company’s objectives unless you get the buy-in and participation from your team.
Communicate and send Follow-Up on action items; In any effective meeting there should be tasks or action items that require follow-up by one or more team members. Sending out an email or written memo restating the purpose of the meeting, the important decisions that may have been made during the meeting and any action items that require follow-up will reinforce the importance of the meeting, encourage team buy in and ensure any follow up that is required is completed in a timely fashion.
Hire an outside facilitator; When you plan a meeting for Strategic Planning or other focused purpose do you as the Business Owner, President or CEO run the meeting? Have you ever hired an outsider, one who is a professional at planning and facilitating meetings? If you have not used an outside facilitator you are missing some of the strategic benefits of doing so. Whether it’s a small group of business partners or a large group of employees, having an outside facilitator for your meeting can often provide the positive results you are striving for. From the most senior manager to the most junior administrator each member of your team can provide you insight into your business’s inner workings and the inner relationships between employees, vendors, ownership, and most of all, your customers.
An experienced facilitator will bring these thoughts and insights out for your benefit. An outside facilitator will bring an open-minded perspective to your meeting. They will keep the discussion focused, keep the process on track and will encourage your team members as equals in the process. In my own personal and professional experiences,
I have witnessed better outcomes when an outside facilitator is brought in. Meetings are sometimes a necessary evil of doing business. However if done right every meeting is an opportunity to encourage and motivate your team to accomplish the objectives necessary to grow your business.