Accelerate the Quality of Every Meeting

By Peter deLisser

Accelerate the quality of every meeting the easy way. Expect every participant, from the meeting manager to each attendee, to accept 100% responsibility for the results. We can imagine what the first reaction of meeting participants will be. “Wow! How can I be responsible for the quality of each meeting I attend? Most of the time I am only a participant. It’s not my meeting.”

No! This is not true. It’s everybody’s meeting. Every participant is responsible for the two major components of a quality meeting — courageous participation and time management.

Courageous Participation Pays Off – For Everyone: A research director for a client company choose not to speak up in meetings. When asked why she didn’t speak up, she said, “I am not going to compete with all the sales and marketing people who talk all the time to impress people. I’ve been brought up to believe ‘self-praise stinks.’  I don’t have to impress anyone. Executives will call on me if they want information.” Since she was a research director, one of her strengths was asking searching and focused questions. It was suggested to her that in the next meeting she ask at least one question.

When sharing the results of that meeting, with a big smile she said, “Yes, I asked one question, and it changed the whole meeting.” She had asked the one question no one had considered and it shifted the whole discussion. What a responsible way for a participant to increase the quality of a meeting. She used her strength – asking questions.

50% of the Quality of Every Meeting Depends on Time Management: Here’s an easy way to make each meeting a success: ensure that both the meeting manager and all participants follow the same time management guidelines. This means the meeting manager and all participants need to spend 50% of their meeting time planning, 15% conducting/participating, and 35% following-up.

For the meeting manager, he/she must spend 50% of the time planning before the meeting by doing tasks, such as:

  • Determining specific objectives to be accomplished by end of meeting.
  • Deciding what kind of meeting it will be — information sharing or decision-making.
  • Selecting attendees based on the need for their contributions to the objectives.
  • Sending the agenda out in advance including stated objectives, assignments to prepare, expected formats, and time length.
  • Selecting an appropriate meeting room and audio/visual requirements.

The meeting manager should spend 15% of his/her time during the meeting:

  • Starting the meeting on time.
  • Sticking to the agenda so all who prepared get to contribute.
  • Providing a safe, respectful environment so all will participate fully.
  • Completing objectives within announced time frames and develops action plans.
  • Summarizing results and expected individual follow-up actions.

The meeting manager should also spend 35% of his/her time following-up after the meeting:

  • Sending out complete minutes including assignments and expected action dates for completion.
  • Providing periodic monitoring of people completing action plans.

Participants are also 100% responsible for the same time management. Their schedule is broken into the same increments -50% planning, 15% conducting/participating, and 35% follow-up. For the participant, the time management responsibilities occur before, during, and after meetings as well. They include:

  • Preparing assigned tasks and appropriate handouts prior to the meeting.
  • Arriving on time.
  • Remaining focused and avoiding side conversations.
  • Speaking responsibly (briefly, specifically).
  • Listening responsibly (clarify for understanding, ask questions).
  • Completing assigned action plans on time and professionally.

When these time guidelines are violated, we all know the results. Follow-up questionnaires indicate that participants think poorly of meetings when:

  • They are seen as unnecessary, spur of the moment, too long, or including the wrong people.
  • Attendees lack preparation, don’t participate, or refuse accountability.
  • The agenda is off target, hidden, or when the meeting lacks an agenda at all.
  • Unresolved issues arise, decisions aren’t made, or deadlines are missed.
  • There is no closure or documentation of results.

The Quality of a Meeting May Be Accelerated By Participants’ Risky Statements: What happens when meeting managers do not adhere to the time requirements? The participants are forced to accept responsibility for the quality of the meeting. Here are some risky statements or questions participants may consider to turnaround an unproductive meeting:

  • It would be helpful for me to know what the agenda is (none was handed out) so that we can plan our contributions and our time.
  • I’m confused. I am not sure which objective we are discussing. (Someone has sidetracked the meeting to his or her own agenda.)
  • I am having a hard time hearing the speaker (directed at the person next to you who is in a side conversation).
  • I’d like to hear what Mary and Bob have to say. (A major contributor has not spoken.)  We haven’t heard from them yet.
  • It sounds to me like the conversation is getting personal. (Two people raising their voices at each other.)  May we summarize each approach?

When are these statements or questions risky? They are risky when the meeting manager is a senior executive and not skilled in managing meetings. But if an organization’s employee vision statement says to develop “an atmosphere of trust and respect, in which management listens and responds appropriately,” they should respect and adhere to that vision. The effective management of all meetings is required if we expect all meeting participants to be responsible for the quality of each meeting.

Before your next meeting, whether as meeting manager or participant, consider spending 50% your planning for it, 15% participating courageously, and 35% following up productively. Accelerating the quality of the meeting will then be easy.

Peter deLisser is an international speaker, author, and leadership coach. Author of, “Be Your Own Executive Coach,” he has over 30 years of experience motivating and training from the sports arena to the boardroom. For more information, call 212-551-3543.

[From the June/July 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

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