Unfortunately, not enough people have learned the process and skills for creating effective, productive meeting. These skills are rarely taught in schools, or in most professional training programs. As a result, all too many meetings are nightmarish time wasters or stressful battlegrounds.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Meetings can be smooth, productive and even fun. Any conflicts can be managed and lead to creative problem solving instead of confrontation and strife.
Here are 5 brief steps for creating an effective meeting.
1. Plan ahead.
Successful meetings, especially of more than 2 or 3 people, don’t just happen, but require careful planning, no matter how effortless they appear from the outside. The two most important parts of pre meeting planning are:
Prepare the agenda.
Meetings need realistic, clear agendas. Agenda items may come from the facilitator, past meetings, and/or participants. The purpose of each agenda item needs to be clear, and a realistic time must be set for each item. If there is too much material for one meeting, leaders need to prioritize and postpone some items.The agenda needs to be sent out ahead of time, or at least available on the board or copies at the beginning of the meeting.
Assign the roles.
Essential roles for successful meetings include at least a facilitator, recorder/reporter and time keeper. It is a good idea to line people up ahead of time for all these functions, not just the facilitator.
2. Establish ground rules–and follow them.
Although the facilitator is running the meeting, all participants as well as leaders need to agree on and follow ground rules or guidelines for the meeting to be successful. For example, important ground rules generally include not interrupting and otherwise speaking and listening respectfully to others, keeping all comments on the topic and time limited (laser sharing), agreeing to hold the welfare of the whole group as top priority, being willing to let go of an individual desired outcome. The entire group may need some training and practice as well as ongoing reminders.
3. Keep the Time.
The facilitator needs to make sure the meeting starts and ends on time. The time keeper helps the meeting process by keeping track of the time for each item.
4. Keep the Focus.
Good meetings stay on topic and on time for each agenda item, although adjustment is possible if the group agrees . The facilitator has the main responsibility for keeping the meeting focused on topic, with participant support (see ground rules).
5. Close with action plan. The recorder/reporter needs to summarize the decisions and actions, including who is responsible for tasks and follow-up for action items.
Two more tips for successful meetings:
Ditch Robert’s rules; choose collaboration & consensus:
Many groups use Robert’s rules of order, because it is the only process they know. But, the collective wisdom of facilitation experts is that consensus and collaboration processes are far more efficient, effective, and satisfying. Skillful facilitation is even more important, however, in collaborative meetings.
Make sure you have a good facilitator.
Facilitation is an art and a skill that can improve with training and practice. Facilitators, like mediators, see ourselves as guardians of the process, detached from the outcomes. It is impossible to facilitate well and passionately advocate a specific perspective at the same time.
Through preparing carefully, modeling respectful communication, making sure that participation is fair and full, handling transitions smoothly, summarizing and restating the will of the group, and making sure follow up actions are clear, facilitators can greatly improve the functioning & harmony of meetings and the viability of groups.