Many teams have a hard time keeping their meetings on track and focused on the topic being discussed. Regardless of the team’s size, type, or task, every team can stray off-course. And if you have been together before, you probably have a good idea where and when it will go off the rails!
To Keep Your Meetings on Track:
- Have an Agenda. If you can, prepare and distribute an agenda ahead of time – at least 24 hours prior to the meeting start time. An agenda typically has a purpose statement (to share information, make a decision, solve a problem, etc.) and the desired outcomes (greater understanding, a decision, agree on a solution, etc.). An agenda also has a list of topics to be discussed, some estimated time limits for each topic, and the name of the person who will lead the team through the discussion of each topic.
Many small workgroups hesitate to be so formal when they have a meeting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an agenda! When the meeting starts, the first agenda item is to build an agenda. Ask everyone if they have a topic that needs to be discussed. Agree on how long it should take, and who will lead the team through the discussion. Capture the topics, time, and leader on a flip chart.
After all ideas have been presented, prioritize the list. Many teams simply number the topics with one (1) as the most important, two (2) as the second most important, etc. Building an agenda “from scratch” shouldn’t take any longer than five minutes, and is certainly one of the best strategies you have to keep your team on track. Simply refer to your agenda and go through the topics, starting with number 1, then number 2, and so on.
- Agree on Ground Rules – those guiding principles which explicitly describe the expected behaviors of all team members. This is a great prevention strategy to reinforce the desired behaviors and to remind them of the undesirable behaviors.
- Have a Timekeeper. Ask a team member to play the role of “timekeeper” to alert the team when they are close to their agreed-upon time limit and to call time. If you need more time, renegotiate with the team or schedule a separate meeting to discuss the item in more depth. Beware: If you have to keep renegotiating, you aren’t being realistic in setting your time limits!
- Use a Facilitator. The facilitator’s primary job is to keep the team on track. Rather than focusing on content, the facilitator is guiding the process to ensure the team achieves its desired results. And when the team does go off the rails, the facilitator quickly intervenes to get the team back on track.
- Use a Parking Lot. Post a sheet of flip chart paper on the wall with the headline “Parking Lot.” (I like to draw a car to illustrate the point). Capture valuable ideas, thoughts, or comments that don’t relate to the current topic on the Parking Lot. Then redirect the conversation back to the agenda. The key to using a parking lot is that you always “clear” the items at the end of the meeting.
- Record Key Points. Ask another team member to record action items and agreements. As the team makes an agreement or specific people take responsibility for specific tasks, the “recorder” notes the items on a flipchart. Then at the end of the meeting, you can summarize quickly by going through the list!
- Start and End on Time. Parkinson’s Law states that “time expands to the amount of time allotted.” [That’s my version. The actual law first articulated in 1955 is “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”] Meetings that don’t predictably start and end on time allow people to subconsciously wander off on tangents. If you know you have a hard stop time, then you’ll get what needs to be done during that timeframe.
The more strategies you use, the higher your probability of success in keeping your meetings on track and focused!
For more information about elevating your team results, processes and relationships, contact master facilitator, Kristin Arnold at 800.589.4733.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action. Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.