Though meetings are essential components of the working-world, serving to meeting efficiencymark milestones and drive key decisions, many of us dread the time and frequency required to “meet through” projects and issues. While there can be true value to meetings and group thought, impelling a meeting to fulfill its objectives can be an imprecise process. The 12 key steps presented below serve as discreet guidelines to organize, establish, and execute efficient, effective meetings. While upfront preparation may be intimidating, the downstream benefits are considerable, namely: less follow-up meetings, streamlined processes, increased throughput, and increased visibility.

Try the steps below and let us know your thoughts on what else facilitates efficient, effective meetings:

  1. Identify when a meeting is needed (and when a meeting is not) – Many organizations suffer from the “over-meeting” phenomenon, in which pre-meetings exist for pre-meetings for meetings. While preparation is an important task, many pre-meeting tasks can be handled over email, IM, and targeted one-on-one chats that minimize group overhead.
  2. Set the agenda – When a meeting is deemed necessary, work with key stakeholders to set a viable agenda. This agenda should itemize focus areas with designated time allocations, owners, and subject matter experts (SMEs). To set the meeting up for success, the agenda should also firmly establish the goals and desired outcomes.
  3. Invite the right people – One key pitfall that leads to over-meeting is audience selection. Meetings often become convoluted and inefficient when too many parties are involved, conversely, they become unproductive when too few are included. As such, it is critical to get the “right” people in the room at the “right” time (think the three “I’s” – identify, invite, and include). While schedules can be hectic and prevailing wisdom is to keep meetings “small”, having the necessary stakeholders is critical to drive consensus and decrease meeting frequency.
  4. Assign roles – Once the attendee list is established, meeting functions should be allotted to the participants with each player notified of responsibilities well in advance of the meeting. Note that there are countless roles that can exist within a meeting and not every meeting will require each role to be filled. With this in mind, the five most common functions are itemized below.
    • Facilitator The “Project Manager” of the meeting, keeping discussions on task and agenda topics on track. The Facilitator should start the meeting with a brief introduction, establish the purpose and scope, and kick off the agenda items. Where possible, the Facilitator should play a neutral role in the meeting. Post-meeting, the Facilitator should disseminate meeting notes and follow-ups to all key parties.
    • Subject Matter Experts / Owners These individuals serve as key decision makers and influencers to the agenda topics.
    • Contributors – These individuals contribute to the discussion(s) on an as needed basis.
    • Listeners (Optional) – These individuals listen to the discussions, but are not active contributors. Their mission is to stay informed of the detail covered and the decisions made.
    • Recorders – This individual takes notes on all agenda topics, action items, and owners. Notes should be sent back to the Facilitator for review before disseminating to the team. While the Facilitator can be the Recorder for smaller meetings, for larger sessions, it is recommended to have separate individuals in these roles keep the meeting on track and ensure wider topic coverage.

5. Set the location – With firms existing within an increasingly global (and multi-site) world, gathering all attendees in the same room may not be practical. Depending on the type of meeting, scheduling conflicts, and attendee localities, a conference call may be more effective than a conference room. Decide what meeting tools are needed and reserve them ahead of time: such as a whiteboard, a projector, a conference line, outlets, etc.

6. Schedule the meeting – With the agenda, audience, and location identified, the meeting invite can be created. Include the agenda within the invite and triple check the Invite List (with email auto-population, it is easy to add the wrong individual). Send out the invite at least one week in advance coupled with email reminders on an as needed basis. When scheduling the meeting, factor in the time it takes to create meeting collateral (such as presentations, spreadsheets, etc.). Finally, allocate enough time to thoroughly cover all of the Agenda topics. Remember that it is always easier to give back than take away time.

7. Prepare meeting collateral – With goals and agenda topics covered in the steps above, allocate enough time to create meeting assets. Some meetings will only require an agenda, while others may require presentations (PowerPoint), project plans, or other associated documents. Enough time is needed to create, review, and finalize the materials (and always remember your spell-check).

8. Be prompt – As the meeting nears, set the expectation it will start on time and stay on task. When the time comes, be prompt. Additionally, be sensitive to the schedules of the attendees and end the meeting on-time, following up (with another meeting if needed) to finish any uncovered agenda topics.

9. Introduce meeting attendees – When the meeting begins, the Facilitator should introduce the attendees, whether in person or remote, and establish the goals and guidelines.

10. Summarize each topic – As progress is made through the agenda, the Facilitator should summarize each topic as it is closed so that the Recorder can take clear, concise notes and all attendees have a chance to react to final decisions/next steps.

11. Assign ownership – As action items are established, the Facilitator should reinforce clear ownership and next steps. This information should be captured by the Recorded and included in the post-meeting notes.

12. Disseminate meeting notes and schedule follow-ups – Once the meeting concludes, the Facilitator should review and update the notes sent by the Recorder, disseminate them to all attendees, and, as needed, a wider audience. Follow-up meetings should be scheduled immediately and regular statuses on open items should be tracked diligently, summarized, and sent to the “informed list” to maintain momentum and close out the remaining items.

While time may dictate that the above steps are conjoined, condensed, or ignored, adhering to this structure has proven successful. So tell us, what steps do you use to run effective meetings?