By Marlene Caroselli
Meetings provide an opportunity for creativity and productivity to flourish. Well-managed, they can expedite the problem-solving process and develop intra-group harmony at the same time. Poorly managed, they can spell the end to collective collaboration.
There are three elements that constitute effective meetings. When they are entwined, they represent a powerful force for productivity. With only one or two of the elements, you are looking metaphorically at a single strand of hair, rather than the strength that becomes evident with the strands are entwined.
Once you run your meeting (or insist that it be run) with these elements at work, you can smash the myths that surround meetings–myths of wasted time and wasted energy. These elements make meeting leaders and participants enablers-solvers of common meeting problems. The three critical elements to effective meetings are having an agenda, appointing a topic monitor, delegating a time monitor.
1. Prepare an agenda and share it with team members at least two days in advance of the meeting. Not only does this set a tone of efficiency, it also enables attenders to think about the topics ahead of time and to assemble materials that may be needed for the meeting. The agenda should have time-allocations written parenthetically beside each topic. Further, the meeting purpose should be listed at the top of the agenda.
2. Once the meeting is underway, begin with a restatement of purpose and provide further clarification if necessary.
3. Immediately, appoint a time monitor. This individual has full authority to enforce the time-allocations listed on the agenda. As unobtrusively as possible, he or she should inform the group when the time allocated for a particular topic is nearly up.
4. Next, appoint a topic monitor. This individual also has full authority–in this case, to advise the group that they are straying from the point.
5. We recommend having a scribe as well.
6. Strive for a balance between task and maintenance behaviors–for the group as a whole and for individual members as well. Task behaviors are those related to getting the job done. Asking for clarification, for example, is a task-related action. So is volunteering to do a certain task, reminding others of ground rules, listing brainstormed items and so on. Maintenance behaviors pertain to the social glue that holds the group together. They might include icebreakers at the very first team meeting. Other examples of maintenance behaviors could be complimenting the team, intervening when conflict arises, calling for a break, et cetera.
7. Groundrules can either be established by an experienced team leader or could be created with the full involvement of the team. Either way, those rules should be posted.
8. Ensure equal contribution from members. To achieve this equality, you may have to engage in an activity like the Delphi response, which invites ideas from everyone, anonymously. You may also call upon the quieter members or ensure that a talkative member doesn’t dominate discussions.
9. Take full advantage of the numerous tools available to teams for problem-solving, idea-generation, and decision-making. Among them are the Crawford Technique, Comparative Valuation, Structured Brainstorming, Storyboarding, Force Field Analysis, Fishbone Diagram, Autonomy of Object, Lasso Method, Problem-optimizing, and A-D-D, to name but a few.
10. The alignment of task and talent prevents members from accepting tasks in an effort to “be a team player” and encourages them instead to accept tasks because they are good at them. Will Schutz’ s questions, although they initially sound sarcastic, are actually good indices of who should be asked to do what. Those questions are: “Who knows?” and “Who cares?” Further, you can ask “fire-starter” questions of team members to learn what they like to do and what they’d prefer to avoid. Finally, you can put the research from Yale to good use: ensure that every team has diversity. “Diversity,” of course, can be defined in several ways, but Sternberg’s work has found that the most efficient teams have at least one person who is logical; one who is creative; and one who is knowledgeable about the subject at hand.
11. Use the Parking Lot method of capturing relevant but unscheduled issues. To achieve meeting purpose, the agenda takes priority. But, as every team leader knows, sometimes issues arise that are not on the agenda yet are worthy of further exploration. These issues should be listed on a sheet of flip chart paper (ideally posted at the beginning of every meeting) so they can be dealt with later.
12. Before the meeting concludes, remind members of commitments: who has agreed to do what by when? If possible, have the assignments written down so you can refer to them at the end, thereby eliminating the possibility of disagreement or misunderstanding. Writing them also means they can be used both in minutes (if such are sent out) and at the next meeting.
13. Bring closure to the meeting by thanking team members for their contributions, by referring to the purpose and its accomplishment, and by projecting into the future via next steps to be taken by the team as a whole.
14. The team intent on continuous improvement realizes it’s difficult to improve if there’s been no assessment of strengths and weaknesses of the meeting process. This assessment can be handled in several ways. On occasion, an outsider can be invited in to observe a meeting in process. The meeting leader can also informally ask members their opinion of the meeting before it concludes. He or she can also determine if the meeting purpose was accomplished. And, he or she can prepare a simple evaluation form and distribute it at the end of the meeting.
Finally, far too many of us know firsthand the wisdom of this anonymous observation: “If an hour has been spent amending a sentence, someone will move to delete the paragraph.” To ensure meeting productivity and the time that’s wasted with amendments and deletions, follow the 14 tips above.
Dr. Marlene Caroselli is an author, keynoter, and corporate trainer whose clients include Lockheed Martin, Allied Signal, Department of the Interior, and Navy SEALS. She writes extensively about education, business, self-improvement, and careers and has adjuncted at UCLA and National University. Her first book, The Language of Leadership, was named a main selection by the Executive Book Club. Principled Persuasion, a more recent title, was designated a Director’s Choice by the Doubleday Book Club. Driving Mr. Albert: 365+ Einstein-Inspired Brain Boosts, her 62nd book, will be released by HRD Press in Winter, 2018.