6 Tips for More Effective Meetings of Any Size
As a middle market leader, you know that effective meetings don't happen by accident. Rather, they are the result of meticulous planning and tight execution. Good meetings share several success factors: a clear goal, a chair who compels laserlike focus, attendance by the right people (and nobody extra) and next steps tasked to specific people with specific deadlines. Here's how to make your business's meetings more effective.
Remember, Smaller Is Generally Better Than Larger
Middle market leaders call meetings for a variety of reasons. Whether your goal is to update employees on results, make group-informed decisions or generate ideas, it's best to keep meetings small whenever possible. A meeting of seven people, for example, allows for real interaction where all participants exchange views. It's also easier to pick up on body language and nonverbal cues. Larger meetings are often less participatory and may result in "social loafing," or a tendency for participants to think that someone else will carry the discussion.
"This isn't to say that your 20-person meeting is doomed to failure," states Amy Gallo for Harvard Business Review. "You just need to plan much more carefully." Personal effectiveness consultant Paul Axtell adds, "You have to be more thoughtful about getting input from the group and reading people in the room."
If you do need a larger meeting, you should plan it carefully and lead it in a more formal, centralized manner. You might assign presentations to various people and then open the floor for questions. You could also break the meeting into smaller subgroups that interact more closely, and then have them report back to the full group. The goal should be to facilitate some level of interaction despite the larger meeting size. Be sure to carefully plan the type of interaction in advance.
6 Tips for Meeting Success
Whether you're organizing a large or small meeting for your middle market company, here are six tips for ensuring a successful outcome:
1. Have a clear and valid reason to meet. If you can achieve your goal by sending an email or talking to a few people in the hallway, don't call the meeting. Ask, "Why do I want people to meet, and is a meeting the only way to achieve my goal?" Write down the answer in a sentence or two before you call any meeting. Knowing the results you want, and what you want people to do, will help you schedule and lead more effective meetings.
2. Craft your agenda carefully. Be especially meticulous when crafting agendas for larger meetings, where the chair has to carry more of the load in structuring the meeting's length and activities. The more people you invite, the more complex the planning becomes.
3. Invite only relevant people who will add value. If the meeting's goal is to communicate your middle market company's new strategy, for example, it's a good idea to invite everyone in the company to an all-hands meeting. However, you can also consider allowing your department managers to communicate the strategy instead. That way, they can tailor the message to their department's role. This smaller meeting would likely be more participatory.
4. Establish meeting rules of order, and enforce them. To have an effective meeting, you need ground rules. For example, what happens if some attendees are 10 minutes late? Do you begin without them? What happens if someone dominates the discussion and won't allow others space to talk? Having clear guidelines beforehand will help your middle market company conduct better meetings. Be sure to communicate these rules to attendees, too.
5. The chair should ensure that the meeting remains focused. This means not allowing distractions or rambling, off-topic monologues from meeting participants. When the meeting goes off track, the chair should step in and bring all attendees back into focus.
6. Assign tasks and actions to specific people, and end the meeting by confirming they understand what they need to do and when. This is another big job for the chair. There's no point in collectively making a big plan if people don't know the steps they need to take to accomplish it, so confirm understanding and follow up with participants after the meeting to ensure they're doing what they promised.
By following the six tips listed above, your middle market company will boost the effectiveness of all its meetings, both large and small.
What are your techniques for structuring meetings? Have you ever restructured a meeting that wasn't producing the desired results? What worked, and what didn't? Tell us in the comments below.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+ and visit his website.