LeaderTip #6: How to Overcome Ineffective Meetings
By this time of spring, most schools have selected their student government, resident advisors, club leaders, and peer mentors for next school year. My big question is—could they use some help getting ready?
At Growing Leaders, we’ve decided to post a helpful article each week continuing through the summer on our blog page, geared especially for student leaders. You can expect it on Fridays. They’ll contain practical tips for leading meetings, communicating a vision, choosing priorities, dealing with difficult peers, bossing your calendar, effective planning and more. You can find today’s tip below. If you like it, it’s our gift to you and your students. Feel free to copy it for each of your student leaders as a discussion guide that will equip them to be more healthy leaders. Also, click on “Free Resources” to view and download the growing library of Leader Tips on a special page of our site. This is a page just for young leaders to practice great leadership. Feel free to have your students look for it, all summer as they anticipate leading this fall. Enjoy.
How to Overcome Ineffective Meetings
Leadership is a tender balance between relationships and results. Relationships must come first, but merely experiencing friendships with your team may not result in any productivity. Good leaders understand how to leverage both to achieve a mission. Far too often, however, leaders and teams get bogged down in distractions, requests from others, too many options…and all of these lead to ineffective meetings. Teams experience activity without accomplishment in those meetings.
So what undermines effective meetings?
1. The meeting objectives are poorly defined. Leaders must put their objectives in print, clear and simple to understand: here is why we are meeting.
2. People are invited based on protocol not need. Good leaders invite those who can solve problems, not merely represent needs from the group.
3. Participants are not prepared for the meeting. Leaders should give team members material ahead of time so they are ready to discuss and act.
4. We often hold non-essential meetings. Good leaders know not to meet because of mere tradition. If they don’t have a good reason to meet, they cancel it.
5. The meetings last too long. Usually, the longer a meeting goes, the more attendees lose interest and creativity. Leaders must determine an appropriate time span.
6. The participants try to reach consensus on minor issues. Good leaders decide what’s worth “dying for.” They don’t waste time on unimportant issues.
7. The meeting is held in an atmosphere that’s not conducive for discussion. If the issues are sensitive, good leaders know not to meet in a loud or public place.
8. One person is allowed to dominate the meeting. Good leaders talk to dominant members prior to meetings, asking them to speak last and summarize the discussion.
9. The facilitator of the meeting is not a good leader. This should give you incentive to become a better leader each week.
10. No action or wrong action is taken after the meeting. Nothing kills the incentive of team members than seeing poor results after each time they meet.
An Agenda for an Effective Meeting
Sometimes, the agenda for a meeting hinders productivity. Team members get stuck.
If your goal is to actually get something done—not merely report what’s happened since the last meeting—you may want to try a different agenda. I have found that the order I lay out the items for discussion and action may help or hamper our progress.
Olen Hendricks suggests the following order of business for an effective meeting. Try this outline, and place each topic you want to cover under one of these categories.
I. INFORMATION ITEMS
The first category on the agenda includes issues that merely need to be reported on, announced, or communicated to the team. None require a vote. They’re information. They may be activities that happened since the last meeting, progress that took place or issues that require members to look at their calendars. By doing this first, you can set a passionate tone for the meeting by sharing good things that have occurred and you can schedule items on the calendar when attendees still have fresh energy.
II. ACTION ITEMS
This next category includes subjects that require action (a vote or an action by the participants) or, items that were discussed in past meetings under the “study item” portion of the agenda. These issues only become action items when they have been discussed and processed by team members who are now ready to take action. They have been given time and thoughtful consideration.
III. STUDY ITEMS
These issues are ones in which you want to brainstorm and “dream out loud” but they aren’t ready to be acted upon. They allow teams to talk without the pressure of voting or deciding what to do right away. In short, they deserve time and discussion before they become action items. That’s why you put them at the end of the agenda and give them as much time as possible for consideration. Once these issues have been discussed, they can be moved up to action items at a future meeting.
Comedian Milton Berle once described committees as a group of people who keep minutes and waste hours. Far too often, he’s right. Remember, when you form your team to meet with—you want to select people who are problem solvers, not nit-pickers or fault-finders. This is where good meetings begin.
Questions for Reflection
a. What have you failed to do to prepare team members for your meetings?
b. How do you view meetings: a place for discussion, ideas, critiquing or action?
c. Do you have the right people in the right places at your team meetings?
d. What is one important change you could make to improve your meetings?