1.0 Meetings can be very formal and large, or quick ad hoc affairs between a few people. They can be useful because they enable:
·Information to be exchanged
·Problems to be worked on together
·Decisions to be made as a group
·Decisions to be accepted as a group
·Responsibility to be shared
·Jobs to be allocated as a group
·The leader to be recognised as the leader
·Social needs to be satisfied
·The group to be briefed as a whole
However, meetings can also be very wasteful and a source of much bitterness if they go wrong. The reasons for meetings going wrong are many, some more preventable than others.
A number of simple practises can help to greatly reduce the chances of failure.
2.0 Good Preparation
2.1 Make sure that a meeting is the most suitable course to take, for some activities are best left to individuals to work out on their own. For example, some types of problem solving are difficult to do if surrounded by people. One might have a meeting to share information about the problem, then allow people to go away to work out solutions and return to present them.
2.2 Decide the purpose of the meeting. Do not assume meetings always have to have action items. Some meetings can be simply for information exchange.
2.3 Decide the agenda, who should attend, when and where to hold the meeting and its duration. Sometimes it is legitimate to have a meeting to decide the agenda. Some writers suggest that for certain regular meetings the agenda can be decided at the meeting - this ensures items are relevant but prevents pre-meeting preparation. Normally an agenda should be sent out early enough so people can prepare. Ensure that the agenda is understandable and not vague.
2.4 Decide on any special rules of operating and decision making eg. having a voting system, standing orders etc. These are more common in special formal meetings. However most work meetings are more informal. Nevertheless it is often a good idea to agree some basic way of operating and attitude to take eg. is the meeting going to authorise something or just enquiring into things?
2.5 Prepare support material and let participants have it in good time.
2.6 Prepare the room. Think where people are going to sit - it can affect the meeting. Make sure there is a flip chart available for focusing the group.
2.7 Decide if a record is to be kept and who will write them.
2.8 Decide how the meeting is to be conducted, for there are a variety of methods.
· The manager to chair the meeting or the chair to be chosen from the group.
· To appoint a facilitator who will concentrate on group process and report back at the end of the meeting.
· To appoint a person to write on the flip chart.
There is no "right" method but it is good to think through how the meeting will operate.
2.9 Decide who should be attending the meeting; there are many factors to consider: expertise, who needs to know, morale, who will contribute, who will damage the meeting, size required, availability, status, politics.
2.10 Consider the team roles you will require the people to play eg. a brain-storming meeting will need people to come up with ideas.
3.0 Conducting The Meeting
Good preparation will be wasted if the meeting itself is not conducted properly. Therefore the person in charge of the meeting needs to carry out certain roles:
3.1 Lead the meeting by:
·Helping the group understand and reach its objectives.
·Practicing good listening and questioning skills in order to help the group develop ideas
·Being interested and keen in order to energise the group with your enthusiasm
·Keeping the meeting going at a pace that prevents boredom
·Having a sense of humour to help the event to be enjoyable ( but not sarcasm )
· Initiating - ideas, issues, problems, opportunities for the group to consider
· Keeping the meeting on track
· Clarifying - making sure everybody understands what is happening
· Providing Information
· Integrating and summarizing - putting together the ideas and facts so that they make sense to the meeting and building a solution that the meeting can understand.
3.2 Control the Meeting
It is important that the person leading the meeting keeps it on track. This usually means keeping to the agenda and planned timetable. If during the course of the meeting the agenda is changed, then it should be a deliberate change of plan not because the meeting has got out of hand.
This means that "people problems" are handled and pitfalls are avoided.
3.2.1 People Problems
There are times when an individual's behaviour will disrupt the smooth flow of a meeting either by wasting time or creating a negative atmosphere. Some of the common types are listed below with ideas on how to overcome them. However the most appropriate actions will be determined by many factors including:
· The relationship of the chair with the rest of the group in terms of status, position, acceptance.
· The nature of the group itself; is it a team or a group of individuals meeting together?
The Pessimist - this is the person who constantly raises objections, always sees the negative point of view. This can stifle enthusiasm.
The best way to control is to ask the person to give reasons for the view, acknowledge them, but carry on in order to get the whole picture.
The Optimist - this person can go too far the other way, and prevent critical thinking by blind acceptance. Again one should ask for reasons.
The Talker - these are people who talk too much and prevent other views being made. One must be careful not to dampen enthusiasm.
Some control ideas are: get them sitting near you so you can unobtrusively slow them down, have a quiet word before the meeting giving them a "game" plan which includes inviting them in at the appropriate time, asking them to be the process observer, tactfully asking others directly for their opinions.
The Quiet One - these are people, who say nothing because of shyness. Try and draw them out. Ask easy questions. If they are left alone some good ideas or information might be lost. If they do put forward an idea do not squash it but examine it.
The Sleeper - occasionally you might get someone whose body is there but their mind is not. Have them participate more by; sitting them close to the chair, writing on the flip chart, asking them questions.
The Supercritic - this is a person who immediately verbally shreds every suggestion, before it has been given a hearing or been used to stimulate other ideas. Ask them to delay their criticism for a more suitable time.
The Usurper - this is a person who tries to take over the meeting because they want to be the leader. If you have been leading the meeting as already suggested it is unlikely that this person will be successful. However there are times when it is best to let the leadership shift, you might ask that the person take over for a certain item on the agenda.
You can still control the meeting by thanking the person for their contribution, summarising and moving on.
The Comedian - this is the person who takes humour too far and wears down the commitment of the others. Probably the best method is to politely suggest to the whole that the meeting move on, reminding them of time limits.
The Organisational Player - this is the person who is bound up with internal politics and is trying to manoeuvre the meeting in order to gain some organisational advantage
Remind the person of the point of the meeting, suggest that the issue be dealt with at another time, or ask the group, if they want to deal with the issue then and there but remind them of the purpose of the meeting.
The Sulk - there are people who are determined to be unco-operative. Try and bring them in by flattening their expertise, if this does not work one can ask how the group feels or have a discussion with the person afterwards.
3.2.2 Pit-Falls to Avoid (in addition to the "people" ones)
Process Problems - basically the group is not working together. Raise this as an issue. Try and come to some ground rules.
Hidden Agenda - conscious or subconscious attempt to steer the meeting somewhere else. Raise the issue - decide if it should be on the agenda.
Blocking/Plops - not letting an idea be raised, squashing it. Acknowledge idea. Give it a fair hearing.
Topic Jumping - Keep control.
Getting Nowhere - summarise.
Buck Passing - not taking responsibility. Face meeting with it.
Uni-decisions/Early Quits - this occurs when a decision is accepted too quickly without proper thought or because someone, often the chair, has imposed its will.
Often, there "appears" to be a consensus when in fact people are reluctant to voice their opinions and "group think" has occurred.
Win-Lose - this is when the meeting has formed sides and the debate has become one of beating the other. Raise the issue. Let off the steam. Focus the group on the issues.
Flight - a person opting out because of being upset. Try to bring them in, protect from aggression
Splintering - breaking into small groups for side conversations.
Focus group, or deliberately organise the split.
Attention Getting - Keep people to the point, ask searching questions
3.3 Summarise The Meeting
This is a very important aspect of conducting the meeting. It is up to the meeting leader to bring the threads together and prevent confusion about what has been accomplished. The leader then should ensure that this summary is recorded.
Most meetings generate some work needing to be done, even if it is just preparing for the next meeting. The meeting leader needs to make sure all assignments are allocated and those assigned are clear about their responsibilities and committed to them.
Where a resolution is required from the meeting and agreements cannot be reached, leaders must resolve the situation either by making the decision themselves, (if they have authority) or identifying outstanding issues and seeking out a means of resolution later. Again there needs to be clarity over who is doing what.
4.0 Closure and Follow-up
Finally at the end of the meeting there should be a reminder of points 3.3-3.5 and an overall summary. Where possible you should end on a note of accomplishment.
Ensure that a proper record is kept; such items normally included are: time, duration, those present, agenda, decisions/actions, main points, next meeting.
Follow up any agreed action items.