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Planning and Structuring Effective Meetings

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Meetings- you either love them or hate them. At their core, meetings should improve communication and collaboration but can just as easily lead to unproductive rabbit trails and eat up valuable time that could be spent on other projects. 

Fortunately,the recipe for a successful meeting doesn’t require any secret ingredients; just careful planning, direction, and leadership. Better yet, all of these things are attainable whether you’re experienced in project management or leading a meeting for the very first time. 

Ask yourself, “Do we even need this meeting?” 

The first step in planning a meeting is figuring out if you actually need one.Before you send an email that says “Let’s meet!” ask yourself the following questions to make sure a meeting is truly the best way to get what you need to complete your project: 

●   Do I need input from other people to move forward with this project? 

●   Do I need to share information in real time,or could an email suffice? 

●   Do I have a clear, concise objective for your meeting? 

●   Do I actually need half an hour or more to discuss the project?

Finally,consider what would happen if you didn’t have the meeting and communicated via a different channel (i.e., chat, email, or phone). If you answered “yes,absolutely!” to any of the questions above and not having the meeting could have a negative outcome, a meeting is probably your best option. Otherwise, consider relaying information in another way. 

Types of Business Meetings 

Once you’ve decided to hold a meeting, take a few minutes to figure out what type of meeting you need to have. In business, meetings take many shapes and forms and can be categorized into four basic archetypes:

  1. Informational 
  2. Decision-making
  3. Innovative
  4. Problem-solving 

Every meeting starts with a purpose, and this purpose is what defines the type of meeting you’re going to hold as well as its agenda. If you simply need to deploy information, for instance, you'll want to follow the structure of an informational meeting. If you want to brainstorm ideas, an innovation meeting is your best option. 

Informational Meetings 

Informational meetings are relatively simple in design. Unlike innovative meetings, the majority of the communication in an informational meeting is one-sided. In other words, your job is to deploy data to attendees and (if necessary) answer their questions about that information. 

Example agenda for an information-sharing meeting: 

●   Introduce the purpose of the meeting

●   Present the information, leaving time for quick questions (i.e., “yes” or “no” questions) 

●   Summarize the information 

●   Discuss action items, if applicable 

●   Open the floor to additional, more in-depth questions

Although there is some flexibility with the amount of time you’ll need to present your information and answer questions, it is important to end the meeting on time.If you’re concerned about sticking to the allotted time frame, ask attendees to reserve their questions for the end so you have a specific number of minutes carved out to provide further explanation. 

Decision-Making Meetings

Decision-making meetings involve information, too; however, the information you share in this type of meeting is actionable. In other words, your goal is to walk out of the meeting with information (a decision) you didn’t have before. 

Because decision-making meetings involve input from more than one person (opposed to a strictly informational meeting), the chances of the meeting becoming unproductive or going overtime are higher. However, you can provide guidance and reach a decision effectively with a solid agenda. 

Example agenda for a decision-making meeting: 

●   Introduce the agenda and purpose 

●   Discuss potential outcomes 

●   Provide data regarding both/all outcomes 

●   Open up the floor for discussion and questions 

●   Reach a conclusion (agreement) 

●   Summarize the decision

●   Delegate action items, if applicable 

Innovation Meetings (Brainstorming) 

Innovative meetings are, arguably, the most fun type - especially for entrepreneurs and professionals working in startup environments. Innovative meetings involve brainstorming, new and exciting ideas, and can create new projects and goals for your team. 

They can also be a little tricky. On the one hand, they require an “open mic” structure that provides everyone the opportunity to contribute. On the other hand, most teams have some members who are more talkative than others, so you’ll need to ensure that everyone gets a fair shot at sharing their ideas. 

Example agenda for an innovation meeting: 

●   Introduce the purpose of the brainstorm and agenda 

●   Lay the “ground rules” (i.e., encourage everyone to speak freely, but also give space for everyone to share) 

●   Facilitate ideas with an activity (ex: break into small groups and ask everyone to write down their wildest and most conservative ideas for the project) 

●   In “round robin” style, ask each group to share their favorite ideas 

●   Open the floor to individual ideas if you have time

●   Summarize the next steps needed to accomplish the best ideas from the brainstorm

●   Delegate action items 

Problem-Solving Meetings

The purpose of a problem-solving meeting is pretty simple: To find a solution to a specific challenge or set of challenges. During a problem solving meeting,you’ll need to offer enough freedom for attendees to discuss creative solutions, but also give enough structure to avoid getting sidetracked. 

Example agenda for a problem-solving meeting: 

●   Introduce the problem to be solved

●   Introduce potential solutions (if any exist yet) 

●   Provide time for each attendee to share potential solutions

●   Discuss options and find a solution 

●   Delegate action items to enact the solution 

How to End a Meeting Successfully 

Most meetings should conclude with action items. At the end of our meeting, briefly summarize what was discussed and the conclusion of that discussion. Then, delegate any action items or tasks to ensure attendees know the next steps they need to take. 

Finally,always follow up with notes via email so everyone has a written record of what was discussed, agreed upon, and which action items they will own moving forward. 

Tips for Leading a Meeting with Confidence 

A successful meeting requires structure, and structure requires leadership.Leading a meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but there are a few ways you can prepare to make sure your meeting is productive:

●   Always have an agenda (and stick to it). 

●   Understand which type of meeting suits your needs (informational, problem-solving, etc.) and plan your agenda accordingly. 

●   Don’t be afraid to remind attendees of “house rules,” (i.e., no email, texting, or interrupting).

●   Remember the goal / purpose of the meeting and make sure all attendees understand it too. 

●   Carve out enough time to accomplish your goal(and avoid scheduling too much time). 

●   If you feel the meeting is getting sidetracked, don’t be afraid to speak up and gently guide the conversation back toward your objective.

●   Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

●   If talkative team members are getting more than their fair share of “floor time,” encourage participation from others. A simple, “I’m interested to hear what so-and-so thinks” will do the trick. 

In the world of business, it’s easy for meetings to get a bad rap - but they don’t have to! With effective leadership, you can guide your team toward innovation and problem solving without taking valuable time away from other projects. 

During meetings, valuable insight can come from your team and their diverse perspectives, so you don’t have to worry about being the only person who contributes. Your job is to simply facilitate and guide the meeting toward its goal: a productive conclusion.

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