TEN RULES FOR EFFECTIVE MEETINGS

Communications are vital in an organization. Everyone loves communications and everyone hates meetings. The implementation of the following ten rules will make your meetings more effective and more productive.

  1. Every meeting must have a Chairperson who is responsible for the meeting. There can only be one Chairperson. The Chairperson has specific duties and will be held responsible for those duties. Their most important functions are to keep the meeting moving, stay with the agenda and to start and finish on time.
  1. Every meeting MUST have a written Agenda. The Chairperson must prepare the Agenda twenty-four (24) hours prior to the meeting. If the Chairperson is not the owner, the Agenda must be submitted to the owner for their approval PRIOR to its distribution. The Agenda must list
    1. Who is to attend
    2. The start time
    3. The end time (it can end sooner, it cannot end later) and
    4. The bullet points of what is to be discussed
  1. There MUST be a written statement of purpose for the meeting. In 25 words or less the Chairperson must write out the purpose of the meeting. This is the focus statement. For standing meetings the purpose is probably only written once and is reused for each meeting. This statement is read by the Chairperson to start the meeting.
  1. From its purpose statement, each meeting can be classified into one of three types: (1) Long-range communications, (2) intermediate-range communications, or (3) short-term communications. It is best if all agenda points are kept to the same classification. Mixing them is difficult.
    1. Long-range communications are agenda items that, as a rule of thumb, will have their impact in more than three months.
    2. Intermediate-range communications are agenda items that will have their impact one week to three months from now.
    3. Short-term communications are those that will have an impact in less than one week—possibly even the same day. SHORT-TERM COMMUNICATIONS SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM AGENDAS AND HANDLED IN HUDDLES, NOT MEETINGS.
  1. Use Huddles. For all short-term communications a huddle should be used instead of a meeting. A huddle is a “mini-meeting.” It is scheduled just like any other “meeting.” It must start on-time and it must end on-time, however it can be scheduled for no more than FIVE MINUTES. That is the maximum. Everyone MUST get up to leave at the ending time. It is not used for discussion, it is used for short-term communications—What are you doing today? Anyone need help with anything today? That type of communications. There must be a penalty for not being on-time or not attending. (For example, you must bring doughnuts to the next huddle.) No agenda, minutes or other formalities are used.
  1. The Meeting must START ON TIME with the Chairperson reading the purpose statement. The Chairperson then designates one person to record the “minutes” of the meeting. The Chairperson must be taught how to handle people who come in late. Usually the greeting of, “Suzy you are late, you can catch up on what you have missed after the meeting with me” politely and non-confrontationally gets the point across. For chronic tardies, some remedial action must be taken. “If you are on-time, you are late; if you are five minutes early, you are on-time.” (One effective technique is never to schedule a meeting to start on the hour—schedule the meeting for 9:58 instead of 10:00 and then start the meeting at 9:58—they will catch on and see that you are serious about time.)
  1. The Minutes of the meeting include the following:
    1. The date and exact time that the purpose statement was read
    2. Who was in attendance at the start, who came in late, and who left early without commentary or judgment

c. Notes are taken on a copy of the Agenda and are summarized into summary paragraph at the end of the meeting

    1. Time and date of the next meeting, if any.
  1. Use Action Pads. A piece of company stationary is taken to the printer and one-copy, three-hole punched pads are made. These pads are used as follows:
    1. The purpose statement is put at the top of a page and the Agenda is placed below it. This same page is then used for notes and the summary statement at the bottom. The minutes are also kept on this page. At the end of the meeting the copy is sent to the owner, the original is put in a meeting binder.
    2. Each action point is written out. The Chairperson cannot move to the next agenda item until an action point is written out. That action point describes:

i. The required action

ii. Who is responsible for it, and

iii. The date and time that it will be completed.

    1. The original of the Action Point is placed in the meeting binder, the copy is given to the person responsible for carrying it out.
    2. The person responsible for carrying it out writes out what was done on the bottom of that same page and returns it to the chairperson at the appropriate time.
  1. Use a Meeting Binder. For standing meetings a hard-covered, three-ring binder is used; for all others either a soft-covered binder is used or they can be consolidated into a master three-ring binder. This binder includes the Agenda, minutes, summary statements, and action points of each meeting in chronological order. The binder is in the Chairpersons possession during the meeting and kept in an agreed upon location.
  1. Have fun. The Chairperson should make the meetings move quickly and be fun. A trivia question about the company at the end of the meeting with some little prize, or have food available can be helpful.

Meetings over 15 minutes are therapy sessions—don’t do it

Communications are vital in any business. Employees often complain about communications without really even knowing what they mean. There are numerous ways that a company communicates with its people—written memos, meetings, e-mails, informal meetings, phone calls and messages—but what is important first is what is communicated, not how.

An employee needs to have information sufficient for them to do their job. In order to do their job they must have a basic understanding of the company’s direction, the company’s structure, what is expected of them and whether or not their performance is producing what is expected. Ideally they will also know what they can do to increase their compensation and the measures of those results.

Meetings can be lengthy and costly. The hourly cost of a meeting of key personnel can run into the thousands of dollars and therefore the methods of communicating must be examined. Meetings are still required, but effective meetings that communicate in a minimum amount of time are essential. People have to meet face-to-face on some sort of a regular basis. An owner who holds “informal meetings” with each of his people individually each day runs the risk of people suspecting that he is saying one thing to some people and another thing to them. Such a policy breeds distrust.

A football team will have a game plan, practice the game plan all week but during the game before every play they still have a huddle. Companies are the same. There needs to be a communication of the vision or game plan. There needs to be weekly focus in management meetings regarding the current part of the game plan and every day there needs to be a huddle. Five-minute huddles should take place in management and in each department. They are mandatory with no tolerance for non-attendance and no tolerance for them lasting more than five-minutes.

Your company is reflected in your meetings

So often you can find out everything you need to know about a company by attending one of their internal meetings held by the owner.  Is there a sense of urgency?  Is the meeting organized?  Does it start and end on time?  Are employees attentive?  Does the owner “sell” the employees?  The answers are always reflective of the way the company is run and the way your customers/clients perceive your company.  Change can begin with changing the tone of your meetings.  As a sage professional once said, “a meeting over 15 minutes long is a therapy session and you don’t have a license for that.”

Management Retreats

The Fremont Group recently surveyed small business owners and found the following results: only 5% of small businesses held an annual management retreat however those companies that did listed it as one of their most beneficial activities. Small business owners with fewer than 100 employees—some with only 10—found that a properly run management retreat was a critical part of their success. They also felt that it was most important in times of difficulty (i.e. recession).

What is a management retreat? It really is as simple as taking your key employees away from the office—sometimes for only the day but more likely for two days—and, with a set agenda, involving them in the planning process of the company. For the companies that do this they get ideas and buy-in from their key people that is invaluable. The Fremont Group consultants are trained in facilitating such events. They meet with you and together determine an agenda and a budget and then are the facilitator in the meetings. They also host some part of the sessions in which you are not present. Following the retreat they assist with the follow up.

What gets done? Think of it like this—we often go to individual employees and ask them, “What could be done to help them in their job? What are their goals? How do you think you could achieve those goals?” This type of questioning often brings out key information that help you run the company. At a management retreat we are doing the same thing only doing it by department instead of by individual. When tied down the department managers almost always set the bar higher than we would have ourselves. Then we develop a plan to accomplish these goals and train them to “trickle down” the actions to the individual employees in their department. This creates a focus upon significant change and upon “their” results. A second, and equally important benefit is the elimination of communication barriers. Your key people feel more informed and empowered and therefore produce more.

Who should attend? Your management team members are your “climbers.” The management retreat is one of their ladders. Invited should be (minimally) the head of sales, operations and finance. They, together with their key people, will get out of the office and come back more focused and productive then ever.

Call the office to discuss using Fremont to facilitate your annual retreat.

More on Meetings

TEN RULES FOR EFFECTIVE MEETINGS

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Communications are vital in an organization. Everyone loves communications and everyone hates meetings. The implementation of the following ten rules will make your meetings more effective and more productive.

  1. Every meeting must have a Chairperson who is responsible for the meeting. There can only be one Chairperson. The Chairperson has specific duties and will be held responsible for those duties. Their most important functions are to keep the meeting moving, stay with the agenda and to start and finish on time.
  2. Every meeting MUST have a written Agenda. The Chairperson must prepare the Agenda twenty-four (24) hours prior to the meeting. If the Chairperson is not the owner, the Agenda must be submitted to the owner for their approval PRIOR to its distribution. The Agenda must list
    1. Who is to attend
    2. The start time
    3. The end time (it can end sooner, it cannot end later) and
    4. The bullet points of what is to be discussed
  3. There MUST be a written statement of purpose for the meeting. In 25 words or less the Chairperson must write out the purpose of the meeting. This is the focus statement. For standing meetings the purpose is probably only written once and is reused for each meeting. This statement is read by the Chairperson to start the meeting.
  4. From its purpose statement, each meeting can be classified into one of three types: (1) Long-range communications, (2) intermediate-range communications, or (3) short-term communications. It is best if all agenda points are kept to the same classification. Mixing them is difficult.
    1. Long-range communications are agenda items that, as a rule of thumb, will have their impact in more than three months.
    2. Intermediate-range communications are agenda items that will have their impact one week to three months from now.
    3. Short-term communications are those that will have an impact in less than one week—possibly even the same day. SHORT-TERM COMMUNICATIONS SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM AGENDAS AND HANDLED IN HUDDLES, NOT MEETINGS.
  5. Use Huddles. For all short-term communications a huddle should be used instead of a meeting. A huddle is a “mini-meeting.” It is scheduled just like any other “meeting.” It must start on-time and it must end on-time, however it can be scheduled for no more than FIVE MINUTES. That is the maximum. Everyone MUST get up to leave at the ending time. It is not used for discussion, it is used for short-term communications—What are you doing today? Anyone need help with anything today? That type of communications. There must be a penalty for not being on-time or not attending. (For example, you must bring doughnuts to the next huddle.) No agenda, minutes or other formalities are used.
  6. The Meeting must START ON TIME with the Chairperson reading the purpose statement. The Chairperson then designates one person to record the “minutes” of the meeting. The Chairperson must be taught how to handle people who come in late. Usually the greeting of, “Suzy you are late, you can catch up on what you have missed after the meeting with me” politely and non-confrontationally gets the point across. For chronic tardies, some remedial action must be taken. “If you are on-time, you are late; if you are five minutes early, you are on-time.”
  7. The Minutes of the meeting include the following:
    1. The date and exact time that the purpose statement was read
    2. Who was in attendance at the start, who came in late, and who left early without commentary or judgment
    3. Notes are taken on a copy of the Agenda and are summarized into summary paragraph at the end of the meeting
    4. Time and date of the next meeting, if any.
  8. Use Action Pads. A piece of company stationary is taken to the printer and one-copy, three-hole punched pads are made. These pads are used as follows:
    1. The purpose statement is put at the top of a page and the Agenda is placed below it. This same page is then used for notes and the summary statement at the bottom. The minutes are also kept on this page. At the end of the meeting the copy is sent to the owner, the original is put in a meeting binder.
    2. Each action point is written out. The Chairperson cannot move to the next agenda item until an action point is written out. That action point describes:
      1. The required action
      2. iWho is responsible for it, and
      3. The date and time that it will be completed.
    3. The original of the Action Point is placed in the meeting binder, the copy is given to the person responsible for carrying it out.
    4. The person responsible for carrying it out writes out what was done on the bottom of that same page and returns it to the chairperson at the appropriate time.
  9. Use a Meeting Binder. For standing meetings a hard-covered, three-ring binder is used; for all others either a soft-covered binder is used or they can be consolidated into a master three-ring binder. This binder includes the Agenda, minutes, summary statements, and action points of each meeting in chronological order. The binder is in the Chairpersons possession during the meeting and kept in an agreed upon location.
  10. Have fun. The Chairperson should make the meetings move quickly and be fun. A trivia question about the company at the end of the meeting with some little prize, or have food available can be helpful.

Having Trouble With Meetings?

Guidelines for effective meetings

by Robert McKenna

Time is money! Learn how to communicate more effectively.

Communication will always be an important responsibility of business owners as they spend significant potions of their time interacting with employees. Meetings are usually a necessary means of communication; however, business owners must keep in mind that time is a limited resource for them and their employees. Since time is money, business owners must improve their usage of time, especially during an economic downturn. Before scheduling a meeting, be certain it is necessary by asking the following questions:

  • Could the necessary information be communicated via e-mail, telephone conversation, conference call or memo?
  • Could the number of participants be reduced?
  • Could the meeting be shortened?

If the meeting proves to be necessary, the individual planning it must set clear objectives, roles and guidelines for the participants.

Preparation

Maintain a clear objective. Establish written objectives for your meetings and communicate them to attendees in advance. Discussing and agreeing on meeting objectives in advance will help the entire group remain focused and on track.  Always use an agenda. Agendas help to manage time, maintain focus and reduce the likelihood of �hidden agendas.� Assign a reasonable amount of time for each item on the agenda. More importantly, always strive to conclude the meeting on time.  Ask others to prepare. If information is provided in advance, participants will typically come prepared to contribute. Circulate the objectives, agenda and any homework in advance. Inform attendees they will be asked to actively participate. The goal is to get people thinking about the meeting�s objectives prior to the meeting. Practice conference room courtesy. If necessary, reserve the meeting room or location in advance, and cancel the reservation if plans change.

Role establishment

The meeting leader organizes the meeting, schedules the time and location, confirms attendance, encourages diversity of opinion, promotes problem solving, manages conflict and commends and supports the contributions of all participants. The meeting leader usually assigns the following roles.  The facilitator, or �air traffic controller,� should concentrate on the meeting process, not the content. The role of the facilitator is not to actively participate in the discussion, but to provide an objective ear regarding the pace, tone and flow of the meeting. If the meeting strays from the agenda, the facilitator alerts the meeting leader. This allows the meeting leader and attendees to focus solely on the discussion and not worry about the management of the agenda. The recorder, or secretary, is responsible for writing a summary of the meeting. This alleviates participants from having to take notes. As such, participants are free to listen and contribute. A flip chart is an effective vehicle for posting notes during the meeting as it keeps the group focused, helps participants avoid repetition and later serves as a permanent record of proceedings.

Subject matter experts should be present to provide background information and serve as a resource for the group. In an effort to accommodate the experts� time, they should only be scheduled to join the meeting for the appropriate portion of the agenda.  One meeting participant can take on more than one of the aforementioned roles; however, the role of facilitator should only be taken on by one individual as he or she must be free to concentrate solely on the meeting�s process.

Guidelines for meeting leaders

It is important for meeting leaders to learn and use the guidelines for effective meetings. However, meeting leaders also have other responsibilities.

Value everyone�s time. Begin the meeting at the scheduled time and conclude at the time indicated on the agenda (or earlier, if possible). Generally, you should not delay a meeting due to late arrivals. In addition, you should not recap for late arrivals. Instead, request that these individuals catch up after the meeting�s conclusion. Stay on track. Open the meeting by restating the meeting�s objective and reviewing the agenda. Prepare thought starters. An effective way for meeting leaders to jumpstart creative sessions is to create a draft of potential ideas. This serves as a thought provoker and conversation starter, and also speeds the brainstorming process by providing a point of departure for items on the agenda. Keep the discussion moving. Do not allow one person to dominate the discussion. Ask open-ended questions such as, �What do you think about that?� and paraphrase responses by saying, �In other words, you�re saying…� Discourage disruptions. With the exception of emergencies, do not allow phone calls or interruptions. Designate an individual not in attendance (such as the company�s receptionist) to allow only specified interruptions.

Let creative juices flow. If you and your staff members are in the middle of a productive discussion or important problem solving session, do not interrupt it simply to satisfy an arbitrary agenda. If the meeting strays from the initial agenda, interaction between the facilitator and meeting leader becomes key. The facilitator may inform the meeting leader that the meeting has wavered from the agenda; however, the meeting leader retains the authority to allow the productive discussion or problem solving to continue if he or she deems it significant. Creative juices sometimes create issues that must be addressed at another time. These issues are commonly known as �parking lot issues.� Parking lot issues are discussed in the follow-up portion of the meeting described below.

Follow up and follow through. The success or �return on investment� of the meeting will almost always be determined by the processes, procedures, etc. implemented or improved as a result of the meeting. Issues requiring attention must be addressed by the conclusion of the meeting in order to resolve unanswered questions and do the following:

  • Confirm the recipient of each responsibility assigned or delegated.
  • Confirm completion deadlines for each responsibility.
  • Determine how parking lot issues (those topics that arose during the meeting that were not part of the agenda) should be handled.
  • Plan the next meeting�s preliminary agenda, objectives, roles, etc., if appropriate.
  • Review the overall meeting. Discuss what worked and what should be changed for the next meeting.
  • Ensure the recorder has captured key points and follow-up items (including the names of those responsible for certain projects and the deadlines of those tasks) in a meeting summary.
Guidelines for meeting participants

Meeting participants can use the following tips to help stimulate meeting participation and overall involvement. Do your homework. Review the agenda and jot down thoughts and questions in advance. Also, prepare your portion of the Agenda/Action Plan. Be on time. If you do not arrive to the meeting on time, do not ask or expect the group to recap for your benefit. Instead, get the necessary information from the recorder during a break or at the conclusion of the meeting. Bring an open mind. The purpose of a meeting is to generate and exchange ideas, not to defend the status quo. Come preprepared to hear new ideas and, more importantly, contribute some of your own. Be an active listener. Pay attention to comments from all participants, participate when appropriate and rely on the recorder for notes. Use group time for group issues. Do not use group meeting time to discuss issues or details affecting only a few members of the group. Domineering members should avoid monopolizing the group�s time for their personal agendas.

Additional meeting ground rules

The following additional rules should be utilized by everyone in attendance. Strive for the win-win situation. Focus competitive energy on solving issues and beating the competition, not each other. The group will create better ideas and solutions if everyone works collaboratively and cooperatively. Take advantage of the group�s diversity, approaches and experiences. Create holding patterns when necessary. Only one person should have the floor at any given time. Those with questions or something further to add enter into a �holding pattern.� This provides everyone with the opportunity to have their thoughts heard, and allows the group to fully concentrate on the current dialogue. Capture thoughts on paper. If you find yourself in a holding pattern, write down any questions or thoughts so you can remain involved in the current dialogue without forgetting what you want to say.

Steer clear of heat seeking missiles. Avoid the natural tendency to react defensively to new ideas and shoot them down. Ideas should be evaluated based on their merits, not their drawbacks.  Avoid distractions. Stick to the agenda. Limit side conversations, phone calls and casual stories. Defer non-agenda items (or issues not urgent or pertinent) to a parking lot for post-meeting discussion. Explain your point. When making a presentation to the group of attendees, inform them of the point you want to make. Then take time to establish your point and explain your logic. Clarify and paraphrase. Everyone should be allowed to completely clarify the point(s) they want considered. One way to accomplish this is to have the meeting leader (or another participant) paraphrase the point being made to ensure comprehension. Encourage �baby� ideas. During creative sessions, new and innovative ideas should be encouraged. These ideas, though probably not fully developed, should not be dismissed prematurely. Take baby ideas at face value and work with the positives. If the negatives can be overcome, the positives may provide the breakthrough you are seeking. Baby ideas may be handled in the same manner as parking lot issues.

Conclusion

The primary objective for all meetings should be to maintain productivity and generate a return for the investment in time� and time is money. As such, it is critical for the person calling and/or leading the meeting to have a plan or agenda. The meeting leader should also follow the schedule if possible, and start and end on time. More importantly, all attendees should participate. Finally, a great way for the meeting leader to ensure participation and obtain tangible results is to utilize the Agenda/Action Plan.

Remember, a meeting leader�s keys to a successful meeting are summarized as follows:

  • Prepare
  • Stay on track
  • Encourage participation from everyone
  • Start and end on time
  • Use the issues discussed and learned to improve the meeting�s results