One day early in my career I was part of a typical 2 hour meeting. I remember very clearly walking away thinking that the only productive result was that we agreed that we needed to meet again. The worst part is that we never did meet again and that important topic fell by the wayside!
All of us have been in similar meetings all too often. We conduct weekly staff meetings and quarterly planning meetings that are strong on opinions and passions, but weak on decisions and results. As a small business owner, your time is too valuable to be spent in a two hour meeting that could have been one hour, or spending an hour meeting on a topic of low priority. Using a professional facilitator to get more from your meetings is great, but when you can’t make that happen, here are 5 Ways to Get Better Results From Your Meetings!
One: Assign a Facilitator to Manage the Meeting Agenda
For shorter, repetitive meetings, like the weekly staff meeting or bigger meetings where a professional is not practical, pick a person to be the facilitator. The best person is one who can tactfully insert themselves into conversations and interrupt people smoothly with a smile. They aren’t the person in charge and it’s best if they don’t have their own agenda or are open minded enough to allow for discussion.
Facilitation is about tying discussions back to the agenda, reminding people of the priorities and time. It’s not just about sticking to the agenda times, it’s about ensuring the discussion happening is the most productive use of time. Often, when conversations start down the proverbial rabbit trail, I will tactfully interrupt with – “This is a useful conversation, but we’re straying from the agenda.” Then I’ll look at the leader of the meeting and ask, “Would you like to continue this discussion or table it and get back to the agenda?”
Two: Meeting Planning With Key (or all) Meeting Participants
The facilitator should make a few phone calls to participants of the meeting. Create two or three questions that help determine what meeting attendees are expecting, where they stand on key decisions and what ideas they might have. It is also useful to connect on a personal level, especially when there is no existing relationship. I have found that this helps me by:
- Creating an agenda that shows value to each person
- Approaching potentially intense conversations more productively, and
- Enabling me to more comfortably guide and interrupt people because I know their concerns
Facilitation of smaller staff meetings may just need a quick agenda review with the meeting leader. But, the facilitator should remain aware and discuss things between meetings so that they can create and manage a more productive agenda even for the weekly meetings.
Three: Pick Your Battle, Set Your Meeting Goal
The most common mistake in managing meetings without a professional facilitator is trying to do too much in the allotted time. For your next meeting list out everything you want to accomplish and then prioritize the list with the most important thing first. There are typically three types of agenda items:
- Announcements – not too difficult to manage the allotted time unless it is high impact and questions are expected (The company is being sold…)
- Presentation / Education – the difficulty is keeping the presenter on track and ensuring they are prepared to allow for questions. No matter what that engineer tells you, he can’t cover 60 slides in 10 minutesJ
- Decision Making – these are the most difficult to manage because they may involve some brainstorming, presentation, questions and arguments.
Decision making requires more time, often because new information is revealed or a new option is presented. Leave sufficient time for these discussions and pre-determine if “no decision” is an option. If it is and the conversation is dragging, a good facilitator can assign some actions, table the discussion and move on with the agenda.
Four: Developing an Effective Meeting Agenda
Having a good (pronounced “realistic”) agenda is critical to pulling off a productive meeting! Some things I have found helpful in developing a meeting agenda:
- Put the important things first – MAKE SURE you accomplish the high priority items. This is usually more important than doing a little bit of everything, but nothing is resolved.
- Allocate enough time for the different types of agenda items listed above. Again, 10 minutes is not enough time to cover 60 slides!
- Use breaks and hard stops to help control the topics that typically get out of control. When people are hungry, have another appointment or have to pee, they are much more open to being guided to a conclusion. It also lets you regroup with the leader.
Five: Meeting Follow-up, Actions and Decisions
Assign someone to follow-up after the meeting. I shy away from detailed minutes because they take a lot of time to write and to read, but listing actions, issues and key decisions is very important. The follow up can be a report or plan, but may be simple emails to clarify and remind people of actions and decisions.
Sigma College of Small Business provides professional facilitation services for your meetings. The value of using a professional is that they protect your time! When you have unproductive meetings it keeps you from other productive things. Of course, using a professional isn’t alway practical so these 5 tips may help.
What are some ways that you have made your meetings more productive?