First off, I've listened to all the "effective meeting" and "effective agenda" podcasts - great stuff!!

I find that one of the biggest challenges I have with wrapping up agenda items on time is clamping off conversation - particularly when there are still good ideas coming in. While it's important to make sure we have all the necessary information, we usually have plenty of other important agenda items to cover as well.

To give you an example, say we're trying to make a decision on the priorities of our team's work for the next 2 weeks. We'll get close to a decision point and the end of the agenda item when somebody suggests another way to think about priorities or brings up another important point that influences the decision. So conversation heats up again and we carry on.

Often, it's critical to make these decisions in a timely fashion, meaning we don't have a lot of time to take the decision offline yet into another meeting & delay the decision.

I suspect this is due in part to several reasons; people not preparing in time for the meeting, people not wanting to give up ownership of decisions to the delegated owner, lack of effective meeting facilitation (we don't have the luxury of having someone in these meetings who doesn't have a direct stake in the outcome to serve as facilitator), etc.

Correcting feedback I'm giving in these situations is along the lines of "when you come to a meeting without reviewing the agenda and being prepared..." or "when you bring a topic to the floor without doing the proper legwork up front to get input from stakeholders...".

I realize it takes time to turn around behavior, and I'm willing to invest that time. But are there other things I can do that will help in the short-term?

I'd love to hear your tips/suggestions for how I can make my meetings more effective.

WillDuke's picture
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Are you giving enough time to the topics in your meetings? If there are still good ideas coming in, maybe you're trying to get too much done in that one meeting.

regas14's picture
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I'll digress:

I think it's important for people to carefully consider the purpose of each agenda item.

Is the item there to generate ideas through conversation?

Is the item there to decide between 2 or three proposals?

Is the item there to announce a decision that has been made?

Is the item there to communicate the impact of a decision that has been made?

The first is the least efficient, but it can be valueable if the topic truly requires consensus or requires the creative energies of the entire team. Most things should not be decided this way. There is no reason to have a one-hour conversation about filing systems or documentation or administration, etc. Assign a member of your team to identify the best 2 or 3 alternatives, present them and decide in 5 minutes.

I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in where before the meeting everyone says, "I don't care what method we select." Then, after a one-hour meeting, everyone says, "I don't care what method we select." Somehow we've had a long debate about something no one cares too much about because we failed to prepare the alternatives in advance.

People would do well to be careful about which items are open for discussion.

Good Luck,

wendii's picture
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Good list regas.. that makes it very clear in my mind.



asteriskrntt1's picture

Hi Joe

I may be off base here but it sounds like you are having brain-storming sessions in your staff meetings. How is it that priorities are up for debate? Shouldn't the manager be deciding what is a priority and what isn't?


JoeFuture's picture

Will - you're right... I think we're trying to cram too much into 1 meeting, and I believe we're not being as efficient as we could be.

Regas - yes, great list - thanks! We try to be very conscious of the point of every agenda item, whether we're broadcasting information, making a decision, brainstorming, etc. But trying and doing are 2 different things. We're getting better with each meeting.

Asterisk - you raise a good point, so I feel like I should explain a bit. I work in an org where we have 2 parallel teams of testers in 2 different locations. For many reasons, primarily that we all work on the same product, we are trying to make the 2 teams act as one. My counterpart manager and I are focusing on delegation, feedback & coaching, and accountability as a strategy to grow our directs (who are also people managers). So the 2 orgs have a combined set of resources we can deploy to get work done, and we've delegated out ownership of several classes of task that could generate work to put on the overall team's schedule. Other times, our directs are passionate about a project and bring it as a proposal to the meeting for discussion. This is where the contention and discussion often comes in.

I think some of our biggest problems are: 1) delegates aren't fully preparing their proposals before a meeting, 2) they're not necessarily getting buy-in or input from their peers before they make a proposal (it's more "real time" than well thought out), and 3) we have this conflict between a culture of delegation/accountability and a culture that encourages people to just get stuff done that needs to be done regardless of what it takes.

At the end of the day, my counterpart and I do make the call on what the priorities are after hearing proposals/requests from our delegates in our 2 weekly staff meetings. However, sometimes we don't agree, and even though I'm running the meeting & favor running a tight schedule, my counterpart sometimes takes command and tends to gravitate towards brainstorming again. I used to report to this person before being promoted to be a peer manager, so I think he still operates in "the big boss" mode sometimes even though my role has changed.

Thanks for the tough questions everyone! It's really important to me that I fix this situation, and I want to know your honest thoughts/opinions on what I'm doing right or wrong here.

WillDuke's picture
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So in short, the other manager doesn't run the meeting the way you think it ought to be run. Or, he's messing up your meeting.

Is he involved in making the agenda? Have you communicated your concern to him? Have you shared your goals for the meeting. Not just the topics of the meeting, but starting and stopping on time. Sticking to the agenda. It sounds like you need to win him over.

regas14's picture
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Sounds like an opportunity for peer feedback:

"When you do X in our meetings, here's what happens:

Our meeting runs off course, we run long and people lose focus or become distracted or disengaged and we do not get their very best.

Here's how I can see this is happening:

Mary starts to yawn. John gets up for a bathroom break. Dave starts looking at his watch. Bill has to leave for his weekly conference call.

What can we do to make our meeting time more effective?"

Mark's picture
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Boy, I don't think it's this complicated at all. It's not a big problem, and let's leave your peer out of it.

When YOU feel that you're close to a good (maybe not perfect) decision regarding a meeting agenda item, take charge of the meeting and CUT OFF DEBATE.

Sure, you're going to miss some good ideas by doing so...but you are NOW, when you miss opportunities because you took too long on a previous item.

Just say, "hey, I know that sounds good, but we need to make a decision and move on. We'll do X, and now on to Item 2".

This works GREAT, and those that don't like it will do one of two things: they'll pout for a while and get over it, or they will get smarter about pitching in sooner and helping you get done in time.

I have been leading meetings for 20 years, and it has worked every time. The majority of your team wants to move on.

And giving peer feedback to another manager won't affect YOUR meeting!