Keeping meetings on course

You know the feeling. It’s time for the monthly unit committee meeting, and you dread sitting through a long drawn-out meeting which usually degenerates into an open-ended discussion or retelling of old “war stories.”

Perhaps you’re the committee chair and you equally dread the meeting, not knowing how it’s going to go, what you need to accomplish or why you’re even having a meeting in the first place.

Sound familiar?

Conducting good, productive meetings is a skill that takes determination and practice. Well-run meetings can improve the experience for all participants and can improve efficiency, getting more done in less time.

One of the most important aspects of a successful meeting is communication. It’s important not only to keep everyone informed of the purpose of the meeting but to facilitate discussion within the meeting.

It also may seem obvious to state this, but consider that much time can be spent by participants talking about things unrelated to the item on the table, such as gossip, complaining or personal anecdotes. Other participants tune out, the discussion gets off track, and nothing gets done.

In a paper published earlier this year, authors Simone Kauffeld and Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock identified two important methods for improving the chances of successful meeting outcomes. The first is that participants concentrate on problem-solving, including offering realistic viewpoints on resolving the issue at hand and working toward possible solutions.

Positive outcomes also result from the participants taking responsibility for issues on the table and planning specific actions on them. A firm but gentle guiding hand by the facilitator is needed to keep discussion moving forward and to ensure that all viewpoints are heard.

Of course, your meeting needs to have a road map in the form of an agenda, and the meeting leader should define the specific items of business and offer a desired outcome, so that everyone will know the outcome they are working toward and how to recognize it when they get there.

Pitfalls to be aware of include the tendency to discuss common gripes – more common in the workplace than in a volunteer organization – and for discussion to stray off course. The chairman of the meeting needs to be aware of these distractions. Indeed, Kauffeld and Lehman-Willenbrock found that disfunctional communication had a greater negative impact than the positive impact of functional communication.

Committee meetings need not be dreaded. As the leader, have a clear agenda and a definite time frame, and communicate that agenda to the participants, along with what’s expected of them and what the desired outcome is.

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This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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2 Replies to “Keeping meetings on course”

  1. Ok, the last paragraph says it. Agendas are so important. I’ve been in so many volunteer meetings that have been derailed because there was no agenda and no agreed upon structure. This is the Committee Chairman’s main job.

    It’s also good to have various folks report on their areas and how things are going. This prevents the Chairman from just talking for an hour and a half! This can also be a situation for things to get derailed if the Chairman doesn’t keep his/her sub-committees reined in during the meeting.

    Also, the Chairman needs to be adept at knowing when to table something. Let it percolate for a month or two. Let folks talk about it outside the meeting.

  2. Larry, thanks for your observations! Indeed, the chairman has to be able to manage the meeting and the personalities. Think of him or her “driving the bus” and it needs to arrive at the station all in one piece, and on time.

    When I send out meeting notices and agendas to the committee, I always include the advisory that we intend to start and end on time, and that discussions that don’t fit within the time frame may be tabled or referred to a subcommittee. Nearly everything that is of larger than routine nature can be best handled outside the meeting by a smaller group, who can report back to the full committee.

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