Be Known For Your Razor Sharp Meeting Principles


So you’re running a lot of meetings, and you never have time to prepare for them, and you’re not sure if they are very effective, and you really don’t have time to think about making them better! Sound familiar?  Ok – help is here! Here is your short guide to six common principles for effective meetings, or as we affectionately call them – “razor sharp meetings”.

1. Invite the right people. 

The only people that need to be at your meeting are the ones that meet one or more of these three criteria:

  • They have information that everyone else needs.
  • They need information that will be presented at the meeting.
  • They are  decision makers regarding the topics being discussed.

Once you have narrowed down your list of who to invite,  let each person know what their role will be at the meeting.  If they are a resource person, give them guidance or a template to follow to present the information that everyone needs in the minimal amount of time.  See also point 4 if the information can be made available outside of the meeting time, don’t give the presentation.  If she/he is a decision maker, let this person know how they can enable a wise decision.  If they are there to gain information, let them know in the agenda what questions will be answered at the  meeting.  Then these people can decide if they need to be there or not. In other words, minimize the number who have to attend.  All others are welcome but it becomes an optional meeting for them.

2. Aim for a single, central focus.

Decide what must absolutely happen at your meeting. Ask yourself, “What one thing we can resolve today which will make everyone’s work go better?”  Even if you have 3-5 agenda items, be sure that those are all connected to the central focus of your meeting.  If they are not, schedule them for another time or handle them outside of the meeting.  It’s helpful to put your meeting focus into a question format. For example, here are some samples: “How do we publicize to a broader audience?”; “What are our priorities for this week?”; “What do we need to know about this situation to resolve it?”; How can we reduce this budget?

3. Start with hardest item first.

Energy is usually highest at the beginning of a meeting – take advantage of that!  Prior to doing your deepest thinking on the hardest item, ensure you warm people up to the subject by asking them easy questions.  One way to get everyone “on the same page” around this challenging item is to ask questions such as, “What do we know about this topic?” “How long has this situation been going on?” or “Who is impacted by it?”  These types of questions are known as “objective” level questions in the Technology of Participation (ToP) Focused Conversation Method.  They ensure that everybody has heard or seen the same data before undertaking the deeper analysis that requires more brain power.

4. Don’t waste people’s time.  

People get really tired of meetings where 2/3 or more of the agenda items either don’t relate to their needs or keep repeating at every meeting.  Carefully go through your assumptions about each agenda item and ask yourself, “Is this item better handled outside of this meeting?”  if yes, here are some ways you might handle it:

  • Talk it over with one other key person who knows a lot about the subject.
  • Ask someone to make a decision about it and report it at the meeting.
  • Have people look at a video, report, or other form of data on their own time, then discuss what they read in the meeting.
  • Send out a survey asking people for their responses to a few key questions.
  • Hold a focus group to sort out the problem and present the results at the meeting.
  • Use technology to handle this virtually and offline – google drive; email….

5. Create comfort and safety.  

People need to know they are safe at a meeting to share opinions without being ridiculed or shamed. If they are comfortable in your meetings they will  access their best thinking.  Remember, you do not want to unintentionally throw someone into discomfort at any point in your meeting as this will lead to a reptilian brain response, i.e. a fight or flight response.  Think about your own meeting culture.  What are the things that are making people uncomfortable?  Let us give you a hint:  people are at the meeting without any idea of the topics or order of the topics, i.e. no agenda; the room is cold and uninviting, perhaps even cluttered with past meeting notes; people are asked to solve a problem or make a decision without enough data or time to make good decisions.  These are just a few things that will put people into their survival brains and stop participating.

6. Assign follow-up.  

How many meetings have you been to this week where you had no idea what you were suppose to do as a result of this meeting?  Below is a typical chart you could put on the whiteboard or flipchart. As you go through each agenda item or topic, list 1-3 actions that need to be completed before the next meeting and ask who is best suited to complete each action.  Ask this person (rather than assign an arbitrary date) when they can complete it by so that they create their own realistic deadlines.  Be sure to catch our next blog for more on follow-up to meetings.  You can subscribe to our blog here.

Action Items Chart

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Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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