We spend a lot of our work lives in meetings. In many instances, poor meeting management practices result in the unproductive use of the participants' time. In a related article, we offer guidance on turning five common meeting scenarios into productive events. Here are additional ideas to support strengthening the utility, productivity, and impact of meetings.
Meeting Management Key — Stand PAT
Some managers employ a P.A.T. approach to meetings, requiring a Purpose, an Agenda, and a Timeframe. Arming the participants with these critical points of context ahead of the session ensures that people show up prepared to participate and support the overall intent of the meeting. A clear P.A.T. outline helps ensure a productive session.
You should be able to define the purpose of the meeting in 1 or 2 sentences at most. "This meeting is to plan the new marketing campaign" or "this meeting is to review shipping's new policy for handling returns." The purpose helps ensure everyone knows why they are there, what needs to be done, and how to guide progress and drive for a conclusion.
Set an agenda. List the items you are going to review/discuss/inspect. We like to assign a time limit to each agenda item (see below) and identify the person who is responsible for moderating the discussion. Set a timeframe; at the very least set a start and end time. We also recommend setting a duration for each item on the agenda. These should total to the overall meeting timeframe.
Start Your Meetings on Time
If you work in one of those cultures where people trickle into meetings all the way up until five or ten minutes after the scheduled start time, it is time to start a new trend. One firm encourages its managers to close the door at the scheduled start time, and those who are late are not welcome to attend. While this may be more draconian than you care to act, you should have no qualms about bringing the meeting to order, reviewing the purpose and confirming expectations and timing.
Do not wait for stragglers to show up. When someone arrives late, don't go back and review what has already been covered. Continue with your meeting topics. This will be awkward for the straggler and improve the odds of him/her arriving on time at the next meeting.
If the meeting organizer/sponsor doesn't show up on time, consider the meeting canceled and go back to work. A five to seven minute waiting period is reasonable. Odds are, the meeting organizer ran into an unexpected difficulty and would prefer you not to waste your time waiting for him/her.
Keep the Meeting on Topic
A good practice is to assign someone the role of keeping everyone on track during the meeting. Too often, discussions drift and then degrade to a swirl of opinions, ideas, facts, and emotions. Instead, assign the role and inform everyone in attendance that this individual will interject if and when the discussion veers off of the agenda and specific item of discussion. In some firms, this role is referenced as the "Traffic Cope," in others, "Topic Keeper." Regardless of the label, the role is extremely helpful in strengthening the effectiveness and productivity of your meetings.
If additional topics arise that are off-agenda but important to discuss, those should be clearly captured and placed in the "parking lot" for future consideration and discussion or for a discrete meeting. The meeting owner reserves the right to allow a minor divergent discussion if it supports the overall meeting purpose.
Keep and Distribute Meeting Notes/Minutes
- Meeting time, date, location
- Description of the purpose
- Copy of the agenda
- List of attendees and a list of those who did not attend
- A detailed summary listing of conclusions, action items, responsibilities and dates for completion. Many notetakers use the agenda as a guide for listing the conclusions and actions.
- Planned follow-up meeting if truly needed.
Ideally, distribute the meeting notes as soon as possible after the conclusion of the meeting and absolutely within one business day. The minutes and notes serve as an important reminder for participants as well as an information source for other stakeholders or, for those who missed the meeting. The minutes are a great tool to leverage to remind people and teams of their committed follow-up actions.
The Bottom Line
It is possible that a meeting will result in a positive outcome, helping to propel projects and people forward, just don't count on it. Some diligence and deliberate strengthening of your meeting management techniques will improve your chances of driving a great outcome.
Updated by Art Petty