Best Practices for Effective Meetings-Part II

It’s amazing how often people will complain about a meeting being a complete waste of time — but they only say so after the meeting.

Really, it is commonly taken that meetings are the events where minutes are taken and hours wasted but based on part I of the subject on best practices for effective meetings as well as those to be noted below, since they can not be avoided they can be improved, effective and made resourceful.

I am biased to agree that when meetings become frequent more so on the same ‘creative yet unresolved or still under research’ issues, then they lose their purpose. With these other pointers on making such effective would be:

4.   Opening Meetings

  • Always start on time; this respects those who showed up on time and reminds late-comers that the scheduling is serious.
  • Welcome attendees and thank them for their time.
  • Review the agenda at the beginning of each meeting, giving participants a chance to understand all proposed major topics, change them and accept them.
  • Note that a meeting recorder if used will take minutes and provide them back to each participant shortly after the meeting.
  • Model the kind of energy and participant needed by meeting participants.
  • Clarify your role(s) in the meeting.

5.   Decision Making

  • At meetings, reaching decisions can be complex and challenging.
  • It is important that participants who wish to speak and express their views have an opportunity to do so.
  • It also is important to proceed carefully, listen to concerns and opinions, and consider alternatives. Thus, when a decision has been made, it is more likely that a larger majority of participants will accept and support it because they have been involved in its creation.
  • When decisions are made too quickly, there is a good chance that someone and his/her views have been left out.
  • The following process can be used to organize decision making:
  1. Define the issue. State it clearly and in writing if necessary.
  2. Gather all information relevant to the issue. All pertinent facts and ideas need to be known and meeting participants and the chairperson must distinguish between facts and opinions. A decision may need to be deferred so that additional information can be gathered.
  3.  List all possible solutions or actions. Encourage discussion to generate new ideas and alternatives.
  4. Choose the best possible solution. Use the process of elimination to refine and combine the list in step 3.
  5.  Make the decision. Formulate a motion which is a formal proposal for action or decision by a meeting, vote on it and then record the results.
  6. Evaluate the outcome. This is usually done once a decision has been implemented and can be handled through general discussion or preparation of a written report.

6.   Group Discussions

  • Well managed meetings allow all participants to be part of the decision making process.
  • Following are some techniques that the chairperson can use to encourage and support participation and discussion:
  1.   The chairperson solicits views
    The chairperson might suggest that comments are welcome from the group and actually ask specific individuals to share their views. Participants thus hear a number of abbreviated opinions rather than listening to one or two long speeches.
  2.     A survey

After a short discussion, the chairperson asks for a quick show of hands to determine support for proposed ideas. This should help the chairperson determine how to proceed. This encourages participants to express an opinion.

       3.     Groups

Groups can be very useful in the decision making process at large meetings and for generating new ideas from participants. The meeting divides into smaller groups, i.e. four to eight people, for a short time to discuss assigned issues. A person is chosen as a recorder to list the conclusions of the group. The groups then report their ideas to the entire meeting. The alternatives that are generated will assist the meeting in resolving issues and making decisions acceptable to all.

4.     Brainstorming

This is a procedure for generating many spontaneous and diverse ideas which can help to develop alternatives that will assist in resolving the issue being discussed and in coming to a decision.

Guidelines for brainstorming are:

  • Don’t criticize the ideas of others while brainstorming;
  • impractical suggestions may trigger practical ideas among other participants;
  • the more ideas, the greater the chance of developing a very good idea;
  • build on the ideas of others, improve on a previous idea or combine several ideas into one;
  • choose one person to record all ideas on a flipchart so that everyone can see them and a record exists; and
  • after a brainstorming session, critically screen the list of ideas for four or five consistent items or themes. Also, if brainstorming has been done in smaller groups, identify similar issues from the lists of individual groups. Finally, develop this “short list” of ideas into options for decisions.

7.   Managing Conflicts

  • Conflicts can arise in meetings or during discussions.
  • Many assume that conflict is negative but it can be positive if it leads to innovation, positive change or agreement when discussing an issue.
  • It is important to remember that disagreement is necessary to the process of group decision making.
  • The chairperson may have to step into resolving conflict in a meeting in order to reach an acceptable decision.
  • Following are steps that are useful in resolving conflict:
  1.  Recognize that there is conflict and identify the issue causing the disagreement.
  2.  Collect all information relating to the conflict, share it and assess it.
  3. Propose possible solutions, including the consequences of the proposals.
  4. Find a mutually acceptable resolution without coercion.
  5.  Carry out the agreement and evaluate its effectiveness, with all parties sharing in the evaluation.

If a meeting does get out of hand, take a short break. When the meeting reconvenes, the chairperson can summarize the discussion up to the point of conflict or have opposing sides summarize their respective positions. The chairperson can then attempt to lead the two opposing sides in negotiating a solution.

8.   Time Management

  • One of the most difficult facilitation tasks is time management — time seems to run out before tasks are completed. Therefore, the biggest challenge is keeping momentum to keep the process moving.
  • You might ask attendees to help you keep track of the time.
  • If the planned time on the agenda is getting out of hand, present it to the group and ask for their input as to a resolution.

9. Evaluation of meeting process

  • It’s amazing how often people will complain about a meeting being a complete waste of time — but they only say so after the meeting.
  • Get their feedback during the meeting when you can improve the meeting process right away. Evaluating a meeting only at the end of the meeting is usually too late to do anything about participants’ feedback.
  • Every couple of hours, conduct 5-10 minutes “satisfaction checks”.
  • In a round-table approach, quickly have each participant indicate how they think the meeting is going.

10.   Evaluating the Overall Meeting

  • Leave 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting to evaluate the meeting; don’t skip this portion of the meeting.
  • Have each member rank the meeting from 1-5, with 5 as the highest, and have each member explain their ranking
  • Have the chief executive rank the meeting last.

11.   Closing Meetings

  • Always end meetings on time and attempt to end on a positive note.
  • At the end of a meeting, review actions and assignments, and set the time for the next meeting and ask each person if they can make it or not (to get their commitment)
  • Clarify that meeting minutes and/or actions will be reported back to members in at most a week (this helps to keep momentum going).

12.   After the Meeting

  • Follow-up on action items and begin to plan the next meeting.
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