There are three primary types of business meetings: information sharing, instructional or directional task-related meetings, and facilitated or developed task-related meetings.
Information sharing meetings involve mostly one-way communication with information presented from the speaker to the group. This type of meeting includes the symposium, instructional groups, staff meetings, and other presentations that attempt to communicate essential information to a group. Interaction from participants to the meeting leader is normally limited to questions and comments.
Task-related meetings use the knowledge and experience of group members to accomplish a work task, such as problem-solving, decision-making, fact-finding, planning, etc. These meetings are highly interactive, and involve two-way communication between all participants. Task-related meetings also tend to fall apart more quickly with poor meeting management. The two variations include:
- Directed—the leader runs the meeting and controls the agenda. These are the most common types of meetings.
- Facilitated—an impartial facilitator runs the meeting and controls the agenda and technique. These are the least common, but are growing in use, as they are the most effective for decision-making and building consensus.
The Model Meeting
To effectively manage a meeting, a meeting leader must pay attention to the dynamics of the group. Having a model to work from helps the leader understand the group’s behavior to keep meeting dynamics in balance. This enables the leader to sort problems from non-problems and respond appropriately.
Why a Model?
Looking back on the list of the 14 most frequently mentioned problems in meetings (see “Some of the Challenges and Costs Associated with Hosting Meetings”), we can attribute all of them to one primary cause; a lack of structure. If this sounds like an oversimplification, it is, but only partially. You may be asking yourself, “If structure has been the only problem with meetings, why are meetings in corporate America a waste of money?” That is the effect of meeting dementia. Take a closer look at the components of the model meeting.
Meeting boundaries provide the limits or scope, which separate the meeting and its components from the external environment. Clear and unbroken boundaries are essential to good meeting management. It is the meeting leader’s responsibility to keep the boundaries from being violated (broken) resulting in a breakdown in structure. There are two types of meeting boundaries:
- Time boundaries
- Physical boundaries
Time boundaries govern the start time and stop time of the overall meeting, as well as the length of the meeting. Meetings starting late seem to be an accepted norm. All meetings should start at their scheduled time and not exceed the stop time.
Barring a major catastrophe, every meeting must start precisely on time. Meetings that start late are in trouble right from the start. This sends a message to the participant that degrades the perceived importance of the meeting. The meeting is taken less seriously, and sets the stage for additional boundary violations.
If the meeting begins late because the leader is not ready, he or she loses credibility that is hard to recover. Meetings that start late because the leader is waiting for latecomers are just as bad. This communicates positive reinforcement to the latecomers, while negatively reinforcing those that came on time.
Running overtime must be avoided at all costs. In cases where the discussion is crucial, continue only after obtaining consensus from the group. Otherwise, summarize and reschedule another meeting to conclude the discussion.
How many meetings should have ended long ago? Meeting length should never exceed 45 to 50 minutes unless it is a facilitated workshop. By setting up your meetings for 45 or 50-minute increments, you are providing a courtesy to the participants, affording them time to refresh between meetings.
Meetings more than one hour long take too much energy and have an opportunity to drag. Workshops, properly facilitated, can last for a number of days, but the reason for the extended length generates a deliverable. Standard meetings taking longer than one hour should be broken into multiple sessions of an hour or less.
Physical boundaries are those, which physically separate the meeting space from the rest of the outside world. It is an accepted fact that the physical environment has an impact on the psychological environment. Studies show that a formal atmosphere inhibits the mood for both groups and individuals. The best meeting results occur when people feel comfortable and informality is balanced with focus on the work-task. Psychologists refer to this as a state of “relaxed concentration”. It is the meeting leader’s responsibility to see that proper physical boundaries are established and maintained.
Until next week, continue to fortify your skill set with tools and improvement suggestions available in many of our prior postings.
Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills
The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember friends, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs)