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Leadership Skills - Managing Meetings

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

I learned that things are never as complicated as we imagine them. Only our arrogance seeks to find complex answers to simple problems. - Muhammad Yunus

Analyze Strategic Level Meeting’s Needs by considering the strategic direction and aims and senior-level operational purposes; find a proper structure of meetings to satisfy the communication and decision-making needs in these areas. Evaluate The Current Meetings Structure by analyzing the current system and format of senior-level panels: finding and evaluating the frequency, design, attendance, and outcomes of recent meetings; comparing these findings with the needs found in the earlier stage. These two stages are critical. In all areas and levels, leaders of organizations must not allow the status quo to remain in place without a regular and rigorous evaluation of current and forecast aims. The same is true of senior-level meetings. The attendance, format, frequency, and outcomes must be regularly evaluated to ensure that they meet the needs of the current strategic direction and aims.

Establish Agreed Meetings Structure by informing and discussing proposed changes with all senior level stakeholders; agreeing and implementing the revised or new structure; supplying training for new roles and approaches, where necessary. Changing the existing framework and format of senior-level meetings will inevitably cause some disruption and possibly some conflict. However, the organization must have structures and processes at all levels and in all areas of activity that support and contribute to the strategic direction taken by the organization. Meetings are a vital part of the communication, information management, and decision-making processes and must therefore be shaped and managed to meet the needs of these functions. Any difficulties that change in this area brings must be dealt with and overcome.

Planning for meetings for the leader, by discussing and agreeing with colleagues, when appropriate, on the purpose of the meeting; deciding on the purpose of the meeting; setting clear and precise objectives as outcomes of the meeting; deciding on who should attend, though this might be a by-default list it is still necessary to review this regularly; set an appropriate date, time, and place for the meeting, again a default may apply but should be reviewed periodically; issue a plan to all participants and all other stakeholders; case supporting information in time for participants to become familiar with it; arrange pre-meeting discussions where necessary; ensure that necessary administrative arrangements will be made; complete personal participation preparation. Planning for meetings for the participants by ensuring that all participants are made aware of their obligations to prepare professionally for the meeting; ensuring that participants are provided with all necessary information to enable them to contribute to the forum effectively; arranging for pre-meeting discussions with participants with concerns or needs regarding the meeting; adjusting the plan to consider legitimate specific needs of individual participants. Planning is the most critical stage in ensuring that each personal session is practical. As with all key activities, proper preparation is the key to success. Even regularly scheduled meetings should be prepared for in the manner described above. The most common reason for regular meetings losing their credibility and influence is that each session is not given sufficient individual attention. The purpose, the desired outcomes, attendees, format, frequency, timing, and location should all be reviewed regularly. The leader must ensure that each meeting is managed professionally, and its purpose is diluted by lack of preparation, neither on the part of the leader or chairperson nor the number of attendees.

Chairing Meetings Effectively, by being fully prepared, as described above; arriving in advance to oversee final preparations; welcoming participants as they come; starting the meeting at the agreed time; introducing new participants; summarizing the format of the meeting; reiterating the purpose of the meeting; reiterating the agenda; shaping and controlling the nature and direction of discussion on each agenda item; ensuring that each participant is encouraged to contribute appropriately; remaining as objective as possible; summarizing progress and decisions, at appropriate intervals; managing the time spent on each agenda item and overall; reviewing key discussion points and decisions made; confirming individual and collective follow-up actions; thanking participants for their contributions; reminding participants of the next scheduled meeting; formally close the session. When taking the role of Chair, the leader is prominent, and how they manage the conference will be judged by the participants and add to or detract from their opinion of the leader’s capabilities. For this reason, the leader must ensure that when they chair meetings, they do this professionally, firmly, and fairly. Although some would argue that the Chair of a meeting should remain unbiased and act purely as a facilitator, this is not possible when the Chair is also the leader, or one of the leaders, of the organization. Nevertheless, when acting as Chair, the leader should make every effort to ease effectively while presenting their views when proper—a challenging role that must be conducted well.

Follow Up Effectively, by ensuring that all key discussion points, issues raised, decisions made, and actions agreed, upon are recorded accurately; distributing the minutes of the meetings to participants; requesting action plans from participants who have decided to take follow-up actions; monitoring the progress on follow up steps; obtaining feedback from participants on their view of the effectiveness of the meeting; adjusting the approach to future meetings as necessary.

In Summary: although managing meetings at a senior level can appear to be technically straightforward, these meetings play a critical role in the strategic level communication process and, if ineffective, will seriously damage the quality of this activity. In addition, poorly managed arrangements can damage relationships between the leader(s) and the team and between team members. Senior management meetings aim to inform, discuss, make, and confirm support for decisions and agree on continuing support for, or changes to, the organization's strategic direction. The role of the leader is to ensure that these meetings are planned and managed effectively, are productive in terms of outcomes, and contribute to keeping the quality of communications at the senior level.

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