Think about your last staff or team meeting. How long was it? Was everything captured that needed to be? Did it stay on task?
Chances are it could have gone smoother, faster, and been more productive. One way to make recurring meetings more efficient and productive is by reviewing the structure which guides the meeting.
Why are we here?
Depending on where you are, you probably (but not necessarily) have an agenda. The agenda is the backbone of any meeting – it provides purpose and vision for the hour or more that you are to be spending together as a group.
Defining an agenda should be the first order of business. In fact, it starts even before the meeting begins. Your team members have hopefully been collecting items to bring bring since the last meeting. Speaking of the last meeting, items that got tabled or put aside will also be added to the agenda at the start of the meeting.
A they go up on the board, the agenda items should be recorded in the notes.
Staying on task
As you are defining the agenda, you should also be assigning times to each item. Nothing gets on the board without having a time next to it. If someone brings an item to be added to the agenda, ask them how long they would like allotted for it. This may sound overzealous, but it’s really about setting expectations, and keeping people aware of the larger agenda and of each other. It also makes you more realistic about the items that get added, since it forces the sponsor of the item to think harder about what they are going to say and envision how discussion around the item should flow. Assigning times helps keep people, and your meeting, on track.
The next step is to assign roles. At the least, there should be a facilitator, a time keeper, and a note taker. Ideally these should rotate from person to person each session, so that one person isn’t stuck taking notes every time, and everyone has the chance to control the flow of the meeting. The note taker should be recording the times assigned to each item, as well as the roles and participants for each meeting.
It is the responsibility of the timekeeper to keep the group informed of the time remaining for each agenda item. If the end of the alloted time is approaching, the timekeeper should make the group aware of this. If the discussion is still going strong, the group (or the facilitator) should agree on an extension, i.e “do we want to take 5 more minutes to talk about this?”, decide to let it die, table the discussion for next time, or arrange a separate meeting.
Dealing with tangents
Tangents are fun. They can keep a meeting light, creative, and generally prevent the numbing of the mind. They can also make a meeting drag on, push out items that need to be addressed, and, well, numb the mind. The facilitator needs to provide balance. They will be watching out for stray tangents and decide how long to let them go and when to cut them off.
If it’s not just idle chatter, then the facilitator needs to decide whether the tangent should be dealt with now, or if it should be put in the “parking lot” to be revisited at the end of the meeting. The note taker records the item in the parking lot area of the notes, and at meeting wrap up, the group can revisit it and decide if it should go on the agenda for the next meeting.
Tying it all together
At the heart of any meeting is the exchange of information. The person taking notes is responsible for making sure that the information you are trying to collect isn’t lost. With standing meetings, they also provide continuity from meeting to meeting by keeping track of the items from the previous and next sessions.
Integral to the job of the note taker is a template that mimics the underlying structure and process of the meeting. Having a structured document provides logical spaces for the information to be stored. This makes it easier for the person taking notes, since they don’t have to figure out where to put everything. Tangents can be recorded in the parking lot area, or immediately recorded as an agenda item for the next meeting. Action items can be put in the actions area.
A templated note taking system also helps provide continuity from meeting to meeting. Team members don’t have to decipher someone’s notes from a week ago. Everything is in recognizable places, wether the notes are in a text document, word file, or mind map.
To get you started, here is the template we’ve been using, in a few different formats.