Tips To Keep Meetings On Track by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

Everyone who has taken on the role of meeting facilitator or leader has at least one horror story to tell about a meeting going completely awry. In many cases, the meeting leader failed to recognize the first signs of control slipping away, and then it was too late to get things back on track.

This can become a pattern. People in workplaces are not all that different than any other group. If they do not understand the guidelines of the meeting and the expectations, it can be easy for them to simply ignore subtle messages and “do their own thing.”

There are some tips and strategies that anyone can effectively use to keep meetings on track and on time. Most leaders find they develop a toolbox of tips to use over time that suits their particular meeting facilitation style and their specific goals.

  • Set an agenda – having a written agenda helps everyone know what you are talking about and in what order. It may be helpful to set the agenda and provide it to participants in advance, allowing any suggestion for items to be added to the meeting before getting the team together.
  • Keep it short – keeping the meeting to the time you have allocated is important. If people understand the information is provided in succinct ways, they are more likely to focus and stay on track.
  • Who needs to be there – at one point in time, the fashion was to invite everyone to all meetings. Now, it is more effective and easier to invite key players or those who need the information or are involved in the decision to the meeting, emailing the rest of the team with the necessary information.
  • Choose your location – there is a different expectation if a meeting is held virtually, in the cafeteria or in the conference room. Choose a room or virtual format that is conducive to the type of meeting you want to hold.
  • Cell phones and other devices – one form of distraction in any meeting is the use of cell phones, tablets, radios, or other types of similar devices. Consider if there is a need to limit the use of these devices or make the meeting a “device-free zone” for all invited.
  • Provide enough time for discussion – while it may be difficult to assess the amount of time the team may want to talk about a specific topic, not providing enough time can lead to meeting chaos. The members of the meeting will not transition to the next agenda item, which will make it difficult to control the process.
  • Build in time for participants to talk – scheduling meetings and providing a few minutes to talk, great each other, and even do small activities throughout the meeting can be helpful to avoid side conversations and disruptive chatter.

Another strategy that works well in many teams is to have a rotating facilitator role. This not only builds leadership skills in the group but also takes the pressure off of one person to always facilitate the meetings.