Tips for Successful Meetings

By:  Deborah C. Scaringi

Meetings within the workplace occur daily with varying degrees of success.  Meetings are often called to talk through issues, identify processes and further the goals of an organization.  It sounds like a simple process, but it can be difficult to accomplish with busy individuals and a fast paced business environment.  Setting the time, selecting the participants and reserving the location are just the start.  Once the mechanics are in place, how do you make the most of your time and have a productive outcome?  You may want to try these simple tips to improve your results.

  1. Pre-Determined Agenda.  Create a well-focused yet flexible agenda where each item furthers the purpose of the meeting. Note specifics such as location and length of time in addition to discussion points. Once the agenda is finalized, circulate it several days in advance of your meeting and ask people to prepare to respond to the discussion points.  In other words, do most of the heavy lifting in preparation so that your team can focus on developing solutions at the meeting.
  2. Use Visual Tools.  Brief and easy to read visual tools help people focus on the topic at hand. You may opt for printed handouts or a PowerPoint presentation to support your discussion, but keep them concise.  These tools are meant as cues to dialogue, not as a replacement. During the meeting, use flipcharts for mapping discussion thoughts.
  3. Stay Focused.  Assign a facilitator to keep the meeting focused on the agenda items. Depending on the topic, the facilitator could be the meeting organizer, a team leader, a neutral participant or an outside resource. The facilitator should begin by establishing ground rules.  For example, acknowledge it is ok to disagree as long as participants listen respectfully to each other.  Confirm that everyone must participate and all ideas will be evaluated.   At the same time, agree that in the interest of time and focus, you must table thoughts that don’t further the agenda at hand.  The facilitator must be prepared to gently guide discussion back on topic if a tangent leads the group astray.
  4. Get everyone talking.  You have set a ground rule that everyone must participate.  How do you accomplish that?  You mustn’t allow one person to dominate the discussion.  Instead, listen to a vocal person and draw attention to one point they have made.  Turn that point over to a quieter attendee and ask them to give their opinion.  Continue this process throughout the meeting.  You will find that by chaining together the pieces of each person’s thoughts, you will engage each person in the room and end up with a well-rounded conversation.
  5. Action Items.  Meeting discussions will always uncover action items.  Place someone in charge of keeping the meeting minutes and assign another person to tracking action items as they surface so that nothing is lost.  Promptly assign ownership of each action item and hold that person accountable for completing tasks by a mutually agreed upon deadline.  Be fair in your task assignments– evenly distribute action items amongst participants so that everyone is engaged and feels a part of the outcome.  This is also a good time to determine reporting methods back to the team for future follow-up.
  6. Follow-up.  Ultimately, thorough follow-up is the true indicator of any meeting’s outcome.  Follow-up may come in a variety of forms such as writing and circulating meeting minutes, completing action items and reporting back to the group, planning the next steps on the topic, determining if an other meeting is required and agreeing upon future topics.

There are many additional steps you can take to ensure your internal meetings are useful, but it is good to start with these basic essentials. Successful internal meetings are an integral part of any winning strategy, but you must design your meetings to win.  Combine the right people, environment, engagement and tools and you will encourage your team to reach the desired outcome with a vested interest.  Using thorough preparation, a well thought-out agenda, a focused approach, and calculated follow-up is a model anyone can employ.