Technology is great, but personal collaboration should never be overlooked.
Quality standards (ISO9001) help to make meetings productive
How many meetings have you attended recently? And how many actually achieved their purpose? Do your employees and volunteers get done what they’re supposed to, or do they never really get anywhere?
Do people not pay attention, stare into coffee cups or doodle? You can watch someone emailing via laptop, texting on their smartphone during the meeting. Perhaps one reason was the fault of the meeting itself. A bit boring and directionless, even a waste of time.
“You only have to do very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong”. Warren Buffett
Here are the best practice tips for making your meetings productive and useful
- Make sure you really need a meeting.
Never use meetings to make routine announcements or as a substitute for action. You won’t achieve anything. Move the announcements and routine information, ‘just so everyone knows’ stuff, status reports, etc. elsewhere – for example, post on an intranet, noticeboard or distribute via email. Keep meetings for things that really do need discussion and decisions that need the people involved to be there.And by the way, if you think the ISO Standard says you must have a ‘management review meeting’, you are wrong.
- Have an agenda for every meeting and in writing.
The agenda is just the planned content for the meeting, the topic or topics for discussion. An agenda gives people time to prepare and helps to keep the meeting on track. You don’t even need to provide it as a formal Agenda, it could be as simple as just a bullet list of topics. But don’t have a meeting without one.
- Allocate time for each agenda item.
If you don’t, how will you know if you’re running late? Or keep the meeting on time?
- Assign a Chairperson or Facilitator and a Note-taker
At every meeting, make sure there is an agreed chairperson (person facilitating the meeting) and someone to record actions and decisions. Never have the same person trying to do both. No one can fill both roles well: one of them will suffer. Don’t fall into the trap of leaving the chair role vacant, or thinking it isn’t needed. There must be someone who takes responsibility for the meeting overall. If not, the usual outcomes are either a ‘talkfest’ without any agreed actions, or a meeting dominated by the person with the highest status (e.g., a manager) doing most of the talking without any discussion. (In that case, see Rule 1.)
- Start with clarifying the meeting purpose and expected outcome.
At the beginning of the meeting, review the agenda (& if necessary revise it), so everyone is clear, and there is a shared understanding of what the meeting should achieve.
- Keep the meeting moving forward, and on track
This is the Chair’s job. Effective meetings have effective facilitators and it’s well worth developing this skill. Staying on track can include ‘parking’ an issue, deferring it, rescheduling or even referring it to someone else so that this meeting isn’t derailed and achieves its purpose.
- Write down key decisions and actions: who will do what, and by when?
Before going to the next item, the Chair should confirm what has been decided for the current item, and make sure the Note-Taker has that. If there is no clear decision or action now, people certainly won’t be clear later what was decided. Or recollections will vary; the usual result is nothing happens.
- Don’t assume silence means agreement.
Some people are slower or less inclined to speak up. If necessary, the Chair should encourage explicit participation, for example, seek specific input from people who have been silent: ‘Do we have agreement on this point? Fred, are you OK with it? Sue?‘ etc. Much better to have a disagreement in the meeting and discuss a thorny topic, than have resistance emerge later.
- Keep on time.
That means starting on time and finishing on time. It’s professional as well as courteous.
- Circulate actions/minutes as soon as possible after the meeting.
This makes sure everyone is clear about what was agreed, and what is to happen. Start the next meeting by reviewing and accepting those, or correcting if needed.
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I am a stickler for timing. I expect everyone to be on time and ready for the meeting and I expect to finish on time. If you look like the meeting needs more time, seek the permission of the attendees, never assume it will be okay.
Obviously, there will be latecomers. Well, I think they should miss out and have to catch up later. Delaying the meeting is not fair on those who took the trouble to be on time and be prepared.
A meeting can be an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.