Meetings are essential components of the working world, serving to mark milestones and drive key decisions, but many of us dread the time and frequency required to “meet through” projects and issues.
Although there can be true value to meetings and group thought, impelling a meeting to fulfill its objectives can be an imprecise process. The 12 key steps presented below serve as guidelines to organize, establish, and execute efficient, effective meetings.
Upfront preparation may be intimidating, but the long-term benefits are considerable, namely: fewer follow-up meetings, streamlined processes, increased throughput, and increased visibility.
Try the steps below, and let us know your thoughts on what else facilitates efficient, effective meetings:
1. Identify whether a meeting is needed. Many organizations suffer from the “over-meeting” phenomenon, in which pre-meetings exist for pre-meetings for meetings. Though preparation is an important task, many pre-meeting tasks can be handled via email, IM, and targeted one-on-one chats that minimize group overhead.
2. Set the agenda. When a meeting is deemed necessary, work with key stakeholders to set a viable agenda. This agenda should itemize focus areas with designated time allocations, owners, and subject matter experts. To set the meeting up for success, the agenda should also firmly establish the goals and desired outcomes.
3. Invite the right people. One pitfall that leads to over-meeting is audience selection. Meetings often become convoluted and inefficient when too many parties are involved; conversely, they become unproductive when too few are included. As such, it is critical to get the “right” people in the room at the “right” time (think the three I’s—identify, invite, and include). Though schedules can be hectic and prevailing wisdom is to keep meetings “small,” having the necessary stakeholders is essential to drive consensus and decrease meeting frequency.
4. Assign roles. Once the attendee list is established, meeting functions should be allotted to the participants with each player notified of responsibilities well in advance of the meeting. Note that there are countless roles that can exist within a meeting and that not every meeting will require each role to be filled. With this in mind, the five most common roles are offered below.
- Facilitator: “Project manager” of the meeting who keeps discussions on task and agenda topics on track. The facilitator should start the meeting with a brief introduction, establish the purpose and scope, and kick off the agenda items. When possible, the facilitator should play a neutral role in the meeting. After the meeting, the facilitator should disseminate meeting notes and follow-ups to all key parties.
- Subject matter experts: Individuals who serve as key decision-makers and influencers to the agenda topics.
- Contributors: People who contribute to the discussion as needed.
- Listeners (optional): Individuals who listen to the discussion but are not active contributors. Their mission is to stay informed of the details covered and the decisions made.
- Recorder: This individual takes notes on all agenda topics, action items, and owners. Notes should be sent back to the facilitator for review before disseminating to the team. Though the facilitator can be the recorder for smaller meetings, for larger sessions, it is recommended to have separate individuals in these roles to keep the meeting on track and ensure wider topic coverage.
5. Set the location. With firms existing within an increasingly global world, gathering all attendees in the same room may not be practical. Depending on the type of meeting, scheduling conflicts, and attendee localities, a conference call can be more effective than a conference room. Decide what meeting tools are needed and reserve them ahead of time: such as a whiteboard, a projector, a conference line, outlets, etc.
6 . Schedule the meeting. With the agenda, audience, and location identified, the meeting invitation can be created. Include the agenda within the invitation and triple-check the attendee list (with email auto-complete, it is easy to add the wrong name). Send out the invitation at least one week in advance coupled with email reminders on an as needed basis. When scheduling the meeting, factor in the time it takes to create meeting collateral (such as presentations, spreadsheets, etc.). Finally, allocate enough time to thoroughly cover all the agenda topics. Remember that it is easier to give back than take away time.
7. Prepare meeting collateral. With goals and agenda topics covered in the steps above, allocate enough time to create meeting assets. Some meetings will only require an agenda, and others may require presentations (PowerPoint), project plans, or other associated documents. Enough time is needed to create, review, and finalize the materials (and always remember your spell-check).
8. Be prompt. As the meeting nears, set the expectation that it will start on time and stay on task. When the time comes, be prompt. Also, be sensitive to the schedules of the attendees and end the meeting on time, following up (with another meeting if needed) to finish any uncovered agenda topics.
9. Introduce meeting attendees. When the meeting begins, the facilitator should introduce the attendees, whether in person or remotely, and establish the goals and guidelines.
10. Summarize each topic. As progress is made through the agenda, the facilitator should summarize each topic as it is closed so that the recorder can take clear, concise notes and all attendees have a chance to react to final decisions/next steps.
11. Assign ownership. As action items are established, the facilitator should reinforce clear ownership and next steps. This information should be captured by the recorder and included in the post-meeting notes.
12. Disseminate notes, and schedule follow-ups. Once the meeting concludes, the facilitator should review and update the notes sent by the recorder and disseminate them to attendees and, as needed, to a wider audience. Follow-up meetings should be scheduled immediately, and regular statuses on open items should be tracked diligently, summarized, and sent to the “informed list” to maintain momentum and close out the remaining items.
Although time might dictate that the above steps are conjoined or condensed, adhering to this structure has proven successful. So, what steps do you use to run effective meetings?
A version of this article first appeared on Quaero’s InsightIQ Blog.