Conducting a Meeting

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

EffectiveMeetingsConcept description

This concept (effective practice) deals with organizing and conducting effective meetings.

When meetings are useful

Marcia Simmering, writing in the Encyclopedia of Management (reference below), notes that, while a meeting is often the best way to accomplish work objectives, there are times in which a meeting is simply a waste of people’s time. Indeed, there may be situations in which bringing a large group together to address an issue may only cause confusion or conflict. Additionally, there are some tasks that may be accomplished more easily and quickly, but just as effectively, by a smaller group (subcommittee) or an individual, then presented to the larger group for approval. Thus, while meetings can be very useful in the workplace, managers should take care to determine whether they are truly necessary.

Simmering cites the following situations that call for a meeting:

  • To manage a project. Because projects involve multiple people and a lot of information, you will likely need to meet with individuals at various stages: at the beginning of the project, throughout the project, and at the end of the project. Meetings may change in terms of content and frequency, depending on the stage of the project.
  • To manage people. Managers need to meet with staff as a group or one-on-one to direct employees effectively. Typically, meetings to manage people are held at regular intervals.
  • To interact with a client. Client relationships may require meetings to pitch ideas, update the client on progress, or present a completed product or service.
  • When written communication, such as interoffice memos or email, is burdensome. If issues are too complex for memos or email, a meeting may be a more efficient way to communicate.
  • To address workplace problems. If a project is on the wrong course, or if there are interpersonal problems, a meeting may be the best way to address such problems.
Planning a meeting

Simmering suggests that, after determining that a meeting is actually necessary, the key steps are:

  • Determine who should participate. Consider the goal or purpose of the meeting and be sure to invite those members of the organization who have the information or opinions necessary for the meeting.
  • Contact the participants as possible to ensure that all of the necessary people can attend. When contacting individuals about the meeting, let them know the time, place, and purpose of the meeting.
  • Ask for documents. If the meeting participants need to bring any documents or information to the meeting, be sure to ask them specifically for these things.
  • Develop a meeting agenda. The agenda should indicate the desired outcome of the meeting, the major topics to address, and the type of action needed. You may also want to list a name of a participant next to an agenda item.
  • Reminder on time and place. If you have scheduled a meeting in advance, give participants a reminder email or telephone call.
Running a meeting

Simmering’s suggestions include:

  • Start the meeting on time.
  • Thank the participants, review the purpose and clarify your role.
  • Facilitate the discussion and be mindful of the time.
  • Try to end the meeting on time, if necessary scheduling another meeting to address items needing more time.
  • Try to end on a positive note.
  • Thank participants for coming.
  • Follow-up by disseminating the minutes or key conclusions of the meeting, including the tasks assigned to specific people.
Tips on handling difficult meeting participants

Gillian Kaye, in her article in Community Tool Box (reference below) suggests using one or more of the following interventions when you are confronted with disruption or problems during meetings.

  • Have the group decide – Use if someone refuses to stick to the agenda, keeps bringing up the same point again and again, challenges how you are handling the meeting, etc.
  • Use the agenda and ground rules – Use if someone keeps going off the agenda, has side conversations through the whole meeting, verbally attacks others, etc.
  • Be honest and say what’s going on – Use if someone is trying to intimidate you, you feel upset and undermined, you need to enlist the help of the group, etc.
  • Humor – Use if there is a lot of tension in the room, people are resistant to being at the meeting, scared/shy about participating, you are seen as an outsider, etc.
  • Accept, deal, or defer – Use If someone keeps expressing doubts about accomplishing anything, is bitter and puts down every suggestion, keeps bringing up the same point over and over, has power issues, etc. This means: ACCEPT that what they are saying is true, don’t ignore it; DEAL with it right there by spending some time on it, or DEFER it to the group for a decision about what to do.
  • Use body language (if possible) – Use to quiet side conversations, help quiet people participate, re-focus attention, etc. You can speak volumes by making eye contact, by smiling (or not smiling), or by a change in your seating position.
  • Take a break – Use when it makes sense to confront disrupters outside the meeting room.
  • Confront in the room – Use if it’s appropriate and will not create backlash, if the group will support you, if you’ve tried less confrontational tactics already, etc.

Kaye suggests that it may be possible to avoid disruption by using a number of “prevention” techniques before the meeting starts, including:

  • Listen to understand – Don’t just pretend to listen to what someone is saying. People can tell when you are not paying attention. Listen closely to understand the points the speaker is making, and restate these points aloud if you are unsure.
  • Stay in your role – You cannot be a participant and the chair of the meeting at the same time. When you blur the lines, you risk alienating participants, causing resentment, and losing control of the meeting. Offer strategies, resources, and ideas – but not direct opinions. Remember: “Chairperson” doesn’t mean “participant.” If you are passionate about an issue on the agenda and want to speak, make an arrangement BEFORE the meeting for someone else to chair that section.
  • Don’t be defensive – If attacked, criticized, etc., take a “step backwards.” Think about what was said before you respond. Once you become defensive, you risk losing the group’s respect and trust, and may well make the situation worse.
Sources

Marcia J. Simmering, Meeting Management, Reference for Business, at http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Mar-No/Meeting-Management.html, accessed 4 March 2016.

Gillian Kaye, Conducting Effective Meetings, Community Tool Box, at http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/leadership/group-facilitation/main, accessed 4 March 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Building Resources (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 4 March 2016.

Image: UCR Alumni Blog, at http://alumniblog.ucr.edu/tips-for-running-effective-meetings/, accessed 4 March 2016.