MAKING MEETINGS MEANINGFUL
MAKING MEETINGS MEANINGFUL
Saturday, July 31, 2004 –11:00 am - Room Glen 209
Telus Convention Centre
Glen R. Heming, P. Eng – CEO, Alban Energy Ltd.
A clear objective will encourage people to attend the meeting because
they will understand its intent. It also will set the foundation for a focused
Problem-Solving meeting; participants first define a problem and then
craft solutions for solving it. Participants in this type of meeting must be
able to recognize the problem and also have the energy and expertise to
Decision-Making meeting; the group selects a solution to implement. To
be successful, the group must agree on the decision-making process: will
decisions be made by consensus, by majority vote, or will only certain
individuals have input?
Other types of meetings are held for the purposes of Communicating,
Reporting, and Feedback. A status meeting for a project is designed to
keep everyone on the team abreast of the most recent developments.
Obviously, meetings can be held for more than one purpose. Staff
meetings, for example, often serve both to provide updated information
and to solve specific problems. But whether there is one purpose or
several, it is the purpose that determines when to call a meeting.
When not to call a Meeting
It’s better NOT to hold a meeting if :
• the subject is a personnel issue that is better handled one-onone
• you don’t have time to prepare
• another method of communicating would work as well or better—
for example, a memo, e-mail, or telephone call
• the issue has already been decided
• the subject is not worth everyone’s time
• the group is upset and needs time apart before being able to
address the source of the conflict or frustration.
• it will interrupt your golf game next Thursday
The key to successful meeting is not what happens during the meeting, but
what happens prior to the meeting.
• Publish an agenda before the meeting.
• Begin with the most important or most complex issue
• Include an approximation of the time necessary to complete each item
• Indicate what action will be expected on the item
• Use clear descriptions of each agenda item, not just one or two-word titles
• Specify the person responsible to lead the discussion of each agenda item
• Tell folks what their role is in the meeting so they will come prepared. Are
they to just listen? Will there be a vote on something? Are they to argue
pros and cons of an issue?
• Indicate both the starting and ending time for the meeting
Set a time to start, finish and handle important parts of the meeting. Stick with
your time schedule. If you always start a reoccurring meeting late, people will
assume arriving late is OK. You will be trapped into a meeting that always
starts late (and probably runs later than expected).
If you can do something in your introduction that latecomers will be sorry they
missed, all the better.
Put your meeting ground rules on a big flip chart and use it for every meeting.
Cover such things a speaking one a time; raising your hand to talk if
appropriate; focusing on issues and not personalities or people; staying on the
agenda and not chasing rabbits; and breaks. If people know what is expected
of them, they are much more likely to help you run a better meeting.
Employees grumbled and laughed in 2000 when Alan Goldsworthy, chief
executive of Applix Inc., a software maker in Westborough, Mass., instituted a
$5 fine if a cell phone rang during a meeting and $1-a-minute fine for being late
to one. That year, he collected nearly $900 from the policy for a local group that
supports abused women. Last year, he collected just $60.
Before the Meeting
As people first come into the room do a check of the body language of
• Is there tension in the room.
• Does someone have an obvious vibe that you might need to address
before the meeting starts?
• Spend five minutes quietly watching the group as they assemble
before the meeting starts. Does normally talkative Tim sit down in a
corner with a frown on his face? Are Bob and Bill avoiding each
• These small observations can help alert you to the relationship
issues that are happening within the group which may be warning
signals that whatever is going on within the individual may come
out during the meeting.
Running the Meeting
Start on time
State purpose of the meeting.
Stay in control of the meeting
Summarize previous discussions or decisions about the agenda item
Summarize points and clarify discussion.
Document any items which have not been resolved, or come up in a
discussion and ask the group what to do with them.
Note digressions and remind members to stay on task.
Listen for and watch body language to catch any unexpressed issues or
feelings. Note it to the group.
Watch for comments which create a negative environment
Guide members who speak too much to be briefer.
Watch for restlessness and take breaks when needed
Be sure any tasks generated are assigned to specific individuals or
Watch for dominance of speaking time and ask those who are quiet for
ideas and thoughts
Ask open-ended questions. Participants will have to answer
with more than just a “yes” or “no.”
Paraphrase ideas when someone makes an unclear point.
Don’t force your views on others. Always remain neutral. A
dominant tone will repress discussion.
Make sure everyone contributes to the discussion. Direct
questions to people who haven’t spoken. Ask for examples
Have opposing sides state each other’s opinions when
Direct questions to other people—or ask to hear another
view—when one person tries to dominate the discussion.
Praise people. Thank them. Let them know you appreciate
them. A pat on the back helps everyone work better.
One way of ensuring quiet people get a chance to speak is to
initiate a round. In a round you move around the table with
everyone getting a few minutes to present their views.
Get action. If a decision is made, record it and the person that is
going to carry out the action. Ask them for a deadline as to when
they think they can accomplish the action.
An action should have these components: who, what and when.
For example, Bill is to bring his dance video to next month's
meeting. This action is simple; who what and when. Another
example would be: By the next club meeting, Jim is to write a
draft letter for the club to review concerning the new hall rental.
Again, this clearly indicates who what and when.
Use a flip chart; list all the actions and decisions from your
meeting so folks see in big print in front of the rest of the meeting
participants what they've agreed to do. Seeing your name in front
the group with a job attached to it is more likely to help you
remember to get it done.
Manage Meeting Malcontents
Monopolizers interrupt often, ramble and repeat because they enjoy
hearing themselves talk. Don’t argue with them, but don’t hesitate to
confront them. Wait for them to come up for air and interrupt them by
name. Note that they’ve made their point and immediately invite someone
else to comment on the topic.
Distracters seek attention. To get it, they’ll often bring up irrelevant topics
that waste time. Firmly halt distracters, restate the meeting purpose and
ask them to answer a specific questions to get them to focus on the main
Skeptics fault everything you or others say. Have a friendly talk with
skeptics before the meeting and firmly say what behaviour you expect. If
that fails, cut them off by repeating that you want solutions, not criticism.
Then ask them to contribute by looking forwards rather than backwards.
Snipers resort to stage-whispered, snide comments to challenge your
authority by switching attention from you to them. Shine the spotlight on
them and bluntly ask them to share their comment with everyone. Most
will be so embarrassed that they’ll decline.
For each action or decision, solicit an oral commitment from
the person who is going to carry it out. Make them say “Yes, I
can do that by then “. Believe it or not, by having someone
verbalize an action that is in front of the whole group nearly
guarantees that they will be more likely to do it on time.
The flip chart/poster paper idea is one that I cannot overemphasize. When folks see things like the agenda, the
objectives, the rules, and the actions in front of them (visual)
and the rest of the group, you will find your meetings much
more productive. It gives you something to point to when
you're asking for commitment.
Document all decisions. Minutes or notes of meetings are the
group's memory, and every effort should be made to keep
them accurate and up to date. If you do not keep records of
your decisions, you will very likely have to make the decision
again later. Minutes and records should be available in some
form to every member, or posted in the meeting space so they
can be read.
It is a good idea to read the decisions made and action items
assigned at the end of the meeting so any corrections can be
made while the discussion is still fresh in everyone's mind..
Praise! Praise! Praise!
Praise people twice as much as your criticize.
Never let any good deed or action go unheralded in the
Say thank you publicly at every meeting.
Recognize the value of peoples contributions at some
time during the meeting. It’s cheap psychology, and it
works wonders. One of the best ways to boost group
morale and keep it high, is to notice peoples work and
praise it regularly.