There are different meeting styles such as daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, … and one person may attend many meetings a day. However, most people are not interested in meetings, even seeing meeting time as a waste. According to a survey, there are common issues that make meetings ineffective as follows:
- Meeting time is longer than expected;
- Solutions are decided by the most experienced person while the others do not understand or participate fully;
- There is a lot of silence in the meeting;
- A number of discussion topics spans.
If you encounter one of the issues listed above, the following guidelines can help you organize a meeting more effectively.
First, a meeting starts when everyone is in the meeting room but there are still other things going on before and after the meeting.
BEFORE THE MEETING
(1) Determining if the meeting is necessary
If you organize or attend a meeting, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I get the necessary information about the meeting?
- Do we need to discuss the whole group before making a decision?
- Does everyone need to share the same information?
- Has the meeting benefited participants?
If the answers are “No”, perhaps the meeting is unnecessary or not really ready.
(2) Scheduling meeting properly
Each person has a different schedule, so choosing the best time for all is impossible. However, there are a few rules when scheduling a meeting:
- Avoid meetings at high “work-loads”;
- Choose the right method to remind everyone to be on time for the meeting.
(3) Choosing the meeting facilitator or moderator
The moderator of the meeting may be the one who has the highest position among the participants, or another person or the meeting does not have a real moderator. Whatever the form, it should be determined in advance so that he or she can prepare. The facilitator role is very important as he or she helps participants focus on meeting and engage in punctual discussion sessions.
(4) Creating meeting agenda
The meeting agenda is chronological topics. The facilitator must prepare the meeting agenda in order to estimate the appropriate meeting time and help participants be prepared. For example, a Sprint Retrospective meeting agenda may include:
b) Update progress of implemented plans
c) Feedback and suggestions for improvement
d) Select and plan action
e) End the meeting
Assuming the group has 5 members, the following is an estimate of the time for each activity:
a) Introduction (5’)
b) Update progress of implemented improvement plans (5×2’= 10′)
c) Feedback and suggestions for improvement (5×5’= 25’)
d) Select and plan action (5×10 ‘= 50’)
e) End of the meeting (5’)
Note, that times 5′ or 10′ in c) and d) are the total time a member spends on time-box activities in these items.
As such, the meeting above can be adjusted to take place over a period of 90’.
(5) Preparing the introduction
A meeting always begins with an introduction. In addition to introducing participants, which may not be necessary for some internal meetings, the facilitator should state the purpose of the meeting (the “what”) and how the meeting will take place to achieve that goal (the “how”).
At the beginning of the meeting, it is very important that the facilitator should have a good preamble to convey the energy and help everyone pay attention to the meeting topics. The way to start the meeting is varied such as a direct statement or an indirect introduction with a story, or discussion in pairs or in groups.
(6) Well-prepare before any meeting
If you have agreed to attend the meeting, be sure to prepare the following:
- Commit to taking the time to participate fully and focus during the meeting time;
- If you are a moderator, prepare meeting tools such as survey links, post-it notes, paper, pens, flip-chart, markers, etc.;
- The items you committed to complete from the previous meeting;
- List of topics to be discussed in the meeting.
IN THE MEETING
(7) Starting the meeting
- The meeting facilitator always comes early to prepare the necessary tools;
- Start the meeting on time;
- Opening the meeting with positive statements, welcome attendees, thank everyone for joining, reiterate the meeting objectives, explain how the meeting take place, etc.;
- Set up meeting rules such as time-box application rules, rules for asking questions, consensus rules.
(8) Going through the commitments from the previous meeting
The facilitator can use the minutes from the previous meeting, read through the commitments and ask if they have been completed. For the completed items, the facilitator can give a praise. For unfinished work, he can simply ask for current progress, obstacles if any. This section should be done quickly, avoiding going into details or explaining the reasons.
(9) Being heard
To ensure an effective meeting, the facilitator should follow the following principles:
- Ensure every member has the opportunity to express their opinions;
- The facilitator speaks as little as possible;
- The facilitator encourages participants to discover by themselves through group discussions.
(10) Getting and giving comments
Giving comments is especially important for all meeting participants. Unintended comments and feedback can cause unnecessary conflicts, tension, or cause attendees to hesitate to comment, or argue. The following are guidelines for good feedback and feedback:
- Always make suggestions based on actions and results, not on assumptions, or personal feelings;
- Use gentle words like “sandwich” feedback technique when disagreeing or giving other points of view. This principle is extremely necessary, because there’s no guarantee that your ideas will be correct, using gentle words will keep you from getting into an awkward position if your ideas are wrong;
- Listen with an open and respectful attitude. This is the basis for you to control your emotions well when receiving comments;
- When the debate becomes intense, the facilitator of the meeting should intervene and hold separate meetings to resolve the issue.
(11) Getting participants focus on the meeting
As the meeting facilitator, how do you handle someone working on personal stuffs, making a phone call, not listening to others or talking too long but not focusing on the topic? The following guidelines can help you resolve this fairly common problem:
- Remind people as the whole not to “multi-task” during the meeting. Remember that it is quite sensitive to remind someone directly in front of others;
- Establish ground rules from the beginning of the meeting;
- Use time-box for each person in each activity.
(12) Taking notes
The ideas, solutions proposed and agreed upon in the meeting should be recorded to ensure everyone be on the same page after the meeting. Today, in addition to traditional handwriting, there are many other tools supporting taking notes. For whatever, the use of any tool must ensure the following two principles:
- Have a person responsible for taking notes;
- Take notes in a simple way so that the note taker can participate in the meeting like everyone else.
(13) Closing the meeting
Closing the meeting is as important as the opening. If the introductory section gets people pay attention to the meeting topics, the good ending helps members commit to implementing the agreed action plans in the meeting. There are the following guidelines for ending an effective meeting:
- The facilitator summarizes the agreed action plans, who working on what;
- The facilitator says thanks to everyone, declare the end of the meeting;
- Always end the meeting early or on time.
AFTER THE MEETING
(14) Sending the meeting minutes
After the meeting, the facilitator should send the meeting summary with thanks to all participants. This should be done as soon as possible, or not later than 48 hours if not done immediately after the meeting. The content of the meeting summary is the same as what the scribe summarizes before the meeting ends.
(15) Scheduling & following up the action plans
After the meeting, participants should schedule the implementation plans as their commitments, manage themselves and notify other participants as soon as the assigned work is completed.
An effective meeting is when everyone actively expresses their views and opinions and all suggestions are discussed in the meeting. The meeting has specific results, achieving the set goals. After the meeting, everyone is happy and commit to implementing the agreed plans. The above steps can be applied to most meetings, but are especially suitable for weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings.
Thanks for reading
Khiem Huynh, Agile Practitioner, PSM III