Ever feel like you’re stuck in an endless meeting? You might be! A 2013 study by officebroker.com found that the average office worker spends 16 hours in meetings every week. Meetings can be useful, but you have to make sure you have planned for success.
There are two basic types of meetings:
- The routine meeting: Every workplace knows what these are — staff meetings, department meetings and the like. While the goal is to update everyone on progress, they also can become a drag just because of their routine nature. Maybe everyone doesn’t need an update every single Monday for example.
- The goal-oriented meeting: These meetings are usually planned to get a group together to coalesce around a certain goal such as planning for a trade show, making forecasts for the coming month or participating in a training.
Both meetings can be equally useful — or equally useless — depending on how organized the group and the leader is.
A key to any meeting is to have an agenda. Here are eight steps for creating a successful agenda:
1) Prior to setting an agenda, determine who should be at the meeting. In many cases, it might be a complete department, but often meetings are for both internal and external groups to take on a certain issue. Making sure all the right decision-makers, but not too many superfluous people, are in the room is the key to a meeting that will have successful outcomes.
2) Designate a meeting leader. Typically it’s clear who the leader is but there can be times when it’s not immediately obvious. It’s important though to ensure that someone is taking control of developing the agenda and making sure that everyone stays on track.
3) Solicit input from attendees on what items should be on the agenda. The time to find out what topics meeting attendees intend to cover is before the meeting — otherwise, it’s too easy for a meeting to get off target and undermine the goals. Ask attendees to send to the meeting leader items that they want to discuss. It’s possible that you won’t be able to cover all the items that are suggested, if they are too off target from the goal of the meeting, or don’t involve the majority of the people in the meeting. Be sure to communicate to that particular team member if an item won’t be discussed at the meeting, but assure them that it will be covered at a later date.
4) Create an agenda, complete with time limits, and route it prior to the meeting. By sending out the agenda and indicating how long you will be spending on each item, you are setting expectations for priorities on not only what will be covered but in how much detail. When you route the agenda, indicate where you are going to be asking for input or feedback so your attendees can properly prepare in advance. If the purpose of a meeting is a brainstorm, you want them to have adequate time to consider solutions.
Note the importance of including time limits for each agenda item and respecting those time limits as much as possible. This means that you will be able to fulfill all the goals set for the meeting. If a side topic arises, or one agenda item becomes more involved than you had been intending, consider allocating a separate meeting to it, or whether it should be delegated to a subgroup whose mission will be to investigate that specific issue. Bear in mind that sometimes people talk in meetings, solely for the purpose of having their voice heard, so keeping the meeting moving can help mitigate grandstanding.
5) Develop roles for attendees. To help create a sense of ownership from everyone attending the meeting, consider assigning specific members to conduct advance research to share with the group. For example, if the goal of the meeting is to plan an upcoming event, assign certain people to collect information that can be shared with the group. For example, one person could look into potential dates that don’t present any known conflicts; another can research venues and costs; and a third can start compiling the guest list or panel of presenters. By giving each person a role, they realize that the meeting will be a working meeting and they are more likable to take it seriously.
6) Make your agenda actionable. Someone glancing through the agenda should be clear on the outcome of each agenda item. For example, instead of writing “discuss accounting software,” write “discuss pros and cons of a, b and c accounting systems and make a choice.” Now everyone knows exactly what the discussion will look like, that you’ve honed in on three top choices and that you will be expecting attendees to contribute their input at the meeting. It also means that attendees are clear what sort of outcome will be reached.
7) Establish meeting rules as needed. Oftentimes, meeting attendees fall into bad habits that can make the meeting unproductive or distracting. It is therefore important to set some basic rules such as ensuring that attendees arrive on time and leave possible distractions behind (i.e. answering texts or emails).
8) Assign someone to take notes. Having someone recording the various decisions and developing a to-do list ensures that everyone is clear on decisions made and next steps. Consider rotating the job, so that one person isn’t always stuck with it. In addition, when people take notes they are often more engaged, so spreading the duty around can help ensure that all meeting attendees are equally involved.
A meeting is only as successful as its agenda, so make sure to set your team up for a productive meeting by spending extra time preparing the agenda to ensure success before the meeting even starts.
by Cathie Ericson