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Top tips to make meetings work for you

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Rosie Garwood, teamwork specialist and managing director at Reflection Consulting has some practical advice for managing meetings more effectively.
Many people's reaction to the prospect of a meeting in the workplace is a negative one, ranging from apprehension through to resentment. Most of us will spend a considerable proportion of our working lives in meetings, many of which will unfortunately be as unproductive as anticipated. So why are meetings so frequently regarded as a waste of time? The answer must lie in the way that they are managed, which in turn suggests a lack of formal training for those tasked with the role. Thus, what should be an important channel of communication, an effective forum for discussion and a forceful motivational tool all too often inspires frustration, resentment and tedium.
Done well, meetings can instigate change, contribute to success and build relationships, but in order to achieve this, meetings need to make optimal use of everyone's time. Fortunately, running a meeting well is a skill which can be learnt and improved upon with experience. Following these simple guidelines will help to ensure that your meetings are focused, well run, attended and received.

Ten tips for managing meetings

  1. What's the point? It's not unusual for organisations to have a culture of meetings for meetings' sake. Make sure that any meeting you schedule has a definite purpose. Decide what that purpose is before you start and make sure that the aims and expectations are identifed and understood at the start of the meeting
  2. Plan to succeed. Once you have decided what you want the meeting to achieve, prepare exactly what you will need to make a relevant contribution and ensure that the meeting achieves its aims. Think about structure, attendance and outcome
  3. Timing is everything. It's advisable in most cases to set a time limit for the start and finish. This way, everyone knows what is expected of them in terms of time – it is also a professional courtesy. Any participant who fails to adhere to these times tells you all you need to know about their commitment and contribution
  4. Take action. At the end of each meeting, summarise what the key actions are and who is responsible for ensuring they are carried out. Hold people to their agreed actions from previous meetings, preferably before the meeting itself, but don't let it slip from one meeting to the next without making a note of the change of plan
  5. Musical chairs. If you're a bit stuck with patterns of behaviour within meetings, aim to shake up the group dynamics. One of the best ways of doing this is to enable participants to take turns in chairing the meeting. It will change the way the group interacts and can provide a useful alternative perspective, particularly for a non-responsive attendee
  6. A change is as good as a rest. Another way of tackling stagnant meetings is to make physical changes such as the venue or seating arrangements. You could also alter the format to keep people's minds fresh and engaged
  7. Don't get sidetracked. It's easy to become distracted away from the main focus of the meeting so if events are being taken down a path of too much irrelevant detail by a minority of participants, suggest this is covered in a separate meeting and move on
  8. Take control. Whilst you are aiming to encourage participation from everyone, there may be some people present who simply seem to enjoy the sound of their own voices. When this happens you need to actively manage the content - limit the waffle and actively encourage input from the quieter ones
  9. The house rules. Agree a code of conduct so that everyone knows what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Rules around issues such as confidentiality, time-keeping, use of mobile phones, one person speaking at a time etc. all need to be agreed and adhered to for the meeting to work
  10. Outside influences. If dealing with a particularly emotive or contentious issue it can be helpful to bring in an external facilitator who can offer the benefit of impartial, independent leadership to free up participants' thinking, encourage new contributions, and allow the chair to contribute to the discussion rather than manage it

Meetings are too important a part of an organisation’s communication strategy to ignore. If the meetings that take place in your organisation are unproductive, you need to take action to ensure that you are making best use of the people, resources and time that you have.

 

Rosie Garwood, managing director of Reflection Consulting specialises in working with organisations from all sectors of industry to help their staff become more effective, including training personnel how to lead meetings more effectively. Reflection Consulting offers specialist advice in group dynamics, communication, negotiation and influence, as well as specific help with partnerships. For more information about Rosie's work and Reflection Consulting, email [email protected]
 

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