I, like many of you, attend many meetings. I’ve noticed my patience has begun to run rather thin at meetings that are not well chaired. Let’s face it, poorly run meetings waste people’s precious time, de-motivate the participants (as they sit and wonder why they decided to attend) and of course, achieve poor meeting outcomes (often none at all!).
In fact I was guilty of this just recently. I called a meeting, invited the participants and then arrived at the meeting totally unprepared. I didn’t have an agenda, I hadn’t reviewed the previous minutes and it ended up wasting everyone’s time. I was embarrassed and learned a valuable lesson.
During that same week, I was also fortunate to attend a learning session. This question was posed to the group of participants: “What are your biggest time wasters at work?”
I assigned myself homework:
In my next meetings, I would notice things the meeting chair could do to improve the meeting effectiveness and efficiency (and these things would also serve as a reminder to me when I chair meetings).
1. Importance First
Place the most important agenda items first so they can be discussed or dealt with. I see a recurring theme of long, lengthy agenda items, with the most important items buried at the bottom of the agenda. Inevitable the meeting runs out of time, as people get stuck on agenda item 2 or 3. Which leads me to my next suggestion …
Assign the appropriate amount of time to each agenda item and then … stick to it! Nothing is more infuriating than seeing 30 minutes sucked up on an agenda item that was assigned 5 minutes (and is likely a low priority item – see suggestion #1).
3. Clear Requests
Another recurring theme I see are people presenting at a meeting but neither they, nor the meeting participants, are clear on what they want to achieve by presenting. Is it ‘information only,’ are they requesting feedback, do they want input, are they asking for a decision? It should be stated before a presentation, or better yet put it on the agenda, what the committee members are being asked to provide. (Again remember, many ‘information only’ items are a lower priority and often can be provided in a handout.)
It is up to the chair to pay attention to the energy in the room. If someone is presenting and the meeting participants are totally tuned out i.e. on their phones, looking out the window, in and out of the room, it is the chairs’ responsibility to take action. Allowing the presenter to drone on while people tune out is … a complete waste of time. Now I know I sound a bit harsh here, but the chair has to have the confidence, strength, and courage to politely interrupt presenters and get their presentation back on track and relevant to the group. (I know I was banging my head against the wall at a recent meeting where the chair let someone go on well past their allotted time, everyone was tuned out but they didn’t want to ‘hurt the person’s feelings.’) As a result 15 people’s time and energy was wasted for 30 minutes, not to mention the actually financial cost to that waste!
5. Clear Take-Aways
The meeting was productive, people felt heard, supported and decisions were made. Everything is good, right? Well not until the chair has made it clear, who is doing what. Now sometimes this happens as the meeting progress but it’s good practice to give a summary at the end of the meeting, clearly indicating (i.e. putting it in the minutes), who is doing what and by when? This keeps all communication and roles and responsibilities very clear.
I hope these are helpful suggestions for you.
Please don’t hesitate to invite me to your next meeting!
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