Congress, last weekend during the shutdown, used an old tool, the talking stick, to help their meetings and negotiations come to a conclusion. But do we really need a stick to hold an effective meeting?
The secret to an effective meeting, whether recurring or as needed, is preparation. The person responsible for the meeting must have an outcome and purpose in mind. For some meetings, like a daily commander’s update, the purpose is to inform. In other cases, a meeting can be held to make a decision and in still other cases, the outcome of the meeting may be preparation for another meeting. Yes, unfortunately, this can be true, the infamous meeting to have a meeting. The bottom line to having a successful meeting is preparation.
To prepare for the meeting, you must establish the outcome. What is it that you want to have completed by the time attendees depart. From the outcome, you create an agenda. Some folks like to call it a schedule, but a schedule denotes timelines and I prefer to have the flexibility to accomplish a task, vice hold to the time allotted. Of course, there are always exceptions, and rabbits to chase down holes. To best determine what should be on the agenda, break down the desired outcome for the meeting. What information has to be presented in order:
To inform all the attendees of the situation;
For a decision to be made during the meeting;
For the attendees to perform their assigned tasks, following the meeting.
From this list of items, create your agenda. A list of things to be discussed is a method or allocating time to subjects, can help to keep the attendees on track. In the military and several industries, slide presentations are the back bone for a meeting. They are a great tool but not a necessity. In Agile Management, a daily morning scrum (not even close to a rugby scrum) is held to kick off the day. The meeting is all about a quick check on the project’s & product’s progress and the tasks that need to be accomplished that day or were not completed the day prior. These scrums are focused on a quick exchange of information and the project manager making adjustments and decisions where needed to keep the project in scope, within budget and on time. But these scrums still have an agenda.
Now that you have created your agenda, the next step is to share the agenda and desired outcome or purpose, prior to the meeting time, so the attendees can prepare. That time is not as you are walking into the meeting room. You should send the meeting agenda out with enough time for the attendees to prepare for the meeting. It doesn’t make a lot of since for you to send the agenda out 5 min before the meeting, if you expect the attendees to come prepared to provide information during the meeting. The agenda should be distributed with enough time for the attendees to prepare for the meeting or develop the material needed for the meeting.
Back to the stick. Meetings can be simple and an effective way of communicating when information needed for the meeting is prepared ahead of time and the attendees understand the purpose and desired outcome. But when the subject discussed becomes emotional, rational decision making can become difficult and finding a common ground can become even more difficult. Giving each attendee their opportunity to present their information to influence the decision one way or the other is a critical piece to moving forward. If your team requires a talking stick, in order to respect each other during the meeting, then by all means use it!
The tools and techniques to have a successful meeting are many, but the fundamentals are the same: purpose, outcome, preparation and agenda. Key elements to any successful meeting.