(Richard H. Ryder, 2017)
This is the first in an occasional series devoted to discussing management skills for the effective leader. This occasional series starts with meeting management and will appear in two installments – Planning a Meeting and Conducting a Meeting. This two-part article will focus on meetings separate from the monthly Masonic meeting, although there are some common considerations.
Meeting Management – Part 1: Planning a Meeting
How often do you cringe when someone invites you to a meeting? Maybe you flash back to a meeting where you spent what seemed like days listening to the drone of one person rambling on about a seemingly meaningless topic. Maybe someone went on and on about how things used to be and all we need to do is return to those days of yesteryear. Maybe they seriously drifted off topic and the meeting chair did not reign them in. Let’s face it, some people would rather have a root canal than attend a meeting. However, there are times when only a face to face session will effectively address a topic that needs thoughtful discussion and meaningful input.
During those times, it is critical that meeting planners and attendees follow basic meeting management rules. When trying to decide if I need to plan a meeting I like to use the method of asking who, what, when, why, and where. If a meeting makes sense, then I concentrate on the how. Too often we call a meeting without a clear understanding of what one hopes to accomplish, why a meeting is necessary, when to hold a meeting, where to hold a meeting, and who should attend. Secondly, how attendees should meet (i.e. conducting a meeting) is a major topic requiring a dedicated discussion. In summary, meetings should be held only if there is no better way to arrive at a decision or to discuss a topic.
What do you want to accomplish?
Before deciding if you need a meeting have you first determined exactly what you want to accomplish? If not, how will you know if you need a meeting? Take the time to identify your goal; doing so will help you decide the best way to accomplish it. For example: are you trying to decide if a celebration event is required? Maybe you don’t need a meeting. Are you trying to decide which of three agreed upon options would work best? Maybe you don’t need a meeting. Are you trying to plan a lodge turnaround? Well, you most likely need one or more meetings.
Why do you need a meeting?
Not all topics require a meeting – maybe you can get what you need without taking up people’s time. Until you can verbalize why you need to meet, potential attendees will not feel compelled to attend and those you don’t invite will not know if you should include them. For the benefit of all you need to clearly define a concrete purpose. Doing so will help justify a meeting and then allow you to effectively plan so that it stays focused and productive. A clear objective also puts you on the hook, rightfully so, to make sure you accomplish the stated purpose; otherwise your credibility will suffer. Fear is a great motivator.
Examples of a valid purpose are as follows: To define a three-year plan for the lodge; To select the line officers for next year; To plan the installation of officers; To plan the blood dive for June 30th.
Who should attend?
This may seem easy to answer, but don’t get fooled into inviting too many people or worse, the wrong people. Keep in mind that inviting eight attendees is not necessarily twice as effective as inviting four. You want a manageable number consisting of attendees who can add value to the discussion. Also, you want attendees who can stay focused and on topic, and not drift off into long tangents. Additionally, you want attendees who have a vested interest in the outcome and who will actively participate. If possible, invite attendees who can think mindfully and creatively, are forward thinkers, and will reference the past only if it puts into perspective effective choices for the future. I would rather have four dedicated attendees than eight that includes naysayers, easily distracted participants, or the uninspired.
When a Meeting is Best
One should first attempt to accomplish goals and objectives outside of a meeting format. Why? First, there are challenges that make meetings hard to schedule: family and work responsibilities, competing schedules, geography, traffic, etc. Also, there are now effective ways for people to collaborate without bringing everyone together, especially where people are already too busy.
Some assume you must physically occupy the same room to effectively meet or share information – au contraire! With all the time challenges noted above, consider options that avoid a meeting entirely or, if a meeting is deemed necessary, enhance the chances the right people will attend. For example, to meet remotely consider Skype or Facebook Live, which are free and easy. Think about social media, like Facebook and Twitter, or online collaboration tools. Even texting or email can help get quick input on a specific topic. Document sharing tools help to distribute important information that can be shared and discussed, maybe avoiding a time-consuming meeting. When being in the same room, where body language, eye contact, and physical resources are required, call a meeting but follow strict guidelines.
I usually reserve face to face meetings for when I need everyone in the same room due to a sensitive topic, where the topic may be complex, or when discussion may be polarized. I also may hold a physical meeting when brainstorming new ideas, where visual displays are critical to the decision process, or when team members are unknown to each other and team building is beneficial.
Reserve meetings, remotely or in person, for when there is no better way to efficiently and effectively addressing a topic or concern. Take steps to get what you need before taking other’s time. Nothing is more detrimental to a “leader as manager” than holding a long unplanned meeting where nothing is accomplished, where people feel their time is wasted and not respected. Maybe a little work on your part is all that is required; holding a meeting just because you are unwilling to do more on your part is not a good idea. If you can’t get what you need through your own exertions, one on one discussions, phone calls, email, collaboration tools, etc. or doing so will take too long and progress will be negatively impacted, then call a meeting, making sure you follow effective meeting guidelines.
Lastly, be sure to get consensus on when to meet during the week. Planning the date and time well in advance will help ensure attendees have an opening on their calendar. Some people will approach attendees or call them to lock in a convenient day and time. This may be laborious, especially with many attendees or if attendees are geographically dispersed. Others will send out an email with possible availability dates and time, then select one based on responses. This can be quicker, but relies on attendees to open the email and respond in a timely fashion.
I like Doodle, a free online scheduling tool. For the meeting organizer, it has a simple interface and a seamless process for indicating available dates and times. Doodle sends an email to the designated attendee list, where attendees can quickly check off available dates before sending back their response. Once all attendees respond the meeting organizer selects a convenient date and voila – you’ve got a meeting date and time that you can announce to all attendees. Currently, where there is an app for everything, do some research to find one that fits your needs.
Where Should You Meet
From a practical standpoint carefully consider the logistics of the meeting; that is, where should you hold it. Meeting at the lodge building may be best because it is a known, neutral location, and does not impose on someone to hold it at their house. However, with that said, a meeting at someone’s house can create a welcoming and intimate setting for discussing non-controversial topics; plus, it may allow an attendee to join the discussion if they have family related responsibilities, like caring for a loved one.
Avoid meeting locations where there are distractions like steady movement of people or loud background noise. These locations may be convenient and okay for casual discussion, but stay away from them if serious topics are on the agenda that require deep thought and careful consideration. Other advantageous locations would be a library conference room or a quiet room at a church.
Meetings are an important and effective way to accomplish goals and objectives, if they are held only when all other options are exhausted. When trying to decide if you require a meeting, follow basic planning guidelines that help you answer the following questions: who, what, when, why, and where. Then, focus on the ‘how’, which is the Management topic for the June edition of The Maven’s Journal.