One book that keeps finding its way to the top of my shelves is How To Make Meetings Work, by Michael Doyle and David Straus.
A section lists the different types of meetings, listed below with some of their tips – and a few of my own – to consider prior to planning or facilitating your next meeting.
- Make sure the problem is well-defined and agreed-to by key decision makers in advance of the meeting.
- What problem-solving methodology or tool will you use during the meeting? Agree to it in advance, and make sure someone is fluent in the methodology.
- Energy is critical: attendees must want to solve the problem, or feel urgency to solve it.
- Incorporate plenty of time for discussion and debate.
- Engage a neutral facilitator depending upon the discussion and debate you expect.
- The key decision maker must be involved, if not attend the meeting.
- Identify the coaches (the positive influencers to the decision maker) to determine how to win or leverage their support
- Identify the gatekeepers (the negative influencers to the decision maker) and the bomb-throwers (the ‘devil’s advocate’ type of people). Determine how to minimise, neutralise, or think ahead of them to counter-balance or address their concerns.
- Keep the number of attendees to a smaller number than a larger.
- Make sure team knows how they will be impacted by decision, that they have responsibility for the decision. At the same time, do not steam-roll.
- And last – perhaps most important – don’t fake a decision-making meeting. Be honest.
These type of meetings are actually ‘future-oriented’ problem-solving meetings, so many of the points above apply here too.
- Determine the scope of the planning: e.g., how far, how creative?
- How far in the future are you planning: and is it too much, too little? You don’t want to spend valuable time planning a 12-month program when you can only plan 3 months, and vice versa.
- How much creativity can you use? Can things be done differently, or better, in this new plan? Or, do you have to use the same process? (Be careful. If the previous plan didn’t work, you can’t expect the same planning process to produce a different result.)
- Consider the planning process: does the organisation have one – rather than re-create the wheel?
- Divide short-, medium- and long-term activities and decisions into appropriate groups – try not to mix (even in conversation).
- Invite less people for short-term meetings. Long-term meetings usually need more.
Status meetings are the most mis-used style of meeting, primarily because the meeting organiser …
- Invites too many, or the wrong, people. (Do people really need to have someone read an update to them to understand its relevance?)
- Doesn’t prioritise – thus, the meeting is random and not in a considered order.
- Doesn’t distinguish between “relevant to know” and “nice to know.”
(See yesterday’s post here for a suggestion on how to properly organise and prioritise your agenda items for a more productive meeting.)
That said, if you must conduct a status meeting:
- Prioritise the agenda items: put the most important elements first and focus on new developments, not old news.
- Invite only people who need to discuss the issue, not simply hear it first-hand.
- Plan for shorter meetings than longer.
- Be careful – if not limit – Q&A.
- Get a good secretary as status meetings frequently need more reporting than other types.
- Many people will be talking, so think about conversation control. Do you need a facilitator? Or, small groups with secretaries?
- Find ways to allow everyone to contribute with adding unnecessary time. Again, small groups are ideal ways to get people to voice opinions, comments or feedback. (Perhaps you need a bunch of small group meetings?)
- Feedback meetings – more than others – should NOT be run by decision makers who may encounter negativity or criticism.
- A role of secretary may be particularly beneficial to take notes, then organise and distribute after the meeting.
- Get clarity on meeting’s purpose.
- Get leader’s approval or direction in advance.
- Invite someone to lead so you have focus; otherwise, organic group dynamics will occur
If none of the above are possible – and thus, postpone.
- Be clear on roles and responsibilities, especially as the meeting changes from one style or type to another.
- Be clear on decisions made at the end of each section, as well as the transitions: you don’t want to move backwards over discussed/agree-to territory.
- Plan breaks between particularly different styles of meetings to mentally clear the participant’s minds.
- Consider timing: do front-end sections of the agenda wear down participants for back-end sections?
Finally, two points to close.
What happens if you distribute a report – but no one reads it?
A few points here:
- Are the notes really necessary to read? Just because you’ve written the report doesn’t make it Cloudstreet.
- Don’t slow down a meeting because one person has not read the notes, or strongly suggest that a person review the notes because there won’t be time to discuss them at the meeting itself.
- Don’t hand Person X a 50-page report with only 24 hours to read and digest. Highlight the key sections, or prioritise the sections to be reviewed in the meeting.
- At worst, schedule time in your agenda to let someone read the document – but don’t do this too many times, otherwise you set a bad precedent.
Can I hold a strategy meeting and a brainstorm together?
I understand why people merge these two different types of meetings together, but I generally have to suggest you should not because you’ll probably have a productive strategy session but an ineffective brainstorm. Essentially you are asking attendees to be analytical and critical during the first half of the meeting then, in the last half, to be creative and risk-taking for brainstorming. Unfortunately many people aren’t able to switch 180 degrees the other direction. If you must, then at least plan something – an icebreaker, a game, and exercise – to get participant’s to move from the closed mind to the open for the brainstorming.
What other meetings do you know of, and how have you handled facilitating them?