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Meetings Don’t Fail- Participants Do - Stanford Management Consulting

ITips and Toolsn part one of this series I was asked why nothing ever gets done even though businesses have meetings all the time.

You can read part one here.

Roles and Responsibilities within Meetings

Large or small meetings benefit from identifying certain primary roles before the meeting takes place. These roles provide a framework for managing the process of productive meetings. 

Chairperson: The chairperson is a critical role within the meeting as they:

  • Encourage participation and manage conflict
  • Summarize issues
  • Follow the agenda
  • Control a casting vote, if needed
  • Start and close the meeting on time

**Time-keeper: The time keeper role includes the following:

  • Starting the meeting on time.
  • Allotting and controlling the requisite time for each agenda point.
  • Finishing the meeting on time.

**Recorder: The recorder’s role includes:

  • Capturing any decisions
  • Taking the minutes accurately
  • Checking that all information to be presented in the minutes is accurate.
  • Completing and distributing the minutes after the chairperson has signed them off.

Participants: The participant’s role can be described as follows

  • To prepare for the meeting when necessary
  • To arrive on time and stay for the meeting
  • To actively participate in the meeting
  • To complete any tasks assigned in the meeting

**smaller meetings may work best if the recorder and timekeeper are held by one person

Meeting Responsibilities

Pre-meeting Responsibilities

The preparation of a meeting can be assisted by using a Pre-meeting Checklist that allows the organizer to provide all necessary information to the participants and thereby allows them to be prepared for the meeting.  Typical issues would be:

  • Note the where and when of the meeting
  • Allocate enough time to allow preparation
  • Read all relevant documentation
  • Note any comments / questions which you have.
  • Read the agenda fully and carefully
  • If an omission is evident in the agenda, contact the chairperson and have it corrected.
  • Note the main topics and objectives
  • Understand your responsibility in participation

Mid-meeting Responsibilities

A list of do’s! 

  • Arrive on time so that you don’t miss the opening words from the chairperson.
  • Listen to the views of others
  • State your own views clearly and concisely
  • Take accurate notes – especially of any action points that are pertinent to you.
  • Stick to what is on the agenda
  • Make constructive contributions
  • Define any problems as they arise
  • Help to create a positive atmosphere.

 A list of don’ts!

  • Do not be aggressive
  • Do not be defensive
  • Do not dominate
  • Do not withdraw from the discussion
  • Do not withhold information of value
  • Do not ramble

Remember that each participant is in the meeting to play an active part in achieving the goals of the meeting.  This means being prepared initially, then following the list of dos and don’ts as outlined above. The critical issue when it comes to carrying out the mid meeting responsibilities is to justify your presence at the meeting in the first place!

Post-meeting Responsibilities

Failure to follow up on actions defined and assigned during the meeting means that the meeting will have failed and everyone’s time was wasted. Accurate and clear minutes with action points and responsibilities defined need to be released to participants as soon as possible after the meeting.  At Stanford we use the “Responsibility Matrix” .  Just a simple word document that the recorder may use to note actions/tasks assigned to individuals. Action points need to be completed by who and when as noted on the matrix.

This is often the reason why meetings fail – there are no actions completed and so no direct benefit can be attached to the effort that has been put into the meeting.  It is therefore very important, even critical, that actions determined during the meeting are assigned!

People at Meetings

People are usually the cause of meetings failing due to hidden agendas, lack of focus/ attention, disruption through having side-bars or mini-meetings, poor attitude, poor preparation, or poor etiquette (arriving late / leaving early). Most of these are habitual and should be dealt with to maximize the effect of the meeting.

Leading a Meeting

Good leadership is crucial for an effective meeting. If a leader does not have control over the meeting the objective becomes vague and momentum is lost.  A leader is responsible for promoting participation and ensuring all to be involved with problem solving. Typical leadership functions include managing people and assigning responsibilities.

Before the meeting the leader should:

  • Outline the main points of the meeting
  • Clarify the ideas about the meeting
  • Decide on who should attend
  • Decide on location, date and time.
  • Draw up and circulate the agenda
  • Emphasize the type of the meeting
  • Decide whether it will be formal / informal
  • Circulate any useful documentation

During the meeting the leader should:

  • Create the right climate
  • Open the meeting and introduce participants, if needed
  • Outline the structure, content and time limits
  • Highlight the key goals
  • Encourage discussion & involvement
  • Help to summarize / clarify contributions
  • Control any dominators / trouble makers
  • Get decisions made.
  • Confirm responsibilities and actions
  • Close the meeting with a summary of key action points

Leadership Styles for Meetings

To be an effective leader, an appropriate style of leadership should be used in the meeting.  There are a range of styles all leadership management books outline. 

Three most often used in business are:

Authoritarian: Make decisions without involving others, makes rules, expects obedience, and threatens.

Democratic: Everyone is involved, agendas are formed through consultation, active participation is encouraged, and power is distributed within the group

Laissez faire: Participants are left to their own devices, dominators emerge and take over, meetings will stray off course, and there is minimum contribution form the leader.

Obviously, the style most suited for small to medium sized businesses is the Democratic Style. Of course, I may have readers that disagree.  In this day and time the more involved and engaged your employees/staff are in the quality of running the business and participate in solving problems and challenges, the more successful your company will be. The effects Democratic Style lean toward participants who feel involved and take ownership of decisions. Decisions may take a little longer however; self-esteem and confidence of individuals turn in to happy, loyal, and productive employees!

Why Meetings Fail

Meetings fail primarily because of participants failing to:

  • Prepare
  • Participate
  • Complete Actions
  • Meetings don’t fail – participants do!!

Meetings take up much of the working week – they need to be effective so attention must be paid to the issues such as:

  • The type, format and leadership of the meeting must match the requirements.
  • Lack of attention to the simple things will cause a meeting to fail.
  • Roles and responsibilities must be considered and assigned
  • Documentation in the form of an agenda, notes and minutes must be prepared accurately and distributed in a timely manner.
  • Good time management principles are required
  • Invite the right people and allow them to participate.
  • Prepare, Prepare, Prepare