Not Another Meeting!

by Dean Duane Strojny

As two staff members are coming back from week-long vacations, another is coming back from maternity leave, and a new full-time employee is just starting, I have four meetings scheduled today and am wondering what to do first. Leaders have to deal with outrageous meeting schedules all the time. Many meetings have negative connotations, but I argue differently. A well-planned meeting can accomplish a lot. So, after a few quick phone calls and office visits to welcome people back, I sit down to review content for today’s meetings as well as those for the remainder of the week.

Meetings are essential to get business accomplished, but I am of the ilk that unless there is an agenda or content to share, there is no need to meet. As part of my preparation for the weekly meeting with each of our Head of Public Service, I like to review notes from the past meeting:

  • Did I do what I said I would?
  • Is there an update on something?
  • In addition, what new topic do I have to discuss either individually with that supervisor, or with everyone, as I go through those four meetings during the week? Last week, I reminded everyone to make sure they were promoting extended hours for exam preparation time.
    • Did you contact your local SBA rep?
    • Are signs up everywhere?
    • What about the weekly campus newsletter?

I aim for consistency in these weekly meetings to help keep things organized.

While I take once preparation approach for these weekly meetings, other meetings may call for different preparation. Tomorrow, for example, is our Leadership Group Meeting. It consists of the President and the 14 Leadership Group members. From campus deans to our Vice President for Finance, each member gives a brief summary of their previously written monthly report. The President or colleagues may ask questions, but this is a meeting primarily for information sharing, not discussion or decision-making. To prepare for this meeting, it is best to have a printed copy of the monthly report with two or three highlighted topics to share.

Ultimately, the meetings that are so often the bane of our work existence are what propels the days, weeks, and semesters forward. With some basic, careful attention, they do not become overwhelming time wasters, but rather tools to accomplish work. What is your best meeting of the week? Use it to guide you in other meetings you either attend or coordinate. Over the years, I have come up with some tips that have helped me conduct successful meetings:

  1. Set meetings on your calendar and then review your calendar at the beginning of every day. It helps you mentally prepare for the day.
  2. Keep notes. Even if they are only for your own use, it gives you something to refer back to for follow up purposes. I have never had anyone get upset when I pause and let them know I am taking notes (something that I do when the meeting is a conference call). It shows you are listening and creates a record for you.
  3. Create an agenda. Even if not a formal written one, a short list of topics to cover is useful. I keep a pile of notes in one spot on my desk for items to discuss at our monthly campus supervisors meeting. That meeting has a formal agenda, and it is easy to whip one up with topics I have been collecting throughout the month.
  4. Ask other attendees to bring agenda items. Either solicit ahead of time for a larger meeting or just bring to the table for a one to one meeting.
  5. Follow up where necessary as soon as possible. Sometimes I will call someone in the middle of a small group or individual meeting and ask questions or work on resolving issues while the attendees and I are together. It shows that you are responsive and often gets immediate results. Sometimes I will send emails during a meeting with the attendee helping me write and edit so we get it out and can check off that task.
  6. Do not meet if you do not have any business to conduct. I may use a few minutes to catch up with someone in lieu of a meeting, exchanging pleasantries and getting back to our desks.  It never offends anyone and shows that you respect their time.

There are countless books on the topic of successful meetings (see two lists below). In reality, only practice makes perfect. Informal meetings should be just that, however some structure and organization to the meetings help create order. You need to test what works best for you. Make your own list of meeting best practices. Your goal should be that people welcome productive, informative meetings with you.

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