How to Run More Effective Meetings
Over my 40-year career, I’ve attended and facilitated many meetings, and none went more smoothly than the ones that were organized with an agenda and three key roles that I learned from my last employer. Here are some tips to make sure your meetings are as productive as possible:
Create an agenda
An effective agenda should include the following information:
- A list of topics (agenda items)
- The name of the person to lead the discussion for each topic
- Any materials or information that each person is expected to prepare and present
- The amount of time allowed for each topic — this prevents a meeting from running late, and it allows an appropriate amount of time for each topic to be discussed
- The expected outcome of each discussion — stating an expected outcome of any discussion helps people to stay focused on a common goal and to not get side tracked or talk for the sake of talking
Here are a couple of agenda item examples:
- Create the initial task assignment list
- Hammer out the timeline for each task
The meeting facilitator or the person requesting the meeting should create the agenda. Ideally, both people would create it so that the topics can be prioritized by at least two of the meeting’s leaders.
Who creates the agenda is not critical so long as there is one and it is sent to all participants a few days before the meeting. This way, all participants have some time to prepare information that might be required of them for the meeting. In the very least, it will give everyone time to think of information they might be able to contribute to the discussion. Nothing wastes more time than someone showing up unprepared and then everyone having to sit around waiting for them to get their act together.
Specify these three roles for every meeting:
1. The Facilitator
This is the person who begins each meeting by reviewing the agenda and asking if there are any other topics that need to be discussed (if time permits).
He or she will then introduce each topic, the time allowed for each topic, the expected outcome, and then share any pertinent information that will get the discussion moving.
This is also the same person who keeps the discussion on topic. We’ve all been in meetings where someone makes a comment about a subject and it triggers a whole other side discussion between one or two people. This can very disruptive, and it’s a waste of everyone else’s time. The facilitator will be the one to stop the meeting and ask if this is another topic that needs to be added to the next meeting’s agenda, or possibly critical enough to be discussed here and now. In that case, he will decide if there is time to do so by rescheduling one of the other agenda items into the next meeting.
2. Time keeper
This person keeps things moving. He or she refers to a printed out copy of the agenda to watch the clock and then lets everyone know when they are running out of time for said topic. The timekeeper will work very closely with the facilitator in this role. He or she might need to say, “We have one minute left for this topic, would you like to continue this discussion, which might not leave us room for the last item on the agenda, or table it for the next meeting? (I’ve seen some timekeepers set alarms on their smartphones.)
3. Note taker
This person not only takes general notes on each topic discussion, but he or she keeps track of action items that come up, who they are assigned to, and the expected completion dates. At the end of the meeting, these notes should be typed up and emailed to each meeting participant. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them as a result of the meeting.
For those who were invited but couldn’t attend the meeting for whatever reason, the notes need to be emailed to them. That way, each person is aware of what happened while they were gone, and if a task was assigned to them, they have time to get it done. If the absent person expects to be out of commission for longer than anticipated by the team, they will also have the opportunity to let the meeting facilitator know, and then the task can be reassigned.
Sometimes, a meeting might not have enough attendees for each roll to be assigned to a different person. In that case, there should still always be a facilitator; and I’ve seen many facilitators perform all three roles.
In my experience, when these roles were in place, every single meeting ran efficiently, decisions were made, tasks were assigned, and things got done — every single time. There was no wasting time on side subjects because the facilitators and timekeepers didn’t allow it. The people attending the meetings appreciated this structure, because they all knew it would not be another typical meeting where one person dominated the whole thing and everyone else lost interest.