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Meeting Management
Meeting Management

How to set up and conduct an efficient, meaningful meeting

By Bill & Joann Truby
President and Executive VP; Truby Achievements, Inc.


Introduction:

The greatest time waster in most organizations is ineffective meetings. Yet meetings are important. To be a successful organization, information flow is critical. Additionally “face time” is important to support and perpetuate good relationships and teamwork.

The problem is, most companies have meetings just because they’ve always had certain meetings or because “it seems like a good idea to have a meeting.” Some managers let the calendar dictate the need for a meeting – the first of the month, every Monday, etc. But little thought is given to the purpose and outcome of the meeting or even who needs to be there. This makes for apathetic inefficiency at best. Discouraging dysfunction at worse.

Following is a system and meeting management tool that, if used, will result in greater efficiency and better outcomes at meetings.

When to have a meeting?

How do you determine when to have a meeting? Does the calendar dictate it? Do you call a meeting whenever you seem to want it or need it?

There are two reasons to have a meeting: 1) Information flow and 2) Perpetuating relationships of partnership or teamwork. The first is sometimes overlooked or “over killed.” It is overlooked when managers assume employees can get the information they need, or should take the initiative to ask for, if they want to know something. It is “overkill” when a manager brings everyone together to discuss or listen to information about everything. Both ends of this spectrum are ineffective and inappropriate.

Individual employees are seldom willing or secure enough to ask for information. Further, an employee doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know. A manager has a broader perspective and can give important information an employee doesn’t even know to ask about. Further, a manager doesn’t want to overlook the need for team members to receive information that can be peripheral to that the employees “need to know” but is helpful in giving the employee “purpose and context” and/or help the employee feel more a part of the organization by understanding the bigger picture. Knowledge of the bigger picture can give an employee team member a sense of “we.”

It is also important to have “face time” in an organization. In other words, though rare, if the information flow need dictated that a team of individuals get together only once a year, the company may want to have more frequent meetings to perpetuate relationships among the team members. It’s difficult to maintain team spirit without the team getting together.

So, when do you have meetings? By asking the following question:

“Who needs what from whom how often and in what form?”

When all parties that interact in a company answer that question it reveals what kind of information flow systems are needed (i.e. telephone interactions, paper reports and face to face meetings) and how often they would occur to facilitate the information flow wanted or needed. Additionally, a wise leader/manager would also look at a team’s need for “face time” and factor that need in when determining meeting schedules.

Meeting Purpose:

Every meeting should have a clear purpose and expected outcome. In fact, each agenda item should have a clear purpose as well. One way to determine if the meetings you have now are appropriate and necessary is to ask, “What is the purpose and outcome of this meeting?” Everyone who attends a meeting should know before arriving what the purpose of the meeting is and what outcome they will walk away with. This is the overriding criteria for a given meeting: Purpose and Outcome.

Who should attend?

To state a simple fact: Everyone should attend a meeting that the meeting pertains to. Greater efficiency can be achieved by having all the ears in the room that need to hear about the issue at hand – with one exception. Logistics.

The logistics of geography or differing team needs suggests that the managers of the different locations or teams can attend the meeting, then return to the different locations with the information. The leader/manager can also translate the meeting’s agenda to the specific needs or perspective of differing teams.

Meetings that involve a number of agenda items that pertain to different groups or individuals can still be conducted efficiently. Instead of the inefficient default of having everyone attend the entire meeting; a meeting leader can cascade the agenda. The first agenda items addressed would apply to everyone in attendance. Those who don’t need to be at the second set of agenda items can be dismissed. The same would occur with a third set of agenda items, repeating until the last agenda items apply to the last people in attendance.

If there are distinctly different people needing to attend distinctly different agenda topics; the dynamics are a bit different. In essence, a meeting leader (or a core set of managers) would be conducting multiple meetings sequentially, on the same date in the same location. Each set of attendees would come at a prescribed time to attend a meeting of agenda items pertaining specifically to them.

In either case, the meeting management system and tool described below would apply to each “section” of a cascaded meeting; or each “separate” meeting of a set of sequential meetings.

The Rigid Running of a Meeting:

An efficient meeting is one where there is absolute accountability to the meeting process. Efficient meetings are often run quite rigidly with crisp adherence to the “rules.” When the rules are lax, the meeting goes on any number of tangents, clarity is lost, people are commenting (endlessly) or expressing opinion on “reporting items” that are no more than that – reporting. Or there is discussion surrounding some piece of information the participants of the meeting have no influence over or any business talking about it. This is a waste of time.

Time well spent in a rigidly run, efficient meeting often allows for plenty of time to visit, express opinions, have fun interaction or just enjoy each other’s company. Inefficient meetings that are allowed to drag on or deal with meaningless banter, often frustrate the participants and can do damage to the interactions.

What about brief meetings?

The following process absolutely ensures effective, efficient, meaningful meetings. Following the meeting management tool will save the company time and energy. The system, as described, comes easier over time. And there are times when every detail of the system is not used.

For example, if there is need for a short and simple meeting about some issue; a brief email or phone call can suffice for the preparation. The agenda can be a verbal one since the participants may be only dealing with one item. The spirit or principles of the following system found in the Meeting Management Tool is never violated, however. Preparation, clarity, closure, focus…and other aspects of the tool will always be there. They may be implemented much more simply.

It is important to follow the system in its detail until familiarity truncates some of its implementation. Let the details of the system be folded into brevity of implementation rather than allowing short cuts to eliminate crucial elements.

What about people who can’t attend?

At the beginning of a meeting it is always important to determine which members are absent. Ask for volunteers at the meeting to “partner” with an absent member. It is the responsibility of the volunteer to obtain handouts and materials for the absent member as well as bring that person up to speed regarding the content of the meeting.


Meeting Management Tool

Components of a successful meeting:
  • Preparation of meeting space and Agenda
  • Identify agenda items
  • Supportive roles
  • A discussion process
  • A shelf
  • Follow up
Following is an explanation and the “how to” for each of the above items.

Preparation of meeting space and agenda:

1. Who is accountable for the meeting?
Following the principle taught elsewhere, “that there is only one person accountable for every area of responsibility,” the responsibility for preparation and creating the meeting agenda would fall on the shoulders of the accountability person for a particular meeting – called the “meeting chairperson” or “meeting chair” or “meeting leader.” Though this person may delegate certain aspects of a meeting, including some of the preparation, the meeting leader remains ultimately accountable for the success of the meeting.
2. Consider in preparation:
The meeting leader would consider the following in preparation for the meeting:
  • Meeting name called by “John Doe” (the accountability person)
  • Date
  • Start and end times
  • Place of meeting (make sure it is available and prepare directions if necessary)
  • Meeting purpose
  • Desired outcomes
  • Name of individuals, group or team called to meet
  • Items or information participants need to bring to the meeting
  • Information needed before the meeting (i.e. lunch request)
  • Agenda items complete with “type” and “person assigned” to a particular agenda item (both explained more thoroughly below)
3. Prepare Agenda Items:
The meeting leader would prepare an agenda to send to each of the invited participants which would include all of the above information. A list of the agenda items is sufficient in the invitation. Further explanation of each agenda item is necessary at the meeting. (See Identify Agenda Items below).

4. Schedule and prepare the meeting space, equipment and materials:
Parallel to this information exchange with the meeting participants, the meeting leader would also schedule the meeting space and arrange for any materials or equipment needed (i.e. power point projector, handouts, supplies, etc.).

For regularly occurring meetings, (such as weekly staffing or scheduling meetings or monthly progress report meetings), where the components of the meeting are well understood, the above preparation is done once, at the beginning of these perpetuated meetings. It is crucial, however, to get this information to new members of a perpetuated meeting. Further, it is important to check in with the meeting participants from time to time to ensure everyone is getting what they need out of the meeting and that the meeting is running as efficiently as possible with the expectations surrounding purpose and outcomes fulfilled. Don’t assume.
5. Invite the participants:
The leader would distribute the information above before the meeting. Along with the distribution of the above information, the leader would state a clear process for receiving information from meeting attendees before the meeting as to questions, concerns, information the leader needs (i.e. lunch requests) or additional agenda suggestions; and tell the participants how soon before the meeting requested information is needed.
Identify Agenda Items:

Each agenda item needs to be assigned to an accountability person and labeled as to “type” for maximum efficiency.

It could be that the meeting chairperson is accountable for each agenda item. Many times, however, there is another person who speaks to a given item. In that case, the meeting chair is accountable for the efficiency of the meeting, but the person assigned to a particular item is accountable for fulfilling that item as to its “type.”

The labeled “type” of agenda item determines how that item is treated. For example, if an agenda item is one that requires discussion, the outcome of the discussion is stated clearly (“outcomes” like: getting input or opinion, brainstorming, gathering multiple perspectives, etc.) and a time frame associated with the discussion assigned.

If an agenda item is one of reporting or of giving information, that is stated too and discussion is not allowed. Questions for clarity are allowed but opinion giving is not. (See The Rigid Running of a Meeting above).

Some Examples of Agenda Item Labels:

There may be more agenda item “types” than are listed here. The goal is to clearly identify what type of item is being brought up so as to match the appropriate interaction and focus.

Problem Solving
Used when change is needed, or to attack a problem. The “decision maker” or “decision making process” needs to be present and clear so as to solve the problem. State how long the attendees will deal with the problem – Until it is solved? For a specific period of time an if it can’t be solved, tabled, delegated, delayed?
Discussion
Synergized perspective. A group of people discussing an idea or topic stimulating others in the discussion to an ever broadening and meaningful perspective.
Decision Making
To choose from previous or currently developed alternatives.  Must include the ultimate decision maker(s).
Planning
Future oriented problem prevention, details about a specific process or plan, or goal setting.
Reporting and Presenting
Information sharing. This can be very effective in making sure everyone hears the same information at the same time. Reporting, however, can often be a misused agenda items at a meeting. Consider whether information could be done one to one or in written form or in advance so as to not waste the time of people who may each have a different pace when it comes to assimilating information.
Feedback or Input
When many people express their opinions or suggestions to one or more individuals about something that has occurred, an event that took place, an idea – anything the attendees could give meaningful feedback or input to. State the purpose and context (why we’re talking about this and how it fits into the bigger picture) so as to have meaningful input. A facilitator is helpful to stay on track and a recorder is particularly important. State the time frame as to how long input will be received.
Prior to a meeting, the meeting leader can ensure success by checking on the status of action items from a previous meeting and asking each meeting contributor if he or she needs any preparation support.

Also, prior to the meeting, the meeting leader would prepare any handouts including an agenda to distribute at the meeting. There can be space left on the agenda for last minute items to be added.

 Supportive Roles:

In addition to an accountability person for the meeting, the meeting leader, it is helpful to have three other supportive roles. They are as follows:

Assigned Supportive Roles:
  • Timekeeper
  • Recorder
  • Facilitator
A Timekeeper is one who is responsible for monitoring the time of the entire meeting as well as each agenda item. The timekeeper reports on the time used and the time left regularly within the meeting and during each agenda item. He or she gives the participants awareness of time frames in order for them to pace themselves appropriately. The timekeeper must be flexible if the agenda items or the meeting chairman makes a decision to change items or time frames.

A Recorder is the person responsible for the minutes of the meeting especially documenting action items and decisions. He or she is also charged with capturing the information received from brainstorm, input, or feedback agenda items.

The Facilitator is the person who is responsible for telling the meeting participants when they are on a tangent, when they are no longer talking about a particular agenda item. This can be one of the most useful roles and tools for conducting an efficient meeting. Staying on track until each agenda item is at closure creates better meeting outcomes and utilizes time more effectively. The facilitator must be flexible and alert to note when a new, higher priority, agenda item has come up and the agenda or agenda type has changed. (See The Shelf below which explains when this happens and how to treat the situation).

Often a meeting leader believes he or she can do all of the above alone. It is better to assign others in the meeting the responsibility of these three roles for the following reasons:
  • It allows the meeting leader to stay focused on the meeting process, content and dynamics
  • It allows three other people to have accountability surrounding some of the dynamics of the meeting
  • It allows others to be more actively involved who may not normally do so
It is important that the meeting leader work with these three other people and not undermine their role or involvement. These roles dramatically help run a meeting rigidly and, therefore, efficiently. If a leader constantly overruns or overrules the people in these roles, it will have a negative effect on the meeting and the participants.
A Discussion Process:

Success for the communication of each agenda item that demands interaction can be enhanced if there is a clear process for discussion. The following process helps focus people. It also helps get everyone on the same page with similar perspectives so as to prevent rambling, misunderstood, or incomplete discussions. Further, it results in “closure” eliminating loose ends.

Discussion Process: For each agenda item that needs discussion:
A. State
Briefly state the issue or item of discussion including what type of agenda item it is, it’s purpose, and the expected outcome of the item.
B. Educate
Explain the issues that surround that item and the reason for it being on the agenda. Give the purpose and context for the agenda item – the “why” for the “what” and how it fits into a bigger context.
C. Discuss
Within the time parameter assigned, without judgment or limits, openly discuss the item, listening to all input about the subject.
D. Close
Come to closure regarding this agenda item by making a decision or setting a clear next step that involves an accountability trail:  “What, by whom, by when?”
The “State” and “Educate” phases of this process are done by the responsible person for the agenda item. The “Discuss” portion is lead by the responsible person engaging in discussion with all of the participants. The “Close” portion is done by the person responsible or accountable for the agenda item. It may be the “Close” is done by a vote or a person with authority “calls the play.” In any case, the process allows for the agenda item to be clearly prepped, include broad input and participation, then creates closure – never leaving loose ends.

Every item in every meeting must clearly find it’s reason for existence and it’s “end” or “next step” closure.

A Shelf:

Sometimes called a “parking lot” – a “shelf” is the place the meeting leader captures items that were not on the agenda. The spirit of the “shelf” is that nothing is lost at a meeting. Here is how it works.

During a discussion of an agenda item, someone mentions something that is important but different than what is being talked about and not on the meeting agenda later. To stay on track, that item is written on the “shelf’ (a flip chart, white board, or a power point projection of a computer).

Sometimes people will begin talking about this new and important item that has surfaced. It is then the Facilitator reminds the participants of the agenda item at hand and tells them they are off track.

Sometimes the item that has surfaced is more important than the agenda item at hand or needs to be talked about before the current agenda item can be concluded. At those times, the meeting leader makes a decision to place the new item on the agenda to be dealt with first. The old item is temporarily placed on the “shelf” until the new item comes to closure. It is then brought off the shelf to continue on its path to closure.

Sometimes, the newly surfaced item truncates the entire meeting’s agenda. Though rare, it can and does happen. At those times, the meeting leader must make a judgment call to do one of three things:
  • Stop the current meeting and reposition the participants to carry on a new meeting with the newly surfaced agenda item
  • Stop the meeting and call a new meeting at a later time with the same or different participants
  • Shelve all of the agenda items until this new item is dealt with to closure; then determine whether there is time (by mutually deciding to lengthen the meeting or by having time left) to address all or part of the previous agenda.
It is during these times that the three supporting roles of Timekeeper, Facilitator and Recorder need to be flexible. It is also important that the meeting leader clearly speak to the parameters of the new item: agenda item type, purpose, responsible person, time frame, etc.

A shelf can have one more beneficial characteristic. It can be the place to record any action item or “to do” list that surface during the meeting. It can be a place to record agenda items that are thought of during the current meeting that would be for future meetings.

In short, the “shelf’s” purpose is to ensure that nothing new gets lost, to capture anything that needs to be dealt with now or in the future but that cannot be dealt with at the immediate moment, and to provide a visible representation of these items so each participants can be aware of these items.

Follow up:

An effective meeting has clear follow up. At the end of the meeting, the leader would summarize all of the action items – any “to do” – illuminating the contract of expectations: What? By whom? By When?

Sometimes the meeting leader is not the person in the company directly accountable for the action item or for the person performing the action item. In those cases it is especially important to determine the accountability trail. Who is doing the action, who is the person performing the action item accountable to. What resources, if any, does the person need to implement the action item. Part of the follow up is to notify other party’s not present about items one of their subordinates is doing.

Another aspect of follow up is for the meeting leader to prepare and disseminate meeting minutes to the participants, including members who could not attend.

Meeting Management Check List

Pre Meeting:

1. Prepare a meeting agenda

2. Decide on attendees

3. Determine an appropriate date, time and place to hold the meeting

4. Schedule space and arrange for the room setup and supplies

5. Invite attendees giving them the following information:
    • Meeting name called by “John Doe” (the accountability person)
    • Date
    • Start and end times
    • Place of meeting (make sure it is available and prepare directions if necessary)
    • Meeting purpose
    • Desired outcomes
    • Name of individuals, group or team called to meet
    • Items or information participants need to bring to the meeting
    • Information needed before the meeting (i.e. lunch request)
    • Agenda items
6.    Prepare formal agenda including agenda types

7.    Prepare any handouts

8.    Obtain, arrange for or schedule any supplies, equipment or refreshments needed

At the meeting:

1.    State purpose of the meeting and review time frame for the entire meeting

2.    Preview the agenda including type and person responsible

3.    Assign supportive roles of Timekeeper, Recorder, Facilitator

4.    Create a “Shelf”

5.    Call for any additions to the agenda

6.    Determine who is not at the meeting and ask for volunteer “partners” to connect with the absentee

7.    Follow the agenda items using the following Discussion Process:
  • State
  • Educate
  • Discuss
  • Close
8.    Deal with any Shelf Items that have surfaced

9.    Reviewing any action items and clarifying accountability trails
Post meeting:
1.    Disseminate meeting minutes to all members including absentees

2.    Notify accountability person(s) about their subordinate(s) who are responsible for certain action items


About the authors: Bill Truby has a Masters Degree in Psychology, 30 years of experience in business training & consulting, and has conducted an extensive amount of study in the sciences (particularly physics with an emphasis in quantum physics). Joann Truby, a highly successful leadership and management coach, has worked with Bill for over 12 years. Together, they have published 3 books, professionally recorded over 20 hours of audio training productions and produced multiple video training tools. Bill and Joann have written this article from extensive real-world experience to help leaders and managers be more effective in their roles.