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Managing meetings

A meeting is a gathering of two or more people for a specific purpose. Meetings are convened for a variety of purposes, including planning, decision-making, problem solving, communication and the exchange of information.  They may be informal, when for example, a few people get together to discuss ideas, or they may be formal following strict procedures. Formal meetings are conducted by a chairman according to an agenda set in advance, and the proceedings are recorded in minutes.  Some meetings such as company board meetings and annual general meetings are a legal requirement and take place on a regular basis.

Introduction

Meetings vary greatly in terms of purpose, size, style, duration and level.  Outcomes may have an impact nationally or regionally, or they may only affect the day to day operations of a small group of people.  However, the general principles for holding successful and productive meetings are valid for all types of meetings whether traditional, face to face, or electronically linked.

Why is it important to hold productive meetings?

Effective meetings can:

  • Provide swift and productive communication between a number of people
  • Be a successful decision making instrument
  • Enhance the motivation and commitment of a team

Before the meeting

  • Check if the meeting is necessary
  • Set clear, precise goals for the meeting
  • Keep creative and analytical discussion separate.  Creative meetings often require a more relaxed timetable and atmosphere.  It is hard to switch from the routine to the creative and vice versa.
  • Decide on who should be present.  Select only those who can make a contribution.  Numbers need to be neither too many nor too few.
  • Choose the date, time and place.  Having a definite finish time helps concentration and may help to avoid time consuming digressions.  Make sure that the time and date is suitable for all intended participants.
  • Make administrative arrangements, including:
    • Choosing and booking a suitable room
    • Ensuring that the necessary equipment and supplies will be available
    • Arranging catering
    • Requesting help in terms of having the Minutes taken
    • Set the agenda.  For each item clarify the objective and who will lead the discussion.  On a full agenda construct a timetable indicating how long you expect to spend on each item.  This enables participants to get an idea of which items are important and are for in-depth discussion and which items will be dealt with quickly.  Try to avoid fitting too much into one agenda so that all items can be dealt with fully.
    • Select the format of the meeting, bearing in mind considerations such as the nature of the topic(s) under discussion, the number of participants, the amount of time set aside and the goals you wish to achieve.
    • Notify all those involved as soon as possible.  The notification should include:
      • Full details of date, starting and finishing times and location
      • List of invitees
      • The agenda
      • Any briefing notes
      • Complete your personal research, reading and other preparation.  This may include making advance contact with any participants whose contributions may be critical to the success of the meeting.

During the meeting

  • Arrive in good time
  • Check that all of the arrangements, including seating, equipment and refreshments are in order
  • Welcome the participants upon arrival
  • Start promptly
  • Deal with administrative items such as:
    • Introductions of any newcomers, and expressions of thanks / congratulations and good wishes, as well as apologies received from absentees
    • Despatch routine items quickly
    • Introduce each agenda item, with an emphasis on the objectives and expected outcomes
    • Shape and control the discussion
      • Encourage those who tend not to speak out
      • Allow only one discussion topic at a time
      • Separate different subjects
      • Balance contributions on contentious topics
      • Keep control of time
      • Employ visual aids where they may help people to make their point
      • Don’t express an opinion unless needed at the end
      • Summarise at intervals
      • Seek clear decisions at the appropriate points
      • Agree and assign actions
      • Where there are differences of opinion on key issues, suggest a majority vote where appropriate
      • Conclude the meeting and agree a time and date of any follow up meetings required, and agree who will chair the next meeting.  Thank everyone for their contribution.

After the meeting

  • If not already minuted or recorded, write down immediately the decision taken , the tasks agreed with the persons responsible and the dates by which the actions should be agreed
  • Distribute the note to all participants and to others as appropriate
  • Monitor the progress of subsequent action

How to assess meeting effectiveness

As with other activities, assessment of effectiveness will depend on having set clear objectives in advance, for the whole meeting and for individual items.  Common measures of effectiveness include asking:

  • Did all present contribute positively, according to their roles?
  • Was the discussion lively but good-natured throughout?
  • Were all relevant aspects of the subjects properly discussed?
  • Was consensus reached on all major decisions?
  • Did the meeting cover the subjects within the time allotted?
  • Did all leave with clear knowledge of what had been achieved, and their responsibilities for future action?
  • Were participants invited to complete a brief evaluation?

What should managers avoid?

  • Ineffective or unnecessary meetings which can waste time or money, exacerbate divisions and bad feeling and produce poor decisions
  • Taking notes, as you are the likely leader and a key contributor
  • Becoming angry
  • Talking too much or for too long
  • Insisting on having the last word
  • Talking first, except to introduce a topic
  • Letting the meeting overrun

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