A meeting can be defined as gathering together of stakeholders for a particular purpose with a desired intention or outcome. Most people in a business environment are involved in multiple meetings a week, if not multiple meetings a day. No one has the time or the patience for long rambling meetings that seem to achieve nothing. And with so many of our meetings now taking place on line, it is more important than ever to ensure the process you choose for your meeting, matches the purpose or the outcome you want for the meeting.
The 5 types of meetings, based on purpose
Generally, there are 5 types of meetings, based on the purpose they are seeking to achieve. You can make your meetings more effective by defining what type of meeting you are holding, or what the purpose of the meeting is an adapting a process to suit. It is important to remember that the methods are not mutually exclusive; depending on the purpose to be achieved, leaders can use one or several methods in combination. Generally, there are 5 types of meetings;
- Information Giving. I know, you don’t. These meeting are held with the purpose of sharing information and ideas, demonstrating procedures, introducing new work practices and bringing staff up to date on new information.
- Information gathering. You know, I don’t. These meetings are held to discuss alternatives to a procedure, gathering opinions, exploring ways of achieving desired results, identify problems etc..
- Decision making. These meetings are held in order to weight up and decide on alternative courses of action, determine priorities for the group and reach consensus on an issue of importance to meeting attendees.
- Problem solving. These meetings are held with the purpose of identifying a solution to a shared problem, agreeing on the nature and characteristics of the problem, analysing the causes of the problem, evaluating possible solutions and reaching agreement to a course of action to resolve the problem.
- Team Maintenace. These are meetings with the purpose of re-grouping and connecting as human beings. We need to connect as human beings. The purpose of these meetings is to increase group cohesion, strengthen awareness of group identity or simply revitalize a tired or jaded group.
Applying the process to the purpose
The mistake leaders make is that they don’t think about the process they need in order to achieve their purpose. Think of a time you went into a meeting that spiraled out of control because the meeting organiser presented the problem and then simply turned it over to the meeting attendees to ‘discuss’, without a process or any parameters. To keep meetings on track and achieve the desired outcome, a good practice to get into, is to categorise each meeting into one of the 5 meeting types based on it’s purpose. You can then match the purpose with the most suitable meeting method or process. It is important to remember that the methods are not mutually exclusive. Depending on the purpose to be achieved, you may wish to use one or several methods in combination. You will also note that some methods are integral in others. The processes are;
- Presentation of information “from the front” to the meeting group is sometimes necessary but should be carefully planned and controlled, whether you are giving a talk, using a guest speaker or demonstrating a practical procedure.
- This is obviously a good method to use for the purpose of information giving.
- The essential quality of an effective talk is brevity. If you must give a talk keep it short and to the point.
- The meeting organiser may consider using audiovisual methods to convey some of the information. Summary headings and illustrations can help clarify the message and add variety.
- Allow time for questions and summarise the main points.
- Avoid overcrowding your visuals – too much information will obscure the message. Make sure visuals are visible and legible.
- If using audio or videotape, check the audibility from the back of the room.
- Again, this method is particularly useful in information giving.
- If you want to ask an external expert to address the group about new developments or procedures, be sure to prepare both guest and group before the meeting. Inform the group who the speaker is and what role he/she has in relation to the subject matter.
- The visitor should be clearly briefed on the purpose of the address and its significance to the group.
- Set and keep time limits.
- Allow time for questions and act as a gatekeeper.
- This method is great for information giving.
- Showing ‘how it is done’ in a group contest may be an appropriate way of introducing new work procedures.
- If using props of any kind (such as models, equipment, etc) make sure they are large enough to be seen, or that there are sufficient examples to go round.
- If group members are expected to learn ‘how it is done’, you will need to give opportunity for practice, perhaps following the meeting or at a training session.
- Buzz groups are small subgroups (3-6 People) formed within the larger group for a very brief discussion (5-10 minutes)
- Procedure could be
- Leader poses issue to be discussed.
- Instructions regarding time limits, recording and reporting back (where applicable) are given.
- Group is divided into buzz groups.
- Group discusses and reports back to larger group.
- Leader summarises findings from subgroups and relates these to the subject matter being treated.
- This is a great method for meetings wanting to gather information, share information, make decisions or problem solve.
- This method can achieve several results:
- Relieve formality of a large group
- Enable people to clarify information through interaction with others
- Enable the presenter to gauge the level of understanding in the group.
Question and Answer Session
- This is primarily useful for sharing informal information or for opinion gathering.
- The leader poses a series of questions on a given topic to the group and gathers the required information via their responses.
- An even more informal method of information or opinion gathering whereby the leader presents issues and participants respond briefly (e.g. by voting yes/no, choosing between options, etc.)
- This classic technique allows the meeting group to generate a large number of ideas in a short time by building on ideas of others and suspending evaluation till all ideas are recorded. It works well with a group size of 6-10, in which all members are clear on the ground rules. Brainstorming is often included as a step in other problem-solving methods.
- Procedure could be;
- Leader poses problem or question and invites suggestions from members.
- Members are reminded not to evaluate contributions at this stage.
- As members offer ideas in rapid succession, these are recorded for all to see.
- At the end of the brainstorming, members clarify, discuss and evaluate ideas.
- If a larger group has been divided into smaller groups for the brainstorming, the groups then share their ideas in a plenary.
- This is a great method for meetings wanting to gather information, make decisions or problem solve.
Nominal Group Technique
- This method also enables the group’s ideas to be collected, but begins with individual ideas which are built into a composite list. The approach ensures that all members have the opportunity to think through their own particular concerns.
- Procedure could be;
- Leader poses problem or question.
- Each member privately records their ideas or issues.
- Leader compiles a group list by taking one idea in turn until ideas are exhausted.
- Following discussion to clarify ideas, leader invites each member to ‘vote’ for the best 2 or 3 ideas.
- A priority listing can then be drawn from tallying the votes.
Keep your meetings on track and on purpose with a well-thought through method to the madness. As a leader, your aim should be to achieve the desired outcome of every meeting and to ensure everyone thinks each and every meeting has positive and definite outcomes and was time well spent.
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