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Meet Like You Mean It

Since costs add up so quickly at meetings, it only makes sense to make them as productive as possible. These tips should ensure more efficiency and accountability, as well as a more productive and engaged group.

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Since costs add up so quickly at meetings, it only makes sense to make them as productive as possible. These tips should ensure more efficiency and accountability, as well as a more productive and engaged group.

Let’s say you work for a municipality and you consider yourself conscientious. At your next internal team or cross-department meeting, take a look around the room and—considering everyone’s pay grade—ask yourself, “What is this meeting costing taxpayers? Would they be willing to pay for it if they knew what the meeting agenda was or what the objectives were? Is everything being handled as efficiently as possible?”

The truth is costs add up so quickly at meetings that it makes sense to make them as productive possible, so here are some ideas for extracting the most value for time spent in meetings.

The three meeting planning essentials are:

  1. Develop a purpose for the meeting—Determine why the meeting is necessary; what do you need to learn, share or accomplish, and can it be done any other way more effectively?
  2. Define the scope of the meeting—List what you intend to cover to achieve the intended results.
  3. Identify objectives—Ask what the main takeaways should be and what will define a successful meeting.

To ensure effective participation, the five necessary steps are:

  1. Interview participants—Ask what they need, want and expect from the meeting, as well as their concerns.
  2. Draft a post-meeting vision—Start with the end in mind and what a successful meeting would look like, and then create a draft outline of deliverables and flesh them out over the course of the meeting.
  3. Have a draft agenda and meeting design—Creating time boxes for agenda items helps focus attention on what’s needed to cover the meeting’s scope.
  4. Determine logistics—This covers where and when the meeting should be, the room configuration, audio-visual technology needs, and ancillary materials that may be needed—as well as ways to loop in remote attendees and keep them engaged.
  5. Rules & Tools—How should people behave with one another? Are there inter-group animosities that we should be aware of? And what might we do to overcome them?

In terms of steps that can be taken to facilitate meetings, there are five things that can ensure more effectiveness:

  1. Follow the agenda—This is critical. Confirm the agenda and ask if there are other items that must be covered during the meeting, but then then stick to it.
  2. Employ Tools & Techniques—In terms of navigating technologies, make sure the right person with the right skillset is at the wheel here.
  3. “Asking vs. Answering”—Knowing the intended outcome, it’s often tempting to answer questions from participants, but it’s better to ask questions of them to get them talking.
  4. Showing visible progress—Find a place to post the agenda and check off items as they are accomplished, so all can see progress is being made.
  5. Engaging participants—Having briefly met with the key participants, and having asked about their concerns, you should be able to draw out discussion from each participant by asking open-ended questions and, if necessary, addressing each individual to assure full participation.

Now that a meeting has been successfully held and is ready to adjourn, all that is left is the proper closing. This consists of reviewing the agenda to confirm accomplishments, reviewing open items and next steps, and within two days, producing a summary of the meeting. This is not a transcript, but a synopsis of the important agenda items and the consensus of the group on each item, including all assignments, respective due dates and any next steps.

To run a successful meeting, it is essential to be what is known as a “stealth facilitator.” This means having no personal agenda or unclear purpose, and asking (almost apologetically if necessary) for a quick review of the meeting’s purpose to ensure focus. Wandering discussion should be avoided; instead the facilitator can suggest that off-topic discussions be brought up at a later time so the group can refocus on the primary matter at hand. Additionally, all action items and decisions should be documented for future use and an official record, and equally as important, if one person seems to be dominating discussion, thank that person for voicing his or her views and then ask what others think about this.

Since costs add up so quickly at meetings, it only makes sense to make them as productive as possible. These tips should ensure more efficiency and accountability, as well as a more productive and engaged group.

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