Are your meetings effective?

During a recent team meeting, we took a few minutes to talk about… meetings. We spend so much time in them, we wanted to make sure we were being efficient and effective. As part of that conversation, we shared some ideas on what makes a meeting effective based on our past experiences. Here are some of the key questions you may want to ask yourself if you are feeling a little “meetinged out.”

1. Do you have an agenda?
The saying goes you need to “plan your work and work your plan,” and that’s what an agenda allows you to do. Without an agenda, you may spend too much time talking about trivial matters without devoting enough time to the really important issues. There are many ways to develop an agenda, including brainstorming a list of items to discuss at the start of the meeting and then assigning priorities to each item. It will take you a few minutes to get this done, but it will be time well spent.

2. Are you clear on outcomes?
When it comes right down to it, in meetings you are either sharing information or processing information. Information sharing concerns items that people in the meeting need to know – a change in policy, upcoming events, direction from senior staff, etc. Generally, these items only need discussion around clarification.

Information processing concerns items that the group needs to come to a decision about – how will we handle the appeal process this year, what can we do to help students be more successful in our area, what’s the next step in our default prevention strategy, etc. In order to process the information and come to a decision, you may need to assign people to do additional research, share data already available or agree upon target goals. When dealing with information processing, it helps to have clarity around how the decision will be made – will it be a vote or will management make the final decision? You might even want to label every item on your agenda with “information sharing” or “information processing” to make sure everyone understands the desired outcome. For those items that are “information processing,” state the desired outcome in noun-verb sequence, such as “SAP policy revised.”

3. Have you assigned roles? 
Assigning roles is another good way of keeping a meeting on track. At a minimum, I like to have three roles assigned:

  • Facilitator – the person in charge of guiding the discussion as outlined in the agenda. The topic of facilitating a meeting could fill a book but one of the best descriptions of the role of the facilitator came to me from Xerox’s Total Quality Management Training – “The facilitator is responsible for removing internal obstacles so a group can more effectively pursue its goals.”
  • Timekeeper – because the facilitator is focused on the agenda and ensuring everyone is able to participate appropriately, it’s helpful to have a different person keeping an eye on the clock and occasionally alerting the group as to where they are in respect to the given time.
  • Note taker – the person who records key information coming out of the meeting. Meeting minutes are important for recording outcomes and the next steps agreed upon by the group. Generally, it’s not necessary to capture every nuance of the discussion but to stay focused on outcomes decided so members and their colleagues can refer back.

4. Are you labeling your behavior?
It is so easy for comments to be misunderstood, especially when your meetings involve people participating remotely via conference calls. One way to avoid misunderstanding is to label your behavior. Starting your comments with “Let me give you some information…”, “I need some information on…”  “I agree with…” or “I disagree with…” goes a long way toward helping others understand your intent. It also has the added benefit of forcing you to be constructive since you are less likely to say something like “Let me go off on a tangent…” or “I want to complain about…”

Do you have any tips that have helped your meetings be more effective? Please share them with me via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

George CovinoGeorge Covino is Student Connections’ vice president, student success.