STIMULATING ORGANIZATIONAL SUCCESS (S.O.S.) ::
Planning Effective Meetings
Who Should Attend?
- Make sure the right people who should be at the meeting are invited. When creating the list of whom should attend, answer the following questions: What would you like to accomplish at this meeting and who needs to be there in order to reach these goals? Who is or should be involved with this project? Who has the key information about the topics/issues?
- When inviting participants, let them know the purpose of the meeting and why their attendance is important.
What Is the Purpose of the Meeting?
- Before setting up a meeting, know why there is a need to meet. What do you want to accomplish at the meeting that can't be done more efficiently over the phone or via email?
- Use meetings to discuss ideas and make decisions, not to give reports of things that have already been completed. Reports can be sent via email or with the agenda prior to the meeting. The meeting should be used to build upon information already received and to achieve results.
Before the Meeting:
- Create an agenda:
- Clearly state the purpose of the meeting and the overall goal/s you want to achieve.
- List the key topics that will need to be discussed in order to achieve the overall goal of the meeting.
- Next to each topic heading, include pertinent questions that should be addressed, the type of action that will be needed (discussion, decision, vote, research, follow-up action), and the estimated time needed to discuss each topic. When estimating the amount of time needed, be realistic but plan for efficiency. Time costs money and too often, meetings are much longer than necessary.
- In some cases, a chairperson or Executive Director will run the entire meeting. But often, it is more effective to assign different discussion leaders for each major agenda topic. The discussion leaders will be responsible for planning that portion of the meeting, gathering necessary information prior to the meeting, preparing necessary hand-outs for that topic, and keeping the discussion focused and on-topic and on-task. By having several discussion leaders, each running a portion of the meeting, more people will feel invested in the meeting as a whole. List the names of the discussion leaders next to each topic item on the agenda.
- If there are committee reports, calendar items, and other general or vital information necessary to make decisions at the meeting, include them with the agenda that is sent out beforehand, so that participants can be updated prior to each meeting.
During the meeting:
- Always start on time. This is the most effective way to inspire attendees to come on time in the future. It is also the best way to respect the time of those who are there.
- Designate someone to take notes at the meeting. A simple way to take effective meeting notes is to use the agenda topics as headings, and just record important action items and assignments, who is responsible or the lead on each action/assignment, and any deadlines agreed to at the meeting.
- Strive for positive and professional meetings. Meetings can be fun, but they are not intended to be social hours. People respect meetings that are run professionally and get the most out of meetings when there are tangible results.
- Be flexible, but stay on task. If new ideas come up that aren't on the agenda, but might be vital in accomplishing the goal of the meeting - adapt. But if discussions veer off onto tangents, discussion leaders should immediately try to steer the conversation back on topic and remind participants to focus on the goal for the meeting.
- If ideas do come up that are off-topic, but might be worth pursuing at another time or meeting, deposit that idea in an idea bank for future reference. Have a flipchart that people can use to write ideas on at anytime, or an idea-box with slips of paper that people can deposit suggestions into for future reference. This encourages people to participate creatively without taking focus away from the task at hand. Include these ideas in a special section of the minutes that are sent out to everybody following the meeting.
- Discussion leader/s should model the kind of energy and participation they would like from each of the attendees.
- Encourage participants to participate, stay focused, build on each other's ideas, and try to reach concrete action steps throughout the meeting.
- Keep track of the time so that all topics get covered.
- Dedicate 5 minutes near the end of the meeting to evaluate the meeting - What worked well? What could have been improved? Was the time well spent? What can be done differently next time? Include these notes in the minutes and incorporate suggestions for the next meeting.
- Save enough time at the end of each meeting to review decisions that were made, actions to be taken, assignments that were given, and who is responsible for implementing each decision/action/assignment and by when.
- Set the time and date for the next meeting.
- Always end the meetings on time.
After the meeting:
- Send a copy of the meeting notes to all participants at soon as possible after the meeting. Since the meeting notes include action items and assignments, who will take care of them, and when the due dates are, they are an invaluable resource in building momentum after each meeting so that meetings actually become an effective tool towards getting things done.
Seattle Youth Symphony.
Photo: Colleen Boyce.