I hate meetings, so I run short efficient ones where everyone leaves knowing exactly what they have agreed to do and when to do it by.
My meetings method is a combination of middle-school cooperative learning when I was always the de facto group leader via being the nominal “secretary” (regardless of which white boy was the nominal leader) plus the meetings chapter from Getting Things Done.
Here are my basic tenets (I think these are all from GTD):
1. Don’t have a meeting if you don’t have an agenda.
2. Follow the agenda.
3. Don’t leave the meeting without action items.
If you don’t know what the meeting is going to be about, just don’t. Don’t have a meeting. You have to be able to write down the items you need to discuss. Circulate them before the meeting and add anything anybody else needs.
Don’t let the meeting get derailed. Stick to the agenda. When you start to stray from the agenda, note it, and note that you can add whatever it is to the next agenda if need be.
Here is the important part: At the end of the meeting, go through every single person and ask what their action items are and what the timeline is. This is great because a lot of the time everyone will assume someone agreed to do something, and they may have even agreed to do it… but without this last step, they will simply forget. Or they will mean to do it and just keep putting it off until they forget. And then you will discuss it again at the next meeting, wasting time. Again. The other nice thing about going through everybody is that if someone doesn’t have an action item and another person has a ton of action items, the overloaded person will feel ok about giving some up and the underloaded person often feels guilty and will volunteer. This doesn’t always happen, but for your people who don’t want to be perceived as bad people but also don’t generally volunteer, it’s nice.
Then after the meeting, send your minutes or a summary of the meeting as you understand it and remind people of the action items they agreed to and their deadlines. They won’t always do it, but you’ll get the majority rather than the minority of people actually doing things they volunteered for.
The part that is from all that irritating cooperative learning:
If you’re in person, write on the chalkboard or on a word document on an overhead the things you’re discussing as you’re brainstorming (or you can use concept map software, you do do you) to help organize the discussion and to keep you from straying too far from the point. A big benefit of the board is that it helps guide discussion and you can ask questions and write down people’s answers to help facilitate. You can take a picture of the board after. (Why yes, I am a fantastic discussion leader in class.)
If you’re on zoom or another online thing, use a google document and make sure everyone has access. Being able to edit a google document of the agenda together is fantastic, and it’s easy for people to see what you discussed for each items and to claim action items. You can use different color to group things or make them stand out. One of my colleagues I’m on a grant with uses the google slides shareable version of powerpoint instead which is interesting.
So… it’s that simple. And definitely allow your meeting to end early if you get through the agenda. Do not have a norm where the meeting time is filled up no matter what you’re talking about.
A few other pointers:
Sometimes it’s good to call for a preliminary vote that doesn’t count to see where everyone is thinking when a discussion starts running in circles (for a set of job candidates, for example). Sometimes it will turn out that the votes are so uneven you can just stop at that point.
You can also call votes about whether people want to to stop a discussion and do the actual voting or if they want to continue the discussion. Sometimes it’s just one person who is dragging things out and they’ve said their piece and won’t let go but nothing they say is going to change anybody’s minds because they’re not saying anything they haven’t already said.
If you’re not the person in charge of the meeting (say you’re at a full-day “retreat”), you can still take charge the way I have done– by asking if you can go up to the (chalk/white/key) board and “take notes” to help people organize their thinking, asking questions to help know what to write down on the board, but actually guiding the discussion. I hate doing this, but I hate pointless long meetings more, so…
I always start repeated meetings on time whether everyone is there or not (and ask if I can start early if everyone is early). This keeps you from having that thing where everyone shows up five minutes later every week. If you have that one person who is always 5 min late, they stay being 5 min late every week instead of eventually becoming 20 min late, and all the people who want to get done will show up on time instead of 5-10 minutes late etc. (This is especially true when the meeting is over before the late person gets there because you’re that efficient.)
How do you keep meetings short? Any tips or pointers?