MEETING MANAGEMENT



Meeting Management 328
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Most organizations use meetings in the course of their work, and these meetings can be successful or unsuccessful, depending on whether they are managed properly. Managers must learn to properly organize and conduct meetings to contribute to organizational effectiveness. There are several important principles to meeting management: determining situations that require a meeting, understanding types of meetings, planning a meeting, running a meeting, closing the meeting, and managing people after the meeting.

SITUATIONS REQUIRING A MEETING

Before calling a meeting, it is important to know if one is needed. Some situations benefit from having a meeting, and in other situations, one is unnecessary. There are some common situations in which a meeting is needed.

First, you are likely to need to meet if you are managing a project. Because projects involve multiple people and a lot of information, you will likely need to meet with individuals at various stages: at the beginning of the project, throughout the project, and at the end of the project. Meetings may change in terms of content and frequency, depending on the stage of the project.

A second reason that a meeting is often called is when a supervisor needs to manage people. Managers need to meet with staff as a group or one-on-one to direct employees effectively. Typically, meetings to manage people are held at regular intervals.

A third reason to meet is when a manager must interact with a client. Client relationships may require meetings to pitch ideas, update the client on progress, or present a completed product or service.

A fourth situation in which a meeting is preferable is when written communication, such as interoffice memos or email, is burdensome. If issues are too complex for memos or email, a meeting may be a more efficient way to communicate.

Finally, managers may call meetings to address workplace problems. If a project is on the wrong course, or if there are interpersonal problems, a meeting may be the best way to address such problems.

While a meeting is often the best way to accomplish work objectives, there are times in which a meeting is simply a waste of people's time. There may be situations in which bringing a large group together to address an issue may only cause confusion or conflict. Additionally, there are some tasks that may be accomplished more easily and quickly, but just as effectively, by a smaller group (subcommittee) or an individual, then presented to the larger group for approval. Thus, while meetings can be very useful in the workplace, managers should take care to determine whether they are truly necessary.

TYPES OF MEETINGS

The reasons for calling the meeting should help to determine how the meeting should be formatted, or whether a meeting is really necessary. The length and formality of a meeting will differ depending on what type of meeting it is. There are six basic types of meeting: standing meeting, topical meeting, presentation, conference, emergency meeting, and seminar.

  1. A standing meeting is a regularly scheduled meeting, such as a weekly check-in with employees or a project meeting that occurs every month. Because these meetings are recurring, they are easier to manage, with similar formats and agendas. Typically, these meetings are held on the same day and time, but they may be rescheduled if necessary.
  2. A topical meeting is one that is called to discuss one specific subject. This may be a work issue or a project task. The invitees and format are dependent on the subject being addressed.
  3. A presentation occurs when one or more people speak, and one moderator leads the meeting. Presentation meetings tend to be highly structured, and there purpose is usually to inform. It may be to inform clients, employees, or managers.
  4. A conference is also highly structured, but it is used to solicit contributions from participants on a particular topic.
  5. An emergency meeting is used to address a crisis, and they are often called with very little advance notice. These meetings may be used to address internal problems, such as a theft in the building, or external problems, such as a natural disaster.
  6. A seminar is typically educational—someone with expertise provides participants with specific information.

The type of meeting will dictate who is invited to participate and how the participants are arranged in the meeting room. Topical meetings, conferences, and emergency meetings are best run in seating arrangements in which participants can all see one another and therefore be more likely to engage in discussion.

Conversely, presentations and seminars require a different seating arrangement where all participants can see the speaker, but do not need to see one another. These arrangements are presented in Figure 1, in which the ovals represent meeting participants and the shaded oval is the presenter or facilitator.

Standing meetings may vary in seating, depending on what is discussed; if a supervisor is giving information, then there is no need for participants to group themselves in order to see one another. Some standing meetings may literally be "standing" if participants only need to meet briefly to get information from a supervisor or team leader.

PLANNING A MEETING

The most critical part of planning a meeting is determining whether a meeting is actually necessary. There are many organizational issues that can be addressed without needing to hold a meeting. Meetings are time-consuming, and because they require many different people to leave their work to meet, they can hinder productivity if they are called when unnecessary. Additionally, some standing meetings are kept without any assessment as to whether or not that weekly or monthly meeting is actually productive and useful.

To determine whether a meeting is necessary, consider the problem that needs to be solved or the issue that must be addressed. If all that is required is dissemination of information, then a memo or email may be sufficient. If you need information, decide if you can get that information from one person or if a

Figure 1 Possible Seating Arrangements for Types of Meetings
Figure 1
Possible Seating Arrangements for Types of Meetings
meeting with several people is necessary. It is appropriate to call a meeting if you have to solicit information or feedback from a group of people, if a group decision must be made, or if a group will have questions regarding the information being given.

Once you have determined that a meeting is necessary, you must decide who should participate. Consider the goal or purpose of the meeting and be sure to invite those members of the organization who have the information or opinions necessary for the meeting. It may be helpful to ask others for their opinions as to who should attend the meeting, since you may not have all of the necessary information.

After the list of participants has been compiled, the participants should be contacted as soon as possible to ensure that all of the necessary people can attend. When contacting individuals about the meeting, let them know the time, place, and purpose of the meeting.

Additionally, if the meeting participants need to bring any documents or information to the meeting, be sure to ask them specifically for these things. It will be a waste of time to call a meeting without properly preparing yourself and the participants. Finally, if you have scheduled a meeting in advance, give participants a reminder of the meeting time and place as the meeting draws nearer. A quick email or telephone call can remind participants of the meeting.

The final step in preparing for a meeting is to develop a meeting agenda. The agenda should indicate the desired outcome of the meeting, the major topics to address, and the type of action needed. You may also want to list a name of a participant next to an agenda item. For example, an agenda item might be: "Update on monthly sales numbers (Linda Smith)."

By determining which participants will need to be involved with each meeting agenda item, you may discover that a critical person has been overlooked and must be invited to the meeting. If possible, distribute the agenda to the meeting participants before the meeting so that they know what will be discussed and what they will be responsible for doing before and during the meeting. This agenda will also give you and the participants a better idea of how long the meeting should last.

RUNNING A MEETING

Deciding a meeting's purpose and preparing to hold the meeting are critical steps for an effective meeting. However, if the actual meeting is not properly run, it can be a waste of time and resources for everyone involved. The first and easiest step in running a meeting properly is to start the meeting on time. This indicates respect for meeting participants and their time.

When beginning the meeting, be sure to thank the participants for taking time to attend, and thank those who have done prior preparation for the meeting. Review the purpose of the meeting with the participants and determine who will take minutes of the meeting (if necessary). It may also be necessary to clarify your role in the meeting, which is dependent on the purpose of the meeting.

For instance, if the purpose of the meeting is to come to a group decision on a topic, your role may be to facilitate discussion and decision-making. If the meeting's purpose is to provide information on a new organizational policy and answer questions about that policy, your role will be quite different. You will be an information provider and a representative of the organization. Thus, to ensure smooth interactions in the meeting, it may be helpful to inform participants of your role.

Once the meeting is underway, you may need to establish some guidelines or rules for how the meeting should progress. Many of these guidelines for interaction are understood by members of the organization, but how strong unwritten rules are may depend on the people who attend the meeting. Therefore, there may be times in which it is necessary to establish or reiterate ground rules.

Ground rules might include: meeting attendees must participate in the meeting by providing information or opinions; participants must listen when others are speaking and not interrupt; members must maintain the momentum of the meeting and not get distracted with tangential topics. In some meetings it may be necessary to request that participants maintain confidentiality about what was discussed in the meeting.

Facilitating the meeting can be a daunting task. First, as meeting facilitator, you may have to enforce the established ground rules. For instance, if one participant is dominating discussion and preventing others from voicing opinions, you may need to ask that person to give others a chance to participate. Second, you are responsible for managing the time used in the meetings. It can be very difficult to keep a meeting's momentum and accomplish the tasks set forth in the agenda.

Be mindful of the time, and if necessary, get a meeting participant to help monitor the time. If the time seems to be getting out of hand, you may choose to table a certain topic to be addressed at a later time, or you may ask participants for their suggestions to resolve the impasse and move on.

While it is often difficult to encourage meeting participants to stop discussing a particularly interesting or controversial topic, this is often necessary. At times, you may be able to ask certain participants to gather more information related to a difficult topic, which will be shared in a later meeting and discussed further at that time.

CLOSING THE MEETING

Try to end the meeting on time; if necessary, schedule another meeting to address agenda items that need more time. At the close of the meeting, reiterate any conclusions, decisions, or assignments to participants, so that you are sure that you have summarized the meeting properly. Any meeting minutes should reflect these outcomes of the meeting, so that there is a record of tasks and responsibilities that were decided. Often during the course of the meeting, it is easy to forget specific issues that have been resolved.

In closing the meeting, you may also want to ask participants to evaluate the effectiveness of the meeting. Participants may be able to identify issues that should be addressed in a memo or another meeting. Additionally, participants may tell you that the meeting was unnecessary, which will aid in future meeting planning. Without such evaluation, unnecessary meetings may continue to be scheduled, or you may have some participants who are absent from future meetings, believing them to be a waste of time.

Regardless of the purpose of the meeting or the way in which it progressed, you should try to close the meeting on a positive note. Even if a meeting has involved difficult discussion or disagreements, try to find something positive to mention. This may be a conclusion that has been reached or a decision about the need for more information, or that all participants have voiced their concerns and that those concerns have been heard.

Finally, be sure to thank all participants for coming to the meeting.

AFTER THE MEETING

After the meeting, the most critical task is to disseminate information about the conclusions reached in the meeting. This is easily done by distributing the meeting minutes. However, if minutes have not been taken, you should record important outcomes of the meeting as soon as possible after the meeting. The distribution of information regarding the outcomes of the meeting helps participants know that their voices were heard and that the tasks accomplished in the meeting are recognized.

If tasks were assigned for people to complete after the meeting, distribute those via email, memo, or personal request. It is helpful to remind people of the tasks they were asked to do.

Post-meeting follow-up tasks should be carried out as soon as possible. To keep the momentum of the meeting and of the agenda, it is useful to provide information quickly.

TECHNOLOGY-ENABLED MEETINGS

Technology now allows people in remote locations to meet in a way that is similar to face-to-face meetings. Conference telephone calls and videoconferencing are alternatives when parties cannot meet in person.

Conference calls are made via telephone, and all parties are able to listen to and speak to one another. Many workplace telephones have the ability to place conference calls, and these calls are relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of an employee or client traveling long distances to attend a meeting.

The major difficulty associated with conference calls is the participants' inability to see one another. Because of this, participants may not know who is speaking; therefore, it is important that individuals identify themselves before speaking. Another problem with not seeing others is that interruptions are common in conference calls; care must be taken to wait for each person to speak in turn. Finally, as with all telephone conversations, facial expressions and eye contact are not possible, and thus, the meaning of a person's words may be lost.

Videoconferencing is done through an Internet connection, and it allows participants to see and hear one another through a video or computer screen. Because participants can see one another, many of the limitations associated with telephone conference calls are eliminated. However, many videoconferences have a short time delay; a person speaking in one location must wait for the others in the other location to receive the message. This means that reactions to speaker may lag such that the speaker cannot easily understand the reaction to his or her words.

Another major drawback to videoconferencing is that, with increasing use of technology, there is a possibility that others will not have adequate or compatible technology, or that the technology will fail. However, despite potential problems, videoconferencing provides much richer information than a conference call and is still less expensive in many cases than having all participants travel to one location.

TROUBLESHOOTING MEETINGS

There are a number of problems that can occur in meeting planning and facilitating. However, if you can determine the cause of the problems, avoiding or eliminating them may lead to more effective meetings.

The first problem that you may encounter in meeting management is when participants do not attend meetings consistently. If participants who need to attend meetings are not coming to them, there may be a number of different reasons why, and as a meeting planner, you need to ask the participant his or her reasons for not attending. If participants are forgetting to come to meetings, you may have to provide more reminders of upcoming meetings or schedule them further in advance. In severe cases, you may even have to personally approach participants immediately before a meeting to remind them of their need to attend.

A more serious problem occurs when participants choose not to attend meetings. It could be that participants feel that meetings are a waste of their time, or perhaps they feel that their contributions are not valued, or they may even dislike other participants enough to not attend. Although difficult, resolving interpersonal problems may be necessary to get needed participants to attend meetings.

A second problem associated with meeting management is when meetings become sidetracked by tangential topics or discussions with no resolution. This problem can be addressed either by improving meeting planning or meeting facilitation. In planning a meeting, if the agenda is not specific enough or if participants do not bring proper information to the meeting, it is easy to get bogged down in discussion that does not result in problem solving. Thus, when meetings become sidetracked, try to determine what the problem is either by observing participants comments or by specifically asking participants what could be done to better focus meetings before they occur.

If the problem is not in the meeting planning, then it is in the facilitation. The facilitator must keep meeting participants on track and speak up if discussion meanders. If a facilitator is unwilling to ask participants to save unrelated comments until a later time, or unable to maintain control over the meeting, it will turn into an unproductive session.

Another problem associated with meeting management is when members do not participate appropriately, either by dominating the discussion or not contributing to the discussion. The facilitator may need to remind participants of meeting etiquette or ground rules or specifically ask some participants to voice their opinions. If a meeting participant is particularly disruptive, it may be necessary for the facilitator to speak to the person outside of the meeting and request that they allow others more opportunity to contribute. In the worst case, a meeting participant may need to be replaced, particularly if bad behavior is detracting from organizational effectiveness.

Successful meeting management is an important management competency. Managers must understand situations that require meetings; the types of meetings; how to plan, run, and close meetings; and how to manage activities after meetings. Furthermore, managers should be able to troubleshoot problems that arise from organizational meetings and know options for technology-enabled meetings.

SEE ALSO: Group Dynamics ; Teams and Teamwork

Marcia J. Simmering

FURTHER READING:

Micale, Frances A. Not Another Meeting!: A Practical Guide for Facilitating Effective Meetings. Central Point, OR: Oasis, 2002.

Moscovick, Roger K., and Robert B. Nelson. We've Got to Start Meeting Like This: A Guide to Successful Meeting Management. Indianapolis, IN: Jist Publishing, 1996.

Streibel, Barbara J. The Manager's Guide to Effective Meetings. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2002.



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