This article covers meetings from A to Z. anyone involved in planning and chairing meetings will find the concepts extremely useful.
What is a meeting?
A 'meeting' is defined as a group of three or more individuals arranged for a specific time, place and purpose. It does not cover meetings between two individuals, or purely accidental encounters, important as both these events may be!
Advantages of meetings
Meetings may not always be necessary or efficient. It is important to ensure that they are justified before committing the time, effort and other costs involved.
In the right situation, effective meetings can:
provide swift and effective communication between a number of people
be an effective decision making instrument
enhance the motivation and commitment of a team
Disadvantages of badly managed meetings
Some of the least effective meetings are those that are held regularly, such as every week or every month. Whether regular or not, ineffective or unnecessary meetings can:
waste time and money
exacerbate divisions and bad feeling
produce poor decisions
Action checklist for organizing and chairing effective meetings
To be fully effective, appropriate action will be necessary before, at, and after a meeting. Responsibility for success rests not only on the organiser and Chair, but on all participants.
Before the meeting
1. Ask "Do I really need a meeting?" Consider what the purpose of the meeting is: to exchange information; to monitor progress on performance; to deal with specific problems; to brainstorm an issue; or to develop future plans. Only when you have done so can you decide the best timing, attendance and format of the meeting
2. Set clear, precise objectives (not the agenda) for the meeting
3. Decide who should be present; neither too many nor too few
4. Choose the date, starting and finishing time, and place. Few meetings need to last longer than two hours at most
5. Set the agenda. For each item clarify the objective and who will lead the discussion. Construct a timetable so that important items do not get squeezed out and lesser items do not absorb disproportionate time
6. Make administrative arrangements, including:
choose and book a suitable room
ensure necessary equipment and supplies will be available
7. Notify all involved as early as possible. The notification should include:
full details of date, time and place
list of invitees
reports and other supporting papers
8. Arrange for secretarial help at the meeting
9. Complete personal research, reading and other preparation
10. Consider meeting objectives and strategy
11. Consider whether to make appropriate advance contact with any participants whose contributions may be critical to the success of the meeting
At the meeting the Chair/leader should
1. Arrive in good time
2. Check that all arrangements, including equipment, seating and refreshments, are in order
3. Welcome participants on arrival (especially newcomers)
4. Undertake any pre-meeting contacts necessary with key participants, but do not appear to fix things beforehand
5. Start promptly
6. Deal with administrative items:
Introductions of newcomers, congratulations, thanks, good wishes, condolences, apologies etc
message-taking, car parking, smoking, catering etc
Timing of breaks, end of meeting
7. Despatch routine items
8. Introduce each agenda item effectively, with emphasis on the objectives
9. Shape and control the discussion:
encourage the shy
restrain the verbose and opinionated
allow only one discussion at a time
separate different subjects
'hold' on subjects that are not exhausted
balance contributions on contentious subjects
keep control of time
use visual aids where they can help to make your point
don't express an opinion unless needed at the end
summarise at intervals
seek clear decisions at the appropriate point
express appreciation for members' contributions
10. Conclude firmly and tidily, emphasising action points agreed
11. Keep creative and analytical discussion separate. Creative, problem solving and decisioin making meetings need a more relaxed timetable and atmosphere. It is hard to switch from the routine to the creative and vice versa
After the meeting
1. Write down immediately the decisions taken, the actions agreed with the persons responsible for action and the dates by which action should be achieved
2. Distribute the note to all participants and to others whom it may concern
3. Monitor the progress of subsequent action
Do's and don'ts for effective meetings
Consider other ways in which the objectives of a proposed meeting can be achieved
Prepare thoroughly - well in advance
Arrive in good time
Consider participants' comfort and convenience (e.g. smoking, ventilation, acoustics and noise levels, breaks etc)
Use visual aids where useful
Focus on the objectives for each item
Ensure all contribute what they can to the discussion
Maintain good but not oppressive discipline
Aim for consensus whenever possible
Take notes if you are also the leader or a key contributor
Lose your temper
Get involved in purely personal disagreements
Talk too much or for too long
Insist on having the last word
Talk first, except to introduce a topic
Let the meeting run on and on
How to assess meeting effectiveness
As with other activities, assessment of effectiveness and proper meeting time management will depend on having set clear objectives in advance, for the whole meeting and for individual items. Common measures of effectiveness include:
Did all present contribute positively, according to their roles?
Was the discussion lively but good-tempered throughout?
Were all relevant aspects of the subjects properly explored?
Was consensus reached on all major decisions?
Did the meeting cover the subjects within the time allotted?
Did all leave with clear knowledge of what had been achieved, and their own responsibilities for future action?
Ask participants to complete a brief evaluation; they perceive their own weaknesses and do better next time
Sample Meeting Evaluation Form
|To what extent...||Poor --------------- Good|
|?Were the objectives clear||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Was it well-prepared||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Did it stick to the point||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Were vital matters covered||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Were clear decisions made||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Was people's knowledge used||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Did people speak freely||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Did you feel involved||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Did you contribute||1||2||3||4||5|
|?Did the Chair control the meeting||1||2||3||4||5|
Successful Meetings in a Week John Payne and Shirley Payne London: Headway, 1994
Let's Have a Meeting
London: McGraw Hill, 1994
How to Make Meetings Work
London: Kogan Page, 1990
Was the last meeting you called/attended really necessary?
Do you always prepare for meetings, whether as Chair or participant, thoroughly and in advance?
Who is the best meeting leader you have worked with? Why was he/she so effective?
Who is the worst meeting leader you have worked with? Why was he/she so ineffective?