Managing a Meeting – A Key Institutional Capacity
Surely one of the kay capacities of those of us who serve in almost any kind of leadership role within an institution is the ability or capacity to manage a meeting effectively. Meetings are part of the essential work that we do; some days for me are, quite literally, one meeting after another – some that I am moderating or chairing and some where a colleague is the overseeing the meeting. For meetings to be effective, so much depends on who chairs – who managers the agenda, the deliberations and the outcomes. And what we all know is that we value meetings where things get done – that is, where the meetings fosters institutional effectiveness.
The indicators of an effective meeting – and, by implication, the person who is managing the meeting:
The agenda is clear – we know why we have gathered, and what it is that needs to be addressed and resolved. And on these matters we will in this meeting get to some measure of closure or resolution or at the very least move the process forward so that we can see what it will take for the resolution to happen: action items agreed to, a policy adopted or a recommendation approved. Regarding the agenda: be sure that this body of people – this committee or board or team meeting – have the right or authority or prerogative for this particular agenda item. It belongs with this entity or committee. And, further, keep it simple: an agenda for this group at this time that lets us in a reasonable time address and decide on what we need to do. Further, the agenda does not need to be comprehensive – solving every issue or problem that comes to mind. Rather for now, at this point in the history of this organization, what needs to be addressed? And for me, most meetings should be kept to a maximum of 90 minutes . . . but many can be kept to an hour. There are exceptions: a board of trustees might meet twice a year and have their meeting stretch over two days. But within the common flow of the organization, most meetings are focused can happen in relatively short chunks of time.
Second, confirm that the right people are in the room – either by virtue of office or because they have been elected to this body or in the case of an internal committee, that those who will implement any action plan or have wisdom to inform such a plan or have the right by virtue of their role or office . . .that they are in the room and part of the deliberative process.
Third, take notes – not on everything, but on the key action items. Some meetings, of course, require minutes. But minutes are not a diary of proceedings. What we want going forward is an agreed list of what was approved, what we agreed to do and who would do it. This is essential for genuinely moving the conversation forward but also for accountability. So it is not uncommon for me to send out a note after a meeting [even with just one other person – a colleague] that lists: this is what we agreed to . . .and this is what you agreed to care for and these are the items that I said “leave it with me” to do this or that or the other. I want my colleague or whoever else in the meeting was part of the deliberations that had a “to do” list coming out of the meeting to know what we are expecting them to do. And I want to be accountable for what I agreed would be on my desk – my “to-do” list.
Meetings can include “updates and news.” Meetings can and should be personable and relational – we enjoy connecting with these people. But it is also crucial that we have an agenda of actions or resolutions that are mission crucial: decisions we are making, policies we are adopting, appointments we are making that move us forward in our commitment to the mission of this institution at this point in its history. We get things done and the next time we meet we don’t rehash and again and again what happened last time but have that as a benchmark going forward.