Mastering the Art of Meeting Management

No one can deny that meetings are an integral part of any business. Many of us have schedules that are filled with back-to-back meetings. Meetings come in almost infinite varieties: formal, informal, in-person, conference calls, video-based, web-based, status meetings, staff meetings, team meetings, board meetings, management meetings and networking meetings. Purposeful and productive meetings are beneficial to all involved, but it is easy for meetings to get out of control and become a waste of time and money. Learning how to keep meetings on track is a critical skill for good managers and leaders.

First of all, take measures to handle meeting logistics effectively. Schedule meetings in advance. Don’t expect those that you want to meet with to be available on a moment’s notice. Do not wait for everyone to be present before beginning the discussion. Latecomers will soon learn that they need to be on time not only to ensure a productive meeting but to respect and recognize that others’ time is as valuable as theirs.

Provide participants with ample time to prepare the information needed. If an input is needed from a participant prior to a meeting or during the meeting, make sure that it is clear. Make sure that you are prepared with the necessary documentation and information as well. Unpreparedness is one of the main reasons that meetings go awry.

During the meeting, distribute a prepared meeting agenda. Identify the discussion topics with time frames. Assure that the order of the topics makes sense and is logical. Review the agenda before the discussion begins on the first topic. Accommodate changes if possible or suggest that any additional topics brought forward to be addressed in another forum, at another time.

Provide opportunities for all participants to contribute. Be especially alert to anyone that is voicing an unpopular or different view on the subject. Understanding and addressing the minority or dissenting opinion is important in making sound decisions.

Have one of the participants record minutes for the meeting. Identify action items, the responsible parties, and the completion date. Review these action items at the end of the meeting to be sure that there are agreement and understanding among the participants. For recurring meetings, include these action items on the next agenda and note their status. Make the meeting notes available to all participants.

Be aware of the fact that meetings are only one form of communication among team members. Do not allow meetings to become the only method of communicating between participants. Encourage communication between participants outside of the meeting and to ensure progress is made on critical items.

Most importantly, identify the start and end time of the meeting. End times can be used to keep attendees focused and to keep wasted time to a minimum. Make sure that you honor a meeting’s end-time just as you do the start time.

And last but not least, don’t forget these guidelines when you are attending a meeting that you have not organized yourself. Model the behavior that you ask of your meeting participants (be on time and prepared, give your full attention, etc.) If you are unable to attend a meeting that you intended to, delegate attendance to one of your team members as a way to raise their visibility and as a development tool. Provide feedback to the meeting organizer on discussion items and any other relevant issues.

5 Planning Tips for Meetings in the Matrix

Complaints about meetings are familiar. You know the list: too long, unproductive, costly since they absorb employee time that could be spent cranking on projects, unfocused, etc. While ensuring meetings are productive has always been a challenge, today’s matrixed environments, where people are brought together across functions, departments, and countries, carry special planning requirements. Consider the following tips:

  1. What do you want out of the meeting? Never initiate a meeting without having a result in mind. A result would be a decision, a plan, an analysis, the next steps on a project, etc. Simply getting people into a meeting for the sake of updating is not productive unless the update leads to further progress on a project. Who gets invited? Once you know the result you’re seeking from the meeting, consider who needs to be there. For a project or process involved with matrixed relationships, consider first what aspect of the project is being addressed? Who has accountability, responsibility, and hands-on expertise that needs to be included?
  2. What are the time differences to take into account? Is there anyone who might not be invited to the meeting but should be made aware of the outcomes of the meeting? It’s not too soon to give this consideration and plan for post-meeting communication. Create the agenda and determine pre-work. If you’re going to get a result from this meeting and keep it productive and efficient, then participants will need to give some thought to what will be discussed before they walk in (or call in) to the meeting. You can solicit input to the agenda if appropriate. Critically, make sure people know ahead of time what the agenda will be.
  3. The pre-work they need to complete may be anything required to maximize efficient use of time in the meeting: reading survey conclusions, assembling data to present, reviewing a proposal, etc. Participants should be held accountable to come prepared… if you have done your job related to.
  4. Provide adequate time in advance of the meeting for participants to prepare. Don’t send out a 50-page document the day before a meeting and expect people to give it thoughtful review. People on your matrixed team will have to prioritize your pre-work in relationship to a myriad of other important tasks competing for their time. Ideally, you know their other priorities but if they don’t report to you, you may not have that visibility. Don’t assume others have the bandwidth to address your meeting prep requirements at a moment’s notice. If you toss out meeting pre-work without this recognition, you appear inconsiderate and the necessary prep may not get accomplished.
  5. Create your meeting roadmap. Walk into the meeting you’re leading not just with an agenda, which lists topics to address, but with notes to yourself. Jot down questions you’ll ask to obtain input, people you’ll ask to present or comment, and the flow of activities or discussions that will lead you to the intended results. Plan a wrap up that addresses who has the responsibility to communicate to others that were not present at the meeting but need to know the meeting outcomes.

Notice that a great deal of meeting success relies on what happens before a meeting. Start at least a few days in advance to create and communicate your meeting plan and you’ll find far more productive when you’re matrixed members come together.