Let’s Vote and Go Home: How to Run an Ef­fec­tive, Ef­fi­cient Meet­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - MARKETS - This spe­cial ad­ver­tis­ing sec­tion was pre­pared by in­de­pen­dent writer K.H. Queen. The pro­duc­tion of this sec­tion did not in­volve the news or edi­to­rial staff of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

In my work life, staff meet­ings of­ten in­volve one or two long-winded col­leagues telling war sto­ries while the rest of us feel like POWs. At meet­ings for one vol­un­teer gig, we’d ad­vance an is­sue nearly to com­ple­tion…and then stop just short of res­o­lu­tion.

I be­came the mas­ter of ex­cuses why I couldn’t make the meet­ings. Here’s what I wish my ed­i­tors and board chair­man had known. Be­fore the meet­ing, make an agenda. Don’t waste more time by hav­ing peo­ple read re­ports dur­ing the meet­ing. In­stead, pro­vide the min­utes, the agenda and any sup­port­ing doc­u­ments to all team mem­bers in ad­vance so they can digest them be­fore­hand.

Start on time. Don’t re­ward late­com­ers by wait­ing on them. Wait­ing is un­fair to those who made the ef­fort to be on time. Peo­ple will be more likely to on time if they know you’ll start with those present. Ar­riv­ing late to find out a meet­ing hasn’t even started pro­vides no in­cen­tive to ar­rive promptly next time.

Re­spect ev­ery­one’s time. Sched­ule all items re­lated to one team con­sec­u­tively so that team can leave early or, with ap­proval, ar­rive later. If one per­son must come to the meet­ing only to present one five-minute re­port, don’t sched­ule that per­son at the end and make her sit through the en­tire meet­ing. Re­spect her time and sched­ule her at the beginning.

End on time. Set the length of the en­tire meet­ing and for each agenda item to help keep ev­ery­one on track. If one item is go­ing past its al­lot­ted time, call for a vote or ta­ble the item un­til the next meet­ing and al­low more time. Re­mind a long-winded speaker of the time limit for his agenda item. An­other trick: when that ver­bose talker says some­thing vaguely on­topic, cut in with, “That’s in­ter­est­ing. Hey Don, do you think that’s a good idea?” Hear an­other opin­ion, then move on. Sched­ule meet­ings right be­fore lunch to pro­vide ex­tra in­cen­tive to be quick. If nec­es­sary, use an inan­i­mate third party—a timer—to let speak­ers know when they have one minute left to speak. “Sorry John, the timer says you need to wrap it up!” De­ter­mine if com­ments are rel­e­vant. At one Board of Su­per­vi­sors’ reg­u­lar meet­ing in a Vir­ginia county, the pub­lic com­ment time at the beginning of each meet­ing typ­i­cally brings gad­flies to talk about na­tional is­sues the board has lit­tle or no con­trol over—such as the United Na­tions and the Sec­ond Amendment. Avoid wast­ing time on the same topic

year af­ter year. Ev­ery year, one large vol­un­teer group board de­bated whether to hold a ban­quet honor­ing older mem­bers. And ev­ery year, the same is­sues re­lated to the ban­quet came up as ex­pe­ri­enced board mem­bers ro­tated off the board and new board mem­bers ro­tated on. It would have saved time to present in ad­vance sup­port­ing in­for­ma­tion that listed the pros, cons and pre­vi­ous year’s talk­ing points.

Set the tone. As a team leader, be tact­ful, gen­tle and calm. Re­spect ev­ery­one equally. Peo­ple will no­tice if some at­ten­dees get spe­cial treat­ment while oth­ers are ig­nored. Don’t take things per­son­ally or get de­fen­sive. You will have to make tough calls—leave the emo­tions at home. Think col­lab­o­ra­tively. Don’t dom­i­nate the meet­ing or al­low oth­ers to dom­i­nate. Ask for com­ments from those who haven’t spo­ken yet. Some peo­ple need en­cour­age­ment to share their thoughts.

Spe­cial touches work. Use hu­mor to get peo­ple’s at­ten­tion and com­mu­ni­cate tough ideas. Ex­press ap­pre­ci­a­tion gen­uinely and ap­pro­pri­ately.

If the leader is the prob­lem, that’s tough. You can al­ways send him the link to this story—or to be anony­mous, cut it out and leave it in her in­box.

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