Effective meetings don't just "happen" -- they are planned. By some estimates,
more than 73 million meetings are held around the world every day. Unfortunately,
many are boring, rambling and unproductive -- energy is low, frustration
high and results non-existent.
By contrast, productive meetings are stimulating; ideas flow, everyone
participates and much is accomplished. The keys to more effective meetings
are four "F" words -- focus, facilitation, fellowship
Productive meetings are focused around
a single purpose or objective, determined by:
- examining what you expect to accomplish
- checking with participants beforehand to identify issues, discussion
items and expectations.
Ask yourself if a meeting is the best way to accomplish the results.
If a memo, fax or e-mail would work as well, don't waste everyone's time.
If a meeting is better, group agenda items into one or more of these categories:
- exchange information
- get input
- generate ideas
- learn something
- evaluate alternatives
- make decisions
Focus the meeting by ranking agenda items in order of importance, and
setting time goals. For example, give the top three items 15 minutes each;
target all others for five minutes. Have a timekeeper signal the group
when time is running out. You may want to spend more than the allotted
time on an item--just be aware of the tradeoffs.
When the meeting's objectives are reached, the meeting is over. Stop about
10 minutes before the targeted end time, and assess what is left. Remaining
agenda items may be carried over to another meeting, handled outside the
meeting or dropped.
Facilitation: One way to ensure an effective
meeting is to have a neutral facilitator run the meeting process. The
facilitator frees participants to focus on content. When the person calling
the meeting also names him/herself as "leader," a conflict of interest
exists that makes it difficult to objectively run the meeting.
A facilitator can work the agenda, keep the group focused and attend to
group maintenance, such as encouraging everyone to participate. Ideally,
the organization will train several group members in facilitation skills
and rotate the assignment.
Fellowship: In the most effective meetings,
people share more than information, ideas and opinions. They share information
about themselves and relate to one another on a human level. One way to
encourage this is with a member "check in" at the beginning of each meeting,
with individual mini reports of events in their areas. Unstructured social
time before, during or after the meeting can also build a cohesive group.
The better participants know each other, the better they will understand
how and why their "meeting mates" respond the way they do.
Fellowship also means having fun. The facilitator sets much of the tone,
and the ability to identify the humor of a situation is a wonderful way
to build group camaraderie. Sharing funny, work-related stories and anecdotes
can build bridges of understanding among meeting participants. Don't be
afraid to experiment with toys, humor or fun activities.
Feedback: In effective meetings, participants
are aware of how the group is doing as well as what is getting accomplished.
The facilitator solicits feedback from participants on time issues, agenda
management and group maintenance. One may ask, "How are we doing?" Or,
"We're out of time on this issue--shall we continue, or wrap it up and
Encourage group members to give constructive feedback on content issues
by expressing positive comments, "what works... what I like about..."
To get solutions to concerns, express wishes, e.g. "I wish we could find
a way to... How could we...?" At the end of each meeting solicit feedback
on the meeting process to gain insights into what can be done better next
time. Ask positive questions such as, "What did we do that worked well?"
and "How could we make the next meeting better?"
Make your meetings more productive with the "F" words: focus, facilitation,
fellowship and feedback.
About the Author
Charlie Hawkins is president of Seahawk Associates, a management resource for
strategic planning, idea generation and communications effectiveness. Charlie
has over 30 years' experience as a facilitator and consultant, and is the author
of Make Meetings Matter,
a complete guide for planning and running effective meetings.
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