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The Meeting Is Over …

| February 1, 2017

by Jim Bruce

Now What?

There is lots of advice available on running meetings (for our purpose an intentional gathering of two or more people), two examples of which are the MOR Meeting Jogger and the essay “How to Run a Meeting Like Google,” listed among the references below.  However, I’ve found little organized thought about the steps that a leader needs to take after the meeting is over.
Today’s essay provides some advice on this issue.  But first, a review on “how to run a meeting:”
Before the meeting:

  1. Carefully consider whether a meeting is actually necessary.  A constant, widely heard complaint is that there are too many, too long, and purposeless meetings.  We each need to do our part in controlling this epidemic.
  2. Identify who should attend.  Keeping the number as small as possible is beneficial.  As the number gets larger, it is harder to give everyone an opportunity to a make meaningful contribution.
  3. Develop the agenda allocating time to each agenda item and collect any materials needed for the meeting.  Make sure that the agenda clearly identifies the purpose of the meeting and what decisions are going to be made.  Take the time to think through each part of the meeting reflecting on what might happen and identifying appropriate contingencies.
  4. Make the physical arrangements for the meeting and distribute the agenda and reference materials.  Remind attendees of their responsibility to read the reference materials as part of their preparation.

At the meeting:

  1. Begin the meeting on time.  Introduce any guests and make necessary announcements.  Remind attendees of the meeting ground rules, particularly any regarding multitasking, open laptops, personal devices, etc. Then, review the agenda summarizing what you hope to accomplish from each item.  Provide an opportunity for any questions or comments that attendees have at this time.
  2. Assign a note taker.  This may be one of the attendees or, especially for a larger (say over six individuals) meeting, a person attending for this specific purpose.  It is often helpful for these notes to be visible to the attendees – flipcharts, whiteboards, a projected document, etc. – during the meeting.
  3. Address each agenda item in turn.  Steve Jobs insisted that every item on a meeting agenda have a designated person responsible for that item and any follow-up work that was needed.  Ensure that the agenda item is thoroughly addressed, key points of the discussion are captured, as well as decisions, action items, next steps, who is responsible, and the date that each action item is due.
  4. As the last activity before the meeting adjourns, do a +/∆, a “what worked”/”what we could have done better” review to inform planning and process for the future meetings.

And, after the meeting:

  1. Transcribe and review the note-taker’s notes ensuring that they will be a meaningful description of the meeting.  Paul Axtell, author and personal effectiveness consultant, reminds us of the Chinese proverb, “The palest ink is better than the best memory.” He notes that if you don’t capture the conversation and put in into a form that can be easily retrieved later, the thinking and the agreements can be lost.  So, these notes need to identify each action item, who is responsible, and the date by which it is due. (Be careful, to not include confidential information in these notes.)
  2. Distribute the notes, within 24 hours of the meeting, to everyone at the meeting, any invited non-attending individuals, as well as others, such as those not in the meeting who have some responsibility for action items, those who need to know what occurred in the meeting, etc.  Sending the summary by the end of the day will demonstrate a sense of importance and urgency.
  3. Record task due dates on your calendar so you can insure that they are completed.
  4. Take time as soon as possible after the meeting to reflect on the meeting and review the +/∆.  How was the meeting, how did you conduct your role, what could you do better in conducting future meetings and what, specifically, could you do to make the next meeting of this group better?  Record your thoughts in a place where you will find them when you plan and conduct your next meeting.  If you don’t, the lessons will likely be lost and you will go on repeating yourself. 

Reid Hastie, writing in the New York Times almost a decade ago, reminds us that “Time is the most perishable good in the world, and it is not replenishable.  You can’t earn an extra hour to use on a busy day.”  As I read this, I couldn’t help not remembering an admonition from my grandparents, “Waste not, want not.”  Given the pressure we each feel, we cannot waste time for non-productive, ineffective meetings.  To make them better, as leaders we each need to take charge and in Hastie’s words take personal responsibility for achieving each meeting’s objectives, whatever they are.
I urge you as you plan and execute your next meeting, to see whether or not the suggestions I made here for conducting meetings might be something that you want to follow.  Evidence suggests that they can lead to shorter, more effective and productive meetings, as well as to real results from the meetings.  You’ll never know if you don’t give it a try.
Do make it a great week.  .  .    jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Tuesday Reading, “Meetings,” MOR Insights, November 17, 2015. 
MOR Meeting Jogger 
Carmine Gallo, How to Run a Meeting Like Google,  Bloomberg, September 27, 2006.
Reid Hastie, Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time,  New York Times, January 17, 2009.
Paul Axtell, Two Things to Do After Every Meeting,  Harvard Business Review, November 26, 2015.