Often leadership is fraught with perils, and timing is everything. A successful meeting requires the following:
- An agenda
- Time management
- Quality discourse
- Conflict resolution
- Defined next steps with firm deadlines
Since a leader’s schedule is heavily weighted with meetings, knowing meeting skills can make the difference between walking out of a session frustrated, feeling like the time was wasted, or remembering the meeting accomplished something important, and there is now project and purpose clarity.
But how does a leader do this?
First, make sure the purpose and need of the meeting are relevant to all attendees. A paraphrase of Jim Collins might be, “Have the right butts in the right chairs.” Second, have a realistic allotment of time (the agenda) that will allow the meeting to flow quickly but also let the voices of the attendees to be heard. If the meeting is relevant to all attendees, their expertise and input are critical to achieving successful outcomes. Next, identify why each expert has been invited, the purpose of the meeting, and the expected outcome, the meeting goal. This last point is typically a broad statement about the problem or challenge to be solved and that the next steps will be identified.
Throughout the meeting, it’s the leader’s responsibility to activity listen (checking emails is a major faux pas) and managing the pace and flow of the meeting. It is not uncommon that one participant will dominate the discourse. It is the leader’s job to recognize this and bridge the conversation or to redirect the conversation, so the meeting stays on track and goal-focused. This technique of bridging is taking comments and repositioning them to another attendee or another topic. The method of redirecting is usually an important topic or agenda item switch that makes the conversation in a new direction.
Quality discourse is a meeting essential. A safe-haven climate must be created so the voice of dissent will be heard. If, at the end of the session, everyone “goes along to get along,” the goal of the meeting has been missed; you could have just gone to the dominant voice and saved everyone a lot of time, but the Project would be adversely affected. The stage for quality discourse is set when the purpose and expectations are identified at the meeting start. But this must be continually reinforced by redirecting comments or questions to others, maybe quieter, experts. Quality discourse can result in conflict. This redirecting tactic is a good thing! Conflict demonstrates the attendees are passionate about the purpose of the meeting and their role, but it also is a dramatic demonstration of the lack of “group think.” The result of “group think” is a loss of inspiration and innovation.
When conflicts arise, the leader should be doing two things, reading the room to understand how other attendees are responding to the conflict and keeping the disagreement professional and impersonal. Once the climate becomes aggressive, emotion-laden, or the engagement of other attendees is negative or diminishing, the leader must quickly intercede in the conversation, often to solve or arbitrate the conflict and redirect the conversation. After the meeting, a leader may have observed some behaviors that set the stage for immediate feedback and mentoring of the involved individuals. Checking back in when there has been an emotional interchange between team members is essential; typically, perspective needs to be brought to the participants one-to-one.
At the end of every meeting, the leader needs to summarize what was learned, what decisions were made and what the next steps were identified with firm deadlines put in place with accountabilities and responsibilities clearly defined. Everyone should know what they are to do next and by when.
A leader’s job is attending meetings. It is also a leader’s responsibility to ensure meeting times are useful, productive, and efficient for all attendees.