How to Run an Effective Meeting Without Being a Total Twerp

This week’s post is a departure from my usual snarky writing and publishing guidance. This time it’s snarky leadership guidance. In particular, I’d like to share tips on running a successful meeting.

Given the amount of time I spend in meetings, I like to see them well-run. I’m lucky that the culture in my organization supports efficient use of time… one benefit to working for the military. However, prior to my current work, I attended my share of ill-managed meetings. The ones that really make me want to put a stick in my eye are those in which the leader spends 15 minutes vainly speaking about Dancing with the Stars while the underlings politely wait and try to look interested. Even worse are meetings in a series in which the leader covers the same ground each week without progressing.

In both of the above situations, the leaders aren’t trying to be tools. In the first, the leader probably thinks that sharing personal information about something trivial helps the team feel more connected. However, wasting time of team members, especially the time of those who you supervise, is disrespectful. It communicates that your time is more valuable, even if you are spending your time discussing TV. Bear in mind that supervisees rarely complain (except behind your back).

In the latter situation, the leader probably just doesn’t know how to transition from talk into action. It is also possible that he or she is nervous about pulling rank and directing the team. However, when we waste folks’ time in a regularly occurring meeting, they grow frustrated. Those who can choose whether or not to participate will stop showing up, and those who have no choice will spend the time doodling and whispering under their breath, “Please let this end. Please let this end…”

Another reason to improve leadership skills is that you are a mentor to others. Even if you’re still in grad school, the students a year behind are learning from watching you. You help set the culture and standards for your organization.

So let’s say you are leading a series of meetings about a new study. Here are my tips for success:

1. Start on time. Unless there is a very important person who is needed before you can begin, start about 1 or 2 minutes after the set meeting time. If folks are still chit-chatting, politely redirect them with a statement such as, “in the interest of time, we’re going to get started now.” if folks show up late, don’t embarrass or scold them, but you also don’t need to stop what you’re doing to review everything that has already happened. They’ll come on time for the next meeting.

2. Use an agenda. You don’t need to use roman numerals, etc. However, a written list of what you hope to accomplish does three things for you. It keeps you organized so you don’t forget anything, it communicates that you care enough about the mission the meeting to put thought into it, and it prevents folks from spending too much time on one topic.

3. State the purpose of the meeting. Essentially, this is where you look over the agenda as a group and then ask, “anything I’m missing here? Does anyone want to add anything?” This is much better than a free-flowing stream of consciousness meeting, because those are often derailed by the loudest or longest-winded. Asking for agenda items allows the quiet folks a chance to make their voices heard. The key is to make sure you *do* get to those added items.

4. Review the progress of the last meeting. If you take minutes, go ahead and review them here. This will help keep everyone on track, especially any participants who weren’t at the previous meeting. It’s also helpful for clearing up any confusion. Sometimes we walk away from a meeting with a different understanding than others.

Why Agendas Rule

Why Agendas Rule

5. Discuss progress on due-outs. If Trina stated she was going to consult with the IRB, now is the time to ask how that went. Hold team members accountable.

6. Move on to the new business. Yay! The fun part! As the group discusses each agenda item, find an action for each. Perhaps it’s “Mike will email everyone the article he mentioned.” If you don’t come to a resolution and no new ideas are coming up, stop the conversation by saying, “let’s all chew on this one for the week and keep it on the agenda for next time.”

7. Review the action items. Make sure you are correctly documenting who is doing what. This is also a good time to make sure that work is distributed fairly.

8. Thank everyone.

9. Stand up, but don’t go anywhere. If you are not in a rush, I suggest you wait around after a meeting to allow the introverts to approach you. Some of our best thinkers don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a group setting and would prefer to speak with you one-on-one.

10. Email minutes or a recap. I know this one might feel weird, and perhaps will get you teased for being OCD. However, I take that risk. Send out an email that lists what you discussed, the action items (who is responsible for what), and the next meeting time. Be brief but clear. This shows your commitment to the effort, reduces chances for misunderstanding, and also provides you a nice jumping off point for building the next week’s agenda. Also, it’s a good move to cc your supervisor.

I hope this has been helpful! Let me know if you like this kind of post, and I’ll try to sprinkle them in here and there. I’ll send out the minutes shortly.

P.S. Happy nuptials Mike and Trina! –JTK

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