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«1. Check people’s time commitments before you begin your meeting This is an important thing to do, especially when you have a diverse group of ...»

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27 Ways To Improve Your Meeting

1. Check people’s time commitments before you begin your meeting

This is an important thing to do, especially when you have a diverse group of people throughout the organization attending a

meeting or you have a combination of insiders and outsiders attending your meeting (e.g. customers, community members,


Doing this helps with two things:

A. It alerts you to who will be leaving before the official time of the meeting. You might have to adjust your agenda to make sure someone who has to leave early is utilized appropriately. For example: there might be a specific agenda item that an “early leaver” is an expert about and you want to use their expertise. Just let participants know what you are thinking.

“Mary has to leave at 1:30 and I would like to suggest we move the agenda item on the technology infrastructure up so we can get her advice before she has to leave. Is that okay with folks?” Get approval and keep on moving.

B. Whenever a person leaves a meeting, it changes the group dynamics. It can either add or detract the energy and focus of the meeting. For example: If a senior level person leaves early, participants might psychologically relax when they leave or feel like the meeting is less important after the leader leaves. You need to be prepared for both scenarios and remind participants that they still have important work to do and that you expect full participation

2. Skip Monday morning meetings – they are usually not a good idea About 80% of the organizations we have worked with have Monday morning meetings to “kick off” the week. This is especially true at the senior level. This idea looks good on paper but is often detrimental in practice.

We suggest you have a Monday afternoon “kick off” meeting or wait until Tuesday morning. Some reasons why:

A. While attending a Monday morning meeting, people psychologically are thinking about their staff, wonder what’s going on in their department/division, still thinking about the weekend, worry about the problems that await them.

Let people have Monday morning to check in with their people, problem solve and get things moving in their units. This way when they come to the Monday afternoon meeting, they will be psychologically connected to what’s going on.

B. It gives people extra time to prepare for the “kick off” meeting. They can review the necessary information before they come to the meeting and do some thinking so they are prepared for the meeting.

C. There will be less stress about the meeting because the sense of urgency that accompanies the usual Monday morning meeting will be neutralized.

PATRICK SANAGHAN Ed.D. • 168 East State Street, Doylestown PA 18901 • 215.340.5332 • sanaghan@aol.com

3. Ground rules are essential For any regular meeting it is important to have some “working agreements” or “ground rules” to which participants are committed. Make sure there is agreement on the ground rules before beginning the meeting.

Some suggestions:

Our favorite is “one person speaks at a time”. This helps eliminate all the aggravating sidebars that take place in most meetings and take the energy and focus away from the discussion. If you see more than one person talking during a meeting, gently remind people of the ground rule. Don’t single anyone out (e.g. Pat, can you stop talking while Barbara is explaining the new budget?). Just state the ground rule as a reminder to everyone. Do it as soon as it occurs so you nip it in the bud and, especially if someone senior is the guilty party. If participants see the facilitator let the senior leader violate the ground rule, you don’t have a ground rule any more.

Another effective ground rule is “start and end on time”. This helps communicate that everyone’s time is valuable and gives the meeting facilitator/leader permission to begin the meeting on time, even if someone is missing. It also holds the leader/facilitator accountable for ending on time, so be careful what you wish for!

Use whatever ground rules you believe will help you have an effective meeting. Pay attention to both task (e.g., start and end on time, distribute agenda before meeting) and the process (e.g., practice active listening, one person talks at a time) elements of meetings.

The key thing to remember is that meeting participants need to agree with the ground rules before you begin the meeting. It is hard to impose ground rules after the meeting begins (why don’t we now agree to raise our hands and be acknowledged by the facilitator) halfway into the meeting.

4. Poker chips and paper clips This is a technique we have used several times and is very effective with highly verbal, dominating or contentious meeting participants.

Before the meeting, distribute 5-10 poker chips or paper clips to everyone. Communicate the following to participants, “Every time you speak, please put one of your poker chips in the center of the table. For every 3 minutes you speak, it will cost you another poker chip. (This prevents one person from monopolizing the conversation). After all your poker chips are spent, you can no longer verbally participate on the meeting, just listen to others and observe.

Obviously, this technique will not work if people don’t agree with it. It will take the senior leader to sanction the technique. They must be willing to give legitimacy to trying this powerful technique.

When utilizing this technique, several things will happen:

A. The overly verbal participants will spend their poker chips quickly B. Sometimes the “verbals” will actually think before they speak because their participation costs them something and;

PATRICK SANAGHAN Ed.D. • 168 East State Street, Doylestown PA 18901 • 215.340.5332 • sanaghan@aol.com C. The quieter participants will have most of the chips and begin participating more.

You want this to happen.

5. Use a timer This is a technique that can work very well but must be used judiciously. The goal should be to make people aware of time, not create a false sense of urgency during the meeting. For example, let’s say there is an allotted 30 minutes for discussion on a specific topic. Set the timer to go off in 15 minutes. This “half time” reminder will let people know how much time is left and usually focuses participant’s attention quickly.

Kitchen timers are great because they have a clear signal when they go off.

6. To lead or facilitate?

We often get asked this question by leaders, “should I facilitate the meeting or be a participant in my meeting?” We have found that trying to be the leader and the facilitator is fraught with danger (well, maybe not danger but it’s not a good idea.) Leaders often have a vested interest in the decisions that will be made during a meeting. Facilitators should never have an interest in what the final decision will be. Their role is to move the group towards a good decision and be neutral.

Often, a leader cannot be neutral about where a decision is going. Everyone knows this and will wait until the leader signals what they believe the decision should be.

We suggest the leader appoint or assign someone to be the facilitator who has no skin in the game and participate as the leader.

7. Watch out for two signals that your meeting is in trouble!

Often, when there is an important or hot topic being discussed in a meeting, participants will start talking fast and furiously. As a

facilitator, you need to pay attention to two things:

Interruptions where more than one person is talking and people are talking over each other. It is a sign that the communication process has broken down. Participants cannot pay attention to two conversations, even if they think they can.

As the facilitator of the meeting, all you have to do is bring to conscious attention the fact that people are interrupting each other and things will almost always quiet down. For example: “I notice that we have more than one person talking at a time” will suffice.

Volume: When you notice that people are talking louder during a meeting, it is important to gently intervene. When people talk louder, it usually means they don’t feel heard. Once again just state what you see, “I notice that some of us are speaking more loudly”. Just state this without judgment and it will bring it to participant’s attention and usually quiet things down.

PATRICK SANAGHAN Ed.D. • 168 East State Street, Doylestown PA 18901 • 215.340.5332 • sanaghan@aol.com

8. One minute of silence This is a great technique to use when things are moving too fast or the group has run out of ideas. Just suggest that participants take one minute to think about what is being discussed silently.

This will either slow things down when they are moving too fast. With a group that has run out of ideas, it can create the psychological space to generate new ideas and spark a creative discussion.

It can also be a useful technique when a group is experiencing some conflict or tempers are rising. One minute of silence can create the space for something new to evolve (e.g. more insight, empathy, cooling down).

9. Confirm, confirm, confirm We have found that somewhere between 20-30% of meetings are cancelled or postponed. It is always a good idea to have a “rain date” for a meeting, this way you have a fall back position.

Make sure to double check and confirm the time and place for a meeting you will be attending so that you don’t waste your time traveling to a meeting that was cancelled the day before.

10. Start with the most important agenda item first Many of us have gotten into the habit of covering trivial items at the beginning of our meetings.

There are two primary reasons for this:

It allows the latecomers to miss the “little stuff” and be there when the real meeting occurs. This also encourages lateness because people think, “heck, the first 10 minutes aren’t important anyway”.

It is “supposed” to create some “positive momentum”. The thinking behind this is if we knock off a few items early in the meetings, people will feel like they have accomplished something. This is not true.

Starting with the most important agenda item first does several things:

A. It conveys respect for those participants who arrived on time B. It discourages the latecomers from coming late because juicy stuff happens early C. You use your meeting time more effectively and strategically because the priority stuff if dealt with early when people are more alert. In the second half of a meeting, people can feel rushed, or have “checked out” because they are thinking about the next meeting they have to attend.

11. The 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3 Rule Because of their learning style, many people like to receive pertinent meeting information before the meeting. Theoretically, they want to read the information ahead of time so they can come prepared to the meeting. Though this is a wonderful intention, the PATRICK SANAGHAN Ed.D. • 168 East State Street, Doylestown PA 18901 • 215.340.5332 • sanaghan@aol.com

meeting facilitator or leader should expect:

1/3 of the meeting participants will actually read the material carefully; 1/3 will misplace or say they never received the material;

1/3 will be reading the material on the way to the meeting!

The reason we bring this up: do not assume everyone is fully prepared for your meeting. Instead, have a general discussion about the important elements in the meeting materials, highlight these, capture them on a whiteboard or a flipchart and continue the meeting.

This way everyone is on board and no one has to admit they didn’t have a chance to read the information prior to the meeting.

12. Round tables are usually best Whenever possible use round tables for your meetings. They help encourage dialogue and discussion and convey the feeling that we are all on the same level. There are not “power” positions with round tables; whereas, with rectangular tables the ends of the table are where the “power” people sit.

13. With intense meetings use the right layout Although we usually like round tables for our meetings so everyone can easily see each other, there are times when it is not a good idea.

When there is an intense conflict about a topic, strong disagreement about a decision being made or when certain people have problems with each other, it is more effective to have the group sit in a semi-circle facing a whiteboard or flipcharts rather than face each other.

This way the intensity can be managed by the facilitator and directed to the task at hand. Facing the wall and not each other, diffuses the energy dramatically.

14. Get rid of extra chairs If you are facilitating a meeting for 12 people and there are 20 chairs in the room, get rid of the empty chairs if you can. Put them in a hallway, stack them up or put them in the back of the room.

Empty chairs are distracting, people sometimes wonder who is missing from the meeting or who “should” be attending.

Unconsciously it conveys that the meeting can’t be that important because the room is not filled.

15. The “strategic” use of time It is helpful to start your meetings on the quarter or half hour (e.g. 11:15, 12:30, 1:45). It encourages punctuality. Avoid the hour (11:00, 3:00) starting time because if people come at 11:07, they can feel like they are “almost on time”.

A. Most people are not very good at the allotment of time for agenda items. They “guesstimate” and are usually wrong.

Remember, Analytics and Practicals love short meetings. They will often allot 5 or 10 minutes for an agenda item that PATRICK SANAGHAN Ed.D. • 168 East State Street, Doylestown PA 18901 • 215.340.5332 • sanaghan@aol.com needs much more time. This is not a criticism, simply a factor to consider.

B. For important agenda items, add an additional 15 minutes to your original estimate. That way if things are going well, you have some wiggle room. If you finish early, you will look like a genius.

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