How to hold an effective meeting

Who hasn’t been stuck in a meeting that feels like a waste of time? People leave poorly run meetings feeling frustrated and companies pay the price of lost productivity.

“Unfortunately, most meetings are not as effective as they could be. After the cost of re-work, the second-biggest drain on organizations is the cost of meetings,” says Mave Dhariwal, director of productivity enhancement services at NAIT Shell Manufacturing Centre. And yet, meetings are essential to accomplishing goals and moving projects forward.

There is a better way. “Running meetings is an art,” says Dhariwal. Here's how to put it into practice, using the 7-P formula of successful meetings.

  1. Set ground rules

    For recurring committee meetings, a set of ground rules should be developed and used. These should be created with input from participants to ensure buy in.

    Rules may include starting and ending on time, only one speaker at a time, no cell phones, and more.

    Purpose – Develop a clear statement of what will be accomplished in the meeting and state it near the beginning. For example, the purpose of the meeting is to identify new business opportunities.
  2. Participants – Invite only those who are required and from the areas or departments that will be affected by the meeting outcomes.
  3. Pre-work – Provide adequate notice about any reading, research or other work that needs to be done in advance. Keeping with the example above, request that each participant bring 3 new business ideas.

    Send the request in an email with the agenda before the meeting. The agenda should indicate the topics to be discussed, who will speak to each topic and the length of time allotted to each. If it is a recurring department meeting, ask for staff input into the agenda before it is sent out.
  4. Process – “This is the most important P, which is quite often missed,” says Dhariwal. During the meeting, a faciltor or chair needs to gather input, summarize it and come up with the final outcome from the discussion, which should align with the purpose of the meeting. This requires ensuring that participants have had a chance to speak.

    The check-in

    Essential to a meeting's process is understanding the mindset of your colleagues with a round-table check-in. Do this before tackling the meeting purpose, says Dhariwal.

    The check-in is the first step in building teams. Participants should answer 2 questions: what is good with you today and what isn't.

    This allows people to empathize if someone is tired from being up with a sick child. It also provides a moment to celebrate an achievement, whether it’s personal or work related.

    This is accomplished by keeping the meeting on track. Part of this may involve respectfully responding to disruptive behaviours such as cell phone use, side conversations, negative body language and other things that might detract from the discussion.

    It also might involve breaking a larger group into smaller ones. Giving everyone a chance to individually share their 3 ideas for new business, for example, could take a long time.

    Instead, the facilitator can break the larger group into threes and have each subgroup summarize its ideas into just 3. That done, the facilitator can collect all the groups' ideas, eliminating duplicates while engaging all attendees.

    The 6 or 7 ideas that remain will likely have the support of all attendees, says Dhariwal.
  5. Payoff – Participants need to see a benefit, which can include the opportunity to provide input, contribute to problem solving and possibly gain new skills such as meeting management.
  6. Parking lot  Sometimes attendees will raise discussion items that are not part of the agenda. These can be "parked” on a flipboard and discussed if there’s time at the end of the meeting or at a future meeting. Ignoring these may encourage participants to continue to raise them, disrupting the meeting. By "parking" an issue, the person who raised it feels validated, which helps keep a positive environment, says Dhariwal.
  7. Post-meeting assessment: “This is something we must always conduct,” says Dhariwal. Ask the participants 2 questions: What was good about the meeting and what should be improved? It only takes 5 minutes and will make future meetings better.

Keep notes

Record attendance, regrets and absences. Also note ideas discussed, opinions shared and what was agreed upon, with the outcomes summarized at the end of the meeting. Use these outcomes to reiterate the next courses of action, deadlines and who is responsible. Send the summary to participants.

If possible, the note-taker should not be the person leading the meeting.



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