Meetings are essential in a company because decisions are taken to make strategic topics move forward, which contributes to business wealth. However, participants who attend too many meetings see them as boring moments, that prevent them from doing their own tasks. They go to meetings because they have to, and often, it is difficult for them to maintain a good level of attention and focus. Why that? Because even though meetings might seem a simple thing, it requires preparation, structure, processes, before, during and after. If you take the time to prepare it seriously, you will contribute to your company’s results, bring added value and optimize the participants’ time. It will be more efficient and provoke more engagement.
Claire has been assigned to manage a project about CSR Corporate Social Responsibility at school. She decides to schedule a meeting to discuss the topic with some participants. She sends an invitation via email 48 hours before the meeting to 26 students from her class, 20 others from other classes and to 10 professors. On D-day, only 15 people show up. She asks them what they think could be done about the topic. 5 talkative people take the lead and a long, useless and boring debate takes place about the problems they are facing at school, which makes the meeting deviate from its original purpose. The other participants remain quiet and start looking at their smartphones. The meeting will end 3 hours later instead of 2, and Claire will leave the place with a frustration and defeat taste, plus no decisions to move forward with her project.
What did happen here? Claire’s first intention was yet justified and professional. How come this meeting has ended up this way?
Below, I will show you what Claire could have done before, during and after the meeting to improve the situation.
1. Before the meeting
A meeting ought to be structured, lively, and specific. Those are the keys to productivity and engagement. Basically, it means there should be a clear framework set. The way the meeting is handled and facilitated should be thought through, and the theme of the meeting shall be specific and clearly defined. In a sequential order, please find below how to proceed:
What are your thoughts about this? What does it make you feel like doing? Ready to try it out?
Which steps are we talking about? Let me suggest some inspiring ones to you.
The first thing to do is to think about the aim of the meeting. This is key to keep focus on the expected results and better control what is at stake. For Claire, it means extracting 1 or 2 crucial objectives from the theme “CSR at school”. Those goals will be discussed and decisions will be taken during the meeting. What is Claire expecting from the meeting? What results will she expect to reach eventually? What decisions does she need to be taken? What are the 2-3 top priorities to take care of? What is important, what is not, why?
For Claire, topics could be:
- Choose between 2 options: install composters at school or mandate a permaculture professional to build a collective vegetable garden.
- Collect and define budget: identify potential financial sources and find people to take actions for it.
As mentioned earlier, 1 to 2 topics are enough. If more topics require discussion, I recommend you schedule other meetings, specific and independent from this one. If too many items are on the agenda, there is a risk that:
- Too many people need to attend. It will make it difficult to manage the meeting,
- The meeting might end up late because all topics cannot be debated,
- Decisions will not be taken,
- Actions will not be distributed to appropriate people,
- People will not be interested in all subjects and will lose interest, focus and attention…
Once topics are well-defined, let’s choose who can contribute best to the meeting. This to avoid having too many people in the room, and also target the right participants. They should be the ones most interested in the topic and have the right level of expertise to be able to take decisions. It is important to respect the timing, and take decisions that will not be questioned after the meeting. Best set up would be to have maximum 10 people in the room for 45 minutes to 1-hour meeting. If some issues require further discussion, you can arrange several regular meetings, once per week for instance.
Claire could for instance invite 1 person per class, representing the other students, 1 teacher representing all professors and the school director.
Now aims of the meeting and participants list are ready, let’s build the agenda. If you want to be sharp on time and make the meeting an inspiring session, it is important to predefine a clear and timed agenda. Participants will know what to expect and you will be able to better drive the meeting and what is expected from it. Ideally, this agenda is to be sent 1 week before the meeting. Participants can then go through it, question it and send adjustments requests to you. Keep in mind that the earliest you involve people, the most they will feel like committing to the topics. They will feel listened to and considered.
A clear agenda includes:
- Meeting title. It is not useless to come up with an exciting title, which gives a flavour of what is coming next. A good meeting is like a good movie, people feel like going there and take part to passionate and fruitful debates. Here, the title and introduction could be: « Our school of tomorrow: let us work on having parents, students and communities trust us about our CSR actions, even though budget topics are not the funniest part.».
- Project’s background and global objectives. For Claire, it is about making her school compliant with CSR criteria.
- Objectives and expected results. Claire here needs to explain her vision and the purpose behind the following actions:
- Choice between composters / permaculture
- Collect budget
- Project Status. Claire will show where the project is and what kind of actions, steps have been taken until now. For instance, how much work has been done so far about sourcing a composter or permaculture supplier, and what potential sponsors or investors she has started to contact.
- Support requests to participants. Claire has to clearly state what support she expects. For instance, it can be to select and evaluate decision criteria for composters or permaculture, or run a brainstorming session about financial opportunities.
- Distribute actions to participants, with a deadline and include them in an action plan. All decisions shall be listed and assigned to people in charge for their completion.
This agenda is to be sent to participants for validation. Best timing is 1 week before the meeting, together with a draft of the meeting’s material. People will have time to go through it, question it and confirm they agree with it. When people know what they are going to talk about, they will be naturally more efficient to debate, brainstorm and decide. Isn’t this the main advantage of it all?
You shall as well anticipate how you will manage the meeting itself, in order to make it more entertaining, structured and smooth. And of course, in order to moderate human dysfunctions such as endless debates, lack of focus, late show up, and potential conflicts. There is a methodology that can help to manage this and foster collective performance. Alain Cardon, in one of his books about Team coaching explains some roles can be distributed in a meeting: facilitator, timekeeper, scribe/decision pusher, process observer. It makes it easier for the meeting leader to manage the objectives of the meeting, while the role players deal legitimately with other actions, and the other participants involve themselves and pay attention better to the meeting. Please find below what Alain Cardon calls delegative functions:
Generally, the facilitator is the one initiating the meeting. Claire obviously knows 3 people in the participants list, who can play the roles, according to their personality and skills.
2. During the meeting
Of course, Claire needs to book a meeting room or send a videoconference link (Teams, Zoom, Skype…), and make sure necessary material is available (white board, beamer, sound, paper, pens, team games, paperboard, etc.). She also needs to ensure that people show up on time. She can send a map to the room or ask participants to check their internet connection before. If a participant cannot make it, Claire needs to request someone else is appointed, who will have full delegation to decide and act on behalf of.
Let’s say Claire has prepared the meeting the way it has been described earlier. Then, she might follow the coming key steps to run a successful meeting, live or remotely:
- Start the meeting with a round the table and “mood weather forecast”/how are you feeling today: let people express how they are. They will then feel better and know they will be listened to in this meeting.
- Continue with an ice braker to energize and open people up. There are tons of ice brakers and energizers exercises on the internet for live or virtual meetings: https://workshopbank.com/; https://www.sessionlab.com/; https://icebreakerideas.com/. I also use applications such as Klaxoon, Mentimeter, Wooclap, Kahoot etc.
- Define the group golden rules for the meeting. This to make sure people respect some principles, which will encourage a kind atmosphere and collective intelligence. The facilitator can refer to them in case of deviations:
- Explain the agenda and the aim of the meeting: it is ok to repeat, it actually helps to avoid misinterpretation, everybody is on the same page about the priorities.
- Explain and distribute delegative functions: everybody will then understand the purpose of it and role players will be able to legitimately interfere if needed.
- Go through the status point and express your requests for support: as mentioned earlier, here we talk about what has been achieved so far and what is needed to move forward.
- Facilitate debates around the topics: It is important everybody speaks up and is listened to equally when it comes to discussing an open issue. You can use the “speaker stick” method: the one who holds the pen is the one speaking. The others keep quiet. When he or she is finished, he gives the pen (or stick if you have) to someone else. This until everybody has spoken up and all ideas have been heard.
Remember what Patrick Lencioni said in his book « Death by meeting », 2004:
Constructive debate = efficient solutions everybody agrees upon, without being hurt by the debate. Interpersonal relationships are safe.
Untold issues = emerging conflicts = no decision
Claire can use fun and performing facilitation techniques for brainstorming and decision making in the internet sites mentioned earlier.
- Validate decisions and create an action plan: here, the scribe/decision pusher lists all decisions taken during the meeting. Claire validates them with the participants. All decisions are turned into actions. All actions are assigned to a responsible person, with a deadline, and logged in an action plan. Claire will follow it up regularly until actions are complete.
- Determine next steps: meeting is finalized when people have agreed upon a new meeting’s date and its draft agenda.
- Process observer gives feedback: It takes no longer than 5 minutes! And it is an opportunity to improve team cohesiveness and behaviours for next time. Considering the human part will definitely make the difference!
- Don’t forget to say Thank you: Thank you for your participation, involvement and attention!
3. After the meeting
You are almost there! Once the meeting is over, Claire needs to send minutes to participants and actions owners. Minutes shall be clear, concise and shall summarize main decisions, actions and next steps. It is often implied that meetings minutes need to be sent no later than 48 hours after the meeting.
Work is not over yet and Claire must follow up on actions in between meetings and update the action plan accordingly.
Congratulations, you made it! What do you think of this process? What are your main takeaways from this article? What do you feel like implementing in your daily work?
You will find below a recap of all before / during / after steps, you can print out if you wish to: