Business Meetings that Work

In their book "How to Communicate," Patrick Flanning, Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and Martha Davis, Ph.D. discuss group meetings and the dynamics of communication. They define a business meeting as being a task-oriented group activity where group problems take precedence over individual needs.

A review of will reveal that "the best meetings are the ones where attention is paid to content, design, and process." We are also reminded that meetings are not destinations, but rather vehicles for reaching strategic objectives.

So what are the best ways to make sure that our business meetings are properly structured and effective?

The four key elements involved are:
   - Design
   - Plan
   - Process
   - Follow-through

Design is a function of purpose, and involves participant selection, location, and scheduling.

Before designing a meeting, it is important to define its purpose and goals. Only those who are crucial to goal achievement should be invited, as every meeting has an impact on the normal day-to-day responsibilities of the attendees. In addition to participant selection, designers sometimes select others to act as meeting or group leaders.

While site decisions are normally straight-forward, scheduling often is not. If, for example, the purpose of a meeting is to solve a critical problem, then the meeting is likely to take priority over other scheduled events. This type of meeting is generally attended by senior/upper managers, and lasts for "as long as it takes."

Training meetings, on the other hand, can be scheduled around busy times of day or year. Location, participant selection, the frequency of sessions, and the time allotted to each session can all be determined based upon the nature of the training, the group size, average tenure, or job performance.

Once design decisions are made, planning is the next step. Though vital, the need for planning is often overlooked, and poor planning is the most common cause of unproductive meetings.

Ideally, planning is done by both the meeting leader and the participants. The planning process, however, begins with the leader, who must conduct appropriate research so as to be capable of effectively organizing an agenda and leading the group.

Once created, the agenda should be distributed to participants - preferably three days prior to the meeting - and the leader should encourage the group to not only become familiar with the agenda but also to prepare themselves for a meaningful discussion of the issues therein.

As part of the planning process, meeting leaders should also compile handout/visual-aid materials, practice delivery, anticipate group reaction, and plan for group interaction.

When necessary, the most effective meeting leaders also familiarize themselves with the room and with any props that will be used during the meeting, such as a microphone, projector, or computer system. It is also the leaderís responsibility to verify the availability of such props.

Process involves starting and ending the meeting on time, establishing a decorum, presenting content, coming to a consensus, and setting a follow-up course of action.

The best meetings are brought to order with a restatement of purpose and an explanation of the "rules," such as structure, the scheduling of breaks, who will have the floor, how questions will be addressed, and how long the meeting will last.

It is then the leaderís responsibility to keep the discussion on-subject and focused on pre-defined group goals. Involving individual participants in the discussion might generate better ideas and can help to keep everyone interested, but can also compromise order. It is important for the leader to maintain control, to draw conclusions from the dialogue, and to identify the next step(s) in the process.

Just as lack of preparation often results in poor meetings, poor follow-through is the most common cause of failure to accomplish anything after-the-fact.

It is the leaderís responsibility to identify and/or assign follow-through steps and to monitor follow-through activities. If required, a follow-up meeting should be scheduled prior to adjournment.

To be sure that all participants are on the same page, the astute leader will allow time for questions, and will end a meeting by summarizing both the discussion and the conclusions that were drawn, along with all agreed-upon next steps.


Better Business Meetings