First Aid for Painful Meetings
by Rick Brenner
The foundation of any team meeting is its agenda. A crisply focused agenda can make the difference between a long, painful affair and finishing early. If you're the meeting organizer, develop and manage the agenda for maximum effectiveness.
As the hour wore on, Geoff began to wonder why this meeting, too, had gone so wrong. Here they were, plowing over well-plowed ground yet again. With just ten minutes left in the hour, they still hadn't started talking about the Release Team's findings. Frustration was rising. Geoff wondered if perhaps this team just couldn't work together.
Have you ever been here?
To help your team achieve its potential, make meeting agendas crisp and focused. A solid, agreed-upon agenda gives your team a better chance to prepare, to stay on track and to maintain focus. Here are eight tips for improving agendas and how you manage them.
- Circulate a draft agenda in advance
- Draft an agenda and circulate it in advance. Because you probably aren't omniscient, ask attendees for their contributions. This builds ownership of the agenda by the team. Allocate time for each item. If you don't, how will you know if you're running late? Include a Draft "Not-Agenda" — topics that are off limits for this meeting.
- First agenda item: review the agenda
- Reviewing the agenda smokes out confusion, and helps solidify consensus about the agenda. With everyone on board, it's easier to manage digressions.
- Allocate time for puzzles
- Usually, we're reluctant to admit that we don't know everything. Time for puzzles gives people permission to surface confusions early, and helps avoid major problems later.
- Limit in-meeting handouts
- Circulating handouts during meetings wastes time. Often we have too much to read, and too little chance to digest it. Limit each handout to one side of one page. Circulate longer reports in advance by email.
- No routine announcements
- To help your team
achieve its potential,
make meeting agendas
crisp and focused
- Shift routine FYI's, such as status reports, to prior-to-the-meeting email. Reserve meeting time for delicate or complex announcements, and for issues that require discussion.
- Designate Someone as a Digression Detector
- The Designated Digression Detector (DDD) signals a possible digression in a fun or humorous way — a bicycle horn, a New Year's noisemaker, whatever. On the signal, the meeting stops to decide if a digression has occurred, and whether to adjust the agenda, or make a note for a future meeting, or adjourn until further information is available.
- Look in the rear-view mirror
- Circulate the as-executed agenda as part of the minutes. By comparing the as-executed agenda to the pre-meeting agenda, you might be able to find ways to improve your agenda-creation process.
- Learn from digressions
- Use the notes of the DDD to develop future draft agendas. If an item repeatedly appears in the Digressions List, consider doing something proactive — apparently the team really wants to discuss the topic. That's valuable information, even if a discussion of the topic itself isn't really appropriate.
For more on agendas, see "An Agenda for Agendas," Point Lookout for May 25, 2005; and "Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda," Point Lookout for May 9, 2007. Top Next Issue
There are lots of good references on running meetings and forming agendas, especially Michael Doyle and David Straus, How to Make Meetings Work: The new interaction method, Berkley Books, 1993. Order from Amazon.com.
Do you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrencffsEmxDgLAeQwRRner@ChacSSALsuyyLCoLglNEoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
- Give Me the Bad News First
- I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that if you wait long enough, there will be some bad news. The good news is that the good news helps us deal with the bad news. And it helps a lot more if we get the bad news first.
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: Part I
- When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
- Creating Toxic Conflict: Part I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates. Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
- Down in the Weeds: Part II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 2: Suppressing Dissent: Part II
- Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context. Available here and by RSS on December 2.
- And on December 9: Clearing Conflict Fog
- At times, groups can become so embroiled in destructive conflict that conventional conflict resolution becomes ineffective. How does this happen? What can we do about it? Available here and by RSS on December 9.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenCeBZkBMnwmDGdRyLner@ChacCfCjYpEXUhXmYtLXoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Managing in Fluid Environments
- Most people now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he’ll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: