Top Ten Tips on...

Managing Meetings

16 January 2023
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
Why oh why do so many meetings tie up so many people for so long for so little effect? This podcast provides some answers, and what you can do about it…

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Member behaviour is crucial

there are really three key variables that make any meeting more or less effective, and they are

the way the meeting is organised

the role and capabilities of the Chair

the behaviour of the individual members

It's quite clear from the evidence of any meetings I've been to, observed or helped train and develop that one of those three key variables is more significant than the other - the behaviour of its members.


Do the maths

this is really about maths, but if that puts you off it's, it's fairly straightforward. And I think quite interesting.  Again, there are 3 key factors involved:

the length of the meeting

the number of items

the average length of each item

Quite simply, fixing two of these three will determine the third.  Whichever two of those that you decide, the third is an automatic consequence. Let me give you an example. Let's assume that the length of the meeting is two hours. Let's call that 120 minutes and that you want to go through 10 items. Then 10 divided into 120 means that the average length of each item can be allocated is 12 minutes.

Let's suppose that you have three items on the agenda. And that you want each item to have an allowance of say 20 minutes, then three times 20 equals 60. You must allow 60 minutes for the meeting. And if you decided that you wanted, uh, let's say. 120 minutes for the meeting two hours. And that you wanted to give 15 minutes to each item, then you divide 15 into 120, which isn't a particularly good number to do, but you're looking at something like seven or eight items.

In other words, set a meeting up that doesn't acknowledge the dependency of one variable on the other two. You can't say, oh, we want a meeting for 60 minutes. We want to get through 12 items and we're going to give 20 minutes to each item. It's clearly impossible. Just do the maths.


Use the 7 point plan to deal with disruptive behaviour

tep 1: recognise and think through the problem.

Step 2: choose your moment to intervene

Step 3: sound relaxed and polite – eg use the other person’s name

Step 4: acknowledge their positive contribution so far

Step 5:  identify your concern and offer a solution

Step 6: seek the approval of the meeting

Step 7: say ‘thank you’ and implement your suggestion


Have a code of conduct

this can consist of ground rules, shared values, or your behavioural list of do's and don'ts. It could even include a job description for the chair and even for members of the meeting so that there are some clear code of conduct requirements and that the chair can then refer to this code when trying to intervene.


use CDDA (clarify > discuss > decide > act)

clarify to check if everyone is clear about the item. Then open the discussion, and eventually bring the item to a conclusion.  Then call for a decision, and finally create an action plan that will put that decision into action.


Have live minutes

one of the problems I think with meetings is that we have 21st century technology and we're still running them as if we were still in the 19th century. So one way in which we can make use of modern technology is to have live minutes. It's really helpful. I think not to have the chair as the note. (And by the way, taking notes is not the same as producing minutes. Notes are what you take live in the meeting minutes or what you produce after the meeting.)

Set up a laptop for whoever is taking the notes and project the notes onto a screen, so that the rest of the meeting can see them.  And if they were structured on a template that are going to eventually produce the minutes, then so much the better.

So the chair can focus on managing the meeting, and if necessary ask for a particular note to be taken. At the end of the whole meeting the note-taker can press a button or save and then press a button and send these notes as minutes onto everybody's email address.  And those notes can be agreed by those present, whereas for most meetings now, the minutes have to be agreed by the subsequent meeting, by people who may not have been present at the previous meeting.


Clarify the role of the Chair

there are two key roles, a leader role, and a referee role. The chair as leader runs, the meeting, leads the meeting. He, or she will usually start each item and offer his or her views. And very often the rest of the meeting simply fall into line behind that leader’s lead. And very often the meeting is fairly quick and fairly decisive, but not particularly engaging. People tend to keep quiet because all I have to do really is ratify what the leader wants. So that's the role of the chair as leader. Very different is the role of the chair as referee in this role, the chair's job is to manage the meeting rather than dominate the content very often. That's called facilitation. A facilitating chair keeps the meeting focused, but is not necessarily leading it.


Clarify ownership of decisions

usually the chair is simply managing the meeting and not being responsible for enacting any decisions made by the meeting.

It's really unhelpful for the Chair to allow a decision to be made without making it clear who in the meeting is going to carry that decision forward. If I’s left open, many people in the meeting think the Chair is going to make it happen. So I think it's really important for the Chair in particular, to clarify ownership.   The chair is simply there to help the meeting move forward.


Clarify roles & responsibilities

there should be perhaps a clear set of responsibilities for everyone attending that meeting – particularly if it is a regular meeting. It's quite helpful to have roles and responsibilities for all who attend – that is, the Chair and the members, including what they do before,  during and after the meeting.  It could be a little job description.


Start and end on time

most meetings have a start times, but there's what I call often a start drift.  If it's called for 10am it very rarely starts on time.. So people understand that and start to drift in at a later time. So it’s perhaps eventually 10 past 10 when everybody's there. So people start aiming for 10 past 10 because they know it's likely to drift. So they become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. So a really good way of dealing with that is to say “we will start at 10 so long as we are quorate” which means that's the number of people you need as a minimum to make the meeting legal.  Always start on time and end on time. And that of course assumes you have got an end time.  If there’s no end time, there’s no mental expectation of a finish time, and people can’t be sure when to put their next meeting or appointment into the diary.

Effective Top Tens - Podcast
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