Have you ever attended a meeting and you were left confused what the meeting was meant to achieve after it ended?
It’s a common occurrence; you attend your regular monthly organization meeting, a special task force meeting or a social group committee meeting promptly that went on and on and on. When it ended, you were left scratching your head wondering what to take away from the meeting.
You did your due diligence and carried a pen and paper, but nothing important was said that you could jot down. You might remember a few funny quips by someone who kept interrupting the speaker or the personal anecdotes of the chair who gave too many of her own opinions, but in the end you left feeling tired, dissatisfied and unsure what the purpose of the meeting was:
“What was this meeting supposed to accomplish? Was there any meeting agenda?”
If this is something you’ve experienced, it’s a sign of a poorly run meeting. Unfortunately, many meetings are a waste of time.
No wonder many of us dread meetings in general.
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How to change your meetings from flat to awesome
The problem with ineffective meetings is that people don’t plan them properly, and yet they expect the meetings to be successful. Like most things in life, if you don’t plan important activities you plan to fail.
For a meeting to be successful, you should have a good plan for it. That entails setting a clear, actionable and distinctive agenda that will direct the course of the meeting so that it doesn’t go off on a tangent.
Think about what you want to achieve in the meeting ahead of time. That way you‘ll prepare a suitable message, attendees will have key points to take away from the meeting that directly address issues at hand, and everyone will walk away from the meeting feeling like their time was well spent.
But how do you construct a solid agenda for a meeting that is worth the time?
Steps to design a solid agenda for any meeting
According to organizational psychologist, speaker, and leadership team consultant Roger Schwarz, an effective agenda sets clear expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. Schwarz writes in a Harvard Business Review article:
“It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic, and identifies when the discussion is complete… If problems still occur during the meeting, a well-designed agenda increases the team’s ability to effectively and quickly address them.”
Of course, there’s no magic wand to make meeting agendas pop. But, the following tips will help you design a simple and effective agenda that make every meeting you run more effective and enjoyable for everyone:
1. Define the goal for the meeting
Come up with a clear and definitive goal for the meeting beforehand.
What is the purpose of holding the meeting? Is it to introduce new policy guidelines, generate new potential promotional offers, detail issues that need resolution, plan an activity like a donation drive for a local charity, or something else?
Determining the exact purpose for the meeting establishes a clear and focused goal, so your meetings don’t veer off and take an unfocused or aimless turn.
If you need to research and gather more information about the goal of the meeting, better do so before the meeting starts. That way you’ll arrive armed with all the information necessary to run the meeting smoothly.
2. Outline discussion topics
List the topics, themes or issues that will be discussed at the meeting.
Pick topics that affect the whole team as opposed to individuals, and that require the whole team’s input to solve adequately, such as “How do we best allocate shared resources?,” or “How can we improve employee-management relations?”
Keep the meeting discussions to less than 5 topics. Too many discussion topics lead to long agendas that seem daunting and might not be read.
Beware outlining agenda topics that are not interdependent may cause members to disengage in discussions or not attend the meeting at all.
3. Identify who is expected to attend
Name the people who should be attending the meeting. Tapping members in this way helps to motivate these individuals and others to attend.
Contact the members ahead of time to quickly hash out the agenda and to assign roles to them. This will get them more invested in the meeting agenda, and can help to develop new leaders from within the team.
If someone other than you is presenting some part of the agenda or moderating the meeting, list those people too. Send out their names in the agenda at least a week ahead of time to keep everyone informed and on the same page.
4. Ask for input from the other members
Encourage everyone else attending the meeting to get involved in setting the agenda items, instead of dishing out goals and objectives set only by the leaders in a close-door meeting.
Ask the group or team members to submit their suggestions for agenda items, questions about issues to be discussed in the upcoming meeting, or other matters that need to be addressed in the team setting.
Encouraging members’ participation in setting the agenda helps them become more invested in the meeting and motivated to achieve the goals. Schwarz advises:
“If you ultimately decide not to include an item, be accountable — explain your reasoning to the team member who suggested it.”
5. Allocate time for each discussion item
Decide on the appropriate amount of time to allocate to each agenda item, and inform members exactly how much time will be spent on each discussions topic.
Be careful not to over-schedule time to agenda items. Let the weight and priority of the topic dictate the appropriate amount of time allocated to it. This way members will not spend too much time on less important issues at the expense of weightier issues, and the meeting will not overrun.
The agenda is your road map. It should indicate all of the stops on the way to reaching your goal, without allowing too many unnecessary stops and side trips.
6. Indicate how members should prepare for the meeting
Meetings often suck because people are unprepared.
Instruct team members to give thought to the reasons the meeting is happening and the desired outcome ahead of time. This means you need to send out the agenda with sufficient time before the meeting.
Ask members to research and read background material on the agenda items. Tell them to come prepared with their initial thoughts about each topic.
Also, list the material or tools they need to bring with them for the meeting, if any, such as a voice recorder, pen and paper.
7. Add a Q&A section for live discussions
This should be added at the end of your meeting agenda, where you let participants ask questions.
According to a study published in the journal Management Research Review, employees find meetings the most productive when they gain from it resources that help them perform better in their roles.
To this we say: allocate time for members to ask pertinent questions or even raise off-topic matters towards the end of the meeting.
Live Q&As provide immediate gratification for participants. Those who are able to voice their questions feel like they are being heard and it helps them get the feedback they seek to excel.
Besides, you can gather valuable insights on the feelings, frustrations or information gap that exists in specific areas from participants’ questions, which can help inform the agenda for the next meeting.
8. Set a date, start and end time, and location
Make sure you stick to the meeting start and end time, even if there are only three people in the room. Word will get round that you are always punctual and people will come on time, or not come at all.
If people keep showing up late, or do not show up at all, this may be your cue to change the meeting venue, time or agenda items.
9. Make provision for a meeting review
If your team or group meets regularly, two questions can inform a simple and effective review of the meeting in the end: “What did we do well?” and “What do we want to do differently for the next meeting?”
Investing five or 10 minutes to answer these two simple questions will cultivate a sense of making progress in meetings, enhance team performance, and ultimately remove participants’ meeting remorse.
10. Leave room to celebrate accomplishments
After you have run a successful and engaging meeting, make a point of highlighting and celebrating the achievements you made in the meeting.
Did you achieve the goals you had set for the meeting? Celebrate that and any other successes in the meeting as a way to foster team spirit and morale.
Consider also individual member milestones. Maybe one of the shy members made a significant contribution for the first time in the meeting. Celebrate that too, as a way to give recognition to participants. Studies show that 83% of employees find more fulfillment in recognition than in rewards and gifts.
People dread meetings when the meeting lacks structure and organization. You’ll be able to overcome this challenge by being proactive in designing a clear and focused meeting agenda.
Take the advice in this article and apply the suggestions before you’re hosting your next meeting.
Featured photo credit: Štefan Štefančík via unsplash.com
|||^||Harvard Business Review: How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting|
|||^||Employees’ feelings about more meetings: Joseph A. Allen, Stephanie J. Sands and Stephanie L. Mueller|
|||^||Psychology Today: New Employee Study Shows Recognition Matters More Than Money|