Can you recall a frustrating meeting — when you wondered why you were there? As colleagues
debated issues irrelevant to your function, you could imagine your e-mail and voicemail accumulating. While people repeated themselves and digressed, you doodled and thought how much more productively your time could be spent. There’s a good chance you resented that meeting and the person running it.
Now think back on a productive meeting you attended. What made it different? It probably had a clear purpose and moved along at a good clip. In all likelihood, the attendees were focused on the task at hand, and decisions were made. When you left, you no doubt felt like you had accomplished something and knew how to move forward. You appreciated the meeting and the person running it —
who was obviously well versed in meeting management.
Managers well versed in meeting management:
Know when to call meetings
Prepare well for meetings
Use established ground rules
Intervene during meetings, and
Follow-up after meetings
All these aspects of meeting management are important. But one aspect, preparing well for meetings,
is often overlooked, and a second, intervening during meetings, can be particularly challenging. So
let’s focus on these two aspects of meeting management, starting with preparing well for meetings.
Good meeting management begins well before the meeting. In addition to arranging the meeting logistics, effective meeting managers notify attendees of the meeting’s purpose, and then distribute the agenda and relevant information beforehand. This enables attendees to become familiar with the material and to begin thinking about the issues to be discussed. If both you and the attendees arrive prepared, the meeting will be more productive — and will almost certainly be shorter. Always a plus!
Let’s observe Diane, an account manager at an advertising agency, who is just preparing for a late-breaking meeting. Diane’s current client is an insurance company launching a new long-term-care
insurance plan. The ad campaign is to launch in two weeks, and tensions are running high. Unfortunately, Diane’s day started off with a phone call from her client, Alexander, who complained that the sales brochure proofs are too cluttered and wordy. He requested that Diane simplify the data tables and explanations. Diane has just called an urgent afternoon meeting of the account team — who
have already put in long hours on the project.
After arranging the meeting logistics, Diane takes time to speak with each team member individually to explain Alexander’s request. She asks everyone to think about new ways to approach the information, and requests they bring sketches from their initial brainstorming sessions so they can revisit all ideas.
Although frustrated with the requested revisions, everyone arrives for the meeting on time with sketches in hand. Because Diane has reviewed the situation with everyone prior to the meeting, the team is aware of the urgency and ready to offer solutions.
As the meeting proceeds, Diane tackles the challenge of managing problem behavior and, when appropriate, intervening during meetings. This can be tricky in a roomful of people with different
personalities and personal agendas. The key is to listen carefully, attend to the group dynamics, and then avoid and diffuse potential conflict among team members.
Even though under a fair amount of strain herself, Diane sets a positive, constructive tone. She lays no blame, expresses confidence that the team will come up with a solution, and keeps the discussion task-oriented.
Janice, a graphic artist, offers a suggestion. As others in the group toss out different ideas, Janice keeps returning to her favored suggestion. Diane notices the group is becoming annoyed, so she goes over to a flipchart and captures all the ideas suggested thus far. When Janice pipes up again, Diane shows her that her suggestion has already been captured.
Fred, an enthusiastic and quick-thinking designer, often interrupts others and finishes their sentences. True to form, he cuts off Rachel, a writer, as she carefully explains her thoughts. Diane nips the interruption in the bud by politely explaining to Fred that she would like to hear Rachel’s idea from her so she knows exactly what Rachel has in mind.
Unfortunately, no one is thrilled with any of the ideas. The room becomes quiet. Fred suggests they got off to a bad start with the original campaign concept, which everyone knows was the brainchild of Carmen, the creative director. Diane quickly intervenes by saying that, actually, Alexander is very
happy with Carmen’s concept — he simply wants us to “simplify.” To break the impasse, Diane flips
to a clean page of the flipchart and writes a single word: Simplify. Then she adds: “Now, let’s keep this constructive and move forward by figuring out how we can achieve this.”
After a moment, Carmen points out some overlap in the sales material. She suggests they might be able to combine a couple ideas to free up space. This suggestion sparks an enthusiastic discussion about how they could distill several related ideas. The team ends up with two viable solutions — but
they disagree on which is better. Diane tries to get consensus, but ultimately realizes she needs to use the team’s input to make the final design decision herself. She selects one design and explains her
reasoning. Then she ends the meeting by ensuring that everyone understands their respective tasks going forward — and then orders pizza to fortify the team through the hours ahead.
The next day, the client is impressed that they’ve managed to both simplify yet retain the campaign
message. After the ad campaign launches, Diane calls another meeting with her team to applaud them for coming through in a crisis and to celebrate their success.
Now that you are in a position to manage meetings, make sure that you don’t mismanage them.
Running a meeting may not seem difficult, but running a productive meeting requires preparing well
for meetings and making sure others are equally prepared. It’s also critical to manage problem behavior, intervening during meetings as appropriate, to make sure discussions stay constructive and
focused. Once you are well-versed in meeting management, others will think back on meetings you’ve
run — and note that they were productive, resulted in decisions, and ended with clear directions for moving forward. And were unusually satisfying