The CommitteeManager Blog

Another 5 Secrets to Efficient Meetings

This is Part 2 of a two part series on running efficient meetings.

You can also read Part 1: 5 Simple Secrets to Efficient Meetings.

In Part 1: 5 Simple Secrets to Efficient Meetings we looked at the problems that can come from poorly run meetings, and discussed some simple techniques to help run meetings efficiently and effectively.

In this post, we're going to look at another five techniques, focussing around getting the best out of your attendees and helping them to follow through on decisions.

Let's jump straight in, shall we?

Ensure people are heard, and not talked over

First of all, it's important to make sure that everyone at a meeting gets their say without monopolising or talking to the exclusion of others. Not only are interruptions disrespectful to your attendees, but slow down meetings and waste time.

If you have gone to the effort to invite someone to a meeting, their opinion is obviously valuable to the team. If they are consistently interrupted or ignored, all the time and effort to organise them to be present is wasted - they may as well not even be there.

The two most common situations you can spot in meetings are interruptions - talking over other people - and side conversations.

When someone is interrupted or talked over, always make an effort to return to them once the interruption is over. This may mean you need to come back to their point after a longer discussion with a simple question like "Did you have anything more to add from your earlier comments?". This gives them an opportunity to engage, and also helps to remind the team that everyone's voice can be heard.

Side conversations, on the other hand, are usually a symptom of distraction or boredom. In this case, attendees may "zone out" of a discussion they perceive as unimportant, or start discussing a side issue. If this happens, it is important to halt the meeting and bring the team together again by focussing on the agenda.

Being aware of interruptions, and working to resolve them has a few benefits.

Allowing everyone to speak at a meeting reduces the likelihood of having to schedule a second meeting because of something that wasn't raised the first time. For example, it might be a major problem or side-effect that needs to be explored in detail.

There is also an obvious benefit to morale and engagement - when everyone feels their opinions and thoughts are valued, they are more likely to be open and help to contribute to the team.

Choose a venue suited for the meeting

The important part of a meeting is sharing information clearly, and sometimes you need a different location, or special tools to share that information effectively.

Many groups overlook this and keep their meetings in the same location, rather than look for a location in a forum that is conducive to quick, efficient communication.

A meeting might be best held standing around someone's computer where they can show you what they're talking about. Or in front of a whiteboard with everyone holding pens. It might mean standing in the venue that you're actually discussing.

Also keep in mind how the setting affects your attendees mentally. Loud background noise will be distracting and make it hard to hold a detail orientated discussion. On the other hand, a stale, sterile environment may make it difficult for creative or problem solving tasks.

In some cases, meetings can be moved to phone or electronic tools to increase clarity and reduce the need for everyone to be in the same location. This may not work for all organisations, or all meetings, but it can be a massive boon to efficiency if it suits your team.

Let people raise items to be addressed

This seems to fly in the face of #3 from Part 1, but hear us out!

If time permits, let people raise new items to be addressed at the end of the meeting while the group is together. But only if time permits.

Meetings are a great opportunity when everyone's attention is focussed together. For most of us, our days are spent shuffling emails, text messages, letters and other documents, and we use these to communicate in an asynchronous manner. This is great to let people focus on their tasks at hand without interruptions, but it also means that simple questions or updates can take hours or days before they are dealt with.

These delays come with a cost - every task, question or update you haven't completed is rattling around in your brain, chewing up energy and focus.

When you meet, take that opportunity to get as many of those tiny things resolved as quickly as possible. That may just mean acknowledging an email you have been meaning to get back to, or that quick question for someone. Often, these items can be resolved in minutes or less.

It's important to note that raising items like this doesn't necessarily mean resolving those issues in that meeting. If there is a critical problem someone needs to discuss, it might require another meeting to discuss in detail. Or, an item may just need a few minutes with a small group after the main meeting has concluded, while everyone is still together and focussed on the group.

At the end of the day, it's more efficient to spend a few minutes at the end of the meeting on these small items rather than spend a week batting emails back and forth.

Assign concrete action items

It's amazing how many organisations discuss great ideas, but never make anyone responsible to carry them out.

So what happens? They don't get done. Or worse, several people all try to do it at once, wasting time and causing conflict and confusion.

To make the most of your team, any time an action item comes up you should decide on who will be responsible for it. It is their responsibility to see it completed, and report on its progress - even if the task may require the assistance of other people to complete it fully.

By making the owner of the action item explicit, you ensure that they know, for certain, what is expected of them.

There are too many pointers for writing good action items to squeeze them in here (keep an eye out for a future post), but generally speaking action items should:

  • Be clear and unambiguous, explaining everything that needs to be done.
  • Have a firm deadline.
  • Have a concrete deliverable; something that will be done and progress can be reported on to the team.
  • Have only one person responsible.

The last one - having a single person responsible - can be difficult sometimes, but it really is critical. As soon as more than one person is responsible for an action item, it becomes nobody's responsibility, which increases the likelihood that it won't be completed.

To illustrate, consider an action item:

Confirm venue for October

Most people will find it very difficult to know exactly what that needs to be done, who is handling it, and therefore it will be less likely for this item to be completed.

A much better action item might be:

John to speak with the venue to confirm availability for 7th or 9th October, and provide the quote to the team before the next meeting

John now knows exactly what needs to be done. He knows the dates in question, and he has a deadline by which he needs to get this done. Plus, nobody else in the team will double up on John's work unless he asks them for assistance.

It's also easy to decide when the item is complete. Either John provides the quote to the team, or he doesn't; there's no room for the task to be "mostly done" or ticked off without the quote being delivered.

Keep minutes and send them out soon after the meeting

Regardless of whether you require formal minutes or not, make sure they are taken at every meeting and are made available to all participants soon after the meeting - a few days at most, and definitely well before any future meetings.

Minutes are important for a few reasons:

  • Minutes formalise the decisions that have been made, ensuring that the same decision doesn't have to be made again unless something changes.
  • Minutes outline the action items that people are undertaking, and makes sure everyone knows what they are accountable for.
  • Minutes let everyone see progress across the entire team, improving morale.
  • Minutes can serve as tools to jog your memory regarding the specifics of a discussion, or who had the information about it. This is particularly useful when you do come to complete an action item.

Minutes also help you tell whether a meeting was productive or not. If you look at the minutes and it looks like nothing was decided or resolved, changes are good that you either didn't run a particularly productive meeting, or you didn't need a meeting in the first case.

Moving forward

Building a team that works well together takes a lot of effort, but by using these techniques you can run meetings that help your team work better together.

With everyone able to give their best, and feel good about doing it, you will be surprised at what your team is able to accomplish!

Want to generate minutes easily and track all your team's action items?

Find out more at CommitteeManager.com

Welcome to the CommitteeManager blog

We are a team committed to helping people work together efficiently and productively.

So much of our lives are spent working with teams and committees; meetings, group emails, conference calls and project planning sessions. But most teams struggle to get the best out of their members due to a lack of organisation and a lack of focus.

This blog has been set up to provide helpful, practical advice on getting the most out of your meetings and groups. We will be covering topics ranging from efficiency tips, new ideas you may want to explore, to long term strategic planning.

When we're not helping provide tips and tricks about efficiency, we build CommitteeManager, an online application that can revolutionise the management of your board, committee and project team obligations.

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