Meetings are an integral part of business and social life. For as long as you live, you probably have attended formal and informal meetings all your life. Meetings differ based on the goal for the meeting and also the discussion points at hand (agenda). They can either be short debriefs or long brainstorming or planning meetings. Regardless of the nature of the meeting, how you plan and run the meetings has a bearing on the effectiveness and impact of the meeting. Poorly planned and loosely coordinated meetings become a chore for attendees. It is the cry of most professionals that one day they can attend meetings that have direction, seeking to achieve specific goals within the set time limits. That is the reason for this subject. I have attended meetings in my life where I got out wondering why I was in the meeting, how I could have spent the time productively elsewhere and so on. Whether you are chairing the meeting or simply attending a meeting in order to contribute, this subject will enhance the effectiveness of the meeting.
1. The Objectives or Goals of the Meeting – Meetings that happen without specific goals being set in advance end up discussing anything that anyone feels like talking about. An agenda should be circulated in advance of the meeting rather than for people to be told in the meeting why they are there. An agenda has the discussion points, time allocation and in some cases the person presenting the point. People desire to plan what to contribute and they will know what prior reading they need to do. Once they are in the meeting, it becomes time to contribute not thing afresh. Where purpose is unclear, everyone who attends asks themselves questions such as “Did I need to be here? Why was I in this meeting after all?” The next time a similar meeting is called people creatively avoid them. When goals are stated, people will find it hard to use meetings to settle scores.
2. Be clear on the attendees list – Have you ever attended a meeting where you felt out of place? Meetings where you got there and could not even contribute a word except listen to others speak. Possibly it was a meeting with senior employees and you were the only junior. Maybe everyone was allocated time slots and you had no space on the agenda. I have attended enough of these and it is a frustration and embarrassment. If you are the one planning the meeting, be very cautious of who is supposed to come and contribute on which subject otherwise you injure people unknowingly. The moment someone feels that they could just be there by mistake, then you are less likely going to get any meaningful contribution from them.
3. Be disciplined with time and the agenda items– When you state in your agenda that your meeting will be one hour long, kindly monitor how the meeting progresses such that all your major business is covered within the allocated time. People will come to meetings having made other commitments for the time after the meeting. Once you fall into the habit of not starting and end on time, people will take the meetings for granted and not even attend. If the agenda items do warrant further debate and discussion, it is best to honor the time allocation and schedule another separate meeting to finish off the agenda.
4. Establish order and authority – The chairperson leads and guides the discussions. Everyone speaks through the chairperson or else there is total chaos as everyone may speak at the same time. The chairperson’s ensures that everyone remains relevant with no digression or over elaboration. The order of meetings is Welcome remarks, Receive Apologies, Review Minutes of Previous Meeting, Discuss Matters Arising from the previous meeting, Discuss New Business on the agenda, Discuss Any other business related to what was discussed then communicate the date of the next meeting. In order to lead and guide the meeting effectively, the chairperson must be someone who is well informed of the meeting, be very open to people’s contributions while in him/herself there remains a high level of objectivity, be firm and disciplined to stick to the agenda and exercise tact or diplomacy in dealing with the various kinds of people in attendance.
5. Take Minutes With Clear Action Plans – Every meeting must have a minute taker. Minutes become the official record of the meeting’s proceedings. The first person to get minutes will be the chairperson, who may ask for amendments to be made to the minutes before official circulation is done. Generally the minutes must Include the Venue of the meeting, the date, start time and finish time of the meeting and of greater importance is the listing of every person who attended, those who gave apologies and those who chose to be absent even though they knew about the meeting. The bulk of the minutes consists of a tabulation of discussion items (key issues and outcomes), the decisions that were made, action plans agreed on, the person responsible for each action plan and lastly the agreed due dates or deadlines.
6. Distribute Minutes Timeously – Once the minutes are approved, they must be circulated within 2 days of the meeting. This is because the issues are still fresh in the mind of people who attended. When they get minutes they are better able to take note of any action plans where they are involved. Different people require minutes in different formats. While some prefer them on email, others would rather have hard copies printed and delivered. When minutes are received, one must take note of any errors or typographical mistakes. These can be highlighted before the minutes are adopted as a true record.
7. Engage everyone in attendance – It is important to ensure that everyone who attends the meeting makes some contribution in the discussions. In meetings, some members may raise problems concerning their areas. As a team you identify the nature of the problem, ask for options, you then select the options that you think are mostly suitable and convenient, as a team you come to a decision and where necessary you brainstorm briefly so that you come up with creative and innovative ideas. In the whole process you ensure you get everyone to participate. It is not for the person who is presenting to proffer a solution for challenges they face. People who simply attend meetings to increase numbers without contribution must be identified and the chairperson can speak to them privately to ensure they are more fruitful in future discussions. Avoid making the meeting about one person. Those who are very vocal must be managed so that others are not intimidated.
8. Preparation produces excellence in meetings – Avoid always running meetings that are not properly scheduled. Meetings which come in impromptu fashion are not supposed to be the standard way of calling for meetings. People come unprepared and hence these become another way to waste time or another way to avoid achieving today’s goals. When you give people adequate notice of the meeting, they diarize the date and block that time off for the meeting. You cannot blame people if they fail to attend meetings all because they had a prior engagement. Impromptu meetings can be called in cases of emergencies and where people are supposed to come and get information not contribute as much. As part of preparation, attendees should read minutes and make notes. Time will be wasted if everyone starts reading minutes in the meeting.
9. Confidentiality and Security of Minutes – It is the duty of every recipient of minutes to ensure that the issues discussed in meetings as well as the minutes distributed are not leaked to people who are not supposed to be privy to such information. I have noticed many times that when information discussed in meetings is received by other parties, it may cause unnecessary instability and tension in the organization. Members attending the meeting must exercise a great degree of responsibility and maturity. Leaders know how to keep information themselves. This is why it is important not to invite people who are not supposed to be in the meeting.
10. Establish a frequency for the meetings – when you establish a schedule of meetings, it enhances people’s preparedness and readiness for the meetings. Are the meetings happening weekly? On which day? Are they monthly meetings or annual meetings? If people know that every Tuesday morning they have a departmental meeting, even the customers who normally call that time will schedule their calls accordingly. It is just more orderly.