Sunday, November 11, 2012

Elements of an Efficient Meeting

I was in a community recently where the question was posed, "What goals do we have for how we make decisions?" One of the brainstormed answers was efficiency.

While most members thought that sounded good (who would advocate for inefficiency?) what did it actually mean?

The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a good question to address. Here's what I think are the elements of meeting efficiency. It turns out that there are surprisingly many.

1. Good screening of agenda items 
To be efficient, a group should be disciplined about not working in plenary below whats' appropriate for whole group consideration.

2. Adequate preparation
o  By the presenter
This means thinking through what the group needs to hear when presenting the issue and the relevant background information. Wandering presentations are not efficient.

o  By the meeting participants
This means reading background materials, reading proposals, reading minutes if you missed prior meetings, taking the time ahead of the meeting to think about the topic—identifying what you think about it and what's best for the group, and thinking ahead about how to express oneself concisely.

o  By the facilitator
This means laying out a clear road map for defining the sequence in which the group will engage on the topic, and selecting appropriate formats (how the group will explore the topic). 
3. Discipline about appropriate meeting behavior
Here are the Big Three reasons that discussions are inefficient:

o  Not staying on topic 
It's amazingly common for group members to drift off topic as one on-topic comment sparks a response that's off topic. While that second response may be interesting, it lengthens the time it takes to reach the finish line.
o  Not repeating
When a person is not confident that they've been heard the first time, they're likely to offer their views a second time, or even a third.

o  Listening carefully
If people are not focused and tracking well, they'll miss what someone said the first time, and then repetition will be necessary in order to get everyone singing from the same page of the hymnal.

4. Not backtracking
When a topic is carried over from one meeting to another, it takes diligence (and good minutes) to not re-plow old ground in an effort to get everyone back up to speed. While a brief overview of the prior work is probably appropriate, the goal of efficiency will not be met if the group isn't able to get to new ground relatively quickly.

Imbedded in this is an effective way to handle late arrivals in a meeting. It's inefficient to stop forward momentum to catch up those who missed the start (and it's equally inefficient to accommodate late arrivals by avoiding heavy lifting until the latecomers are seated).  

5. Effective delegation
Finally, efficiency will be compromised if the group is not able to use committees well. That means a smooth hand-off when you drop below what's appropriate for plenary level work (reference point #1 above), complete with a clear mandate. It also means not redoing committee work in plenary if the committee did what it was asked.

1 comment:

Beatrice Briggs said...

I agree with your points, Laird, and offer one more way to improve efficiency: clarify the purpose of dedicating time in plenary to the issue. If everyone understands that we are looking for feedback( instead of just sharing information) or hoping to make a decision (rather than just moving forward in our thinking about the topic) it helps all concerned to grasp what is expected of them. Cheers, Beatrice