All of us at one time or another have attended a meeting that was going nowhere.
How many times have you been in a meeting where, as you gaze around the room counting the number of attendees, you are amazed at the estimated costs of the meeting strictly from the standpoint of the participants’ salaries? Amid the limited meaningful discussion, you remind yourself that there is no agenda, no facilitator, and no progress.
Making a meeting successful requires a team of people who actively exchange ideas to accomplish a goal (or set of goals). To help ensure success, the members need to have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Remember, the common goals of a meeting should be to exchange information, solve problems, share concerns, and make decisions.
Effective meetings begin with some basic rules that include:
- Developing a meeting agenda
- Ensuring proper meeting facilitation
- Keeping the meeting interesting
- Expecting adequate preparation
- Following established rules of conduct
- Encouraging meaningful participation
- Recording meeting minutes
Meeting agendas are essential to the smooth flow and efficiency of any meeting. At a minimum, agendas should include:
- The agenda topics, with a brief definition of each topic;
- The names of the presenters responsible for each topic;
- The estimated amount of time needed to present each topic; and
- Scheduled break times, if necessary.
Develop and distribute copies of the agenda prior to the meeting. If one hasn’t been developed, spend the first few minutes of the meeting outlining one on a whiteboard or flipchart.
Facilitation is Key
Each meeting should have a facilitator who is responsible for keeping the meeting focused, structured, and productive. The role of facilitator is generally played by the project team leader; however, your team may decide to rotate the responsibility among its members.
Some responsibilities of the facilitator include keeping the discussion focused, intervening in discussions that become multiple conversations, tactfully preventing someone from either being dominating or from being overlooked, and bringing the meeting to a close. The facilitator should also notify the group when the time allotted for an agenda topic has expired or is about to expire. The team then must decide whether to continue discussion at the expense of other agenda items or to postpone further discussion until the next meeting.
Save the Yawning For Bedtime
Routinely scheduled meetings are often necessary, but you still want to keep the meetings fun and effective, rather than having them become dull and dreaded. Some indicators your meetings are falling off track might include:
- Members begin attending merely because the meeting is on their calendars;
- Several members begin to miss meetings on a regular basis;
- Routine meetings often occur without much structure; and
- Meetings sometimes turn into gripe sessions, or end early, with very little getting accomplished.
To keep meetings more interesting, try to limit the time to one hour, include several forms of visual aids, supplement the meeting with related video or audio information, and provide snacks.
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Practice Makes Perfect
Prior to the meeting, everyone needs to do their homework. To adequately prepare means that everyone reviews the agenda ahead of time to prepare potential questions and comments in advance. In addition, everyone should have complete and up-to-date paperwork, reports, and information available, as should any members who are scheduled to present information.
Follow the Speed Limit
In order to keep them on track and in control, meetings should be conducted according to commonly established rules of order. Members should know how to act and interact with each other, and it is important that employees understand that they are expected to attend every meeting.
Everybody Gets to Spin the Wheel
Every meeting should include actions that facilitate the process of discussion. To do this, members should:
- Ask for clarification on any topics that are unclear to them;
- Act as gatekeepers to encourage equal participation from the group;
- Actively listen to team members’ ideas and comments;
- Minimize digression by not permitting irrelevant discussion; and
- Periodically summarize the content of the meeting.
Encourage members to express their feelings because differences of opinion expose members to other points of view. Keep an open mind and listen when another member brings up an idea.
What Did You Say?
Each meeting should have at least one person who keeps a record of key subjects and main points raised, decisions made, and any items that the group has decided to postpone until the next meeting. Later, team members can refer to the meeting minutes to reconstruct discussions, remind themselves of decisions made or actions taken, or review actions of meetings that they missed.
Meeting minutes may serve additional purposes, including providing a record of committee activity and accomplishment, a means of communicating to others in the organization, and a means of organizing from one meeting to the next.
Take thorough notes on all hazards, problems, and recommendations noted during the meeting and note who contributed each idea, problem, or solution.
Ray Chishti is an editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by business professionals. Chishti specializes in workplace safety topics such as employee training, fall protection, personal protective equipment, and fire protection. He is the writer and editor of J. J. Keller’s Safety Training Talks and OSHA Compliance for Transportation manuals, and is a speaker at webcasts and other educational events. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/osha and www.jjkellerlibrary.com.
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