Workshop: Make sure your meetings matter

Ensuring meetings work so they create value for your organisation is a real skill.

How many meetings have you been to today? And this week? How would you rate their value? Given that the average two-hour meeting for six to eight managers can cost between £270 and £360 (plus travel and fundraising time and costs), were they worth it? The first of two columns about meetings, this article looks at how organisations can make meetings pay their way.

Most people assume that meetings are the start of a process. In fact, they are the mid-point of a process that starts with preparation and concludes with actions and follow-up, which lead to outcomes.

Many meetings become a substitute for the preparation stage. How many times do meetings start without any clarity about aims, leaving people wondering why their presence is needed? Participants sit trying to work out what is required of them, never get going and end up just writing to-do lists.

Preparation for meetings needs focus: this is what the meeting is about; this is what participants need to consider in advance; this is the meeting's destination - describe an action, a decision or other outcome and make sure it cannot be achieved without a meeting; define a clear timeframe and keep to it.

If it is not your meeting, take time beforehand to decide what you would like to contribute to it and what you would like to get out of it. Attend with the intention of being proactive; you will enjoy it more.

People will communicate better if they think others are listening, so make it clear you are paying attention. Meetings are all about communication. Take note of body language - your own and others; make interventions that open up communication, not ones that close it down; ask questions, not to catch people out but to explore the meeting topic in a different way. Make sure the meeting leader summarises the discussion and decisions.

Meetings are not a democratic free-for-all or an end in themselves, but a purposeful part of longer processes. Making them work is a skill, and creating the value that meetings can offer is a real achievement. Elaine Willis is a consultant and coach specialising in voluntary sector management.

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