Do your meetings have a purpose or are they just filling a regular slot on your weekly calendar? When you meet with direct reports, who guides the meeting, you or them? Do these meetings have agendas or are they free-form get-togethers with no specific end-point in mind?
Meetings should always serve a purpose – to clarify goals and strategies, boost employee morale, generate a plan of action. All too often, however, staff meetings or one-to-ones achieve little and take up valuable time. This happens most frequently when the person calling the meeting thinks he or she can figure out what to say when the time comes and that by some magical turn of events, the meeting will accomplish wonders.
How to Keep a Meeting on Track
Keeping all of the different personalities in your organization can be challenging, but you can plan and manage your meetings to avoid losing control:
1. Invite the Right People
With the right mix of people, you can explore new ideas, address any possible grievances regarding the topic at hand, and successfully devise new ways to implement policy. The people you invite should be appropriate to the subject of the meeting and any goals you hope to accomplish. Inviting the wrong people can turn into an echo-chamber or spiral out of control, especially if you include people not directly involved with the meeting’s agenda.
2. Choose an Appropriate Tone
Every meeting will have its own focus and, as a result, a tone which defines it. A meeting to review a new set of company policies vastly differs from one in which you need to brainstorm responses to a problem. Setting the right tone for your meeting can help attendees enter the appropriate mindset to make the greatest contributions to it.
Meetings work best when you cultivate an open, accepting environment. This encourages people to come forward with new ideas without embarrassment. However, a more formal structured meeting is appropriate if you are simply transmitting information one-way or giving the latest updates about a project.
3. Begin with an Outcome in Mind
Before scheduling a meeting, figure out what your desired outcome will be. It may be fun or diverting to get together and just blow off steam, but you’ll quickly see the flaws in this strategy. Anyone who’s ever walked out of an hour-long meeting with nothing to show for it knows how futile these gatherings can be.
4. Be Present
It should go without saying that when you’re leading a meeting, everyone’s smartphones and other hand-held devices are turned off. That goes for you, too. Your primary responsibility is to be present at the meeting, focused on the topic at hand and working towards a viable outcome. In this case, being present means paying attention to what others have to say and making sure you are clear about specific points you want others to walk away with.
5. Start and End on Time
Letting people wander into your meeting five or ten minutes late sends a very bad message. Make it clear that this meeting will start on time. Also, appoint a “time-keeper” to keep things moving. His or her job is to politely tell people to say what they have to say, stick to the point and stop talking. Meetings that start promptly and end at the appointed time are always more productive than meetings that go on until everyone nods off in their seats.
6. Have an Agenda and Stick with It
Meetings should serve as a roadmap for getting from here (the current situation) to there (where some significant objective has been achieved). Use this opportunity to review information and devise a strategy for moving forward. Any unrelated subjects that come up in conversation – and they always do – should be shelved for another time.
Effective Staff Meeting Agendas
Controlling a team meeting starts with an effective meeting agenda that has several key characteristics:
- Timeline: Each segment of the meeting should have a time limit, allowing you to minimize the amount of time used while maintaining focus. This should be realistic and based on the amount of people in attendance and what sort of interaction you expect from them.
- Clearly defined roles: Any meeting will likely have multiple topics, so make sure that each has a leader who has relevant experience. They should know about their role and what is expected of them well before the meeting in order to make a valuable presentation during it.
- Team input: The agenda should be shaped, at least in part, by input from those who will be in attendance. This can increase engagement among attendees and make the meeting directly relevant to them, ensuring they obtain value from it and add value to it. A meeting that is not relevant to those in attendance is a waste of time, so make sure to collect this information early and integrate it into your presentation.
- Allowance for changes: Your agenda will be made ahead of the meeting, but new events or information may have to be taken into account. Keeping your agenda flexible and updating it as needed allows you to adapt to new developments without surprising attendees.
- Ways to address each item: If you expect your attendees to make any decisions or engage in discussion, it’s important to lay out a process through which these can happen. This provides transparency and sets expectations, allowing attendees to make valuable contributions without anyone worrying whether their voices are being arbitrarily favored or ignored. It also provides a clear end to one subject and the beginning of another.
How to Get a Meeting Back on Track
Even with the best preparations, your meeting may still go off-track at some point. Here are a few easy ways you get a meeting on track once again:
7. Moderate the Meeting
Your meeting can run astray if a few speakers monopolize discussion and wander off on tangents. A moderator can keep this in check by stepping in when someone is off-topic. If you know that some people are likely to speak a lot during the meeting, you could speak with them before the meeting and ask that they remain mindful to allow others the space and time to contribute. Your moderator can also ask for contributions from some of your more quiet attendees, who probably just need some encouragement to share their valuable insights.
8. Give Closure
In most meetings, you’ll need to transition from one subject to another multiple times. However, if you do this before everyone is ready to move on, people who still had questions or points to make hope to backtrack. Make sure that everyone is finished speaking on the current matter before transitioning to the next.
9. Take A Break
It’s important to remember that even the most highly focused and productive meeting is still attended by humans. If your meeting will be a long one, allow some time for breaks so people can socialize, process the information they are taking in, or simply rest.
Brad Mishlove is the Founder and CEO of Catapult Groups, an Executive Coaching and CEO Peer Advisory Firm headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. Mishlove also serves as executive coach, mentor, and senior advisor to Chief Executives, Business Owners, and entrepreneurs. Clients typically hire Mishlove to bring strategy, systems, and accountability to growing enterprises. Contact Catapult Groups today to schedule a 30 minute CEO strategy session.