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13 Jun

The cure for unfocused meetings

Datum: 2012-06-13 12:00

Have you ever been the coor­di­na­tor of a meet­ing where you had a dif­fi­cult time keep­ing the par­tic­i­pants on track and in line with the set agenda? 

What was intend­ed to be a brief update sud­den­ly takes on new pro­por­tions as a deci­sion-process is ini­ti­at­ed out of nowhere. 

And when you reach what you orig­i­nal­ly had intend­ed to be the deci­sion-mak­ing point on the agen­da, you get stuck in a lengthy dis­cus­sion regard­ing how, when, who and per­haps even why, which rather than lead­ing towards a deci­sion being made ends up in the sug­ges­tion Per­haps we should do this or that instead?”

In this sit­u­a­tion is may be dif­fi­cult being the one in charge and respon­si­ble for that you make progress and dis­cuss what you need to dur­ing the meet­ing, and the meet­ing can eas­i­ly take two hours rather than the sin­gle hour you had scheduled. 

Make the agen­da clear

The fact that the meet­ing derails to such an extent might not be due to you being an inad­e­quate coor­di­na­tor, but rather that the agen­da is more or less ambiguous.

If every­one shared a com­mon per­cep­tion of what the pur­pose of each item on the agen­da is and what it is intend­ed to achieve, it would be much eas­i­er to dis­cuss the right thing in the right way and to an appro­pri­ate extent through­out the meet­ing.

Hence, make it clear what the pur­pose of each item you will process dur­ing the meet­ing is. 

Do this

If you choose to send all par­tic­i­pants the agen­da in advance:

  • Spec­i­fy the pur­pose and inten­tion next to each item on the agen­da: infor­ma­tion, dis­cus­sion or decision. 
    Either write “(infor­ma­tion)” or agree on a sym­bol for each par­tic­u­lar pur­pose to indi­cate the categories. 
  • By the items tagged as involv­ing a deci­sion, clear­ly spec­i­fy where the par­tic­i­pants will find the mate­r­i­al need­ed to make each deci­sion. You might for instance refer to an appen­dix or the URL-link to where the doc­u­men­ta­tion is. 
  • Also make it eas­i­er for the par­tic­i­pants to know what is expect­ed of them by adding a clar­i­fy­ing expla­na­tion of what the pur­pose-tags imply at the bot­tom of the agen­da.

    You could for instance write When an item is tagged as infor­ma­tion, you can just lean back and absorb the infor­ma­tion. When it is time for an item involv­ing dis­cus­sion, share you views on the mat­ter and what you feel we need to con­sid­er when it will be time to make a deci­sion. In order to facil­i­tate a con­struc­tive and quick­er deci­sion-mak­ing process, you will need to be up to date on the mate­r­i­al con­cern­ing the mat­ter so that we can make a deci­sion after a brief discussion.”

If your agen­da is more infor­mal and cre­at­ed ad hoc dur­ing the meeting:

  • Make the inten­tion of each item on the agen­da clear ver­bal­ly. For instance, Alright, and now we will pro­ceed with …, which is some­thing we need to dis­cuss, so in a minute I would like every­one to share your views and opinions.”

Few­er inap­pro­pri­ate discussions

If you make the pur­pose of the points on the meet­ing-agen­da explic­it­ly clear, you will to a less­er extent become entan­gled in untime­ly dis­cus­sions at inap­pro­pri­ate points in the deci­sion-mak­ing process, and you will spend the greater part of the meet­ing deal­ing with what you are sup­posed to and orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to. 

You will process the agen­da quick­er and might even have time over to dis­cuss more press­ing mat­ters that need to be dealt with but that did not make the orig­i­nal agenda. 

How do you make meet­ings pro­ceed accord­ing to plan?

What would you rec­om­mend that oth­ers do in order to have focused meet­ings? Leave a com­ment to enlight­en me and oth­er Done! readers.