In most cases, the best meetings are short meetings. One of the reasons most meetings get a bad rap is that they tend to drag on too long. That often happens when a few individuals monopolize the proceedings, or teams constantly veer away from high-priority issues.
New team leaders or managers who aren’t accustomed to running team meetings may defer too much to attendees. Or they may overcompensate for their lack of experience by encouraging prolonged debate and discussion.
By preparing well and keeping everyone focussed on what counts, you can provide high-quality productive meetings in good time while motivating and generating buy-in from your team.
How to organise a meeting
Before the meeting, narrow the scope. Create an agenda that defines a specific problem and seeks ways the group can address it. Don’t overload the meeting with too many issues otherwise you’ll fail to keep your team engaged and on-subject.
By creating an agenda, you give people opportunity (and enough time) to plan, to think and reflect on key points that will be discussed, to complete assignments and to get ready any necessary information or materials. Understand that the agenda doesn’t have to be set in stone, all it does it provide direction for the meeting – you can always add, remove or adjust the agenda as required at a later date.
Ensure you distribute the agenda in advance, along with related information you want everyone to be aware of ahead of time. This way, you won’t waste time during the meeting engaging in information-sharing. Make sure the discussion focusses on the solutions, not defining the problems.
How to run effective meetings
Set up the room to advance your agenda. If you want to encourage free-flowing discussion, arrange chairs in a U shape or in a circle. If you’re eager to reach fast decisions in an abbreviated meeting, remove the chairs so everyone must stand. Fill out flip charts in advance, so you don’t bore attendees while you do lots of writing.
To keep a group’s focus on the overriding goal of the meeting, write it down and post it on a side wall. Point to it whenever the discussion threatens to head off course as a silent reminder to everyone to stay on track.
Remember to look at everyone in the room when you speak. Don’t just establish eye connection with one or two people or you’ll risk excluding others.
The job of the team leader (or meeting facilitator) is to manage group discussions and help the meeting move the meeting forwards. If you have several people trying to talk at once, stop them and ask them to take turns. Allow all individuals to have some input. It is a good idea to note down people’s names in order they raised their hands and return back to them.
Make sure everyone has an opportunity to provide some input and things keep moving – you may need to stop a couple of people to keep it short! Sometimes a discussion can be both dominated and side-tracked by individuals, try to avoid this situation by inviting others to contribute (go round the circle and get people’s views can help).
If you find yourself in the situation where discussion has veered off-topic (i.e. straying from the agenda), stop the discussion and make a point of this before redirecting it back to the appropriate topic of discussion – remember, your job is to keep the meeting on track and your team members focussed.
If you find your group repeating themselves, try to summarise the key points and then collectively make a decision on the problem or subject matter. If you can’t make a decision, suggest returning back to the matter later in the meeting or take a break. If you still can’t make a decision, then it might be worthwhile scheduling another meeting at a later date once everyone has had an opportunity to reflect on the subject and taken consideration all the information.
Take note when someone is trying to contribute but are being overpowered by others in the team. Try to recognise quiet and naturally introverted characters within the team, and give them ample opportunity to contribute. Welcome questions on your subject matter, but don’t hesitate to say, “We can answer that later” if necessary.
Silence is often misunderstood and meeting facilitators tend to fill the silence with a question because they feel uncomfortable. Instead allow around thirty seconds for individuals to consider, reflect and collect their thoughts. This time may encourage someone who has contributed little so far to voice a comment they’ve been thinking about but hesitant to say. If you the silence goes on any longer without some input, then it is recommended you move on or rephrase the question.
Here are some final tips to improve your next team meeting:
First impressions last
Ensure you start your meeting on time. This is especially important if you are new to a role or you have a new team. Introduce yourself and make sure everyone knows who everyone else is. Go round the room have each person introduce themselves and some information about their role – yes, it may be clichéd but it serves a purpose.
Open with an overview
Use the first minute of the meeting to state the purpose of the meeting. Also reveal what attendees will gain by the end. Highlight key agenda items and any planned activities.
Control dominating individuals
Ensure each person has an opportunity to have their input and share their ideas. Try to not let one person dominate any discussions. Go round to each person in the meeting and ask them to share their opinion on the subject.
Commit assignments to writing
End the meeting by deciding who will do what and by what date this is to be achieved. Misunderstandings will result if you skip this step or assume people know what to do next. Write assignments and send a follow-up memo summarising everyone’s job.