Meetings!

So many meetings.

They are an essential part of the modern working life. Some people hate them, and others only mildly dislike them. But, I would hazard to say that most recognize them as absolutely necessary for communication and successful project completion.

I normally wouldn’t have thought of meetings a topic that might be of interest for anyone who might take a look at my site, but over the last few months I’ve been told that I run some good meetings and I thought it might help others to share my process.

For someone who is only a couple of years post-MLIS, and isn’t in a management position, I’ve been very lucky through committees, and the like to chair and organize meetings for a variety of groups. Internally at my library I tend to chair meetings around digital content and staff training and have for a few years. Externally for the last year and a half I have chaired a local sub-group of an organization that consists of public library staff who work with digital resources and this summer I was made chair of a small group made up of mostly Academic librarians.

  1. Know your audience
    • This is probably the hardest for many, and the most important part. No matter how long you’ll be meeting together, you have to learn how the members communicate, as well as how they feel about the topic at hand.
    • There is a fantastic model about team formation “Forming Storming, Norming” that has helped me approach this issue.
    • I struggle with this, but find by listening a lot for the first meeting or two, and giving myself time for reflection, I can think about tactics that will ensure effective meetings.
  2. Have a plan
    • Often known as an agenda. I often have two versions, one with all of the topics for the meeting that is shared, and a second with notes for me about my speaking points. It might also include questions to ask the group for discussion topics and notes about extra information people might ask for.
    • Your agenda should only enough content than can be covered in the meeting time. Don’t put too much on, you don’t want to rush or run out of time.
    • Give the option of others submitting discussion topics for discussion.
    • I also really like being able to use a basic template (updates, roundtable), but also have a topic of note for a meeting. This means with planning you can prevent having too many meaty topics on the agenda.
    • The agenda should also include what decisions need to be made a the meeting.
    • This is something my boss does really well, and I’ve learned through observation and practice.
    • Some tips from the Harvard Business Review
  3. Have a timeline
    • Not only should you map your agenda points to a timeline, but also set timelines for different activities such as when to send out the draft agenda, when to have the draft minutes ready for review.
    • Also useful to mention is having a plan for how often to meet and when, ask what days and times work for group members and then making sure you work with those times.
    • Know what to do if the meeting looks like it might run over. Have a “parking lot” for later if time, or table for the next meeting.
    • Staying on time, and ending on time shows respect for those in the meeting with you.
  4. Encourage participation
    • Confession: I don’t allow for small talk at the beginning of a meeting. Any chatting, catching up, or sharing of cool stuff waits until the end when people can stay late if they are able, or if we end early we can chat together as a group.
    • But really, participation is key. This is looks like ensuring you have activities where all members can have input on a decision, not chose those comfortable with speaking. It could look like going around the table ans saying one thing each, or brainstorming and then voting with a set number of stickers that each member has, or using an electronic voting tool.
    • Leave at least 8 seconds of dead air for people to speak when you ask a question. Don’t follow-up right away.
  5. Set clear actions and deadlines
    • Make it clear in the meeting and after what tasks various people have agreed to. It might be as simple as “Sarah will send out a doodle poll for the next meeting date” to “Sarah and Jane will create a draft evaluation document and circulate it to the group by June 3”.
    • Volun-telling sometimes works, other times you just ask “can someone from —- help out with this?”
  6. Follow-up
    • If others are helping out with things, or haven’t completed something that they offered to do, talk with them. See how they are doing with tasks. Usually they have forgotten, but sometimes something came up and they didn’t know how to tell you.
    • Also, make sure minutes are circulated before the next meeting, and give people an idea of what is happening next.
  7. Thank people
    • People have given you time, either for 3 minutes or 3 hours. They have prepared and participated, making sure you are able to complete your task, project, or role.
  8. Admit when you’ve made a mistake or not met a deadline
    • This builds trust if it doesn’t happen too often. Don’t just let it fade to the background. It can be hard, but prevents an awkward question and answer interaction later on.

Things I need to work on.

  • Making sure that if I’m chairing, that I’m not also taking the meeting minutes. This prevents good notes from being made.
  • Don’t volunteer to take on too much yourself. I don’t like to feel that I am asking more of a group than I am able to give myself, but sometimes there are no volunteers. But it means over-committing myself, and making mistakes or not making deadlines.
  • Setting guidelines and expectations at the very beginning. This has only been an issue once, but I hopefully won’t forget again.
  • Finding participation activities that work when there is both an in-person and phone-in contingent.

And overall, just remember that the meeting you’re in is about ensuring communication and teamwork, things we all love, and doing our best in whatever role we’re in makes everything easier, and our communities stronger.