Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

5 P’s Motto

Last week we started our four-part great meeting series by examining what needs to take place before the meeting. This week’s issue is devoted to what’s required during the meeting. As indicated in our lead quote, preparation is key to success.

One of the great paradoxes of leadership is that it’s not about you but rather about how you get things done through others. To facilitate a great meeting, the leader must skillfully guide and direct the process without appearing to dominate it.The meeting is not about the person chairing it. Rather it’s about the agenda and the targeted outcomes as outlined in last week’s blog. It is important to bear in mind that all parties are present in service to those two items.

During the Meeting imageLet’s turn our attention to five specific steps to take in order to fulfill these obligations.

  1. Respect the Time

There is a real temptation to delay the start of the meeting until the majority of the participants have arrived. What message does this send to those who made the effort and even sacrifice  to show up on time? Do you think they’ll make the same effort the next time you convene a meeting?

During my tenure as the HR Manager with a financial conglomerate, I presided over quarterly general staff meetings.It became apparent to me that the organizational culture considered it acceptable to stroll into the meeting room well after the scheduled start time. The habit had been inadvertently reinforced by the practice of providing recaps as tardy staff members joined the meeting.

So, to break the back of that non-productive habit, I made a public announcement that meetings would start on time as long as there was at least one person present (btw, the stipulation that one other person be present was to avoid the questionable spectre of my addressing an empty room). I went on to point out that this was my way of rewarding punctuality and conveying respect to those who made the effort to ensure that they arrived on time. Of course, some folks still arrived late. However, they knew that it was their personal responsibility to bring themselves up to speed on what they had missed and that they could not disrupt the proceedings to do so.

Respecting the time also means adhering to the time allocated for each agenda item and concluding the meeting at the scheduled time. In the event that you note that the deliberations are legitimately taking longer than anticipated, the appropriate course of action is to draw the matter to the attendees attention and give them the opportunity to have input in the decision about whether to move forward with the agenda or to extend the time. By involving them in the decision-making process, you minimize the risk of having them feel like they’re being held hostage.

  1. Engage All Meeting Participants

As facilitator, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone present has the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Some people will need no special invitation, while others will need to be drawn out. The caveat here is that you need to ensure that this is done in a way which is positive and not in a way that appears to be picking on them.This may require the use of softeners, and open ended questions are definitely more effective. E.g. Jason, we know that your department has experience implementing similar projects. What are some of the lessons learnt that could be beneficial to us as we take on this new project?

One of the reasons why it’s safe to call on Jason relates to what we covered in the first installment of this series  i.e. we know that we have the right people in the room and that they had prior knowledge of the matters to be discussed and the specific preparation they needed to complete ahead of the meeting.

Just as you may need to draw some people out, you may need to get some people to relinquish some of the bandwidth  so to speak. Here again, tact and skill are important in order to minimize the likelihood of their withdrawing completely.

Special word of caution hold off on expressing your opinion until you have heard from the attendees.If there is a significant power distance, your early declaration could serve to stymie further discussion. It could also create the impression that you have already made a decision and are just going through the motions in soliciting their input.

  1. Listen AttentivelyListen & Learn Image

We have a tendency to listen in order to be able to respond. To facilitate a great meeting, we need to listen to understand. This means that we listen from a place curiosity and that we listen both to what is said and what is unsaid. It also means that we go beyond using our ears for listening and include our eyes and hearts and indeed our entire bodies.[1]

Attentive listening will also lead us to use questions as an alternative to declaratory statements as a means of advancing the discussion. It also directs us away from jumping to conclusions, making assumptions and generally pontificating. Plus we accumulate bonus points when it becomes apparent that we are genuinely and authentically listening and taking in the contributions being made.

  1. Use a Parking Lot

Many potentially great meetings get derailed by important yet non-relevant discussions. As the guardian of the process, it’s your responsibility to defer such discussions to a more suitable time and forum. You would have set the foundation for this by clearly identifying the meeting purpose when you sent out the agenda.Therefore, when such matters are raised, you should not hesitate to tactfully refer participants to the purpose as presented in the agenda even as you acknowledge the importance of the item that has been raised. The caveat here is that you simply must remember to honor your commitment to have the issue addressed or referred to the appropriate parties  at a subsequent time. Failure to do so could have an adverse impact on your personal credibility.

  1. Capture and Recap Decisions and Action Items

You already know that you need to have your agenda before you in order to facilitate a great meeting. As decisions are made, go ahead and record them alongside the relevant agenda item. Your notes should also include task owners, timelines for completion and quality standards. This helps to ensure that all parties are clear on what constitutes satisfactory completion.By getting into this level of detail you also ensure that the actions to be taken are optimally aligned with your original purpose/intent.

By reviewing the decisions and action items prior to concluding the meeting, you help ensure that all participants are operating from a shared pool of understanding. It also provides an opportunity for task owners to seek any required clarification.

Finally, it’s a good idea to circulate a summary of decisions and action items to all meeting participants within a day or two of the meeting while the discussions are still fresh in their minds. Receiving that email will also serve as reminder for persons to get started on implementation.


Next week, we continue this series with a deeper dive into timely and aligned action and meeting follow-up and evaluation. In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts about the five steps we’ve outlined in this issue for facilitating great meetings.

[1] See this blog for more information on how neurolinguistic programming can be used to build rapport.


  • Julie Meeks

    This second piece in the series is also extremely valuable. Not only is it useful to me for my own meeting management, but I do wish that everyone who chairs meetings I am a part of would also follow these rules. The matter of starting on time with only one person is brilliant, and also not stopping to recap. Listening attentively can sometimes be a challenge given many of the meetings in the UWI Open Campus are carried out using a virtual format. We lose nuance in speech, and very much in body language across the screens and speakers. All the more reason to focus and concentrate, with attention and not with the view of crafting a response. Very many thanks to Joan for putting these valuable points together. I am looking forward to the remainder of the series.

    • Thanks again, Julie, for the feedback.

      Re the challenges associated with listening attentively during virtual meetings, that’s something that I too have experienced as a disadvantage. However, I’m currently enrolled in an ICF-approved online coaching course where we have been focusing on tuning in to tones and other cues to enhance the online coaching experience. I confess to being skeptical at the onset. However, now that I’ve been working on developing the skills for the past three months, I can testify that with diligent practice one can indeed take one’s online listening to a whole new level.

      Tune in next week for issue #3 in the series. Also, please feel free to share the link with your colleagues. It definitely helps when the team has the same baseline knowledge/information to guide its operations.

  • Collin

    Thanks for your blog!
    I endorse all the points you made on why a meeting should start as scheduled. However, I believe starting on time could have the unintended consequence of undermining the success of the meeting.

    How do you deal with starting a meeting on time when some persons are not time and may be significantly delayed? These persons may be down on the agenda to present reports or give expert insight into a particular matter need for the most informed decision to be made.

    How do you deal with those meetings that require a quorum? Should you wait 15 minutes before you postpone. What is the best practice in such a situation?

    Starting on time may be an incentive to staff in the private sector to be early or get left behind and eventually asked to go out the door. However, how do you make this approach work in the public sector where persons not only turn up late but absent themselves from meetings with impunity?

    There is also the situation of persons being ?shift workers? and meetings a scheduled during the times when (s)he is on a day off or is not scheduled to work. What?s the best practice in dealing with such situations when persons are of the view that they are not obligated to use up their personal time to attend office/staff meetings?


    • Hi, Collin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions.

      @starting on time undermining the success of the meeting – Of course, there may be extenuating circumstances in a given instance that result in the delay of key resource persons. In such situations, what you may wish to consider is re-ordering the agenda to cover other items while you await their arrival. In that way, the other attendees can make good use of the time.

      @lack of a quorum – this is where the terms of engagement/ground rules come into play in that there should be a clear agreement on how such circumstances would be addressed. Some organizations opt to proceed with discussions with the understanding that decisions cannot be taken absent the quorum. Others adopt flexibility by allowing persons to join via phone or other electronic media and to be counted towards a quorum. I’ve also experienced circumstances whereby those present make a recommendation which is then presented for ratification via round-robin. At the end of the day, best practice would have to be determined based on your specific circumstances.

      @public sector officers absenting themselves with impunity – I totally agree that there is a pervasive problem with a lack of accountability in the public sector. Truth be told, it is also a problem in some private sector companies. As an HR practitioner, I maintain that supervisors and managers need to make full use of the policies and procedures available to them. Once an employment contract exists, then there is an expectation that persons provide certain services and comply with the terms of employment. When employees fail to meet these obligations, when they’re derelict in the execution of their duties, then the employer has recourse. The process may be tedious. However, which is the lesser of the evils – being held hostage by a rogue employee or following the progressive disciplinary procedures to put a stop to unacceptable behaviour? I have found that one visible case showing that you are both able and willing to apply the law and/or contract terms serves a cautionary tale to other would-be offenders.

      @scheduling meetings when you have shift workers – great question! Personally, I utilized two different approaches in that situation – depending on the nature of the meeting. I’ve scheduled the meeting around the time of the shift transition asking the earlier workers to stay on a bit and the later shift to come in a bit early. This compromise provides some measure of equity as you are not disadvantaging one group over another. Another option is having more than one meeting…

      My final thought on this is that it behooves employers to strive to establish and maintain a harmonious relationship with their staff so that there is willingness on both sides to give and take, to work together towards a common goal so that there is a recognition attendance at meetings is in the interest of both parties.

      Thanks again for your comments and questions. Looking forward to further dialogue with you…

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