In the past few months, I have attended many meetings. They are how many things get done, whether at work or in community. Some meetings have gone well but others have not. When meetings get bogged down in details or go off track on unrelated items, everyone suffers. It begs the question: what makes some meetings successful? And, what can each of us do, whether convener, facilitator, or participant, to make our meetings more effective? To start I suggest the following three tips:
- Develop an agenda - if you're not the chairperson, you can offer your help. Thinking through what has to be done, considering the order of items to lead discussion logically, and writing it down goes a long way. Sending an agenda out in advance lets participants know what will be discussed and allows "think time." Even an agenda done on the spot at the start of a meeting creates focus for the group to stay on track.
- Create and agree on working agreements - meetings do not thrive on agendas alone. Outlining expected behaviors can be equally important. Working agreement rules for how the group will operate are a fundamental tool to improve a group's effectiveness. Will you begin at a certain time or when everyone is there? Are interruptions ok? Creating and supporting a short list as a group gives everyone a chance to know and commit to making the group's work go well.
- Record important, but off-topic, items - if items come up that matter but aren't specific to the current topic being discussed, write them down for future conversation. This way, the group maintains focus on the topic at hand while reinforcing that the divergent item has been heard and will not be lost. In addition, you now have a list you can return to for later in the meeting or for planning future meetings.
The next time you're at a meeting where things aren't going well, lend a hand. A group can do better work when its members are engaged and helping make meetings more effective.
For more on building more effective facilitation skills, visit the University of Minnesota Extension website.
Lisa Hinz, educator for East Central Minnesota, works out of Extension's regional office in Farmington
Any use of this post must include credit to Lisa Hinz. For questions, please contact Eriks Dunens, University of Minnesota Extension, at (612) 626-5943 or firstname.lastname@example.org.