Business Meetings that Matter - it's Possible!
Meetings come in all shapes and sizes. There are the everyday office meetings, board meetings, seminars -- all the way up to major conferences. And meetings can now be face-to-face, teleconference, videoconference, or online via the Internet. And when is the last time you heard someone say, "Gee, we need to have more meetings." There are more than enough meetings to go around these days, and for a good reason. Meetings are more important than ever. Modern workplaces are built on teams, sharing of ideas, and effective project coordination. If communication is the lifeblood of any organization, then meetings are the heart and mind. The place where we communicate our ideas, hash them out, share our passion for better or worse, develop new understandings and new directions. It's where deals can happen or fall apart, where strategies are articulated and debated -- in short -- where we engage with others. That's what it's all about, people meeting with people. Survey results published by the Annenberg School of Communications at UCLA and the University of Minnesota's Training & Development Research Center show that executives on average spend 40%-50% of their working hours in business meetings. Further evidence of the pervasiveness of meetings comes from a recent issue of Fast Company magazine, where organizational psychologist Jon Ryburg says he advises corporate clients to provide twice as much meeting space as they did 20 years ago
Studies also point out a discouraging trend: Surveyed professionals agree that as much as 50% of that meeting time is unproductive and that up to 25% of meeting time is spent discussing irrelevant issues. Typically, they complain that meetings are too long, are scheduled without adequate time to prepare and end without any clear result. Most of us have been to seminars or conferences where we've left feeling insipired and rejuvenated. But how many of us have ever left everyday meetings feeling the same way. Rarely, no doubt. The reason is that good seminars and conferences are organized precisely to engage us. Sadly, most office meetings are not. Believe it or not, meetings can and should be the most interesting and productive part of your day. And if you've ever been to a great conference or seminar, you already have seen some of the basic principles at work. These can be summarized as: 1) preparation 2) facilitation 3) inspiration 4) results Preparation means making sure your meeting has a clear, stated purpose, and an agenda. Participants are chosen carefully, invited in professional way and given sufficient prior information. Preparation also means attention to details including: room bookings, catering, a/v equipment, reminders.
Facilitation means that someone or a team is responsible for guiding the meeting, a plan for the meeting is reflected in the agenda and the facilitator (or chair) keeps things on time and on track. Inspiration is probably the most overlooked aspect of everyday meetings. All the attention to detail and process can push the opportunity for spontaneity and enthusiasm aside. Build in activites that engage participants, use strategies to generate discussion, or visual aids to grab attention. Results means that every meeting should be directed toward one or more outcomes. Participants must feel that something has been accomplished, and they must see all of their meetings as part of the bigger strategy to involve them in the future of the organization. Achievements at one meeting should be recapped in the next, and so on.
Effective Meetings - Tips
The following are some tips to help you make your next meeting successful, effective and maybe even fun. Before The Meeting 1. Define the purpose of the meeting. 2. Develop an agenda in cooperation with key participants. See a sample agenda. 3. Distribute the agenda and circulate background material, lengthy documents or articles prior to the meeting so members will be prepared and feel involved and up-to-date. 4. Choose an appropriate meeting time. Set a time limit and stick to it, if possible. Remember, members have other commitments. They will be more likely to attend meetings if you make them productive, predictable and as short as possible. 5. If possible, arrange the room so that members face each other, i.e., a circle or semi-circle. For large groups, try U-shaped rows. 6. Choose a location suitable to your group's size. Small rooms with too many people get stuffy and create tension. A larger room is more comfortable and encourages individual expression. 7. Use visual aids for interest (e.g., posters, diagrams, etc.). Post a large agenda up front to which members can refer. 8. Vary meeting places if possible to accommodate different members. Be sure everyone knows where and when the next meeting will be held. During The Meeting 1. Greet members and make them feel welcome, even late members when appropriate. 2. If possible, serve light refreshments; they are good icebreakers and make your members feel special and comfortable. 3. Start on time. End on time. 4. Review the agenda and set priorities for the meeting.
5. Stick to the agenda.
Running Effective Meetings - Tips and Tricks
6. Encourage group discussion to get all points of view and ideas. You will have better quality decisions as well as highly motivated members; they will feel that attending meetings is worth their while. 7. Encourage feedback. Ideas, activities and commitment to the organization improve when members see their impact on the decision making process. 8. Keep conversation focused on the topic. Feel free to ask for only constructive and nonrepetitive comments. Tactfully end discussions when they are getting nowhere or becoming destructive or unproductive. 9. Keep minutes of the meeting for future reference in case a question or problem arises. 10. As a leader, be a role model by listening, showing interest, appreciation and confidence in members. Admit mistakes. 11. Summarize agreements reached and end the meeting on a unifying or positive note. For example, have members volunteer thoughts of things they feel have been good or successful or reiterate the organization's mission. 12. Set a date, time and place for the next meeting. After The Meeting 1. Write up and distribute minutes within 3 or 4 days. Quick action reinforces importance of meeting and reduces errors of memory. 2. Discuss any problems during the meeting with other officers; come up with ways improvements can be made. 3. Follow-up on delegation decisions. See that all members understand and carry-out their responsibilities. 4. Give recognition and appreciation to excellent and timely progress. 5. Put unfinished business on the agenda for the next meeting. 6. Conduct a periodic evaluation of the meetings. Note any areas that can be analyzed and improved for more productive meetings. See a sample meeting evaluation. And remember, effective meetings will keep them coming back!
Scheduling Meetings - Art or Science?
Scheduling meetings is one of the most common tasks in the modern workplace. In earlier days, the time-consuming tasks of scheduling meetings, typing up agendas, and taking minutes was the domain of the office secretary. With the advent of computer technologies and flatter
hierarchies, the task of setting up meetings is a chore for all but the highest of executives, and even they get there hand in it from time-to-time. Democracy works great in politics most of the time, but it doesn't work well in the division of labour. So the reality is that many organizations have high-paid staff doing work that used to be done by lower paid staff. And as any good secretary will tell you, what looks easy when they do it doesn't work so easily for the rest of us. So why aren't sensible organizations hiring more secretaries to take up this task. Part of the problem is that all of the other work that secretaries used to do has also been absorbed by the rest of us. So, we type our own letters, try to create professional agendas, and blunder our way through meeting minutes. Computer technologies have given us a false sense that we can do all things well, but each of these tasks require knowledge and skill to do well. Scheduling a meeting really is not as simple as it looks, even with scheduling software. A lot of judgement is involved, and there's a real sense of propriety required. In bringing any group of people together, there are so many factors to take into account. It could be that there's a certain pecking order, and some people have to work around more important people's schedules. Or, some people can best be contacted by phone, some by e-mail, or some through a third party such as a secretary or administrative assistant. Decisions about where the meeting is held are important as well, and very political. For some meetings, as simple announcmement will do. For others, participants will need to be polled for their availability and then confirmed later. The complexity doesn't stop there. Let's look at the kinds of situations that often arise in scheduling meetings -- you'll probably recognize most of them
Schedule Meetings? Not Me!
The following are common problems when attempting to schedule meetings: 1) A date and time is announced, only to discover that some important participants can't attend, and then another date has to be found. 2) Participants are polled about their availability for a meeting, but are given so few choices that no common date can be found. 3) A meeting is confirmed, but then needs to be changed. 4) A meeting location is specified in one message, then changed in another, and those who miss the second message end up at the wrong room. 5) So many messages fly around about a proposed meeting that there's general confusion about when and where a meeting is. 6) Someone tries to use an intranet-based scheduling which is fine for work teams, but can't invite outside participants. 7) A work team decides to use a common scheduling system, posting and updating their schedules on an intranet, only to find that after the initial enthusiasm, people get lazy about updating their schedules, or resent having to show their availability to everyone else -- and eventually less and less time becomes available to meet.
8) Someone goes through all the trouble of scheduling a meeting then finds out the location they were planning on using is already booked. 9 No one sends a reminder about a meeting, and sure enough, several people forget and don't show up. 10) You get invited to a meeting but the organizer forgets to say where it is, how long it will last, or even what it's about! 11) People get so frustrated trying to set up meetings that they just stop doing it, or won't take the responsibility. It's rare to see anyone volunteering gleefully to set-up a meeting these days. What are some of the results of this?: - lots of time wasted - inefficiency - money down the drain Worst of all, there's an opportunity cost as highly paid workers waste their time performing low skill work instead of higher value activities. But didn't we imply that setting up meetings is not such an easy task? True, but it's not rocket science, and rocket scientists shouldn't be wasting their time, and neither should secretaries. All of us need solutions to make scheduling meetings more efficient and less of a hassle. Unfortunately, there is not one solution for everyone, and there's no subsitute for judgement and common sense.
Schedule a Meeting the Right Way
Helpful Hints First, determine if you should schedule the meeting, or if it should be delegated. If delegated, make sure you give clear instructions. Some of the things you'll want to be clear about up front are: - which participants must be there, and which are optional - is it o.k. for participants to send a designate (someone to go in their place) - whose schedule do you need to work around most, and will others be expected to change their schedules to accommodate - is it more important to find a common time where everyone can meet, or simply a time when most people (including the required attendees) can meet - what kind of room or facility is needed and what a/v or computer equipment is required - will the meeting require catering, either coffee and tea or a full lunch? As you're beginning to see, there are so many details involved in scheduling a meeting, it's no wonder that when we treat as a simple matter of making a few calls and sending a few messages, things can go awry. What seemed like a simple task becomes a frustrating game of cat and mouse, no-shows, location foul-ups, and general disorganization. So what are some of the solutions?
Once you've realized that organizing a meeting will take some planning, and you've made some choices about how you're going to proceed, there are several options to help you make things go smoother.
Creating a Meeting Agenda
The meeting agenda is a roadmap for the meeting. It lets participants know where they're headed so they don't get off track. Most importantly, the meeting agenda gives a sense of purpose and direction to the meeting. All agendas should list the following: Meeting start time Meeting end time Meeting location Topic headings Include some topic detail for each heading Indicate the time each topic is expected to last Indicate which meeting participants are expected to be the main topic participants
Internet Marketing Association Meeting Agenda Start at 10:00 a.m. in Board Room
Item Opening Remarks VP Membership Report -intramural report -new member program intro VP Financial Report -status of budget -housebill status VP Rush Report -status of current efforts -status of next term plans VP Internal VP External Guest Speaker
Responsible President VPM
Time 5 min 20 min
VPF 7 min VPR 7 min VPI VPE Community Relations 5 min 10 min 15 min
End at 11:10 Let's keep on track!
Chairing a Meeting
Why do meetings fail? Well, there may be reasons such as lack of time, a badly designed agenda or an unsatisfactory venue. However, if the chairman is doing his (or her) job, it should be possible to overcome these difficulties. Chairing a meeting means ensuring that a meeting achieves its aims. The meeting should have been called for a specific purpose and all discussion at the meeting must be steered to this end. This may sound simple in theory but in practice it is a very demanding task. The skills required include: Impartiality A chairman is like a judge in a court. He should ensure that all participants have an opportunity to express their point of view. It can be difficult to leave your own opinions at home, but if you can’t remain impartial, you shouldn’t have taken the job. Assertiveness Ensuring that everyone gets a hearing will almost certainly involve stopping someone from dominating the proceedings. The more contentious the issue the more likely you are to to require firmness. You don’t need to be rude or dogmatic. Phrases such as “I think we should hear from Ms. Smith on this” or “can we have some comments from the engineering department on this” should be sufficient in most cases. Once you provide this opening, however, you need to ensure that there are no interruptions while the next speaker has their say. Staying on course How often have you seen an agenda left totally aside? The meeting starts off well but becomes embroiled in a particular topic (perhaps the first item on the agenda) and ends when time runs out. A Chairman must assess the importance of each item on the agenda, and allot time to each topic as required. If one issue begins to dominate the chairman must take control. You might suggest a further meeting to discuss the issue at a later date, or that the main parties concerned could continue the discussion at the end of the meeting. Sometimes it will be necessary to call for a decision and then move on to the next topic. You need to stay alert and make sure that the issue has been given an adequate and impartial hearing within the allotted time. Summarizing Summarizing can be used to end a topic, to end a discussion, to limit the need for discussion and at the end of a meeting to ensure that everyone has a clear overview of what took place or what action is now required. It is an invaluable skill for a chairman. Summarizing requires active listening. You have to state concisely what was said in an impartial way and end with a clear statement about what is expected to happen next. It takes practice to summarize well, but it is a skill well worth developing. Many people feel that being a chairman means opening the meeting and stopping rows. There is much more to it than that. Prior to the meeting, a chairman should consult with the secretary regarding the agenda, ensure that all interested parties have been notified, assess the level of interest and the potential for divisiveness for each item, and allot time to each item, based on decisions required and number of people attending.
During the meeting, the chairman must focus on the decisions required of the meeting, ensure that all participants are accorded adequate time, decide when to end debate on each topic, use appropriate questions to elucidate information or re-direct discussion, listen carefully to all contributions, and clearly summarize proceedings with an emphasis on decisions taken and future plans. The above are all key ingredients for a fruitful meeting. A tactful but assertive chairman will facilitate an effective meeting, and that’s what everyone wants.
These days, many of us find ourselves in the position of taking minutes without a clue of how to go about it. The following is a guide for making this task easier: • Ensure that all of the essential elements are noted, such as type of meeting, name of the organization, date and time, venue, name of the chair or facilitator, main topics and the time of adjournment. For formal and corporate meetings include approval of previous minutes, and all resolutions. Prepare an outline based on the agenda ahead of time, and leave plenty of white space for notes. By having the topics already written down, you can jump right on to a new topic without pause. Prepare a list of expected attendees and check off the names as people enter the room. Or, you can pass around an attendance sheet for everyone to sign as the meeting starts. To be sure about who said what, make a map of the seating arrangement, and make sure to ask for introductions of unfamiliar people. Don't make the mistake of recording every single comment. Concentrate on getting the gist of the discussion and taking enough notes to summarize it later. Think in terms of issues discussed, major points raised and decisions taken. Use whatever recording method is comfortable for you, a notepad, a laptop computer, a tape recorder, a steno pad, or shorthand. It might be a good idea to make sound recordings of important meetings as a backup to your notes. If you are an active participant in the meeting, be prepared! Study the issues to be discussed and have your questions ready ahead of time. If you have to concentrate on grasping the issues while you are making your notes, they won't make any sense to you later. Don't wait too long to type up the minutes, especially while your memory is fresh. Be sure to have the minutes approved by the chair or facilitator before distributing them to the attendees. Don't be intimidated by the prospect of taking minutes. Concise and coherent minutes are the mark of a professional. The very process of recording minutes can give you a deeper understanding of the issues faced by your organization along with ability to focus on what's important. Example of Minutes Form
• • •
Name of Organization: Purpose of Meeting: Date/Time: Chair:
Topic 1. Discussion Action Person Responsible
Ice breakers are a great way to begin a meeting. They help to relax participants, and that makes them more receptive to listening and contributing. An ice breaker can also serve to build a team atmosphere and to generate enthusiasm. Ice breakers can be fun, amusing, humorous, thoughtful, surprising or just plain silly. The days of one-liner jokes as ice breakers are gone, and there are many new creative ideas. The most popular are games that have participants reveal something personal about themselves, or which encourage participants to get to know each other personally. The idea is that more than just having fun, the ice breaker will truly help to create group cohesion based on trust and understanding. One of the tricks of an icebreaker is timing. It should not be too long otherwise the serious work of the meeting will not be given enough time. It should not be so short that participants feel it was a perfunctory exercise. Timing also depends on the size of the group, the overall length of the event, and the purpose of the event. An all-day retreat might warrant a half hour ice breaker, but a one-hour meeting may merit only a minute or two. The following are some ideas compiled by category, and gathered from a variety of sources: Games
Have participants say 3 things about themselves - 2 true and 1 lie, others guess what the lie is Have everyone write on a piece of paper their answers to these questions: What is your favorite food, animal, TV show, hobby, and color? Sign your name. Don't let anyone else see the answers. The leader then reads the answers to the whole group, and members try to guess whom each set of answers belongs to. Award one point for each right guess. The person with the most points wins a prize. Give each person is given a list of 5 to 10 traits that they must find in common with the people around them. Sample items could be: "Find someone that was born in the same month", "..someone who lives in your state", or "..drives the same model of car". A prize is awarded to the participants with the most in common. Activities Write the words "agree," "disagree," "strongly agree" and "strongly disagree" on separate pieces of paper and post them on four different walls of the room. Then make a statement such as "our organization can change the world" and have everybody move to the part of the room that matches their opinion. Have the group discuss why they chose their response. With everyone in a circle, have someone come up with a short story that they whisper to the person next to them, and so on. Have the last person recount the story out loud. Simple Lead-Ins Ask participants to state one or two "burning questions" they hope will be answered in this session. Have participants describe one strategy/resource they have used successfully (relevant to the topic of the meeting/training). Have them state their personal definition of the topic (eg., in a marketing meeting, "Participation Marketing means..."). Be creative and come up with your own ice breakers
Help wanted: professional, flexible, dynamic, well-organized, accurate, self-starter, independent thinker, upbeat, energetic, multi-tasked, experienced team player. A lot to ask of any individual, especially one who has not played on any team since softball in the third grade! Many businesses request a team player without knowing what that actually means. Being on a team means being inter-dependent in a relationship, being able to trust others. But first, one must be independent. If you cannot function well on your own, an office team can turn into an outlet for all your personality flaws. An independent person knows what makes him or her tick, what's important in their lives. These are called values or ethics. These values can then be brought to any team and become part of the contributing process. People who can't be managed or trust others will have a hard time being effective on any team. A team needs a reason to get together; a project or specific plan that requires results. Of course, it also requires that the owner/manager/supervisor is willing to support the team's success. Remember, teams are not magic bullets. So, let's get started. How do you put a team together? Here are a few suggestions to follow:
First, the owner/manager of the business must be aware of how teams work. The team is accountable to each other, not the owner. Second, someone has to lead. Third, it requires guidelines. And fourth, the team needs values of its own. Commitment, contribution, communication and cooperation are the four values or cornerstones of the foundation of any capable team or business. If one is not committed to the plan and the team, nothing will work. Until there is commitment there is nothing. Being committed means being charged with a responsibility for a particular result. In this time of quicker and faster, not many take the time to do whatever it takes to get the job done. What being on a team truly implies is giving up your ideals for something greater than yourself. Next comes contribution, the differences that make a team exciting. Not everyone on the team needs to be alike. I look at a team as a microcosm of the world. This is your community if you were sliced off the end of the earth. You must trust and be accountable to each other, not the owner. The owner or manager may lead the team, but allows the individuals on the team to blossom and grow. No throwing cold water over anything new or different! Teams can be about change and I think that is their greatest strength. When various types of people are on a team, the abundance of creativity can be a windfall. Now, how to communicate all these ideas and values. At the beginning of any meeting, everyone should be heard briefly, without interruption. This is an opportunity to settle in, to connect with each other before the real work starts. This process continues with everyone offering information about themselves, including that sense of humor that is sometimes missing in the workplace. Teams can be enjoyable and fun, but no one will know that unless team members relax and lighten up. Cooperation means to pool all the resources and ideas of each individual. It also means to put aside your personal goals for the objective of the team. The significance of cooperation is to work together in relationship and that requires patience. Remember, everyone on the team is an equal, there are no bosses. A word of caution. Not everyone is a team player. People who are loners need just that, to work alone. As long as they can create results on their own, let them. People on a team have to want to be there. No one wants a person on a team that does not want to be there; they just stall any progress. So, set your plan in motion and have fun!
It is vital that all corporations keep adequate documentation in the form of minutes of shareholder and director meetings. In many jurisdictions, the absence of proper records may be a liability for the shareholders of a corporation, particularly in cases where the shareholders are directors themselves, or where they have close relationships to the corporate directors. Most jurisdictions require corporations to hold annual shareholder's meetings to elect directors. Also, the bylaws of most corporations also require their board of directors to have an annual meeting. Although the board may delegate day-to-day operation of the business, the following actions normally require approval by the board of directors: • • • • • Electing officers of the corporation Adopting business policies and plans, Designating committees and allocating authority to them Issuing and selling stock Approving the sale, lease, conveyance, exchange, transfer, or other disposition of all or substantially all corporate property and assets
• • • •
Approving mergers and reorganizations Approving the adoption of pension, profit-sharing, other employee benefit plans and stock-option plans Approving corporate borrowing and loans Entering into joint ventures.
The board generally should also approve the following types of transactions: • • • • Designating corporate bank accounts and authorized signatories Changing an officer's compensation (unless this has been expressly delegated) Entering into a major lease of premises Entering into any other major contractual agreement or venture
This list does not include all requirements, and some corporate actions require shareholder approval as well. Also, some jurisdictions have different requirements. Of course, small corporations in particular often have informal "meetings" where these matters are decided. However, it is important to subsequently prepare meeting minutes or unanimous written consents (signed by all the directors in lieu of a meeting) that approve the actions. If your corporation has not kept adequate records of shareholder and board meetings, these records with can and should be reconstructed with the aid of a legal professional. You should obtain proper legal consultation if you think that your corporate records might not be getting the attention they should be.