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10 guidelines for improving meeting effectiveness

- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.

Business-people-planningThe meeting leader has an awesome challenge. This person is responsible for setting the tone of the meeting, keeping the group focused on the meeting purpose, managing (often complex) group dynamics, ensuring everyone is able to contribute to the meeting and managing meeting logistics. 

Sound like a daunting task? Meeting leadership is. And few people are highly skilled at it.

10 Tips for Meeting Leaders

  1. Understand the meeting’s purpose and goals. Why are we together? Distribute an agenda to the group in advance. Provide appropriate information or materials. To prepare people for the meeting and make the best use of your time together, invite participants to come to the meeting having completed a pre-meeting assignment.
  1. Create a safe, nonthreatening environment where all participants feel safe and comfortable and want to engage. Discourage participants from sniping or zinging one another, even in fun. Model an accepting attitude by withholding judgment of ideas and others and by drawing out everyone’s perspectives and feelings.  Encourage contrasting ideas. 
  1. Recognize that while people have different personalities and may or may not actively participate in the discussion, they all want to be listened to, recognized and appreciated as unique individuals. Work toward participation from everyone without insisting on it. Think of various ways people can contribute besides just talking (maybe written responses). Invite the group to help you figure out ways to energize group discussions. Watch for and act on opportunities to tell others that they have done well.
  1. Listen carefully to the person speaking while monitoring nonverbal behavior of the group. Be alert to signs of discomfort from group members. Identify and manage concern or confusion by noting it (e.g., “I sense that this is an area of concern for us ...”). Watch the interactions to monitor and clarify, especially when controversial issues are being discussed. 
  1. Respect the group by starting meetings on time and finishing on time or early. Consider designating a timekeeper for the meeting if you anticipate time management challenges. Only extend discussion times when the group will strongly benefit from that decision.
  1. Seek to reach consensus on issues. Resist the temptation to save time by settling for majority opinion or compromise. Agreement is necessary for lasting and meaningful outcomes.
  1. Handle emotional issues with compassion. Conflict, frustration, anger and sadness all require a great deal of courage to share. Intervene when group members verbally attack one another or when a group member violates meeting protocol. 
  1. Recognize when you are too highly invested in the outcome and ask for someone else to fill the role of meeting leader.
  1. End each meeting with a summary or some type of tying-up activity to provide closure. Clarify roles regarding who will accomplish any follow-up actions agreed to in the meeting. 
  1. Get group feedback on the meeting. Is there anything the group would like to see changed? How are people feeling? What is working? Identify one thing you could do better to make your leadership in the next meeting more effective.

Do you have other meeting techniques that have worked for you that you would be willing to share? Please use the comments section of this blog to tell us about them.

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