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13 Jun

The cure for unfocused meetings

Date: 2012-06-13 12:00 Comments: 0 st

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.

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