Meetings - Some Tips on How to Make Them Worthwhile

Woman giving presentation at a meeting
Coworkers gathering to discuss
project progress or business strategy
Even in the sometimes diffuse work spaces of modern organizations, where much of our contact with coworkers might be via email, chats, messages, or specialized apps, there are still significant times when collaborators must congregate as a unit. There are some things that cannot be effectively accomplished without simultaneous attendance of the involved parties. The rate of information exchange that can be accomplished verbally far outpaces anybody's keyboard speed. We are need meetings, so let's step up and make them work.
Meetings, whether in person or virtual, can be highly efficient catalysts of productivity and creativity. If managed poorly, there are numerous very descriptive terms employed by attendees to describe the experience.

Compiled here is an admittedly long list of items that might help meeting attendees and mangers to sharpen their performance and contribute to a productive session that breeds enthusiasm and results. Some will appear obvious, but it never hurts to run yourself through a refresher and bring the important points back into focus.
  1. Publish and follow a meeting agenda. This is the easiest way to a productive start.
  2. Start on time. Can be tough at first – but if you stick to the start time, people will be more likely to show up on time.
  3. Give periodic summaries. Ask group members to summarize. This ensures everyone understands the discussion points.
  4. Assign tasks to participants. Good managers do this. This builds consensus too.
  5. Insist that vague statements be clarified. Dissidents and attention grabbers do this. Don't let them.
  6. Test all generalizations. “Everyone knows...” is not a valid approach. Watch for this in emotionally charged meetings. 
  7. Ask probing questions. Use open-ended questions, not ones that can be answered “yes” or “no”.
  8. Protect and defend minority opinions. Many good ideas come from individuals or small subgroups. Encourage them. 
  9. Keep outside issues outside. Schedule another meeting to handle those issues; don't stray from agenda.
  10. Know when to fold 'em. Once an issue is resolved, don't revisit it. Keep a list of issues that just hang on. Will they ever be resolved?
  11. Always debrief. Acknowledge what went right. This is important for morale.
  12. Combat negative behaviors. Don't let any group member derail the meeting.
  13. Curtail dominance. Learn to identify the individual that over-participates, effectively shutting others out. Have a private chat with that person. Perhaps a code or signal between the manager and dominator so the latter knows when to put on the brakes.
  14. Avoid tunnel vision. Emphasize alternatives if polarization is happening. Ask the group for new ideas.
  15. Minimize silence. Strong contributors who suddenly become silent can be a warning sign. Ask the group for input, observations and thoughts.
  16. Watch for subgroups or cliques. Try to bring those who are unaligned or undecided into the group rather than having an instigator recruit them to their position.
  17. Seek out hidden agendas of individuals whose goal may be to increase personal power or decrease the authority of the meeting leader. Have this handy: “Is this what we are meeting about today?”
  18. Monitor agreement. It could be the “yes men and women” agreeing too quickly, which isn't helpful.
  19. Find the right style. Facilitator rather than controller? Need to learn the “dance” that works with the group.
    Corporate style board room
    The same rules apply to meetings held in board rooms, cubicles, or parking lots
  20. Encourage participation by everyone. All contributions have value and may lead to a preferable solution.
  21. Clarify points. Helping someone to clarify their points improves everyone's understanding of the issue.
  22. Restate the issue. Particularly useful when meeting is not going well. Helps to refocus and defuse an emotional moment.
  23. Act as mediator. When the group is stuck, introduce a new idea, revisit an old one, or put off to the next meeting.
  24. Facilitate the meeting. The best facilitator has a general interest in other people, the group, and the goals of the organization.
  25. Express support. Even when you disagree, still support the person's right to an opinion.
  26. Invite participation. A withholding of  a "no" is not a “yes.” Non-participation is a very manipulative technique. Don't let this happen.
  27. Check for consensus. Confirm where everyone stands on an issue to determine when the group is approaching a resolution, or if more discussion of information is needed.
  28. Appeal to higher goals. Don't let the minor power plays, hidden agendas, personality issues get in the way. A wise and powerful group leader does this well.
By using this checklist for running an effective meeting, organizations and groups can make meeting times more useful and efficient. Effective meeting management is skill acquired through consideration, practice, and candid reflection on past performance.

Follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime.