Meetings are pervasive throughout industry, business, government and our private lives. The corporate and government world spends millions of dollars on meetings and it is estimated that one third of those dollars are wasted. We waste millions because we don't run meetings well, the wrong people attend, the team leader isn't in control, the agenda isn't clear and participants don't engage sufficiently to make sound decisions. Along with these process and procedure failings are the indirect costs associated with travel time, facilities, materials, lost productivity, lost sales, and general operating costs.
The good news is that we can do something about this waste. We can strengthen our skills to run effective meetings.
Meetings have several purposes. They are required to inform, persuade, influence, instruct, stimulate and ultimately to make decisions. Make sure you are clear on why you are calling participants together for a meeting.
There are six important tasks one should complete before calling a meeting. They include: clarifying your objectives for the meeting – in other words clarify why are you calling the meeting in the first place in one to three statements; deciding who should attend and when they should attend; preparing the agenda so that it clearly indicates which item is for decision, information or action; scheduling the meeting including the date, time for each agenda item, and the expected end time for the meeting; and arranging for the physical setting, ensuring there is sufficient seating, proper room set up, and appropriate technology for presentations, and don't forget the coffee and juices.
As a meeting facilitator or meeting leader, you have several important functions. Here are seven to keep in mind:
As a facilitator/leader, not only do you have these seven functions to juggle you also have several group relations functions to fulfill as well. These include:
Encouraging: Drawing others into the conversation by helping them to express themselves and contribute to the team or group.
Empathizing: Being sensitive to interests, concerns, ambitions, frustrations and other group emotional reactions.
Harmonizing: Contributing as a peacemaker by smoothing out interpersonal clashes and moving unproductive behaviour to productive behaviour.
Modifying: Changing your opinion when facts warrant it. Remember you can’t change others opinions, only your own. You can give people the opportunity to change their thinking, but only they will do so and not because you said so.
Gatekeeping: Keeping the channels of communication open. In any group setting there are several channels of communication operating at the same time, the leader/facilitator’s role is to keep those channels flowing.
Evaluating: Requesting the group to assess how well the meeting went and whether it met the objectives laid out at the beginning. This is important if you wish to incrementally improve your meetings.
The next time you are charged with facilitating or leading a meeting review this article and you may find your meetings more productive with less time wasted. Rather than hearing, “Oh no, not another meeting!’ maybe you will hear, “We get things done in our meetings, decisions are made and we know what to do after them.”
When our youngest daughter, Leanne, was about 6 years old, we were just beginning to start our evening meal, when she posed this question to me: “Dad, what do you do all day?” I wondered if this was prompted by a "show and tell" project at her school and so I asked “is this something you need for school?” “No,” she replied, “I’m just interested.” Wow, my daughter is interested in what I do all day! Then I sat back and wondered how am I going to explain to our six-year-old what a management consultant, business coach and trainer does.
So, I began, “Well, Honey, I work with people who run businesses and help them plan and get organized so that they can run their businesses better.” That seemed to satisfy her for the moment and she proceeded to fill up her plate. I could see she was thinking about what I said and I wondered whether my explanation made any sense to her. I didn't have to wait too long. She continued her cross examination.
Do you go to a lot of meetings?” This was an easier question to answer, because it was a yes or no answer. “Yes,” I replied. Then came a question that needed a lot more explanation, “what do you do at your meetings?” Well now I was in my element, because this was an area where managers wasted a lot of time and our firm helped them run their meetings more efficiently. I thought maybe if I explain this right my young daughter would learn something important about how to run a meeting – even at her age. So, I explained:
"Meetings have agendas. An agenda identifies what the people in the meeting need to discuss. We let those who attend meetings know how long it should take to cover each agenda item. We then talk about each item and identify what needs to be done about it, who is going to carry it out, and when we expect it to be done."
I felt good about that answer. But Leanne wasn't finished yet: “Who attends these meetings?” She asked “Only those who need to be there; if people attend and they don’t need to be there, then they are wasting their time,” I replied. “Are you usually late for meetings?” she quizzed. “Oh no,” came my quick reply, “that’s one of the things we teach people. It's everyone’s responsibility to be on time. If I’m late and people are waiting for me I’m wasting their time, and besides it’s pretty rude because when you come into a meeting late you disrupt others."
Then, my little girl of six looked me straight in the eye, and asked: “Why are you usually late for our dinner meetings?” Dumbfounded, I looked at her mother. “I didn't put her up to this,” she said with a smile (and probably thinking "way to go girl!"). I looked at her older sister and she quickly denied any involvement, “it wasn't me.”
So, my six year old put it directly to the Management Consultant - who prided himself on helping others do the right thing and to clearly understand their priorities. In essence she said to me: “Do you have your priorities straight, Dad? Don’t you know that we are just as important, even more important than those business meetings you attend. At least, you can do is be on-time for our meetings too.”
A lesson well learned. And, something I carry with me to this day.
Questions to Answer: Are your priorities in the right place? Do you view family gatherings as important events? Do you attend them on time? Or, do you think your business is more important than your family? Remember children spell “love,” as “time.” To improve your meeting outcomes consider this program.
Author: Richard Fontanie MSW, FCMC, from the Fontanie Learning Solutions Archives.