Ideas for better meetings

meetings_250Hopefully you’re rested up and ready to head back into another year of active Scouting. Along with it comes our monthly committee meetings – pack, troop, crew, district – there are lots of meetings we have to endure and survive!

There are ways to make meetings run more smoothly and be more productive. Here are a few ideas from the experts, along with some of my observations and helps.

The following are adapted from an article by top executive coach Joel Garfinkle in SmartBlogs on Leadership:

  • Schedule shorter meetings – Joel suggests setting a time limit of 15 minutes to correspond with the average person’s attention span. While a committee probably can’t get everything done in 15 minutes, try shrinking your timeline a bit at a time. If you’re used to meeting for two hours, set a limit of 90 minutes and try your best to hit it. Individual topics within the meeting should be kept to no more than 15 minutes.
  • Use a timer – Set a timer or keep a close eye on the clock or your watch. Check it frequently to make sure you’re on time. Make notes in your agenda with the amount of time you allocate to each item. By planning your timeline in advance and doing your best to stick to it, you’ll stay on time.
  • Make commitments in addition to decisions – It’s been said that anyone who leaves a meeting without an assignment shouldn’t have attended in the first place. As you discuss topics, come to a conclusion about what needs to be done, and just as important, who will be responsible.
  • Come to the meeting prepared – Your role is to make sure everyone in attendance knows what to expect. Send out an agenda several days ahead of time, and remind those responsible for giving reports or leading discussions of their role.
  • Cut off ramblers – Hey, we’re Scouters, right? We love to spin yarns and tell stories about our latest hike, or what we saw one of the Scouts doing, or how our troop handled this when were a Scout. Contain the off-topic chatter. Everything should be relevant to the topic at hand. It’s up to the committee chair to focus the discussion.
  • Reduce the size of meetings – This may not always be possible either because of the size of our committees or the number of parents who might also attend. The reverse can also be true – the people you need may not be available. But in general, only stakeholders should attend and participate.
  • Set the right tone – Joel says you should make sure everyone knows the purpose of the meeting is to solve problems. Hopefully your committee already knows you’re not just getting together to chit-chat or run down the agenda. A useful suggestion is to talk with key committee members about agenda items ahead of time, obtain buy-in and discuss possible outcomes, but do so without the appearance that the outcome is necessarily pre-ordained.

Suzie Price, a training consultant and host of the Priceless Professional Development podcast, offers some advice on how to remove the frustration from meetings:

  • How to open a meeting – Don’t waste your time with a recitation of the agenda or the location of the bathrooms, but answer the two questions attendees want to know: Why am I here? and Why should I care? Suzie uses a four-step process: Inform, Excite, Empower, Involve. Listen to the podcast (or read the accompanying notes) for a detailed explanation on how to employ this process.
  • Control multiple conversations – Nothing is more distracting than having many people talking at the same time. Even if they all pertain to the current topic, nobody can understand what’s being said in any of the simultaneous discussions. If this starts to happen, refocus everyone’s attention and remind them that all are welcome to offer their viewpoint if done one at a time, so the entire group can hear what they have to say.
  • Discuss the benefits first – The discussion should focus on the positives, but don’t ignore pitfalls. Just be sure to build up the “roses” before sticking yourself on the “thorns”. It’s better than digging yourself out of a hole.

The podcast runs about 45 minutes. Listen when you have a chance. Suzie brings up a lot of common advice, such as to have an agenda, start and end on time and use a parking lot for storing off-topic thoughts. Much of it applies to business meetings, but we can use these thoughts to remind us of ways to be more productive in our committee.

As committee chair, it’s your responsibility to hold a productive meeting that makes the best use of everyone’s time and achieves the planned objectives. With practice, you will find what works best for you. These are good starting points. It’s likely you can work at least one or two of them into your next meeting.

Image: Lars Ploughmann / Creative Commons Share-Alike license 2.0


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