Have you ever attended a meeting that went on for too long and everyone left frustrated? What about the meeting where you scratched your head wondering why there was a meeting in the first place?
Unproductive meetings occur frequently. Recently, I observed a meeting with a mid-sized medical group. Six attendees, including two physicians and other key practice leaders, were present to discuss the financial state of the practice, as well as a few patient complaints. Most of the meeting was focused on reviewing complex financial statements and patient survey responses. Attendees asked questions to understand the details and spent time complaining about the staff. At the end, nothing was solved!
Meetings really do not need to end this way; they can be productive and end with a sense of accomplishment. With the following seven tools in your tool box, you can start to hold great meetings with focus and intention. Some of the tools may seem like common sense, but, oftentimes, they are not common practice. With appropriate preparation and planning, you will hold great meetings with even greater success.
Plan the Meeting Well
To host a successful meeting, you may need to spend more time preparing than holding the actual meeting. Here are some tools to make this process fun and smooth.
Tool 1. Scheduling meetings is often a daunting task, especially when you do not have access to attendees’ calendars. Doodle is a free tool that you can use to schedule meetings. By putting in simple possible dates and times, participants can very quickly show which options work for them. In the chart below, it looks like either 8 to 9 a.m. or 2 to 3 p.m. will allow most people to attend.
Tool 2. Determine the purpose and objective of the meeting. For this, you may need to inquire with the stakeholders so you keenly understand the desired outcome for the meeting. Do decisions need to be made? Is the meeting for informational purposes only? Who needs to be involved? Is there any pre-work required? What is everyone’s role? Is it better to prepare some possible solutions than to spend the entire time discussing the problem?
Creating a participant agenda, and, more importantly, a facilitator agenda, will provide you with direction for the meeting. The facilitator agenda should include objectives, speakers, time stamps, and supplies/logistics. See the example below.
Make the Meeting Productive
How do you make the best use of your time during your meetings? The goal is to make the time really count and get stuff done. Initially, you want to review your agenda and be clear that you are starting and stopping on time. Assign a timekeeper to manage the time, if needed.
Tool 3. Facilitating meetings can be difficult, especially if there are a lot of people and ideas to accommodate. For this, sticky notes can be used to capture and sort ideas. Sticky notes allow everybody to participate without “talking” over each other. If there’s a question up for consideration, pose the question and allow five minutes for the participants to capture their ideas on sticky notes. Once all ideas are collected, easily categorize similar ideas. This allows the meeting leader to ask a question, have everybody participate, get ideas out there, and come up with a summary/conclusion within 10 minutes. If you allowed everybody to talk about their ideas, this is something that could easily take an entire hour.
Secondly, sticky notes allow you to move ideas around. As you work through the brainstorming exercise, you will often run into situations where new ideas come up and steps in the process change. Sticky notes allow you to quickly rearrange and categorize.
Taking this a step further, I love using sticky notes because I do not have to actively take minutes and notes during the meeting. I can focus on the meeting and participate without having to actively capture every idea on my notes. With the technology now, you can now capture the sticky notes, so you do not need to type up the notes. Using “Post-It Plus” on the app store, you can take a photo of the sticky notes and be able to export the information to Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, etc.
Here is an example of a flip chart exercise turned into a table that was used in a PowerPoint document.
Tool 4. Fist to Five: This polling tool can be used in two ways: if you are trying to get a quick consensus on an idea, or if you are trying to see if people understand the topic you are teaching/talking about.
For example, let’s say you are running an all-day working session, and you think people are starting to get tired. You can ask the group, “Fist to five, do you want to take a 10-minute break?” If the majority of the group had four or five fingers showing, then you can initiate a quick break. If most people had a fist to two fingers showing, then you can assume people want to push through the meeting and not take a break.
Tool 5. Parking lot: This is a great tool to use for staying on the topic of the meeting and you can use it to create the “WWW,” which is tool 6 below. Parking lots are used when great points and questions come up during conversations, but they are not necessarily within original scope of the meeting.
After the Meeting
With most meetings, there should be actionable next steps and clear accountability about who will be doing what. Even if the meeting was productive, it can mean nothing if there is no action afterward.
Tool 6. What, Who, When (WWW): This is a great and simple tool to use at the end of every meeting, including in-person and virtual meetings. You will also want to take items from the parking lot and figure out who will follow up on those items. If you have a WWW started, you can also use it to start the next meeting.
Tool 7. Plus/Delta: This is another tool to use during meetings so participants can give you feedback without interrupting. It can be as simple as, “This room is too cold,” or, “We spent too much time on introductions.” This allows you to adjust the meeting structure or facilitation techniques accordingly for the next meeting. If you are not actively seeking this feedback, people do not usually speak up, and you won’t know what people are not happy with.
By using these seven simple tools, you will experience more productive meetings that invigorate your staff so they can focus on the right things for your organization to thrive.