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Running Effective Meetings

A lot of people hate meetings. They have too much experience of long meetings that meander on forever and never seem to reach any conclusions that can be acted on.

Team members may resent meetings because they are already working to deadlines and the last thing they need is an ineffective meeting that takes up their precious time.

However, a well-run meeting can actually save time. It can make sure that everyone is working in the same strategic direction. And a well-run meeting will serve as a way to either solve problems or to deal with issues before they become problems.

To keep a meeting on track and productive, you need to plan ahead. Consider what issues you want to deal with. Set the issues out in an agenda and circulate the agenda for comment and modification before the meeting.

You can also consider having two-minute conversations with each participant before the meeting. This will help ensure that everyone understands what you broadly expect the meeting to achieve.

Somebody needs to chair a meeting. The chairperson’s role is not to dominate discussion. Rather, they need to keep the meeting on track and to elicit the best opinions from the participants. If you decide to chair a meeting yourself, you should restrain your impulse to declare too strong a position on any issue.

Try to use the meeting as a problem-solving tool – a way to shed new light on issues and generate unexpected viewpoints. A well-run meeting can arrive at conclusions that no individual would have reached by themselves.

Intervene where you sense that the meeting is going astray. Find tactful ways to step in when people are repeating themselves or missing the point. Try to remain positive, recognizing the good points that people have made.

Also make sure that some participants do not stifle ideas by shouting people down or hogging the floor. Actively seek views from everyone and make sure they get a chance to speak without suffering excessive interruptions.

As you are the ‘boss’, be aware that you can kill off a discussion by expressing your views too early. Hold back on a decision until all viewpoints have been discussed and then be clear about why you favor one viewpoint over another. Show respect for all viewpoints, so that people will feel they have contributed something even you resolve against following their advice.

You not only need to keep a meeting on track. You need to make sure that it is not going on any longer than it needs to. Be aware of how much a meeting can cost. Try estimating the average hourly pay rate of the people who need to be at a meeting. Then add up how much it will cost you to have them all in one room talking for an hour. You could easily find that a meeting is eating up over $500 per hour.

With this in mind, include time limits for each agenda item. This will encourage people to make their points succinctly. And if a meeting runs ahead of time, don’t hesitate to finish early.

You can also try to build up a momentum in the meeting. Try scheduling the most straightforward issues at the beginning so that participants get into a rhythm of dealing with agenda items and then moving on.

Ask yourself if everyone needs to be present for all parts of a meeting. If some people need to be present for only half the time, try blocking issues together so that they can come in when needed and leave when they have made their contribution.

This strategy can be undermined if people show up late. So be clear about the importance of punctuality. As people don’t react well to public reprimands, talk to stragglers in private.

Finally, appoint someone to take minutes. Minutes should focus on the way agenda items have been resolved and they should be circulated soon after a meeting. This will help reinforce the conclusions you arrive at. It will also help ensure that decisions are implemented.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/press_room/news.asp?ID=2422

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