“Well folks, looks like we’ve finished with time to spare. Thank you everybody; well done. Meeting closed.”
How good does it feel when the Committee Chair says these words?
Oh … You’ve never heard that before? I am sorry to hear that. 😥
Meetings are meant for good, not evil
If closing meetings on or before time is a rare event in your organisation, there is something fundamentally wrong. Meeting overrun should be the exception, not the norm. Sure, not everyone knows how to work through a challenging agenda in the allocated time, but that’s why committees have a designated leader: the Chair.
The Chair holds the power – and ultimately the responsibility – to quash anything that threatens to hold up proceedings. But they do need some meeting management skills and a little preparation to pull it off.
Here are my top five meeting management strategies for Chairs who want to respect their committee members’ time and still get the best outcomes for the meeting. Win-win.
1. Distribute the agenda and papers early
This strategy takes place before the meeting even begins. Aim to send members the meeting pack one week before the meeting date. Five business days allows members to schedule time to: read the papers; do their own research; consult their team; and prepare their discussion points and questions.
When attendees arrive at meetings fully informed: no time is wasted bringing people up to speed; discussions are more succinct; and agreement is reached more quickly. Work pro-actively with your Committee Secretary to compile the meeting pack and distribute them well in advance for best results on the day.
2. Start the meeting on time
Always start meetings on time. Delaying the start to wait for stragglers is disrespectful to those who arrived on time, and it reinforces tardy behaviour. Commence on the dot. Late arrivals will get the message if you consistently start without them.
3. Be prepared to move on
Every meeting must have a written agenda. Even if the timing of each item is not published on the agenda, the Chair and Secretary should have in mind an approximate schedule, and be aware when it is time to move on to the next item. The items in the body of the agenda – those for discussion and decision – should occupy the bulk of the meeting time. All other items should be dealt with swiftly and with minimal dialog.
The most common cause of meeting overrun is protracted debate. Lengthy discussion is generally a sign that the attendees need further information or time to research the issue before they can agree on the outcome. The best approach is to stop the discussion and reconvene, either at the next meeting, or at an extraordinary meeting.
TIP: Before moving on, have the attendees agree what further information is required before the issue is discussed again, and who will prepare the meeting paper. The details are then recorded as an action in the minutes.
4. Stick to the agenda
A well-structured agenda helps the committee stay focused on the important issues, and achieve the intended meeting outcomes. New issues may be raised under Other Business, however they should not be discussed at the meeting. They belong on the agenda of a subsequent meeting.
If an urgent new issue is raised, an extraordinary meeting can be called to deal with it before the next regular meeting. And, as is recommended for deferred discussions, spend a moment recording who will prepare the papers for each new issue, before moving on from Other Business.
5. Celebrate & give thanks
Sound strange? A successful, hard-earned meeting should be celebrated, and the contributors acknowledged. Announce the meeting close, and congratulate attendees for their combined effort and for getting the job done. They will leave feeling positive about the meeting experience, and will likely be happier (and hopefully arrive on-time) next time you meet. 😀
Practice these five strategies, and see if it helps you finish meetings on time, achieve the meeting objectives, and have everybody walk out feeling good.
- Distribute the agenda and papers one week before the meeting
- Start the meeting on time – no exceptions
- Park it and move on – reconvene a discussion that is taking too long to resolve
- Stick to the items on the agenda – no new issues
- Celebrate a job well done and thank everyone for their time and contribution
What is your top strategy for keeping meetings to the designated time limit? Share below the ways you have overcome meeting overrun.