Effective Meeting Management: Tips to use at any meeting

In a previous blog (“Effective meeting management skills are not only for the board room”), I shared a story illustrating some everyday  meeting mismanagement techniques.  In that blog, I promised a follow-up “cheat sheet” to use at any type of meeting.

Let me know if you find some of the below useful in your next board meeting, hallway confrontation, or social event.

  • Have a purpose and success criteria (understand what “done” or “success”  means)
  • Have an agenda with time tables.
  • Stick to the time table and ground rules
  • Use of parking lot for items not fitting the original agenda
  • Use parking lot for items taking longer than their original agenda time
  • Stick to the purpose of the meeting.
  • Be willing to schedule another meeting to complete agenda, gather the right information and/or get the right people in the meeting.
  • Verify that you’ve met your meeting’s success criteria
  • Summary of your action items owners, deadlines
  • Include reasonable forcing functions and accountability partners to assure progress
  • If you haven’t met the meeting’s “success criteria”, identify the follow-up items to achieve it.

As in life, things will undoubtedly pop up to throw us off game.  Below are the more typical scenarios and pitfalls.  Use the following recommendations to help get you back on tack.

I’m not the facilitator of the meeting.

That is not a reason to waste time. (Read my blog on ‘Making excuses for yourself and others”).  Everyone is the CEO of their own lives.   You are a valuable contributor to this meeting and this organization.   Be in control of how you want to spend your valuable time.

1) As the meeting starts, request a review of the goal, agenda and success criteria for the meeting.

2) If/when you see the meeting fall off route, suggest that this important  (but unscheduled) topic  be scheduled for a different meeting so that it can be given the time and focus that it really requires.

3) If/when you see the meeting spending time on “social content” versus solution/goal orientation,  acknowledge that you are please that everyone is excited about this discussion.   Also acknowledge that you appreciate everyone’s time, and that we want to be sensitive about everyone’s schedule.  At that moment, quickly and concisely summarize the problem to validate that everyone understand the essence of the problem.  Then suggest moving onto the solution discussion phase.

Often times, meeting items take longer than originally allocated because:

1)      We don’t have the right people in the meeting – people are just talking the topic but aren’t the right people to do anything about it.

Then reschedule and invite the right people authorized to “do something”

2)      We  get side-tracked on other side issues

Then acknowledge those important issues, and place them on the Parking Lot list.  Once realizes, schedule a separate meeting to give those issues the right time to discuss.  Often times the people in the current meeting are not the correct people for this new meeting.  Make sure you understand the right people for that new meeting (and invite only those).

3)      Don’t have the right data or information to make a decision

If you don’t have the right data, information or people to make progress, please reschedule.  There is no reason to waste the time in a meeting that can’t accomplish the goal of the meeting.

If, by chance,  you have the right people and right data for “a different meeting” – change it to “the different meeting” and release the irrelevant folks.  Take advantage of the “right people” for “the different meeting’.  It is difficult enough to gather the right people together for a common goal.  Take full advantage of this gathering (even if it’s for a different purpose).

4)      Noise versus necessary

Sometimes people want to vent.  Sometimes it is a necessary “evil”, in order to move forward.  BUT you should to timebox the venting.

Unfortunately, we often disguise the “venting” in the form of “understanding the problem”.   We typically spend too long describing how the problem was “invented” and the circumstances, history, etc.  This actually slows down the “solution” process.

In reality, the only piece of the “problem” information that is truly required is that “the problem exists”.  How it came about may be interesting — but it rarely helps with the solution and slows down progress.

Albert Einstein knew this about problems:  “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The “thought-process” that brings out the  “solution” needs to be totally different from the “thought-process” that created the problem.   Therefore, spending lots of time discussing the “problem” in detail only keeps us in the same thinking space that created the problem (which is where we DO NOT want to be).

I liken it to the modern day “GPS” system.  The GPS system never asks you “how did you get here?”  It only asks you “where do you want to go?” It doesn’t focus on where you have been, how you got there, what roads, issues, circumstances that you encountered to arrive ‘here’.  It only asks you “where do you want to go?”  It simply focuses on the solution of your desire.

THEREFORE,  reduce the “problem discussion” time as short as possible.  After the appropriate amount of time has passed, re-iterate in your own words what you understand the “problem” to be.  Repeat in clarifying and concise language.  Associate an owner, time frame and action items toward it’s solution.  If no one volunteers to champion the issue, then the item was just a “vent”.   Deem the issue closed and no further work will be done on it.

Let me know which tip you tried at your next conversation and meeting.

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3 thoughts on “Effective Meeting Management: Tips to use at any meeting”

  1. Thanks, Kenneth,for your great comment. The Parking Lot method can be used in various places – not just for meetings. It’s also a great way to stay focused on an activity. As you naturally get interrupted or distracted (while working on a task), by someone or a new idea – use the parking lot method to jot down the idea and schedule time later to discuss. Then get right back to your original task.

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