Meetings

by   Steve Roche

Common questions

  1. What are the key things to get a meeting to work?
  2. How can I go to fewer meetings?
  3. How do I turn down a meeting invitation?
  4. What can I do when a meeting is wasting my time?
  5. How do I manage a difficult person in a meeting?
  6. How can I keep people ‘on task’ in a meeting?

 

1. What are the key things to get a meeting to work?

There are many things that fit together in making a meeting work well. Their importance will vary. If we look at just the things that are critical to the success of a meeting, these would be...

  • Make sure the meeting has a defined purpose
  • Only have people present who really need to be there
  • Keep focused on an agenda that is relevant to current issues, and relevant to those present
  • Have someone actively facilitating process and progress
  • You must get at least these things right to get good meetings that have the foundation to be great.

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2. How can I go to fewer meetings?

The better question may be ‘How do I spend less time in meetings?’

This may well be by going to fewer meetings, and it could also be by helping the meetings you do attend be more efficient and effective.

If you are invited to a meeting, consider what benefit is in it for you, and also what benefits are in it for other people if you do attend. If these are minimal, turn down the invitation and do not attend.

You can often help a meeting you are attending be more effective by helping people be clear about outcomes and doing some informal facilitation to help people stick to the agenda, and finish on time.

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3. How do I turn down a meeting invitation?

If you feel that you should not attend a meeting, or simply cannot due to other commitments, you should get in touch with the person calling the meeting to explain. They need the chance to make any re-arrangements that your absence might cause, or indeed they need the opportunity to convince you to attend. Maybe you have not understood from the agenda how beneficial the meeting will be. If you just do not show up without giving any notice, and this happens regularly, you will not endear yourself to other people, and this sort of behaviour is likely to be detrimental to chances of promotion.

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4. What can I do when a meeting is wasting my time?

You have a few choices here.

  1. You can make your excuses to the chair and leave. This may seem heresy to some, but you CAN do this. Obviously, be careful in the way you do this. Your explanation to the chair, and perhaps the group, is that you misunderstood the agenda and actually what is up for discussion does not really involve you. Give people the chance to convince you to stay. There may be valid reasons for your presence that you have not yet realised.
  2. You can help with some informal facilitation to keep people on track. This could be anything from some simple questions about relevance to offering to take on the facilitation role if nobody is actively doing it.
  3. You can simply sit back and tolerate this meeting, and perhaps turn down invitations to similar meetings in the future. Even if this is your chosen option, you can still learn from the meeting. You can learn about other people at the meeting. You can learn about what does not work at meetings so you can avoid similar situations in meetings that you are running.

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5. How do I manage a difficult person in a meeting?

The way you approach this depends on how they are being ‘difficult’. Consider whether it is a purposeful obstruction or they are simply unaware of the impact they are having on the meeting. In either case it is probably better to organise a short break, and talk to the person one to one. It is best if possible to avoid any confrontation with an attendee across the meeting table.

If the obstruction is purposeful, ask the person what their positive outcome is in being obstructive or difficult. You DO need to genuinely consider what they have to say. Most people will respond well if you respect their stance, even if you don’t agree with it. You also need to agree some ground rules with the person and if they are not prepared to keep these ground rules, then they should be excluded.

If the person is unaware of the impact of their behaviour, they simply need some feedback on what is happening and some suggestions on how to participate effectively. Again, it may be useful to agree some ground rules.

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6. How can I keep people ‘on task’ in a meeting?

Before you can do this effectively, you, and others in the meeting need to be clear about what the task actually is. This means the purpose of the meeting and the agenda must be open, understood by all and agreed. When this is in place, it is easy to ask someone who seems to be straying from the agenda ‘What relevance does this have to the agenda?’ They will either be able to justify their contribution, or not. After being asked a few times, they will soon learn to stick to the topic in hand.

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