I suspect that we’ve all sat through so many unproductive meetings that I don’t even need to describe them, so let’s just summarize the three biggest problems they cause:
- They rob us of our most precious resource – our time.
- They reduce or even prevent productivity.
- They sap our souls of inspiration and creativity, replacing them with frustration and cynicism.
It doesn’t have to be that way. A good meeting is a productive meeting. New ideas emerge. Decisions get made. Concrete plans are formulated. Next steps are clear. Nobody’s time is wasted. Everyone is glad they joined.
Sounds like fiction, but it’s not.
Here are five simple things every meeting host in your organization – starting with you – can do to make each meeting mean something:
5 Simple Steps to Plan a More Productive Meeting
Have a Clear Purpose.
Know why you’re meeting before you meet. It sounds stunningly obvious, and yet, we’ve all been in meetings where the purpose was unclear or unknown. Write down a purpose statement for every meeting in advance. Sounds extreme, but it’s not. It’s a must. Share your meeting purpose statement with participants right off the top (or even before the meeting so they know what to expect). There should be no ambiguity about why you’re there.
Have a Clear Product.
Know what you want to walk out of the meeting with. Just like the purpose statement, you should produce a written summary with your desired meeting product(s) and share it with participants at the top of the meeting. There should be no ambiguity about exactly what you’ll accomplish in your limited time together.
One of our favorite trainers and meeting facilitators, Michael Wilkinson of Leadership Strategies, coaches his trainees to think about “heads, hearts and hands.” Here are a few starter questions to help you identify your desired meeting products:
- Head – What do you want participants to know or understand when they leave the meeting? What decision(s) will have been made? What new information or ideas will have been generated?
- Heart – How do you want participants to feel about the topic (or even your organization, department, etc.) when the meeting is over?
- Hands – What tangible work products do you want participants to possess when they leave the meeting? It could be a list of action items and assignments. It could be a new idea to test. It could be a set of stakeholders to contact. You get the idea.
Have a Plan
Know how you will accomplish the meeting’s objectives. This is the number one barrier to good meetings. I’m not talking about an agenda. Lots of terrible meetings have those. I’m talking about a written meeting plan – developed well in advance – that carves up the meeting time into specific, time-bounded, guided conversations, often including specific exercises the group will complete in the room. So instead of a 60-minute “conversation” with a “loose agenda,” which often ends (late) with little to show for the invested time, your meeting plan will ensure participants deliver the desired meeting products.
Have a Dedicated Facilitator
Know who will be responsible for executing the meeting plan. It can be you, but it doesn’t have to be you. In some cases, it’s better if it’s not you, so you can be a contributing participant vs. meeting facilitator. Either way, the facilitator’s only role in the meeting should be to make sure the meeting goes according to plan, ends on time and achieves the desired meeting products. The more complex the meeting topic and objectives are, the more seasoned a facilitator you’ll need. But even an inexperienced facilitator is better than no facilitator at all.
Have Next Steps
These should be written down, assigned to the right people and distributed immediately after the meeting, along with the next checkpoint date if another gathering is required to maintain progress. Without written and assigned action items, within a few days it will be as if the meeting never happened, and you’ll need another meeting just to get back to where you ended the last one. Nobody wants that.
Don’t take my word for any of this. Try these five techniques just once and see what a difference they make. You’ll never want to go back.
If you don’t want to go it alone, and you need help planning an important gathering of stakeholders, contact us. Our team of facilitators would be happy to share more tips or help you plan and facilitate the meeting itself.
Our facilitators have designed and led hundreds of high-stakes workshops with organizations of all shapes and sizes, but no matter how complex the situation, our assignment – and yours, should you choose to accept it – remains simple: to make your next gathering of important stakeholders the most productive meeting they have ever attended.