The key to highly effective meetings is not what you do during the meeting, but what you do before and after the meeting. Here are four of the practices that we teach:
1. Take ownership of the agenda. Before the meeting, decide what outcomes you want, what decisions need to be made, the time required, what information will be provided, and who needs to be included. Send out the agenda in advance, along with the background material.
2. Stay Focused. During the meeting, remember the following mantra. “Make sure we’re having the conversation we need to have.” When people digress, it’s the meeting leader’s job to rein it in. No one will be offended; on the contrary, people will be grateful for your leadership.
Introduce each item by providing the necessary context and linkage to previous decisions. Once the discussion begins, keep everyone focused on the agenda topic. If an extraneous topic gets introduced, put it in the “parking lot” and decide later whether it warrants a separate discussion. Give everyone a chance to provide input, and keep a tight watch on the clock.
3. Achieve closure. Before you move onto the next item, make sure you’ve achieved the outcome you wanted. If an action step has been identified, make sure everyone understands. Clarify the next steps. Decide on who’s going to communicate the results of the discussion.
4. Keep a written record. Always provide a follow-up memo reminding people what was decided. This memo becomes a fail-safe way to check later to ensure that the necessary actions have occurred. It’s invaluable for monitoring performance. Plus, you never have to waste people’s time trying to remember what you did at the last meeting!