All of us have probably had the experience of attending a meeting where there were no outcomes, and the conversation drifted way off the subject of the original intent of the meeting. Participants leave meetings like this feeling de-energized and perhaps even angry that their time has been wasted. It can become difficult to maintain enthusiasm and engagement when this occurs. Unproductive meetings are also costly to organizations in terms of staff time. Meeting management skills are an important nursing leadership competency. There is both an art and science to the effective management of team, task force or committee meetings. Effective meeting management is a very visible way that one’s leadership skills are judged by both peer and supervisors. Prior to leading any meeting, review the following checklist of questions:
1. What is the objective or purpose of the meeting?
Effective meetings start with good planning. Some meetings may be required monthly staff or committee meetings. These meetings often have set agendas with specific topics/information that is discussed. Other meetings have a specific purpose such as a review of a sentinel event or selection of a product vendor. Prior to planning a meeting, you should have a very clear idea of the meeting focus.
2. Do we need to have a meeting?
This is a critical question, that we often fail to ask. Think about whether a meeting is the right vehicle to solve a problem, improve a process or establish an action plan. Could this discussion happen through an email exchange?
3. Who should be present to provide input?
Nothing is more frustrating than to attend a meeting, and find through discussion that a key player in the decision has not been invited to the meeting. Carefully think through whose input and buy-in will be needed to move forward with a decision. To avoid push-back at a later point in time, it is better to err on the side of being inclusive and inviting every stakeholder.
4. How should the meeting be conducted?
Historically, most organizational meetings have been face to face meetings. With the availability of technology, this is rapidly changing. Many health care organizations are now part of larger systems and the meetings will include stakeholders from facilities outside your geographic area. Meeting leaders need to make a decision about the right format for the meeting. If video conferencing, telephone conferences or webinars are used, these plans need to be made well in advance and may involve assistance from technology staff. Meeting leaders should have some expertise with the technology that is being used to avoid wasting meeting time dealing with technical issues.
5. What are the critical agenda items and meeting time frame?
Agendas should be established in advance of the meeting and sent to participants for review and comments. Items to be discussed should be prioritized, and a specific time frame should be allotted for each item. Think carefully about how much time should be allotted for the meeting. It can be extremely difficult to maintain the engagement of participants when the meeting extends beyond 90 minutes so keep agendas short. All material to be reviewed should be sent a week in advance. A reminder message with the date/time/room number/call-in number with the agenda should be sent out again the day before the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, ask if there are any additional agenda items that members would like to add.
6. What ground rules should be established?
When teams meet for the first time or if you are a new leader to a team, ground rules should be discussed. Some basic meeting ground rules include the following:
- Meetings begin and end on time.
- The time frames on the agenda will be followed.
- All members are expected to arrive on time so timely discussion can begin.
- Only one team member should be talking at any given time.
- All viewpoints should be honored.
- Everyone needs to participate.
- Participants should refrain from reading email and checking phone messages.
- Confidentiality should be maintained depending on the topic of discussion.
7. What outcomes are expected from the meeting?
It is important to be clear about the outcomes expected from the meeting. The agenda and time-frames for discussion should be reviewed at the beginning of the meeting. Good facilitation involves keeping everyone focused and productive. You may have to stop discussion on an agenda item that has exceeded the time-frame.
8. What follow-up may be needed?
A frequent problem after meetings is the lack of follow-up on agenda items. Meeting leaders should wrap up each meeting with a clear statement of the next steps and responsibility for each action item. Ask members if there are any questions or additional thoughts. The need for a follow-up meeting with possible dates/times should be discussed. The discussion during the meeting should be recorded, and a summary of the meeting should be sent to each participant shortly after the meeting. As leader, your actions after the meeting are crucial to maintain the enthusiasm and energy of the group. Team leaders should attempt to follow-up with each participant who has an action item to check progress and provide help.
To improve your leadership of teams, consider asking your committee or team to debrief the meeting process. Ask what was effective and ineffective about the meeting, and their thoughts about the progress of the team. As the meeting leader, try to be inclusive of everyone on the team, and ask questions of those who might be attending by phone. End all meetings on a positive note thanking everyone for their time and active participation.
Your ability to effectively manage meetings will develop over time. New leaders sometimes do lose control over meetings. If this happens to you, don’t become frustrated. Take time to go back through these meeting management questions and reflect on how you will do it differently the next time.