Running an Effective Meeting
Written by B. R. Govan
Published December 2003, Chamber Chatter
Chamber of Commerce of Greater West Chester Newsletter

The designated date and time have arrived for your scheduled meeting. The agenda was distributed to invitees who will be prepared to fully contribute to successfully attaining the objective for which you are meeting. The location and layout were selected to promote success. Now we will cover how to run that meeting effectively and efficiently.

Start on time! Both you and your attendees have precious little time to waste. If you start late, consider who is rewarded and who is penalized. Don't reward bad behavior. If the norm is to start on time, attendees will learn to be there. Start your meeting with a statement something like, "We want to come away from this meeting with . . ." to reinforce the objective of meeting.

Keep the meeting on track! Recognize and table digressions. It is not that they may not be important, just that they detract from meeting the objective of this meeting. Polite interruptions will be necessary to limit lengthy dialogues so that others have the chance to contribute. Likewise, polite prodding may be required to enlist contributions from those reluctant to speak up on their own. Depending on the objective of the meeting, it may not always be necessary for everyone to get equal time.

A few facilitation techniques will cover the majority of circumstances you will encounter. A round-robin technique provides an excellent way to list and condense ideas to priority issues. It allows all ideas to be captured quickly without duplication or discussion, and then prioritized to identify the critical few. The keys are that everyone participates, and no evaluation of ideas slows the capture process. Each participant in turn is asked to contribute an idea, without duplication of those listed. That continues until everyone has exhausted his or her ideas. The list is then condensed - combining ideas that belong together. The resulting items are then explained, discussed, and any solution proposals are recorded without discussion for future action. Finally, a round robin process of voting for each item and renumbering the list based on results is repeated until sufficient priorities have been agreed upon.

Open discussion is useful when there is conflict or lack of understanding on a topic. It is not a free-for-all discourse, but rather a focused discussion of relevant information to clarify a subject. First, the purpose and length of the discussion are identified. Off topic points are stopped, listed as "hanging issues", and tabled. Summarizing and gaining consensus on key points concludes this process.

Brainstorming provides capture of rapid, free-flowing creative ideas. Ideas tend to bloom from each other. All attendees are expected to contribute ideas without filtering or evaluation, but unlike the round-robin technique, ideas come from any direction. At the end of an agreed upon time period, the ideas are condensed and prioritized with consensus.

Systematic problem solving is used when seeking the root causes of a complex problem. Clearly identify the problem to be solved - this may not be as simple as it sounds. Use brainstorming to identify all possible underlying causes. Based on the 80-20 rule, build consensus on the 20 percent of the causes that are causing 80 percent of the problems. Brainstorm possible solutions to that top 20 percent and build consensus on the best corrective actions.

In the process of gaining consensus on action items in your meeting, assign responsibility, a deadline for response, and its priority with its new owner.

Conclude your meeting by reviewing the action item list (and any "hanging issue" list) - who is responsible for each and when is it due. It is a good idea to include an assessment of the meeting - ask if the objective met and the meeting run efficiently and effectively? This is critical feedback for improving your meeting management skills. It can be done in the concluding moments or through a survey distributed post-meeting.

Finally, end the meeting on time! Again, time is precious to all those in attendance. They will appreciate your respect of that.

After the meeting, you will need to consolidate notes taken during the meeting and distribute them to the attendees. Here again, listing action items, responsibility, and due dates for responses.

Practicing effective meeting management can provide better communications, decisions, and performance, which all leads to a better bottom line.

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