Fostering Relationships: Making Meetings More Effective

This is the first of a series of posts in direct response to questions student leaders have asked us over the past few weeks.  Thank you to those student leaders who took the time to voice your questions.

Q:  How do I make my meetings more effective?  It is especially difficult for me to keep my peers from not listening, being disruptive, rude, etc.

A.  Managing attention during a meeting can be difficult, but is not impossible.  Try these strategies...

1.  Focus on the cause, not the conditions.  A condition-focus would be, "Julie is constantly chatting during the meeting."  A cause-focus would be, "Julie does not see value in the meeting and/or hasn't been 'enrolled' in the meeting."  A condition-focus will lead you to a brick wall every time and is simply your interpretation of the current situation.  A cause-focus demands you to seek out more information.  You have to ask questions and look for the why, not just the what.

2.  Enroll your attendees in the meeting.  People will naturally give their attention to something that is interesting, unique, unexpected, mentally/physically/emotionally engaging and/or valuable to them personally.  Leverage this by doing something at the very first of the meeting to "enroll" them in the meeting agenda.  Give everyone a question to personally answer and share with the group.  Do a quick team-building exercise.  Your primary goal here is to break their attention from whatever was happening before the meeting and get them focused on now.

3.  Remove distractions.  Throw cell phones in the middle of the table.  Close windows.  Remove energy gaps (extra space between people.)  Set in a circle.  Get away from tables (if possible.)

4.  Set (and adhere to) a set agenda.  People are more willing to give their attention to something if they know how long that attention will have to last.  Set out a game plan, set a time-limit and stick to both.  If something comes up off the game plan and/or will take you over time, have someone write it down and save it for a later meeting.

5.  Have a recognized discussion/agenda leader.  This is probably you.  However, assign the task to someone else today.  Chat with them beforehand about the agenda goals, time limits and have them guide the ship.

6.  Make certain you need the meeting.  Many meetings go awry simply because they are unnecessary.  It is easy to get distracted from something you don't see any value in.  Here is a short list of meetings you should have:

(From Seth Godin's Blog...)

DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEETINGS. It's a huge mistake to just show up in a conference room and have a meeting. If the expectation is 'yet another meeting', then the odds are, you'll have yet another meeting.  Here are a few very distinct types of meetings:


  • Just so everyone knows: This is a meeting in which one person or small group tells other people what's already been decided and is about to happen. These meetings should always have a written piece to go with them, and in many cases, it should be distributed a day before the meeting. The meeting should be very short, take place in an auditorium type setting, not a circle, and have focused Q&A at the end. Even a quiz. It's the football huddle, and the running back isn't supposed to challenge the very premises the quarterback is using to call the play.
  • What are you up to: This is a meeting in which every participant needs to present the state of their situation. It probably happens on a regular basis and each person should have a strict time limit. Like two minutes (with an egg timer). After presenting the situation, each attendee can send their summary in an email to one person, who can sum it up and send it out to everyone.
  • What does everyone think? In third place, a meeting where anyone can speak up. People who don't speak up on a regular basis should not be invited back. It's obvious they are good at some other function in the office, so you're wasting their time if they sit there.
  • We need a decision right now. These are ad hoc meetings that have a specific agenda and should end with a decision. A final decision that doesn't get reviewed.
  • Hanging out meetings. These are meetings with no real agenda, lots of side conversations, bored people, people instant messaging and just sort of hanging out. Sometimes these are fun, but I wouldn't know, because I haven't been to one in three years.
  • To hear myself talk meetings. You get the idea.

7.  Privately Ask, Engage, Remove.  If you do all of these things and you still have a disruptive team member, privately ask them if they are aware of how their negative behavior is hurting the meeting.  Ask them to help the team out by adjusting their behavior.  If that doesn't work, engage them in some way during the meeting.  Have them lead a discussion.  Ask them to offer an opinion.  If those strategies don't work, take a break and ask them to leave.

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