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Meetings, Bloody Meetings!

(Reprinted from March 1998 issue of Channel Magazine)

How do you keep your most talented employees, staff, board members, or association members focused and motivated in meetings, let alone motivating them to attend? The question has frustrated most of us.

Meetings consume ever greater amounts of time, money and energy. Think of the last meeting you attended. Was it the best use of everyone’s time? Did you walk out with a sense of exhilaration and a clear set of actions and decisions? Or, did you wonder why you even bothered to attend?

People need to feel valued and that they are making a difference not only in their work, but in the way they spend their time. Do you know what each of your people want and find most important? Do your meetings reflect the needs of the people involved? A recent study found that people want to be part of a worthwhile enterprise, be influential in decision-making, and create and contribute to mutually agreed upon objectives. Meetings can be the opportunity for this to happen.

These check lists may help you provide more meaningful forums.

Before the meeting:

  1. Is the time invested worth the cost?
  2. Are the key people able to attend? (if not, reschedule)
  3. Did you inform all participants of outcomes, objectives, and the agenda?
  4. Did you handle logistics: meeting room, handouts, audio & visual needs, markers, equipment, etc?

During the meeting:

  1. State and agree to specific outcomes or objectives.
  2. Display an agreed upon agenda. Items can have time allotments.
  3. Agree on ground rules such as:

Start and end on time

No side conversations

Expect all input

Equal participation

Focus on agenda

Come prepared

  1. Agree on meeting roles such as:

Facilitator: assists the group unobtrusively to focus on accomplishing the given task, helps balance the content and process issues, supports the ground rules, and brings closure.

Recorder: writes down in full view of group (flip chart, white board) their key ideas. Records important issues not on.

Agenda on a “parking lot” chart. It keeps a separate chart for actions and key decisions.

Time keeper: keeps time and gives periodic warnings.

Participants: take responsibility for full participation, focus on agenda, and honor the ground rules.5 Meeting evaluation

Dedicate a few minutes before closure of each meeting to ask:

  1. Did we accomplish our desired outcomes? (If not, why not?)
  2. Did we keep focused and productive?
  3. What worked best in this meeting?
  4. What could we improve next time?
  5. Was this meeting the best use of everyone’s time?

Top talent stays with organizations because they believe there are chances for professional growth and challenge. We could invest more time planning for these opportunities. High achievers want to be in contact and dialog with the colleagues they respect. Well-run meetings are one way to bring the best minds together.

Be careful that your meetings are not just information exchanges. Use them for creative thinking and problem solving. Quality won’t happen accidentally. You need a plan. You might try the following activity. Ask each person to write down the biggest challenge they are facing along with the biggest obstacles to resolve that issue. Next, ask people to discuss their issues in pairs. Then have each person describe his or her partner’s issue to the large group. The group can then work as a team to identify some actions and mutually agreed upon solutions.

Handling conflicts skillfully builds morale

Address any conflicts that are impacting morale and productivity. Unresolved conflicts often lead to very unproductive meetings. As a leader or meeting facilitator, you need to find ways to confront and resolve issues as they arise. Try some of these strategies:

Dominating behavior: Direct responses to the entire group; Give eye contact to others. Ask for others’ questions.

Side conversations: Physically move toward talkers. Ask “Was there something you needed?”

Arguing behavior: Agree that the issue is interesting but “We must move on in the interest of time. Are there any other questions?”

Tangents: Summarize what they said and ask for questions from others. Reduce eye contact to offender.

Joking: Show a sense of humor or smile, and then re-focus.

Irrelevant questions: “I think that’s interesting, but I’d like to focus on ___”.

Besides professional growth, probably nothing motivates more than positive recognition for one’s achievements and contributions. Generous recognition sets the tone in any environment. It reinforces the cultural values and even the purpose of the organization and its services. Take advantages of every meeting by recognizing successes. Don’t you often find yourself spending more time correcting faults, mistakes, and problems than you take to acknowledge other’s positive actions and behaviors. Studies show that people want more meaning in their work. They want a better quality of life, so find out what they need to enhance the quality of their work environment.

Catch them doing something right. Then catch them again and again and again.