Meetings – Make Them Work for You


By:  Ruth St. Pierre

What are your personal feelings about meetings? Do you wish you could be somewhere else? Have you ever sat through a meeting wondering if anything would be accomplished? If you or your employees spend any time at all in meetings, you already know that poor meetings can generate ill-will, frustration, short tempers, disinterest and apathy. American management personnel spend up to 70% of their working time in meetings and many say that at least half of that time was wasted. Why?

The problem is that meeting dynamics do not receive the same care and effort as other parts of our working life  It is possible to design and conduct very effective meetings using a wide variety of planning and facilitation tools. Here are a few ideas to add power and effectiveness to your meetings:

Use agendas wisely

Set deadlines for group members to submit agenda items. Any last-minute additions are placed at the end of the agenda, to be addressed only if planned agenda items have been completed. Distribute agendas prior to the meeting. Email makes this task much easier. Be sure to include the names of all persons who are responsible for any items on the agenda. This takes care of the “Oh, sorry, I forgot” syndrome that derails the best-planned agenda. To underscore the importance of being prepared, some highly effective teams extract penalties from those who fail to arrive prepared. These penalties can be light (bring donuts for the next meeting), financial (fines), or serious (apologize, personally deliver information outside of the meeting, or be responsible for rescheduling and conducting another meeting).

Be more aware of how people are reacting to the discussion

Distribute a set of colored cards to each participant. Each color is a coded silent message to the facilitator of the meeting. The meanings can be changed from meeting to meeting or used as a standard communication tool. For example:

RED might mean “ALERT – we are getting off the topic” or “STOP – I have a major concern.”

YELLOW mean “Slow Down” or “Caution – tempers heating up.”

GREEN usually means “Everything’s fine – I’m in agreement with what’s being said.”

As the discussion begins, group members lay the green card on the table in front of them. Depending upon how they feel about the discussion, they would change the card color to reflect their current state of mind. The group facilitator/meeting leader monitors the colors. When several REDs appear, the leader knows that it’s time to pause and find out what people are thinking.  This is also a great method for involving quieter members of the group who are not likely to interrupt a dominant speaker.

Set ground rules for decision-making

Before addressing any agenda item that involves a decision, be sure that group members know how the final decision will be made. This prevents adverse reactions when a decision is finally reached  Individual group members sometimes misunderstand their level of authority and involvement because no one has clearly indicated their role. Have you ever been asked to be involved in a project or process where you thought your ideas and input would be an important part of the final outcome, only to be disappointed because the group leaders seemed to totally ignore the work of the group and go off in another direction? If so, you understand the importance of clarifying the decision-making process. There are at least five levels of decision-making, from authoritarian to total consensus. Three choices are listed here.

  • Authoritative consensus – leader solicits input and ideas from the group, but ultimately the leader will make the final decision.

  • Voting – majority rules. Group members on the losing side of a vote may resist supporting the final choice, or may take their grievances outside the group. Use this only for issues that are low-risk, low-emotion.

  • Modified consensus – group agrees on a plan they can “live with and support.” Individuals may not like everything about the plan, but they will agree to work with it. Leaders commit to group review and analysis, with the option of modifying the plan as necessary.

To learn more about the process of bringing a group to a Modified Consensus, as well as numerous other strategies which will energize and streamline your meeting process, contact Alliance for information about bringing a customized Meeting Strategies seminar to your organization. We can help your organization making every meeting work better!

By:  Ruth St. Pierre

© 2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.


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